Selway River Guide

compiled by Nate Pelton

I made this guide in preparation for my first trip on the Selway River, June 17-21, 2010.

There was no commercially available river guide for the Selway at the time.

I used the following trip reports that I found online as sources :

1.0 feet : July
1.1 feet : August 5, 1996
2.5 feet : June 13, 2007
2.6 feet : June 13, 2005
2.7 feet : June 2006
2.8 feet : June 2007
2.9 feet : June 8, 2005
3.0 feet : May 6, 2005
3.0 feet : June 19, 1998
3.1 feet : June 6, 2007
4.5 feet : June 17, 2010 - my 1st trip
5.0 feet : April 29, 2007
5.5 feet : May 27, 2004
unknown level : July 2008

Stretch: Paradise campground to Selway Falls
Difficulty: At low flows (III with several class IV rapids
Distance: 47.7 miles, 5 or more days
Flows: put-in minimum: rafts .9', kayaks .5', IK .1'
Gauge: 1000 - 10000 cfs measured below take-out near Lowell (USGS site)
Gradient: 28 fpm overall, steeper after Moose Creek
Put-in: just below confluence with White Cap Creek, 3050'
Take-out: boat access below Race Creek campground, 1325'
Shuttle: 275 miles (6.5 hours) one-way
Season: early summer, from snowmelt and springs

Selway River Shuttles : Karen Kidd 406-821-3560

This section of the Selway requires a USFS permit, and they are among the most difficult permits to obtain in the USA. Generally your chances are better in mid to late July. The permit season currently ends on July 31st, but flows are usually too low for rafts by then.

The Selway has many great campsites, but not until after mile 10. Running Creek ranch at mile 6.5 has a high horse population, so there are lots of horseflies in early campsites until the first bridge where horses cross from river right to the ranch on river left. After that point, it is possible to camp every night with access to a sandy beach, forested tent sites, and a good swimming hole.

Campsite Name level : campsite comments
Rapid Name (Class) level : rapid comments
Feature Name feature comments
campsite name link to photos

0 R Paradise launch site, just below the confluence with White Cap Creek, where a wooden boat ramp helps you lower big boats to the river. Upstream about half a mile on the creek is a nice campsite, and further, a USFS guard station.
0.2?     1.0 : Some rocky rapids shortly below put-in are tight for rafts.
2.1 L Bad Luck Bar large high-water camp on the left. Somewhat misnamed: Bad Luck Creek comes in on the right .3 mile downstream.
3.5   Slalom Slide (III) 1.0 : A boulder bar where the main channel starts on the left and flows diagonally right around a rocky slope.
2.5 : river left run through boulder garden
2.6 : left to right run
2.8 : 3 or 4 moves makes this rapid loads of fun. It is basically a short rock garden.
2.9 : enter left, move right
4.5 :
4.2   Galloping Gertie (III+) 1.0 : This is a tough one at low water. The apparent boat-scout route is down the left side, which works fine for kayaks, but rafts wider than a meter(?) will get wedged tight there. At low flows, rafts must enter right and get dragged over boulders on that side (not as hard as it sounds).
