Paddle the Middle Salmon

When to go and what to do on Idaho's River of No Return

Tucked in the heart of the 2.3 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho, the Middle Fork of the Salmon is a river steeped with cultural, ecological and geological history. The river passes through three major ecosystems as it flows undammed from the Sawtooth Mountains down 100 miles to its confluence with the mighty Salmon, transforming from granite gorges and ponderosa pine forests to sage-covered hills. Bald eagles soar overhead, and otters and trout swim with the river’s currents. The sheer rock walls also offer evidence of the few people who lived in this wild wilderness, such as the Sheep-eater Indians, gold miners and even a hermit. The only way to experience the full extent of the Middle Salmon is by paddling it, either with your own private venture or with a company crew. The C&K online editor went with CANYONS, and recommends the local raft company for the staff’s extensive knowledge and stories of the area and some of the best cooking you’ll have all year.

What: A six-day whitewater trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon NOTE: Paddle the Middle Salmon requires a permit! For a first time down, I’d highly recommend going with a raft company. It’s nice to leave the logistics of getting the permit, providing food and handling shuttle to and from put-in to the professionals.

Where to go: The Middle Fork Salmon put-in at Boundary Creek.

When to go: End of May through middle of August during most seasons. Best time to go is probably late June for warmth but still good water levels.

The stats: Near 100 miles from the put-in at Boundary Creek to the confluence into the Main Salmon River.

What to do: Float and paddle down the 100 miles of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Most crews offer duckies to paddle, paddle rafts to team up on, or oar rigs to chill and soak up the summer Idaho sun.

Do: Every activity the guides suggest. Hit every hot springs and hike every trail along the Middle Salmon. Paddle the duckies—individual inflatable kayaks—in the calm water and through some big rapids. Also bring costumes for the random raft and camp parties you will end up having.

Don’t: Forget to tip your guide, if you’re doing a commercial trip. They generally start working at 5:30 a.m. and don’t stop until after 10 p.m. every day. They provide you with better cooking than back home, safe rides down the river and fun stories about the area. Also don’t forget rain gear and warm clothes. Even in summer, it can snow or rain, bringing the temperature and your overall mood down if you’re not prepared.

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