Selway River Rafting and Kayaking
Paradise to Race Creek
Length: 40 miles / 3 or 6 days
Class: IV – IV+; IV-V above 5 feet
Gradient: 30 ft/mile
Season: Spring / Summer
Recommended Flows: 1 to 6 ft at Put-in; 800 to 20,000 cfs at Lowell
Shuttle: 6.5 hours / 246 miles
Flow Information: 7 day Selway River updated forecast
Permits: Season is May 15 to July 31. There is a lottery. Cancellations are found here and confirmed at 1-877-444-6777 through www.recreation.gov.
Northern Idaho Snowpack
The headwaters of the Selway River flow out of the Bitterroot Mountains running through the heart of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. The Selway River is arguably the best multi-day whitewater rafting and kayaking river trip of the west. No other river can claim to be a charter member of both the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic River Act in 1968. Surrounded by over a million acres of Wilderness and with only one launch per day, the Selway provides a truly world class wilderness experience.
With only 16 total commercial trips a season where each takes at most 12 guests per trip means that Selway River rafting trips are booked years in advance. The next best commercial option which many argue is better then the Selway is the Illinois River in Southern Oregon. Private boaters have to win the river lottery with the longest odds in the country. The non-lottery runs on the Illinois and South Fork of the Salmon River are excellent alternatives.
The best time to float the Selway is typically late June and early July. It seems that over the last ten years the runoff is coming earlier. Fishing is best on low water Selway trips in July.
Selway River fishing is fantastic when water level is below 1.5 feet on the put-in gauge. Be aware, it is catch-and-release on the Selway with only one barbless hook per fly or lure (artificial flies and lures only). While all tributaries have a 2 trout per day limit with no tackle restrictions. Cutthroat Trout (10 – 14 inches) are the most common fish on the Selway, while there are also Bull Trout, Mountain Whitefish, Steelhead, and Chinook Salmon.
There are less than 200 total commercial people allowed to raft the river each year. For private boaters there is an extremely challenging lottery. With one launch allowed per day, only 16 people per trip, a priority season of two and a half months makes for limited opportunities to win a launch. In addition multiple weeks of the season typically have very high and/or very low water making the window even small for most boaters. For many people, winning the lottery and getting to kayak or raft the Selway River is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Getting on the river
There are 4 ways to get on this river. Sign up for a commercial rafting trip, win the lottery, pick up a cancellation, or get on the river pre or post-permit season.
The lottery season is May 15 to July 31 and applied for as part of the 4 Rivers Lottery which also includes the Middle Fork Salmon, Main Salmon, and Hell’s Canyon of the Snake. The lottery is open December 1 through midnight Eastern time on January 31. Lottery results are typically posted mid February. While, cancellations are found here and confirmed by calling 1-877-444-6777 through www.recreation.gov. Trips outside of the lottery season do not require a permit. However, pre-season trips need to be off the water by May 15th and make sure to check with the West Fork Ranger Station (406-821-3269) to see if the Nez Perce pass is clear of snow.
Be careful of the Selway River at high water. Above 5 feet the river steps up and is IV-V. When the river hits 6 feet it is considered class V. There are few spots at high flows to recover between from put-in to Running Creek and again in the Moose Juice.
Karen Kidd of Selway River Shuttles 406-821-3560
Huckleberry Taxi – they can shuttle people from Lowell back to Missoula. Call Heidi Hammermister: 406-369-3520
Selway River Itinerary
Mile 0: Put-in
The Paradise put-in is at the confluence of the Selway River and White Cap Creek. There is a bathroom and a nice ramp to get the boats to river level. At low water it can still be a carry to the water from the bottom of the ramp. Its handy to bring some extra thwarts along to act as rollers to get rafts from the bottom of the ramp to the water as they are doing in the photo below. If you are thinking of loading your rafts at the top of the ramp it is nice to belay them down to prevent them from gaining too much speed.
There is an alternative put-in half a mile up White Cap Creek. People have run the section of the Selway along the road above Paradise. It can have a fair amount of wood and there have been fatalities in the road section.
Mile 3.5: Slalom Slide (III)
Slalom Slide is a fun boulder garden. At mile 4.2 is Galloping Gertie (III) followed immediately by Washer Woman (III-IV) which is tough at low water. Below are some more fun rapids with Holy Smokes (III-IV) being the last one before the canyon starts to open up.
Mile 6.6: Running Creek Bridge
The main trail is on river right. This is the first opportunity below put-in to cross the river on foot. The canyon opens up here for a few miles until Goat Creek Rapid. The Running Creek Ranch is just downstream on river left.
Mile 9.3: Ping Pong Alley (III)
At low water plan to spend some time here. There are many poor routes and getting out to push is a common technique.
Mile 11.5: Goat Creek Rapid (III-IV)
A long beautiful rapid that winds through house sized rocks.
Mile 13.7: Sheerer Landing Strip
One of 2 public landing strips along the Selway River.
Mile 16.0: Bear Creek
Bear Creek increases the flow of the river by about a 1/3. There is a nice trail up Bear Creek to the Salmon Hole.
Mile 23.3: Ham Rapid (IV)
Be wary of False Ham (III+) just upstream of Ham. At Ham the river narrows down with a couple of huge rocks to avoid, they become holes at highwater.
Mile 26.0: Tony Point Bridge
The Tony Point area is popular for laying over. There are camps above and below to bridge on river right and then a third camp downstream on river left below Tony Point Rapid (mile 26.1). From here there are trails to the Moose Creek Ranger Station, up Moose Creek and to Shissler Peak Fire Lookout. This is a common area to spend two nights to have a full day to explore the area. Keep an eye out for the planes that soar into the Moose Creek Landing Strip.
Mile 26.2 Moose Creek
Mile 26.5 – 29.5: The Moose Juice (IV – V)
This is an infamous series of big rapids: Double Drop, Wa-Poots, Ladle, Little Niagra, Puzzle Creek, No Slouch, and Miranda Jane.
Double Drop can be scouted on river left at highwater. Wa-Poots is a sneaky rapid that shouldn’t be over looked. At most flows Ladle is scouted on the right. At very low water the preferred line is down the far left.
Mile 31.5: Osprey Rapid (III+)
On a hard bend to the right Osprey Rapid winds through a rock filed before taking a hard turn back to the left. This is a tricky rapid.
Mile 37.7: Wolf Creek Rapid (IV+)
At the end of a long calm section, there is a nice eddy just above the rapid to scout on the right.
Mile 40.4: Tee Kem Falls (IV-)
A tricky little rapid that requires sneaking between a big rock pour over and the right wall.
Mile 47.7: Race Creek Take Out
On river right. The carry up to the road is pretty steep.
Mile 49: Selway Falls (VI)
Below take out is a nasty class VI rapid, Selway Falls.