10 Tips for Applying for River Permits

It’s river permit season! With heaps and heaps of snow on the ground here in Colorado and more coming in the forecast, we can’t help but think about the incredible spring runoff that’s to come, and all the possibilities for upcoming river adventures.

As much as we love skiing and everything winter brings to us, whitewater is our bread and butter and this isn’t our first lottery rodeo. Check out our ten tips for applying for a Western river permit below.

gates of lodore

1. Do Your Research

We are putting this nicely--know before you go and keep your goals realistic. Looking for a Fourth of July float on the Snake? Cross your fingers and toes, ‘cause there are only three permit launches per day during the summer. Want some all-time class IV rapids? Apply for the Middle Fork of the Salmon, not Ruby Horsethief. Not ready to organize and TL a two week+ expedition? Maybe hold off on Grand Canyon for now!

Take time of year and weather into account as well--some permitted stretches of river, such as the Dolores and Salt are only runnable during peak runoff (if at all). And think about your potential crew: some early and late season trips could quite possibly include snow in the forecast and some very uncomfortable raft passengers and nights at camp. Talk about Type 2 Fun!

Navigating the permit process is understandably daunting. Where do you even start? Well, besides this article, American Whitewater has a list of permits on their website along with other great info.

2. Create an Account

Register with recreation.gov. Remember to check your inbox to confirm your email. Do this ahead of time and the application process will be much faster.

If you want to register for Grand Canyon, click here for the guided process.

3. Explore Permits

There is no need to reinvent the wheel--a comprehensive list of river permits exists here.

This at-a-glance (yet informative) list is curated and maintained by American Whitewater, a nonprofit organization with a mission to conserve and restore whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely. Hit the “permit” link in the third column to be taken to the corresponding permit page.

4. Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

Do you have a core group of boaters in your life? If everyone applies for at least one permit, you will increase your chances of getting on the river. At CKS, we like to make "pacts" with our coworkers and trusted river running friends that commit us to inviting each other on our trip if any of us are lucky enough to win a permit!

5. Host a Permit Party

These don't even have to be virtual anymore! Just make sure your fridge is stocked with beer or your Zoom link works, if you're still rolling that way.

6. Apply... Accurately!

Not all applications are made equal. Fill out the application as accurately as possible and be prepared to pay the application fee--they are generally around $6 for each permit.

7. Be Aware of the Gear You Might Need

You’re gonna need access to a raft (or not?!). And a groover. And a full kitchen set up. Actually, you might need a lot of things. Check out more of what planning a raft trip requires here.

8. Know the Cancellation Policy

If you can’t make your permitted river trip, please inform the agency responsible for issuing your permit. You will not receive a refund, but you will at least open up a spot for someone who can go.

9. Understand the Safety Requirements

Safety first--always! River Rangers will check you out before launching, so make sure you have access to enough PFDs, spare oars, med kits, fire pans, etc. before applying to permits.

10. Be Ready to Wait, and Wait, and Wait

Remember that every dog gets his day. Stay positive. 


We wish you nothing but good luck this permit season! And hey, if you're lucky enough to win, don't forget about your friends at CKS eh?!


Updated January 20, 2023.


1 comment

John O'Bannon

John O'Bannon

I have been putting in for a Middle Fork of the Salmon permit for over 25 years with no luck, while I know of others that have drawn multiple permits in that time. It is a joke of a system.

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