2.5 : river left run against the wall
2.8 : There is a good sized eddy on the right above Galloping Gertie, where we stopped to scout. Rocks filled the right side of the river through Gertie, so we ran left through the larger waves. Be sure to watch for the rock at the bottom on the left though.
4.5 :
4.4   Washer Woman (III) 1.0 : The apparent boat-scout route is in the center, which might work for rafts with a little tugging, but bumping down the right side and working center might work better.
2.6 : run left, watch out for domer
2.8 : run left
2.9 : run far left
4.5 :
4.6 R Waldo Bar large high-water camp on the right, with few trees.
4.7   Cougar Bluff (III) 1.0 : Big wave train along a cliff on the left-hand side.
2.8 : short ride with one rock to avoid followed by a few pulls to easily avoid a hole.
4.5 :
5.0 L Driftwood Bar medium-size moderate-flow camp on the left.
5.5   Holy Smokes (III-) 1.0 : only class II+ at low water
2.8 : fun wave train. As always there is a short rock garden that can easily be negotiated.
4.5 :
6.6 L Running Creek Ranch Trail bridge crosses the river, leading to Running Creek ranch / private) on river left. Large moderate-flow camp on the left just before the bridge, sometimes infested with horseflies.
6.9 R Running Creek Flat large wooded high-water camp, is much more pristine but lacks sandy beach, though you can hike to a good swimming hole
6. L Running Creek enters on the left. Around the corner is a nice swimming hole reachable by trail from Running Creek camp.
8.7 L Archer (aka Upper North Star) large high-water camp on the left, has a nice sandy beach and nearby forest with wildflowers, but lacks a swimming hole. North Star ranch (private) is across the river but seems unobtrusive.
9.3   Ping Pong Alley (II-III) 1.0 : Marked on the USFS map as just a class II, but at low flows it becomes very difficult for rafts. Kayaks can squeeze down the left side, but the best plan for rafts might be dragging them over the low boulder bar on the right, then back into the center.
2.5 : river wide and shallow rock garden
2.8 : narrow channel to the right
2.9 : run far right
4.5 :
10.8 L Goat Creek enters on the left. Good place to stop for lunch.
Elevator Mountain Nearby (Hike)
10.9 L Goat Creek 1.0 : Fine small high-water camp: relatively few tent sites on a steep hill.
2.9 : small eddy, fast water, easily missed. Idyllic camp next to Goat Creek in the trees with a nice beach. The eddy is  probably too small for seven boats (our next trip) unless we swing boats out into the current. I can tell this camp is used a lot because there are lots of ants
11.1 R Pom Beach an excellent but small low-water campsite on the right. Mileage approximate; not marked on the USFS campsite inventory.
11.5   Goat Creek rapid (III-IV)

