Selway River

Paradise to Race Creek

Western Bitteroot + Clearwater Mountains, Idaho

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Selway River

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  • White Cap Creek joins the Selway River at the Paradise Boat Ramp.- Selway River
  • The Selway River Trail is a superb hike or pack with horses.- Selway River
  • Vault toilets at the boat ramp and trailhead.- Selway River
  • The gauges at Paradise. Selway flows exceeding 8 feet are not uncommon..- Selway River
  • Our mid-July Selway flows are considerably lower.- Selway River
  • The put-in at Paradise takes a little heaving.- Selway River
  • An early, low-flow boulder puzzle at Washer Woman.- Selway River
  • The flats near Shearer Guard Station, a popular airstrip for access below Paradise.- Selway River
  • Volunteer host cabins at the Shearer Guard Station.- Selway River
  • Mid-summer sun on the Selway River.- Selway River
  • Packed up and drifting down the Selway.- Selway River
  • Western redcedar (Thuja plicata) and a ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa) help dry some soggy duds.- Selway River
  • The camp kitchen at Tango.- Selway River
  • A black bear cub (Ursus americanus) moves slowly in the summer heat across the opposing bank.- Selway River
  • Tied up to the cedar at Roots on the Selway.- Selway River
  • Several pack bridges on the Selway are their own marvels. This is the Tony Point bridge.- Selway River
  • The Selway changes course and character with the addition of Moose Creek, left.- Selway River
  • Where's your line? Ladle at low water encourages creativity.- Selway River
  • A rapid that takes a few minutes at high water takes considerably longer at low flows.- Selway River
  • Clear, starry nights in a vast wilderness.- Selway River
  • Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis) gathering on the banks of the Selway at Pinchot.- Selway River
  • Wolf Creek Rapid at low flows.- Selway River
  • Wolf Creek Rapid at slightly higher flows.- Selway River
  • Lining up for a great run through a boney Wolf Creek.- Selway River
  • Jim's Creek Rapid.- Selway River
  • Dishes done, time to relax.- Selway River
  • A full moon wanders around the camp at Bait Creek.- Selway River
  • Native cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) are all over the Selway, though they generally won't break any records. You'll also find bull and rainbow trout. All catch and release only.- Selway River
  • An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) hovers near a productive Selway fishing hole.- Selway River
  • A tree nearly blocked the river entirely below Renshaw Creek in 2013. Head far right.- Selway River
  • You never want to leave the Selway's gin-clear water.- Selway River
  • Spring shuttles into Paradise are great adventures that require specialized vehicles.- Selway River
  • The real bridge to Paradise that takes you straight to the Selway River.- Selway River
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Remote wilderness river. Wildlife. Whitewater. Beautiful camps.
Cons: 
Difficult to obtain permits.
Region:
Western Bitteroot + Clearwater Mountains, ID
Average Gradient: 
28.00 ft/mi (5.30 m/km)
Route Characteristics: Character:
Pool Drop, Continuous, Wooded (Forested)
Gauge URL: 
http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?13336500
Overall difficulty: 
IV+
IV
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer
Put-in location (lat, long coordinates): 
Paradise
Suitable for:
Kayaks, Rafts, Commercial Outfitters
Take-out location (lat, long coordinates): 
Race Creek
Total Distance: 
47.00 mi (75.64 km)
Current Local Weather:

Notable Hazards + River Information

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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Team

The Selway is an extraordinarily dynamic river that, depending on the time of year, the snowpack from the previous winter, the fire season, or the prevailing weather patterns, may alternately terrify or calmly cradle river runners lucky enough to float its waters. Spring flows turn sections of this river into churning, frothy, ice-cold Class IV+ hydraulics that are rendered exponentially more hazardous by the remote and frigid context the Bitterroot Mountains provide. Meet the Selway on the other end of the boating season, however, after the small suns of arrow-leaf balsamroot have withered in summer’s relentless heat and the rattlesnakes look for shade, and the Selway is a warm, low-flow puzzle that obstructs the routes of even the most agile and attentive boater. Floating the river somewhere in the middle, usually from mid-June to mid-July, is a sweet spot; intermediate flows keep the major rapids exciting and keep the boats moving through miles of crystal-clear mountain snowmelt.

Of course, this river is stunning at whichever stage it is in, as it should be when a river is as protected as the Selway has been. Though the Selway was one of the original eight rivers officially protected as Wild and Scenic in 1968, the wilderness area has been recognized as a place worth preserving as early as 1897, when it was called the Bitterroot Forest Reserve. While not a totally pristine wilderness, as the float passes several ranches and landing strips which all have their own charms, the Selway has benefited enormously from more than a century of careful preservation.

