Selway River Rafting
Small Trips, Big Whitewater, Bigger Wilderness
Selway River Rafting
Rafting the Selway River takes boaters into one of the most historic remote areas in the lower 48 states making it one of the most sought after river experiences in the world. A limited number of permitted travelers guarantees you will experience beauty and solitude like nowhere else. The forces of geologic change have shaped this country into a rugged jumble of steep canyons, mountains, rivers, and forests. Large groves of Western Red Cedars rise over 100 feet alongside the river’s edge while crystal clear water and deep pools provide for superb fishing. This trip rafts 48-miles of class III and IV whitewater over 5 or 6 days from the Paradise Creek put-in to Race Creek take-out.
Selway River Rafting Season
Early in the season, rafting on the Selway River is known for high volume rapids. As the water drops the river becomes a destination fly fishing trip. In addition to fishing, rafting and camping there is ample time to hike and swim. Most trips do a layover day at Moose Creek where they camp at the same spot two nights. People choose their own adventures on this day which could include fishing, hiking to a fire lookout, exploring old homesteads and backcountry Forest Service Ranger Stations, swimming or finding a shady spot to read and nap a little. As the river drops the water moves more slowly, the later season trips are 6-days to account for the slower travel on the water.
The name Selway comes from the Nez Perce word “Sal-wah”, meaning “smooth water”. Ironically this run is known for its large class IV rapids particularly in the Moose Juice section which contains Double Drop, Wa-poots, Ladle, Little Niagara and No Slouch.
Small Trips, Remote Setting
The Selway-Bitterroot National Forest manages this river to maximize the remote feel by allowing only one small trip of up to 16 people launch each day. Floating along the river it is rare to see other parties. Trips have their choice of camps and hikes. The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area was 1 million of the original 9 million acres of land protected by the Wilderness Act in 1964. In addition, the Selway River is one of the 8 original members of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
The lack of people, small group size, layover day, and pristine wilderness makes this the most challenging river trip in the United States to find an opening. Plan ahead and call years before you want to go.
$3,500 - $4,100 per person
Length: 48 miles/5 to 6 days
Price: $3,500 to 4,100 per person
includes tents/pads/sleeping bags
Season: June – July
Min. Age: 12 years
Activity: Class IV/IV+ Whitewater Rafting
Meeting Place: Missoula, Montana
Ending Place: Missoula, Montana
“Unbelievable trip down the Selway River. This was an adventure of a lifetime with pristine wilderness, fabulous food, stunning campsites and exciting whitewater. Absolutely 5 stars+++ . The guides were outstanding both in whitewater skills and personality.“
– Brantly B.
Selway River Rafting Details
Meet at 8:00 pm the evening before the trip in Missoula, Montana at the Doubletree Inn. During the pre-trip meeting, the guides will distribute dry bags for packing your gear, review trip and shuttle information, and answer last-minute questions. It is not necessary to stay at the Doubletree Inn.
At the time designated during pre-trip meeting a bus will transport the group from the Double Tree Inn two to three hours to the put-in at Paradise Guard Station. After a short safety and orientation briefing, you will launch on the river around noon. The Selway River starts off with fun class III rapids including Galloping Gertie and Holy Smokes that continue down to our first camp. After the rafts are unloaded everyone decides where they will set up for the evening and then it’s time for relaxing, appetizers, and then dinner.
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While on the river expect to wake up to a call that coffee is ready. After breakfast everyone packs up their gear. The second day on the Selway takes rafters through scenic Goat Creek Rapid, challenging Ham Rapid and additional fun class III/IV rapids. Typically there is time for a short hike around a lunch stop. After the 10 to 12 miles of rafting, you arrive at the confluence with Moose Creek. Camp will be set-up here for two nights.
Day 3 – Layover Day
After breakfast, the crew will set up a lunch table so everyone can make themselves a bag lunch. The layover day is a pick your own adventure day. While those that want a challenging day will head out early on a big hike (like the Shissler Peak Fire Lookout) with one of the guides, most people will stay to fish Moose Creek, head up to explore the historic Moose Creek Ranger station and landing strip, or spend the day lounging and swimming in the river. This is many people’s favorite day of the trip. Rather than packing and unpacking, it is a day simply being in one of the most pristine wildernesses in the world.