1.0 : Major rapid among large boulders. Easy partial-scout on the right. Guidebooks say to watch for logs in early season.
2.5 : incredibly fun – like a slalom course, in and out of rocks, back and forth across river right of the river, with Winnebago sized rocks (took the shoot between the second and third Winnebago) at the end. 
2.8 : next to impossible to scout. Another slalom - moving right then left then back right.
2.9 : start right, several bends
4.5 :

11.8 L Little Goat Creek excellent large moderate-flow camp. It's in the middle of a rapid, so landing rafts can be difficult. Wooded tent sites at the top, followed by a sandy beach below. Just downstream is a nice swimming hole.
13.7 L Shearer USFS guard station before the river bends left. A public airstrip is just upstream.
14.5 L Ditch Creek followed by Selway Lodge (private). Pack bridge where trail crosses from left to right.
14.5 R Cougar Flats large high-water camp on the right.
14.9   Selway Lodge Bridge rapid (II+) Just upstream of the bridge where the pack trail crosses from left to right bank. Apparently not remarkable at higher flows, but at low flows rafts tend to get stuck on exposed rocks.
15.6 R White Trail Flats nice large high-water camp on the right, on a long wooded bench.
15.8 L Mills Camp large high-water camp
16.0 R Bear Creek a large tributary, enters on the right.
16.0 R Bear Creek Camp Excellent but small low-water camp near the mouth of the creek.
16.0   Bear Creek Rapid (II)  
16.5   Island A wild island splits the river; more water goes left (2003).
16.7 L Unnamed large high-water camp on the left.
17.0 R Big Cedar medium-sized low-water camp on the right.
17.8 L Black Sands a wonderful large moderate-water camp on the left. You can land on rocks above a class II- rapid, or in a small eddy below the rapid. The black and white sandy area is up higher, below several wooded tent sites, and gives way to cobble near the river. A good swimming hole is a short hike downstream, and a large cave is slightly further on the left bank.
18.0   Rodeo Rapid (II) 1.0 : does not seem significant
2.5 : river right with lots of compression waves
4.5 :
18.5   Pettibone Creek  
18.5 R Dead Elk Camp a beautiful medium-sized low-water site on the right, with big sandy beach leading down to a swimming hole. Perhaps named to make it seem less attractive.
18.6   Pettibone Rapid (II)  
20.8 R Rattlesnake Bar medium-sized high-water camp on the right. Nice campsite, but no swimming hole.
22.3   Hairpin Turn One mile to Ham Rapid
22.7 L Magpie Creek  
22.8   Magpie Creek Rapid (II)  
23.1   False Ham Rapid (aka Green Eggs) (III-) 1.0 : followed by a short stretch of quiet water
2.5 : pretty straightforward
23.3   Ham Rapid (IV-) CAUTION : May 11, 2010 : LOG ON RIGHT SIDE
At higher flows you should scout Ham on the left, but at low and medium flows the view is better on the right. This long rapid contains two major drops divided by midstream boulders.
1.0 : Maybe it's not quite class IV at lower flows.
2.5 : There was a large wash over at the top and then a hard pull to river center-left to avoid a larger pointed wrap-rock. 
2.6 : enter left, stay left
2.9 : enter left and stay left of big domer
4.5 : washed out
4.5 :
24.0 L Roots Camp a small moderate-flow site on the left.
2.6 : hard rocky landing, okay camp
24.2 R Hell Creek comes in on the right
24.3   Hell Creek Rapids (II+) nearly continuous class II+ rapids, definitely more than marked on the USFS map.
25.9   Suspension Bridge where trails cross from Tony Point to the Moose Creek ranger station and public airstrip. It is a mile-long hike to the ranger station, uphill then level along the airfield, past a grove of old-growth western red cedar.

Notes about the Moose Creek camps:

Stop at the Tony Point bridge (on river right). I didn’t see a good eddy anywhere on the right near the bridge but did see lots of rocks and fast landings. I’ve heard some boaters even camp here [not recommended because of pack horse trains - they (rangers and horsepackers) don’t want you to camp here].

Anyway, the goal is to pull out at the bridge (river right), walk down the trail (river right) to see across river (scout) if the camp is open at Tony Point (across from Moose Creek- river left) or if the lower camp (further down the trail but on river left) is open. If they are; great, take Tony Point as a first choice. If both are taken, walk across the bridge and ask if you can share with the group already there. If there is only one launch a day, there shouldn’t be anyone at either camp. BUT, not everyone is running the same number of days your group might be running and it’s a popular place to camp, layover, hike down the trail and scout some of the big rapids several miles downstream.

Why do all this work and just find another camp downstream? There aren’t any more camps once you pass the second (marginal) camp past Tony Point. You would then be forced to run all the big rapids and have a VERY long day.

I personally think that Tony Point is not a great camp due to all the airplane noise (quite a bit in this section). I liked staying up at Roots camp on the second trip better (rockier but quieter and not as stressful). If all else fails and you reach the bridge and all the camps are filled up and won’t share; stay put and make the most of the bridge camp (not a good camp plus the rangers and horsepackers will not be pleased with your choice).

After describing all of this – we didn’t do it and just winged it hoping Tony Point would be open. It was but it turns out the next day we caught the group (a day ahead of us) camped just below Tony Point so it had the potential for not working out well.

