Yampa River permits available starting Sunday: Tips on how to snag one
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Applications for Yampa River permits open Sunday, Dec. 1, but snagging one is no easy feat.
According to the National Park Service, the permitted stretch of the Yampa River, the put-in of which is about a two-hour drive from Steamboat, is one of the hardest to acquire in North America based on supply and demand. Last year, more than 10,000 applications vied for the 300 private permits available.
With that in mind, below are a few tips on how to maximize the chances of scoring a trip.
A local Grand Canyon
So what makes the permitted section of the Yampa River so special?
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Pete Van De Carr, owner of the local outdoor company Backdoor Sports, said its appeal has to do with its scenery and the fact it remains largely free-flowing, unlike many rivers controlled with extensive dams. It is the largest unregulated tributary remaining in the Colorado River system, according to the National Park Service.
Van De Carr has floated the permitted section of the Yampa River at least 50 times, mostly on a kayak. He calls it a “Grand Canyon-style river,” which snakes through immense, sandstone canyons in Dinosaur National Monument.
Floating this portion of the Yampa River typically takes five days, according to the National Parks Service. It includes Class III rapids, so Van De Carr recommends people have whitewater experience before making the trip. Some of the best-known rapids include Warm Springs, Teepee and Big Joe.
The local stewardship nonprofit, Friends of the Yampa, calls its namesake waterway “a model of a healthy river system,” supporting a diversity of wildlife alongside recreation opportunities. Bighorn sheep, bald eagles and bears are some of the animals guests may see while floating. The Yampa River also is home to endangered species such as the humpback chub and razorback sucker fishes.
“It’s unbelievably beautiful,” Van De Carr said.
The river’s lack of dams means its flow is entirely reliant on snowfall, limiting the time frame people can float the permitted section.
During years with a low snowpack, access to the river may be restricted as early as May or June, according to the National Park Service. In years with a deep snowpack, the float may be accessible into July.
Learning the system
High-use river permits like the Yampa River float operate on a lottery system. The lottery runs from Dec. 1 through Jan. 31. Because recipients are selected at random at the end of the application period, there is no advantage to applying early. Recipients usually are announced on Feb. 14, a Valentine’s Day gift to the lucky winners.
To enter the lottery, set up an account at Recreation.gov and search for the Yampa River permit. People can make an account prior to the lottery opening Dec. 1. This account can be used to apply for other river permits. Apply for the Yampa River permit with the launch site as Deerlodge Park and take-out at the Split Mountain boat ramp.
Up your chances of winning
After years of navigating the system, Van De Carr has a few tips to maximize the odds of scoring a Yampa River permit.
“The best trick is to make as many friends as you can who are interested in applying for a permit,” he said.
What he means is that the more people who apply for a permit, the greater the odds someone in the group actually receives one. He also encourages people to invite strangers on their trips to expand their circle of river friends.
“The more people you include in your river trip, the more likely they are to invite you on their river trip,” Van De Carr said.
Hosting a permit party with friends is one way to coordinate applications with a group and establish trip dates everyone can plan for. May 13 to July 13 is the high-use period to float the Yampa River when the most people will be on the water, according to the National Park Service. Picking dates outside of this period may increase the odds of winning.
All applicants must be at least 18 years old and should have whitewater experience as well as basic first-aid knowledge.
“It doesn’t hurt to have a swiftwater rescue class under your belt,” Van De Carr added.
Backdoor Sports does not offer trips on the permitted section of the Yampa River, but Van De Carr is able to connect people with availability on existing trips. Often, groups with a permit have one or two open spots, he explained, allowing someone to join last minute. For that reason, he also said, somewhat jokingly, it can help to have a job one can quit or leave on a moment’s notice.
“People who have real jobs, they don’t get a lot of river trips,” he said.
People may only submit one application to the high-use lottery system. More than one application in the lottery will result in the forfeiture of any trip won through the lottery. All river permit fees, except fees to request an additional day, are nonrefundable, according to the National Park Service.
While Van De Carr plans to apply for a Yampa River permit, he is in no rush to do so.
“I’ll probably do what I always do and wait until the last minute,” he said.
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