BOISE, Idaho — Rafters found out this week if they were lucky enough to snag a permit in the Four Rivers Lottery.
Idaho has some of the best multi-day rafting expeditions in the country, but private boaters need a permit during the summer to float the Main Salmon, the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the Selway and Hells Canyon of the Snake River.
But your odds of pulling one of these permits isn't very good: Hells Canyon offers the best odds, in 2020 it was one in 17, the Main Salmon is one in 43, the Middle Fork is one in 45 and the Selway is one in 122.
As you can see the number of lottery applications has been on the rise ever since the forest service began the lottery system and the growth has spurred a shortage of rafts at local companies like Maravia and Aire as they try to keep up with demand while dealing with supply chain issues.
"I think it is both ever since the whole covid crisis everybody wants to be outside everybody wants to recreate," said Amanda Simpson of Maravia. "Maravia boats are a little harder to come by just because they are customizable, but we are still trying to pump them out as fast as we can."
Cascade River Gear does have rafts for sale, but it could take months for a customizable Maravia or for a guide service to receive a fleet of boats.
Meanwhile, Aire's website states they've reached production capacity for the remainder of 2021 and can't take any new orders.
As for the lottery system, the regulations are a good thing because they keep these rivers wild as rafters have to pack out everything they take in including human waste.
The general consensus from the rafting community on numerous forums and Facebook groups is people are not in favor of the forest service handing out more private permits, some people question how many permits commercial rafters get, but their livelihood depends on river access and they also help people without experience enjoy these rivers.
"The Middle Fork of the Salmon is ranked within one of the top three rivers in the world with its pristine nature and also the wilderness aspect that it offers with no motors and no mechanized equipment with no motors and no mechanized equipment," said Steve Lentz with Far and Away Adventures, we ran into his group preparing for a river trip when we flew into the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return in 2020.
The lottery system costs six dollars to enter and that becomes a donation to the forest service to help manage the rivers.
The growth can also be attributed to an online application system that makes it really convenient to enter the lottery, which has also increased the number of out-of-state people who draw permits, Idahoans won 22 percent of the permits last year.
The pandemic has also played a role in a different way as people who had to cancel their reservations in 2020 were able to roll those over to 2021 creating fewer permits in the lottery.
My friend group did not win any permits this year but we were lucky enough to snag a Hells Canyon permit last year and we will try again next year.
"I didn’t get one, but it was my first time," said Simpson. "My dad got one last year but he had applied ten times before he got one."