26.0   Tony Point Bridge Camp a good medium-sized high-water camp, is on the right just above the bridge. An emergency camp, used in spring when groups are stacked up above Moose Creek waiting for flows to recede, is on the left just below the bridge.
26.0   Tony Point rapid (II+) This is relatively easy for kayaks, but at low water rafts must plan their route. It helps to scout from above on the bridge.
26.1 L Tony Point Camp after bridge on the left, an excellent medium-sized high-water camp, with many wooded tent sites up higher, a sandy beach, and a relatively shallow swimming hole. You can ferry across the river and hike downstream, or over a spit of land, to see the confluence with Moose Creek.
2.9 : There are lots of bees in this camp and it looks heavily used.
26.2   Moose Creek which almost doubles the flow. The gradient steepens shortly ahead, and rapids go by in a blur. No large campsites for almost seven miles downstream. With added flow, this stretch is sometimes called Moose Juice.
26.5 R Divide Creek  
26.5   Rapid (II)  
26.7 L Camp medium-sized moderate-water camp on the left.
27.1   Jake Creek  
27.2   Double Drop (III-IV) Just past Jake Creek, after a left bend, are two sizeable drops. At low water both can be run on the right, but at higher flows boaters often ferry left to avoid a big hole in the second drop. You can scout this rapid from the trail on the right bank.
2.9 : We ended up running the Double Drop slot between the two top rocks (left to right) and then hugged the left side tongue once we cleared the top entry slot.
3.0 : Right side run, pull left to miss hole at bottom
4.5 : We rode the pillow off the big rock river left moving toward the center. Once off the pillow, pulled hard left to avoid the holes at the bottom. We had one out of boat experience here and there was enough time to get the swimmer and empty raft to shore.
27.7   Unnamed (II)  
27.9   Wa-Poots (III) After a right bend, an unnamed class II, a left bend, and a straight-away, the river turns sharp right into Wa-Poots. At lower flows it is a steep chute in bedrock.
3.0 : Right side run, pull left to miss the laterals and hole at bottomAt higher flows boats are pushed towards a big boulder on the right.
4.5 :
28.2   Ladle (IV+) toughest rapid on this run at any flow.So named because it is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, like the bowl and handle of a ladle. Scout left if you have a narrow boat and plan to run the sneak route. Scout right if you plan to run the main rapid or have a wide boat. Kayaks and canoes can avoid the worst of this rapid by taking the sneak route along shore on extreme left. At low flows, this route starts at the second door from the left. It is also possible for such boats to run more complicated routes in the center. Wide boats generally have to enter on the right and work center to avoid wrap rocks on the bottom right.
2.6 : center or right
At higher flows, when wrap rocks are out-of-play, most boaters elect to run Ladle down the far right side.
3.0 : many routes available. The right is the obvious line, but several diagonal routes present
4.5 : run right
4.5 : We ran down the center (blind entry) in between all the big boulders and then gradually started moving left about half way down. Basically stayed in the center the whole time just moving left as the river moves left.
28.5   Little Niagara (III-IV) 1.0 : Just a class III drop at low flows, but at higher flows the sheer rock wall on the right and the bedrock drop-off on the left funnel the river into some big hydraulics.
2.5 : three distinct stages – so it is difficult to scout.  The first is an easy river right drop with big waves.  The second and third have large rocks, waves, holes, and a pour over right in the main channel.
2.6 : sneak on left
2.9 : ran the left side
3.0 : huge rock in the middle of the river with a drop on either side. The left side run had a huge keeper hole so the right side was the only way to go.
4.5 : ran right of the rock
28.8   Puzzle Creek (III) This might the one where the best route is to enter left, work right, then shoot a waterfalls (over one meter high) just right of center. I had no problem there, but remember thinking it was somewhat steep to be rated class III. The Cross/Cassady/Calhoun guidebook says a big hole develops at high flows in the bottom center.
3.0 : right of center run with holes on either side.
29.0   No Slouch (III) most boaters run left at moderate and high flows.
3.0 : contained a river wide hole with a sneak on the left side.
29.3 R Halfway Creek  
29.4   Unnamed (II))  
