Perhaps the thought of kissing Tiger Wall has you seeking out a Yampa River permit for this upcoming season. Or you might have heard stories about the rounded, peach-colored sandstone walls environmentalist David Brower fought to keep free of dams and open to the public. Unfortunately, the system to obtain a permit is called a lottery for a reason. According to the River Office at Dinosaur National Monument, Yampa River permits are one of the hardest rafting permits to snag in North America based on demand and allocation, adding that for 2019 they received more than 10,000 applications for 300 private permits.
Learning the ins and outs of applying for river permits has become a rite of passage for boaters pursuing highly sought-after permits. We’ve gathered some tips and tricks to get you on this section of wild river so you can cross it off your bucket list or learn how to revisit it year after year.
What Makes the Yampa so Special?
Like many of the boatable rivers in the Colorado River Basin, the canyon walls, wildlife, cultural history and whitewater offer an expansive array of majesty and wonder. What sets the Yampa apart from nearby stretches of the Green River, such as Gates of Lodore and Desolation Canyon, is its proximity to high Colorado mountains and lack of water management in the form of dams. The Yampa River is wild and excitingly dynamic — fed by snowmelt and allowed to perform as a river should. The flows are entirely reliant on snowfall and once spring runoff is over, the ephemeral season dwindles quickly by mid-July with no reservoir above to feed it throughout the summer.
Most of the rapids are straightforward at normal flows but evolve to become more complex and thrilling at higher water. The best-known rapids on the Yampa section are Teepee, Big Joe, and Warm Springs. Without a reservoir to create a warm slack pool, you are likely to find large body native fish still frequenting their home waters. Abundant wildlife fills the banks as the weather warms in late May and early June. If you are fortunate, you will see bighorn sheep, deer, great blue herons, eagles, and bears.
Become a Permit Pro
First, start by setting up an account on Recreation.gov and then navigate the site by searching for Green and Yampa River permits. You can set up your account prior to the lottery opening. Bonus: once you have your account information saved you can apply for permits with the same account without entering your personal information year after year.
The lottery application dates are always the same. The Yampa permit lottery opens on December 1 at 8 a.m. MT and runs through January 31. The lucky winners are notified on February 14 (the National Park Service’s Valentine’s gift to its constituents).
When the lottery opens, apply for the permit lottery with the launch site as Deerlodge and take out at Split Mountain. The site may confuse you by lumping Gates of Lodore and the Yampa on the same page. Be sure not to choose the Green River stretch from Gates of Lodore — you’ll get to see Echo Park but miss Yampa Canyon entirely.
Yampa River Permit Party
One way to make sure you and your river family not only remember to apply, but also ensure you are on the same page for launch dates, is to have a permit party. Having everyone in the same room also makes it easier to assign a trip leader and boat captains for your group and discuss gear logistics.
Keep in mind, lottery entrants/permit holders must be 18 years or older, and all boat captains, including the trip leader, must be knowledgeable in whitewater safety and basic first-aid skills. Prior Class III whitewater experience is also mandatory.
Plan a potluck and layout a calendar to find potential dates that everyone can rally for the river. You are able to choose multiple launch dates so give yourself options. It is in your favor to choose a single preferred launch date in mid- to late-May during peak runoff. Add a couple of additional dates later in the season that are less sought after to increase your chances of winning the lottery. A good rule of thumb is hope for big water but settle for low flows.
Private river permits are a privilege awarded to a few select groups each year. Your name may not get drawn on your first entry but keep at it. Consider your application fees a charitable donation to the National Park Service until you are awarded the golden ticket for a Yampa River rafting trip. It will be worth it to visit one of the most sought-after stretches of river in the lower 48.