Model-based analyses are common in phylogeographic inference because they parameterize processes such as population division, gene flow and expansion that are of interest to biologists. Approximate Bayesian computation is a model-based approach that can be customized to any empirical system and used to calculate the relative posterior probability of several models, provided that suitable models can be identified for comparison. The question of how to identify suitable models is explored using data from Plethodon idahoensis, a salamander that inhabits the North American inland northwest temperate rainforest. First, we conduct an ABC analysis using five models suggested by previous research, calculate the relative posterior probabilities and find that a simple model of population isolation has the best fit to the data (PP = 0.70). In contrast to this subjective choice of models to include in the analysis, we also specify models in a more objective manner by simulating prior distributions for 143 models that included panmixia, population isolation, change in effective population size, migration and range expansion. We then identify a smaller subset of models for comparison by generating an expectation of the highest posterior probability that a false model is likely to achieve due to chance and calculate the relative posterior probabilities of only those models that exceed this expected level. A model that parameterized divergence with population expansion and gene flow in one direction offered the best fit to the P. idahoensis data (in contrast to an isolation-only model from the first analysis). Our investigation demonstrates that the determination of which models to include in ABC model choice experiments is a vital component of model-based phylogeographic analysis.