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Salmon River Rafting

The final 52 miles of the legendary Salmon River are a true Idaho gem and one of the most popular stretches for whitewater rafting and paddling!  The longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states culminates in four impressively beautiful canyons- Green, Cougar, Snowhole, and Blue –before joining the mighty Snake River at the base of Hells Canyon.

With a mild gradient (about 10 feet per mile), expansive white sand beaches, tumbling rapids, big Western scenery and sites of historic interest, this section of the Salmon River has all you could want for a classic whitewater river trip.  This class III-IV river, starting from the Hammer Creek Recreation Site and ending at Heller Bar on the Snake River, is a fantastic introduction into the realm of Idaho whitewater rafting.  

Whitewater rapids are rated on an internationally-recognized rating scale of 1-6, with Class I rapids being very easy and Class VI rapids at the extreme edge of navigability, considered nearly impossible and very dangerous.  Thus, a class III rapid can be thought of as “intermediate” while class IV requires a much higher level of skill. 

Optimal rafting on the Lower Salmon River Canyons is from July through September, while prime Steelhead fishing runs are later in the fall.  This 73 mile section (including 21 miles on the Snake River), is generally done as a three to five-day trip. Long sunny days, warm swimming pool-like water, mosquito-free evenings, and a great Western sky sparkling with stars, combine to provide a world class rafting, kayaking or paddling vacation.  

The Salmon River also has roller coaster like rapids, ancient Indian rock art, Chinese mining history, spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities, decent fishing and all the elements you need to have a great paddling adventure!

The rugged basalt canyons are the perfect location for the dozens of rapids in this pool and drop river.  Through Demon’s Drop, Half & Half, Snowhole, China, Devil’s Slide, Eye of the Needle, and many more, you will get your fill of whitewater fun in an oar boat, paddle boat, inflatable kayak, or even a drift boat!  Kayakers too love this stretch of water where rolling can be welcome relief from the heat.  Between the rapids, take the opportunity to relax while taking in views of mountain vistas and soaring eagles.   

During Salmon River rafting you will experience natural riparian zones unique to this North American river.  Wildlife is prolific throughout the semi-arid canyonlands in one of the West’s most remote areas.  Sightings may include mule deer, Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, river otter, beaver, coyote, and birds of every category imaginable.  The rare few may even have the pleasure of spotting a black bear or a moose!  Fishing opportunities include smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, fall steelhead and gigantic prehistoric white sturgeon. White sturgeon and wild steelhead are "catch & release.”

The lands along the Salmon River are a blend of predominantly public (Bureau of Land Management), some Idaho State Lands, and parcels of private property. The section of river has been proposed for protection under the National Wild & Scenic River Act.  

Salmon River Rafting

Of all the rivers in the West, none offer the warm water and huge white sand beaches of the Salmon River.  In addition to fun rapids, stunning scenery, wildlife and sites of interest all add up to make for an ideal multi-day river trip in a wilderness setting.  Because most of the rapids are intermediate class II and III, rafting on this section of the Salmon River is the perfect choice for a wide audience.  The warm water and big beaches create the perfect a setting for Salmon River family rafting adventures.  

Generally those doing a rafting trip on the Salmon River will travel in rafts varying in length from 13 to 17-feet.  While self-bailing rafts are preferred, they are not necessary as the pool-and-drop nature of this river (meaning there is a calm pool after every drop) provides plenty of time for bailing out water.  If you’re planning a rafting trip on your own, you do need to have plenty of room for all the camping gear, including required fire pans and portable toilets.  All river users are expected to practice Leave No Trace camping ethics.  

About 40% of those who go on a whitewater rafting trip on the Salmon River go on a professionally guided adventure.  The outfitter and guides take care of all the logistics, provide all the equipment and add value through their knowledge of the river.  They show you the Indian rock art, pioneer sites, Chinese rock houses, best places to scout the rapids and of course do all the cooking and cleaning.  Some outfitters also have a cargo raft that travels ahead of the group to set up camp, so that when you arrive at camp the kitchen is set up and your tent is ready.  All rafting companies must be licensed by the State of Idaho and hold a special use permit from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).  They must also be bonded and insured.  Before signing up with a company offering whitewater rafting trips on the Salmon River, be sure they are properly licensed and permitted.   

About 60% of users raft the Salmon River on their own, using their own equipment and arranging all their own logistics. This section of the Salmon River is appropriate for those who have solid skills rowing or paddling class IV whitewater.

Whether your go with a rafting company or on your own, the Salmon River provides a spectacular wilderness river trip.

Kayaking and Canoeing on the Salmon River

The warm water and pool-and-drop nature of the rapids on the Salmon River make it an ideal place for kayakers and even skilled canoeists, providing they have flotation in their canoes.  Some commercial outfitters offer raft-support on the Salmon River to kayaking groups.  As well, some commercial outfitters take along inflatable kayaks for their guests, which are a great introduction to river kayaking.  Anyone attempting this on their own trip should be proficient in class III-IV water.


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