*** On 6-day trips there will still be a layover it may be on Day 4 instead of Day 3 depending upon the conditions.
Day 4 – Moose Juice
After a day of relaxation comes the biggest whitewater of the trip. Just downstream Moose Creek increases the flow of the river by a third. Below the canyon narrows creating the biggest rapids of the run. Double Drop, Wapoots, Ladle, Little Niagra, and No Slouch come in quick succession. The group will stop to scout Ladle the biggest of the drops. After the canyon opens up in time for a lunch stop. Later in the afternoon, Wolf Creek, the second biggest rapid of the trip provides one last test before camp.
*** On a 6 day trip Wolf Creek is many times run on the 5th day with camp being just upstream.
The last morning has some mellow rapids and beautiful scenery. Typically trips have lunch at the Race Creek take-out before the 4 hour drive back to Missoula.
All the group camping and river-related safety equipment is included along with plenty of fresh food and snacks starting with lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day. There will be plenty of water but if you would like soda, beer, wine, or liquor with your dinner, please bring your own, (beer and soda in cans; wine in boxes or bags; hard liquor in glass bottles).
On this trip sleeping bags, pads and tents are included. Groups within a booking will be expected to share tents with another in their group unless other arrangements are made. The tents are fairly spacious with vestibules and enough space to sleep a third person even though there will be a maximum of two people in a tent. Transportation from Missoula to the put-in point, and take-out point back to Missoula is included.
Guides appreciate gratuities for their efforts. Typically, tips are around 10% to 15% of the trip cost and can be given to the head guide to be evenly distributed among the crew. That being said, the choice to tip is yours and depends upon your feelings about the trip and tipping in general as well as your financial means.
What to Expect
Making the most of your Selway River Rafting trip
We find people have the most fun when they are flexible. Rafting trips are an adventure and the guides are continually adjusting the days plans to make the most of each day as it is presented. It can be nice to leave your watch behind.
June weather is typically in the high 70’s°F during the day and around 50°F at night with occasional precipitation. In July, daytime temperatures are in the high 80’s°F, dipping down to 55°F at night with less chance for rain.
Boats & Group Size
There are two types of boats on the Selway. Oar rafts are 18 feet long, carry all the overnight gear and up to 4 guests. They are rowed by a guide using oars attached to a metal frame. Paddle rafts are 14 feet long and carry between 4 and 6 paddlers who actively paddle through the rapids and down the river. Everyone has a paddle and follows the commands of the paddle guide. At high water the paddle raft will have a rear mounted oar frame to provide extra control for the guide.
Rafting Camp Life
Whether you’re an experienced camper or it’s your first time under the stars, river camping is an enjoyable and relaxing camping experience. While not required many people enjoy helping set up and break down camp. A clean, private camp toilet is set up first thing upon arrival at camp and it is the last thing to be dismantled the next morning.
There will be plenty of healthy tasty food on the trip. A full breakfast with cowboy coffee gets the day going. A riverside picnic sets the scene for lunch. Dinners can be anything from a steak, grilled filet of salmon, or a Mexican feast and may be followed by a hot, Dutch oven dessert. There are plenty of snacks and water available throughout the day. Alcoholic beverages are not included, but you are welcome to bring your own. When signing up for the trip you will have an opportunity to share any special dietary requirements.
Packing for your river trip
You will be provided with a suggested packing list specific for Selway River rafting trips after registering. The key equipment is good river footwear and clothing that protects you from the rain and the sun. While rain rarely falls in the summer, proper rain gear will make it a much more joyful experience if it does. Here are some rain gear, footwear, and other clothing options we recommend.
Fishing on the Selway River is outstanding and usually gets better after the water levels drop in July. Poles should be protected in sturdy cases, and only a small amount of tackle is needed. Dry flies and small spinners with single barbless hooks work well. Those wishing to fish can purchase an Idaho License on-line through Idaho Fish and Game.
Getting There and Away
It is helpful to find a flight that arrives in time to make the 8:00 pm pre-trip meeting. At the end of the trip, groups usually arrive in Missoula around 5:00 pm but it could be later. We recommend scheduling your flight home to leave the morning AFTER the trip gets off the water.
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