So you didn’t pull a permit

Preferred river permits are becoming harder and harder to come by, and COVID only added to the brooding desire to get outside and on the water.

It’s late spring and the bonus of winter has mostly melted. Moisture seeps into and through the parched soils and turns into the rivers of the rivers that many of you (us?) Die to float. And unfortunately, because last year couldn’t be the year for many, this year won’t be the year for many either. Preferred river permits are becoming harder and harder to come by, and COVID only added to the brooding desire to get outside and on the water. The chances can decrease. At the middle fork of the salmon river, 17,000 applicants fought for only 387 permits in 2020. On the coveted and impossible-to-draw Yampa, applicants have about a 2% chance of drawing a permit. Who needs enemies with such opportunities?

Instead of spending too much time complaining about the system that will preserve the health and long-term sustainability of the rivers we crave, we have devised a few alternatives. While we know these aren’t multi-day poses on the Selway or the Green, they’re better than stabbing the eye with a sharp stick. Fortunately, there are still a number of swimmers who don’t require a permit, and swimming rivers aren’t the only way to enjoy them. Here are some alternatives to think about, track, and self-check:


  • In northern New Mexico, the Rio Chama offers a family-friendly overnight stay and some easy day trips with laps on the section below the Wild and Scenic route.
  • In southwest Colorado, the Upper Animas River is touted as one of the best Class IV-V runs in the region and beyond. There are more than 100 rapids on this spectacular run through the Weminuche Wilderness. Not for the weak swimmer, the river drops nearly 85 feet per mile along this stretch.
  • The Flaming Gorge in Utah is an exempt swimmer on the Green River below the dam. Divided into three sections, the full swimmer is 23 miles through spectacular canyons on relatively mild water that offers ample fishing, hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
  • For a day at the park – the whitewater park – head to Montrose, CO, where the recently completed winter sports park has spots for kids to splash around and six drop structures for seasoned kayakers to test and improve their skills.

Desolation Canyon, Green River, UT | Photo by Adam Clark


  • Pack a picnic and find your spot on the network of parks and trails around Clear Creek in Golden, CO. You can play in the water or in the surrounding area, the trails are paved and bikers, runners, skateboarder-friendly and the water is clean.
  • Hike along the Verde River in the Mazatzal Wilderness of Arizona. The options are numerous, but the Verde River Trail is approximately 14 miles round trip that crosses the river in several places (note).
  • Ride the 22-mile Colorado Riverfront Trail in Mesa County. The trail connects the towns of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade and is connected to the river at the hip. It meanders through or around numerous parks, wildlife sanctuaries, botanical gardens and lakes.
  • Take a multi-day exploration of the Escalante River Canyon in southern Utah. Whether you decide to tackle the entire 85-mile expedition or take a shorter round-trip hike, be ready to wade through the river and learn about the deep geological and human history that resides in the Canyon.

Escalante River |  Photo by Mike FiebigEscalante River | Photo by Mike Fiebig


  • Give back: As much as we enjoy rivers, our effects can be negative, and our ongoing ability to enjoy them depends on our commitment and how we contribute to their long-term health. To learn more about opportunities near you, visit (or contribute) our growing list of River Cleanup Opportunities and volunteer for National River Cleanup.

Before we spend too much time cursing the permitting system you use to search for alternatives, take a moment to be grateful that these precious resources have some protection that can help make their existence unbeatable usher in the next century (and hopefully beyond).

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