29.5   Miranda Jane (III) 2.6 : sneak on far right
2.9 : cheat to the far right, big hole to watch out for in center
29.8   Upper and Lower Cedar Flats Neither large nor suitable for high-water, they seem totally unused.
31.5   Osprey (III) A steep drop among boulders, easier than it ought to be considering the height of its drop. The river slows down after this. We never determined which rapid was Meeker, a class III marked on the USFS map about half a mile upstream.
2.6 : right side run
31.6 R Meeker Creek Camp A good moderate-flow camp sits at the mouth of the creek. The USFS campsite inventory has it marked small: the kitchen area is small, but there are possible tent sites uphill in a field downstream of the creek.
31.8 R Meeker Creek  
31.9   Meeker Creek Rapid (II) immediately after Meeker Creek
2.6 : right side run
32.3   (II)  
32.8   Tango Creek Rapid (II)  
32.8 R Tango Creek Camp The USFS campsite inventory lists a medium-sized high-water camp.
32.8 R Tango Creek not carrying much water.
33.0   (II)  
33.0 L Tango Bar an excellent large moderate-flow camp on the left, at what looks like a stranded meander (except at flood stage). Big sandy beach, good swimming hole just downstream, and semi-wooded tent sites up higher.
33.3 L Trapper Camp a moderate-sized low-water site on the left
33.5 L Marten Creek  
34.6   Pack bridge connecting various trails.
34.7 R Three Links Creek directly across from Mink Creek
34.7 L Mink Creek directly across from Three Links Creek
35.1   Three Links (III) 1.0 : unmemorable
35.9 R Boulder Bar a beautiful medium-sized moderate-flow camp on the right.
36.2 R Dry Bar a beautiful medium-sized moderate-flow camp on the right.
37.4 R Upper Pinchot a nice medium-sized moderate-flow camp on the right.
37.6   Lower Pinchot a large high-water camp on the right.
37.7   Wolf Creek (IV) 1.0 : at low flows all boats are forced to go right. You can scout either from the trail high on the right bank, or from the rocky center island. In the right channel, rafts must enter left of center, ferry right, then (optionally) left again to cheat the biggest drop. After that, hang on for the turbulent final drop. Kayaks can choose a less risky route starting on the far right, then converging where rafts finish ferrying right.
2.6 : enter left, try to stay left
2.9 : go with the flow down the middle
At high water this can also be run on the left
3.0 : right side channel along a rock wall with all the water running up against a boulder at the bottom right. The waves before it and the hole next to it were huge. Most of us tried to make the move left to miss the wave train and hole, and most of us failed.
4.5 : We left of center, moved right of center and back left. Had to run a bunch of holes to do this, but none of them especially sticky.
39.2 R Ballinger Creek  
39.2 R Ballinger a moderate-sized high-water camp on the right, at the mouth of Ballinger Creek.
40.4   Tee Kem Falls (Jim's Creek Falls) (III) Most easily run on the far right, but watch for a big rock below. At low water this seems class III+ especially in small boats.
4.5 : washed out
40.5 L Tee Kem Camp (aka Jim's Creek Camp) Just downstream on the left (easy to miss), an excellent medium-sized moderate-flow camp with wooded tent sites, sandy beach, and good swimming hole.
40.8 R Cupboard Creek  
40.8 R Cupboard a medium-sized moderate-flow camp on the right, near the mouth of Cupboard Creek.
3.0 : a beautiful sandy beach with lots of tent sites.
40.8   Cupboard Rapid (III) Class III rapid marked on the USFS map, could be easier at low flows.
42.4 L Trapper Camp Not listed on the USFS campsite inventory. Similar to Tee Kem camp: not quite as nice, but a good alternative if Tee Kem and Renshaw are occupied.
42.5   Renshaw (III) 1.0 : A stiff drop along the left bank into a cliff
2.5 : Pushing hard in to the fall, rafts have flipped against the wall
42.6 R Renshaw Camp a good campsite on the right with sandy beach, shade, and swimming hole, also not listed on the USFS campsite inventory.
44.9   Boundary of Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area  
46.7 R Race Creek campground accessible by vehicle
47.7   Take out at the designated boat access ramp unpaved in 2003.
2.8 : The ramp is a dirt patch just on the downstream side of a rock outcrop and it is easy to miss. It is plenty adequate, but doesn't look like it would be the best spot around.
48.2   Selway Falls (VI) HAZARD!!! Do not proceed downstream. Maybe only class V+ at low water, is less than half a mile downriver.

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