Our Favorite Dam-Free Rivers in the U.S.

 In Academy

Less than 1/4 of 1% of US rivers are protected under the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. While 600,000 miles of them are blocked by dams and thousands more are under threat. Paddling a dam-free river can be a rare experience and one that is coveted by many. Some people say that paddling a free-flowing river feels different. They have a purity to them that is unencumbered by human development. Maybe this feeling isn’t a physical sensation but more of an internal appreciation of experiencing and witnessing nature in its perfect form & process. Or maybe it’s that the river’s freedom and fluidity inspires us to embody and practice these virtues in our own lives. Whatever it is, there is no denying that there is something extraordinary to a free-flowing river. But don’t take our word for it, here are four of our favorite dam-free rivers in the United States.

Yampa River, Colorado

The obvious place for us to start is in our home state Colorado. The Yampa river is very special to the river community in Colordao, as it’s our last free-flowing river in the state. The Yampa begins in the Rocky Mountains descending 250 miles into the alpine desert where it meets the Green River. You’ll paddle alongside miles of striking canyon walls carved and sculpted from thousands of years of water and wind. Side-hikes will lead you to 800-year-old Native American rock art and secluded waterfalls. To preserve all that is beautiful about that Yampa it is highly regulated. Applying for a permit or hopping on a guided trip is your only chance at experiencing this beautiful place. Permits are coveted and registration is only open from Dec. 1 to Jan. 31. Maybe 2020 will be your year! Good luck! (For registration details click here.)

Lochsa River, Idaho

Brittany Parker surfing the Lochsa River Photo: Heather Jackson

The Lochsa River runs from the Bitterroots Mountain Range in North Eastern Idaho for 70 miles until it meets with the Selway River to form the Middle Fork Clearwater River. In 1968 the Lochsa became part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protecting it from dams. Although this river runs along the U.S. Route 12 highway it still feels far from civilization. The water is a deep emerald green that will often times be blanketed in early morning fog. Lush pine forests cover the surrounding mountains making it feel more like the Pacific Northwest than Northern Idaho. Camping is easy and accessible. And when you’re finished with your paddle or surf you can relax in one of the few natural hot springs. With no cell service nearby it’s the perfect place to disconnect and reconnect with nature.

Salmon River, Idaho

Spencer Lacy on the Main Salmon

The Main Salmon River is one of the largest rivers in the continental U.S. without a single dam. The standard length for this trip is five days. Fun and fairly friendly class III-IV rapids are scattered throughout the stretch, all ending in pools. You can soak in natural hot springs along the way and chances are you’ll see a bear or two. Soft sandy beaches make for idyllic camp sites and bocce ball venues. From time to time you’ll pass houses, inhabited by the solitude loving type, only accessible by boat or plane. It’s a world all of its own. Like the Yampa, the Main Salmon works on a lottery permitting system. If someone invites you on a Main Salmon trip we strongly advice you to SAY YES!

Yellowstone River, Montana

Claire Graff absolutely ripping!
All you need to do is look at the picture to know why this is one of our favorites!
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