The Selway River is unique due to its pristine nature and the focus on solitude as a primary feature of the river running experience. Only one small group of sixteen people is allowed to launch on the river per day during the relatively short season from late May to early August. Many trips conclude without seeing any other river running groups.
In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act to establish a nine million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, composed mostly of the Selway River watershed, made up 1.25 million acres of the original system. In 1968 the Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created and the Selway was one of the original eight rivers to be protected. Today the Wilderness System is over 100 million acres and there are hundreds of Wild and Scenic Rivers, yet the Selway remains a pristine original.
The Selway is known for coastal type vegetation with huge Western Red Cedars and moss and fern covered banks, plus the occasional Pacific Yew tree. The roadless section is 47 miles and contains Class III-IV water, escalating to some Vs in high water conditions. The most famous stretch of whitewater comes right after the halfway point, when Moose Creek, almost as big as the Selway itself, adds volume just as the gradient of the river increases from an average 28 feet per mile to 50 feet per mile. This three mile stretch of seven Class IV rapids is known by guides as the “Moose Juice!”
The water quality of the Selway is superb -“ crystal clear running through exciting rapids and deep pools. Fishing is excellent for native cutthroat trout.
Due to the limited number of small groups allowed, booking a Selway trip requires advance planning. Only four outfitters operate on the river. They often book a year or more in advance. It is always worth checking for openings due to last minute cancellations.
If you seek a pristine wilderness experience with an emphasis on solitude, (and great whitewater as well), the Wild and Scenic Selway should be high on your list of rivers to run.
From Darby, Montana, on U.S. 93, drive south 10 miles to a point where the road crosses the Bitterroot River. Just before the bridge, turn right up the West Fork Road. Follow this road over Nez Perce Pass to Magruder Ranger Station. At magruder, turn right and follow the Selway downstream to the puti-in below Paradise Guard Station.To reach the take-out, return to U.S. 93, travel north to Lolo and take U.S. 12 over Lolo Pass to Lowell, Idaho. At Lowell, the Selway joins to Lochsa River to form the Clearwater River. Cross the Lochsa and the follow the road up the Selway to the take-out above Selway Falls.Camping: There are four Forest Service campgrounds between Magruder and the put-in at Paradise. Numerous campgrounds are located near the Selway Falls take-out.Permits: First, the bad news - your chances of drawing a Selway permit in any given year are one in 32. Next, the good news - ahhh, well, if you get one, you'll have a blast.In 1988, there were approximately 2,000 applications for 62 launch dates. The permit season is May 15 to July 31. One launch is permitted each day, including 16 commercial trips per season. The Forest Service mailes out application forms in October. They should be returned between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31. Applicants are notified in mid February. To receive an application, contact the West Fork Ranger Station, Darby, MT 59829, (406) 821-3269."Vee haf our vays" to beat the system. If the road opens early, you can put in prior to May 15. Also you can fly in to Running Creek Ranch before the permit season (see appendix). Or you could stay in phone contact with the West Fork Ranger Station and hope to pick up a cancellation.Though the permit season begins May 15, the road over Nez Perce Pass is often blocked by snow until late May. Check with the West Fork ranger for road conditions.Additional Information: A detailed, waterproof map of the Selway is available from the Forest Service. For a mile-by-mile description of running the Selway, see John Garren's Idaho River Tours.