North America: Rafting Idaho's Salmon River

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 12, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, adventure travel, Antarctica, Bhutan, Croatia, Idaho, Molly Feltner, New Zealand, Tanzania, vacation package.

North America: Rafting Idaho's Salmon River

Only by boat can you penetrate the heart of the largest national wilderness area in the lower 48 states, Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Your route: The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, one of the premier rivers for whitewater rafting in the world with 100 rapids over 100 miles. With no dams, no roads, and no motorized boats, this nationally designated Wild and Scenic River remains almost as untouched as it was when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the area almost 200 years ago.

"The river starts at around 6,000 feet in a thick alpine forest with narrow, technical rapids," says Grant Porter, owner of the rafting outfit Middle Fork Rapid Transit. "Later, the river opens up into high sage desert—the river widens and the fishing is great. At mile 70 you'll enter the Impassable Canyon. Here bighorn sheep scale the sheer granite walls while eagles ride the thermals above."


Raft trips on the Middle Fork usually run five to six days, with each day bringing new challenges and ever-changing topography. A typical day starts out with breakfast on the river's edge, followed by a few hours of rafting. Lunch brings you back onshore, with opportunities to hike, soak in one of the river's natural hot springs, or examine Native American pictographs. After a few hours of afternoon rafting, you'll make camp on the river's sandy beach while your guides prepare dinner.


The aptly-named Middle Fork Rapid Transit only runs Middle Fork trips, so guests can be sure their guides know every twist and turn in the river. They're also gourmet chefs. Rates for their six-day float start at $1,766 per person.

For a longer ride, O.A.R.S., one the top rafting companies in the country, offers a 12-day trip that combines six days on the Middle Fork with six days on the more placid Main branch of the Salmon. Prices start at $2,846 per person. Trips that only include the Middle Fork start at $1,783.

Getting there: Stanley, ID, the launching point for most Middle Fork trips, is about a three-hour drive from Boise.

When to go: Most outfitters offer trips from June through September. The river runs cold and high early in the season, becoming warmer and lower as the summer progresses. Late June through mid August is considered peak.

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