As a result, your river tour is also a portal into a healthy Rocky Mountain ecosystem. As you drift through this small portion of the third largest wilderness in the continental U.S., look for elk, moose, deer, bear, osprey, golden and bald eagles, wolves, and river otters, or catch and release rainbow, cutthroat, and bull trout or the occasional Chinook or steelhead. Note the landscape that has been scarred by recent forest fires that were mostly lightening-caused and as much a part of the ecology as the winter snow. Enjoy the clear skies (out of fire season!), and maybe even drink the water. Know that, because the Forest Service allows only one 16-person boat launch per day during the permit season, you probably won’t see another group during your trip. 

The downside to all of the privacy you will enjoy on the river is the reality that getting a permit to run the Selway during the main boating season is extremely difficult. Of course, booking a trip with one of the four commercial guiding companies licensed to run the Selway is an option; images for this adventure are from several trips over the years with SOAR Northwest River Company. If you do aim to run your own trip, the Forest Service issues permits to winners of their Four Rivers Lottery (you may also apply to run the Main Salmon, Middle Fork of the Salmon, and Hells Canyon on the Snake with the same form), and statistically speaking, the chances of drawing a Selway launch date are quite low. 

You can forego these lousy odds by checking regularly for cancelations during the lottery season or by launching before or after the lottery season. In both instances you would go through the Forest Service’s reservation site, Recreation.gov. Going before lottery season often means getting through miles and miles of snow covered road with a special shuttle service, not to mention enduring the vicissitudes of spring in the Bitterroots. Going after the lottery season ends often means running your boat as light as you can and still heaving your boat down the river. 

Flow information on the Selway can be a little tricky. Flows at the put-in are measured on sticks in terms of feet; unfortunately, this information is not posted online. The alternate gauge is at the confluence of the Selway and Lochsa Rivers near Lowell. This is a USGS gauge that provides live, online information in cubic feet per second (cfs), however this point is 47 river miles downstream from Paradise. In the lingo of the Paradise gauge, low water trips are generally anything up to 2.5 feet, and high water trips are above 5 feet. Try this source for some translation between these two gauges.

Boating on the Selway is a serious endeavor, and extensive research is recommended. The river runs through a blessedly wild area where help can be hard to find. On average the river’s gradient is 28 feet per mile; in long sections it reaches 50 feet per mile. The most difficult whitewater challenges may not be Class V at most flows, but they are very healthy Class IV rapids in a remote environment. This water both savagely and gently humbles experienced boaters, just as all river experience engenders humility. Further, though the area is powerful, the area is also fragile, and several regulations regarding camping, waste, and fire etiquette are essential knowledge. So, please grab a float guide! We use and recommend RiverMaps Guide to the Selway River by Duwain Whitis and Barbara Vinson, but there are other sources that will help you prepare. As you plan your daily mileage, be sure to leave time for the occasional side hike such as the trip to the Moose Creek Ranger Station or the challenging hike up to Shissler Peak.

The Selway has over 45 rapids rated Class II or above. Below is a list of rapids normally considered Class IV.

  • Goat Creek: Beautiful rapid. This is a series of movements to river right and river left and back again, alternating to find the current on the inside turns. Boulders abound, and you weave through with the current. Scout is on the left.
  • Ham: A straight, narrow, fast section of water with several significant, center-ish obstructions that force routes right or left (or alternating). Logs have also been a significant factor in this rapid. Scout is on the left.
  • Double Drop: Two drops pretty close together that coincide with a left turn. Entrance is on a hard right turn, then the first drop. Lining up for the second drop becomes more difficult the higher the flows. Scout from the trail.
  • Wa-poots or Grizzly Saddle: After piling up on the left at the top of the rapid, most of the river pushes right, funneling you into significant hydraulics at the bottom. Start rightish and get left to avoid the bottom hydraulics. Scout from the trail. 
  • Ladle (IV+): A huge boulder garden with different solutions at different water levels. Low water runs usually dart and drag around the right; medium to high flows may allow a center line. Scout from the trail.
  • Little Niagara: Quickly follows Ladle. A giant boulder sits in the center of the river, forming drops on the right and left. The right channel is the right choice. Boulder gardens below. Scout from the trail.
  • Wolf Creek: The river pushes right, hugs a sheer cliff, and dumps over a gigantic boulder river right at bottom. Strong current, boulders, laterals, and hydraulics complicate the effort to avoid that lower right mess. Scout from the trail.
  • Jim's Creek: After an initial drop, a central boulder creates significant hydraulics and forces a right or left line, depending on flows. Scout from the left.

And, finally, if you are indeed preparing for a trip on the Selway River, congratulations! You are going to float one of the most beautiful and protected rivers in the country.

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Field Guide + River Map

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Published in collaboration with SOAR Northwest

Our mission is to assure that our trips on the Selway River and the Salmon River results in your full enjoyment of the beauty and wilderness values of this very special part of America. SOAR Northwest is run by an experienced team of river running professionals. We have a strong history of safety, quality, and integrity as a premier outfitter on the Selway and Salmon Rivers in Idaho. 

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