New Year, New Permits -- Apply before January 31st!

New Year, New Permits -- Apply before January 31st!

Matt Gerhardt

Us fair-weather boaters still have a little while before the true most wonderful time of the year. However, another important period before boating season is permit season. It’s no class IV meat line, but it sure can be a taste of excitement to wet your whistle while we wait for the snow to melt.

It can feel like a long time between seasons and no one wants their long-awaited river trips to be muddied by overcrowding. Because of this, most of the United States’ most popular and environmentally-fragile river stretches have been protected by a permit system. Every winter, thousands of river rats throw permit applications into the lottery to access specific stretches on specific dates and hope that the river gods smile kindly on them. It’s just as competitive as the Phish lotto but a whole lot more affordable if you win.

Permit applications are due January 31 – don’t miss the boat!

Feeling lucky?

At some point in December or January when you’re feeling good juju, grab your computer and make an account on recreation.gov (where most permits are available). They’ll have current openings listed here.

The more dates you put in for, the better your odds! Applicant numbers increase each year, and some agencies may choose to limit their numbers further due to COVID-19. Consider strategies that might increase your odds such as avoiding popular, holiday weekends, or putting in for shoulder season dates when school is in session. You’ll pay $6 for each stretch you put in for, which (if you’re unsuccessful in the lotto) goes toward costs required to run the lotto system and (therefore) keeping our rivers healthy and crowd-controlled – a silver lining for the unlucky crowd of which this author often is a part.

Important dates for a few of our favorite stretches

Mark your calendars!

San Juan River

  • Permit launch dates April 15-July 15, 2022
  • Lottery winners announced February 12, 2022
  • Cancellations open 8am MST March 16, 2022

Salt River

  • Permit required March 1-May 15, 2022
  • Lottery winners announced February 10, 2022
  • Cancellations open 8am MST February 21, 2022

Dinosaur Green

  • Permit launch dates May 9- Sept 9, 2022
  • Lottery winners announced February 12, 2022
  • Cancellations open 8am MST March 6, 2022

Yampa River

  • Permit launch dates May 9 - July 9, 2022
  • Lottery winners announced February 12, 2022
  • Cancellations open 8am MST March 6, 2022

Desolation Grey Canyon

  • Permit launch dates May 15-August 15, 2022
  • Lottery winners announced February 14, 2022
  • Cancellations open 8am MST March 15, 2022

Ruby Horse Thief, Westwater, Cataract Canyon

  • 60 days ahead of launch, hop on recreation.gov to find a permit.

Rio Chama

  • Early season April 15 - July 15
  • Release season July 16 - Sept 15

More on the Rio Chama from BLM

The Bureau of Reclamation will try to have 500 cfs available from Fridays at noon to Sundays at noon during the season. Beyond those times, you will probably find your boat dragging without local rain!

What is some of the reason for the low waters? El Vado dam will be worked on for the next 2-3 years. As in most years, the amount of water available will be dependent on snow levels in the early season. However, with the water behind El Vado Dam having been moved to Abiquiu, the available water they had in 2021 that allowed them to barely make the September flows will not exist. The only reason the Rio Chama was boatable in August and September of 2021 was because there was a wet summer so the call for water did not occur as in usual years.

Flows will be dependent on snow pack, which will be stored in Lake Heron and may not be guaranteed through September this year, particularly if there is a call for water early in the year, like in 2020. The Rio Grande watershed is currently at 91%. So let's do our snow dances for some good flows for the Chama!

View Our List of River Permits and Links

There’s power in numbers

Increase your odds of pulling a permit by hosting or attending a virtual permit party. Gather your ideal river trippers and talk through some dates and “no-go” dates. If one person snags a permit, you’re already on the list. In some cases you can also designate a backup trip leader or two on your permit to make transference easy if the permit-puller has a conflict arise.

Whether or not you have your own shindig planned, the Annual Permit Party hosted by Dolores River Boating Advocates never disappoints! River permit info is sweeter alongside two nights of virtual entertainment, musicians, films, door prize drawings, and a silent auction supporting the beautiful Dolores River.

Consider the (water) source

When submitting permit applications, there are a lot of dates and a lot of stretches from which to choose - how does one decide where to aim? Checking out snowpack beta can be a good place to start. If an area is having a phenomenal ski season, chances are it’s surrounding rivers will have juicy flows in the upcoming season. Looking at past years’ river flows can also help you get an idea of when a stretch generally runs best so you can submit your dates accordingly.

…and YOU get a permit!

If you did win a permit, you’ll receive a very sweet valentine in your email around mid-February informing you of the good news. Crack a brewski to celebrate, then start planning! The permit season for some rivers starts March 1, so it can be a quick turnaround if you applied for early season. No matter what dates you pulled, it’s never too early to snag a guidebook and start thinking about your invite list, peruse a checklist to identify any gear you might need to grab, and let your boss know when you’ll be out of office.

Check out our River Trip Checklist

Didn’t pull a permit this year?

Be REALLY nice to those who did! Kidding - we’ve been there. If at first you don't succeed, try for cancellations. Though it can be trickier to plan a trip with less notice, the most impromptu raft trips are often the most fun. Not everyone’s lifestyle allows for impromptu, off-grid trips, and if you’re in that boat, remember that not every stretch is permitted. We’ve compiled some beta about a few of our favorite non-permitted options here.

View our Favorite Non-Permitted Rivers

May the river gods smile upon you this lotto season!