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Got Summer Camping Plans? The River Lottery Deadline Is Fast Approaching

Published on January 18th, 2021 by Natalie Henley
This post was updated on May 26th, 2023

summer camping
Staplegunther (talk)David Jolley, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Got Summer Camping Plans? The River Lottery Deadline Is Fast Approaching

Is parking your campervan, truck camper, or SUV tent next to a river your ideal RV spot? If watersports like rafting, kayaking, or paddling are part of your summer camping plans, you may want to try to reel in a river permit at one of several sought-after scenic and adventuresome waterways.

Due to the high volume of interest in experiences like this, particularly during the area’s peak season, Recreation.gov has set up a lottery system where anyone over the age of 18 can apply for and be entered into a drawing to be awarded a river permit at the destination of their choosing. The river lottery application deadline is fast approaching, closing at the end of this month, January 31, 2021.

The popular waterways, listed in the next section, are located in the United States’ western region but are not available to the public without proper authorization. Limiting the number of visitors enhances the experience for attendees. It reduces the footprint in these once high-trafficked areas, helping to preserve and protect these national treasures.

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River camping permits

Each location is unique and offers its own picturesque scenery, wildlife, history, challenging rapids, and other outdoor activities. Permit details vary from one lottery to the next.

Permits are valid for a certain number of days. The number of people allowed per permit varies as well. These specifications can be found by clicking the View Details button for each lottery. Here are are a few destinations offering river permits.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River

The 104-mile Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows among the alpine forests and high mountain deserts of Central Idaho.  The third deepest rock-walled canyon in North America is a sight to behold on your journey down the river.

Idaho
Middle Fork of the Salmon River – Photo via Wikipedia
Rex Parker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a virtual ride down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the video below.  There are many cultural and historical artifacts to see along the banks as you journey down the river.

San Juan River

The 102-mile stretch of the San Juan River in southeast Utah sits in a labyrinth of spectacular red rock canyons.  The location is rich in scenery, archaeology, history, remarkable geographic features, and desert wildlife. 

summer camping
San Juan River – Photo via Wikipedia
MostlyDeserts, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Snake River

The Snake River in Hell’s Canyon is the deepest river-carved gorge in North America. It forms the boundary between Idaho and Oregon. The land is home to wildlife like big horn sheep and the great blue heron, while sturgeon, Chinook salmon, and trophy steelhead trout swim below the rapids.

summer camping
Snake River in Hell’s Canyon – Photo via Wikipedia

Rio Chama 2021 Early and Release Seasons

The third-largest tributary of the Rio Grande, the 120-mile long Rio Chama runs from Colorado to New Mexico. The river offers access to side canyons, peaks, and mesa tops. The brightly colored cliffs and rugged badlands inspired many paintings by Georgia O’Keefe.

summer camping
Rio Chama – Photo via BLM

How the lottery works

Lottery applications are completed online through the Recreation.gov website or through the mobile app. Interested parties can keep track of the various lotteries being offered, which ones are currently open and coming soon, here too.

  • To participate in a lottery, you must have a Recreation.gov account. Create an account by clicking on the Sign Up button located on the homepage.
  • Click on the Enter Lottery button for the destination(s) of your choosing and fill out the application form. An individual can submit only one application per river lottery. There is an application fee to register for each lottery.
  • Regardless if an applicant is awarded a permit or not, all participants will receive an email with the lottery results. If you are selected, make sure to review and follow through with all further directives in the email. The “Need to Know” section on each lottery page is equally important to revisit before visiting the location.

You can start setting your tentative summer camping plans by viewing a list of all open lotteries here.

Not a winner, not to worry

If your application is not a winner, don’t fret.  Your summer camping plans are not destroyed.  There are many more places to explore and several more campgrounds to enjoy around our great nation.  

RV LIFE Trip Wizard is a handy customizable trip planning tool that can get you where you want to go utilizing RV-friendly routes. Along with the on-the-go RV LIFE app, you and your traveling crew will stay on course and get to your destinations in no time.

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