Click on the image to launch a photo slideshow from the Selway. Photos by Lee Cohen.
When it comes to your bucket list of rivers to run, the Selway River in Idaho is a must. It flows from headwaters in the Bitterroot Mountains along the Montana-Idaho border, dropping over 7,000 feet to join the Lochsa River near Lowell, Idaho. The only problem? It may be the hardest river permit to pull in the United States. Just 72 permits are issued each year, including private and commercial trips. During high season (May 15 to July 31) only one party of 16 people is allowed to launch each day. We only see one other group in five days on the river. This remote Idaho trip launches from a campground called Paradise, and it feels like more than a mere coincidence.
We run a stretch 47 miles long, engulfed in a true feeling of total isolation. On our five-day trip, bears are spotted three times and a bald eagle flies up the river in slow motion 10 feet overhead, easily the best look I've ever had at one. Steep Idaho mountainsides leap up alongside the river. As we descend, the narrow canyon widens, the river gaining strength and volume with every creek that feeds it. After Moose Creek you hit a sick stretch of Class IV rapids. Mega sand bar camps await, and there's no need to worry about someone else being there when you come around the bend. We take out at Race Creek after five full days; darkness holds off until 10 p.m. around summer solstice in this wild corner of the country. —Lee Cohen