Smith River 2024 - What you need to know

The application season for the prized Smith River float permits is now open, and things look a little different this year.

1) Non-residents are now limited to 10% of the launch permits, which start and end at Montana State Parks.

This constitutes a big shift in permit allocations from previous years. Take last year for example, when 14,497 people applied for 1,470 launch permits; 39% of these were awarded to non-residents.

In theory, this 10% cap change should give Montana resident applicants better chances in the draw, while NRs might need to hitch a ride with their Montana buddies; each permit holder is able to bring 14 friends along with them, and there’s no residency requirements for the party members.

thumbnail.jpgImage courtesy of Jennifer Porta

2) Bonus points can now be purchased to increase drawing odds. These are $5 for residents, $50 for non-residents. They’re not squared like hunting bonus points are, but still up your chances to draw; they rollover if you’re unsuccessful in the drawing. Monies raised from bonus points flow into the Smith River corridor enhancement account which funds easements, acquisitions or projects that “protect and enhance the integrity of the natural and scenic beauty of the Smith River waterway and its recreational, fisheries, and wildlife values.”

Rep. France (D - Missoula) is primarily responsible for HB 846, which sparked these application changes.

3) The pit toilets, they’re gone. Instead, all floaters will be required to pack out human waste. More details and a list of approved, portable, hard-sided toilets, which all float parties are required to have, can be found here.

4) The application permitted season now only runs from April 1 - Aug 15th. Previously this ran til Oct 31st, but persistent low flows has unfortunately shortened the float season, and with the current snowpack, it’s not looking much better for 2024.

5) Finally, floaters can pick just one launch date this year, instead of selecting their top three choices. Choose wisely!

As a reminder, we can’t mention this treasured waterway without bringing attention to Sen. Tester’s (D - Montana) federal legislation, the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, which seeks to designate 384 miles of waterways in our state as Wild & Scenic, meaning they’ll forever be protected and free-flowing. 

24 of these miles are along this permitted section of the Smith, plus 21 miles of Tenderfoot Creek, an important tributary. Please add your support for the MHLA by taking action here; it’ll help your launch permit application karma!


Ready to throw your name in the hat? Apply here.

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