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🌊Beyond the River Lottery: Methods to Consistently Secure Your Ideal River Trip

Frustrated with the river lottery system? 

In 2021, the 4 Rivers Lottery witnessed a staggering 56,311 applications. Securing permits for the Middle Fork or Main Salmon has become increasingly challenging, with success rates said to plummet to less than 1%.

2024 will bring fiercer competition. Stories spread of boaters applying for decades with no success. Solo boaters have taken entire permits, keeping a once in a lifetime opportunity to themselves. Rumors abound of reasons behind the difficult chances. Others have given up applying entirely.

Despite the odds, I know people who make it on any river they want, landing multiple big permitted river trips within the summer, year after year. It’s easier and cheaper than you think. But before you consider river piracy, let's dive into the practical and legal solutions. There’s cancellations, pre/post season, or being the guy with the kitchen box, blaster and groover. These methods can help, but don’t forget that there’s another, equally large pool of permits out there - commercial outfitters. Many don’t realize the challenges commercial outfitters face are opportunities for private boaters to get on the river.

The methods below are the bridge between the two worlds, creating a win-win strategy.

First, let's debunk some myths about Commercial Vs. Private.

Commercial Outfitter Vision

  • Full, lively trips.

  • Ensure safe, seamless operations

  • Protect the river for future generations

  • Profit

Private Boater Dreams

  • DIY adventure

  • Use their own gear

  • Choose their crew

  • Save money

Challenges Faced by Commercial Outfitters

The big question - can you get on commercial trips without paying expensive rates? Yes!

Let’s break it down by skill level: 1. Obsessed Pro with an Open Schedule.

  • Can you row a heavy 18-fter from Boundary to Indian in half a day at 1.7ft without getting stuck? (Middle Fork guides do it all the time, but I’ve witnessed Grand Canyon guides unfamiliar with the run take 4 days, 2 longer than planned to pull this off!)

  • Know any of the permitted rivers well at high or low flows? 

  • Play guitar around the campfire? 

  • Know hilarious activities that can entertain a large group?

  • Expert in an odd, but interesting topic?

  • Add energy to any group you’re with?

Apply now!

2. Experienced Boaters that have been down before - Row your own boat on a commercial trip.


  • Row your own boat!

  • Eat great food

  • Skip the rigging and derigging work

  • No shopping

  • Forget the trip logistics

  • No cooking & dishes

  • No cleaning the groover/SCAT machine

  • Bring your own boat or show up to a ready one

  • Select the date you want

  • Great people - you’ll find they want the same experience as you!

Reality check - How much time and money does it take to round up all the gear for a private trip, shop for food, rent missing items, coordinate cooking schedules, vehicle/trailer wear and tear, shuttle coordinating, rigging time, clean it all up, and the cost of acquiring all that gear in the first place?

Outfitting Your Own Private Trip - Estimate cost of acquiring equipment: $6,400 - $15,200 Renting a Raft + Gear - $1025 - $2325 Food, Fuel, Etc -  $250 to $850 per person Great deal on dry boxes? Check out this Idaho dry box company.

Commercial Trip, Row Your Own Main Salmon $995 to $1395*

Raft Rental $550 to $900 Lower Salmon: $795* Raft Rental: $475 - $850 *Shuttle/jetboat not included, but we can coordinate this for large groups* *We do not offer row your owns on all the rivers we do*

Outfitters will be selective, some row-your-owns can disrupt a trip. That why we reserve the right to turn down row your own requests based on experience. Here’s the primary issue - is your rowing strategy pointing your bow to danger and pulling back? By all means, pull when you need to pull, but keep that up and you will slow down the entire trip. 

Commercial trips move fast! Guides primarily forward push to maintain momentum for tracking heavy boats. They run tight schedules designed to maximize side stops, hikes, and time for cooking dinner before dark.

Outfitters will handle logistics, food, cooking, loading/unloading your boat - but you still are responsible for getting your stuff in order. We treat row-your-owns like a team member, it’s the fun part! But rise to the occasion, you are still responsible for safely navigating the river!

You have to run with the group. Absolutely no passing the lead guide.

Unless you fill the trip there may be others with you. Thankfully river trips have a magical filter for finding great people. You will find others who are outgoing, fun, and adventurous that want to share the same experience as you.

Passengers - Idaho regulations require that unlicensed guides do not carry passengers on commercial trips.

3. Whitewater enthusiast, but new to this river? Here’s what to consider.

I’ve come across private trips gone wrong with forgotten gear, torn boats, or even boats lost entirely (river stories saved for the campfire). These situations had a familiar story - “I applied to the permit lottery for years and finally scored a permit.”

Sometimes, it’s wiser to book a trip, get familiar, and come back prepared.

4. Ultimate Solution - Solve the problems of private and commercial and make $$

Want to bring friends and potentially fill an early June or late August/Sept trip? Let’s talk. 

Could get a free row-your-own slot, or commission for helping fill a trip.

Let’s make a deal and get your group on the river!

Looking for a reliable shuttle service? Frank Church River Shuttles.

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