Jaw-dropping mountain scenery, thrilling whitewater, sandy beaches, hot springs, and waterfalls await on this epic Idaho rafting adventure that combines the Middle Fork, Main, and Lower Salmon River.
No other river trip in the U.S. offers as much diversity in scenery, terrain, and whitewater as the Ultimate Salmon River Rafting Experience. Journey 300 miles and drop nearly 6,000 vertical feet as the trip transitions from its forested sub-alpine launch near Stanley, Idaho through the forested mountains to the prairie grassland, and finally joins the Snake River.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River boasts non-stop, Class III-IV whitewater, natural hot springs, and excellent fishing. And then there’s the scenery – soft meadows that roll towards the base of soaring mountains, craggy canyons ribboned with waterfalls, deep green forests, and grassy hills dotted with wildflowers.
Perhaps the most popular rafting trip in Idaho, and part of the longest undammed river in the lower 48, the Main Salmon offers a rich river experience. Free-flowing Class III whitewater that’s great for any age and experience level, big sandy beaches perfect for camping and playing, beautiful mountain scenery, abundant wildlife, and a natural hot spring are among the hallmarks of the Main.
The Lower Salmon runs through the warmer, drier canyon country of the Seven Devils which differs from much of Idaho’s forested and mountainous wilderness. Not confined to just one river canyon, the Lower Salmon River actually flows through four separate gorges – Green, Cougar, Snow Hole, and Blue canyons – interspersed with sprawling, wide-open vistas. Bejeweled with some of the biggest and most beautiful white sand beaches of any western river, the Lower Salmon is the perfect destination for water-based fun in the sun.
What to Expect
Itinerary & Map
Itinerary at a Glance
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every Ultimate Salmon River Experience trip is different depending upon the group, other trips on the water, camp locations, and sometimes the weather. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
The Day Before Your Trip
The evening before your trip, we’ll meet in either Stanley, ID or Salmon, ID (depending on your departure date*) for a pre-trip orientation. This is an opportunity to meet your fellow travelers and trip leader, and ask any last-minute questions.
*June trips depart from Stanley, ID. August trips depart from Salmon, ID.
Take a scenic flight to the put-in at Indian Creek, where our boats and crew await you. (At certain water levels, we may be lucky enough to put in further upstream at Boundary Creek, which we access by ground shuttle. The trip will start there whenever possible.)
After an informative safety talk, we take to the pure waters of the breathtaking Middle Fork. Within moments, you’ll experience your first rapid, an appropriate introduction to this river, whose exciting, consistent whitewater doesn’t stop until its confluence with the Main Salmon.
Our high-elevation put-in point rewards us with fantastic alpine scenery, and we spend our first day among deep green forests, dramatic mountains, and crystal clear creeks that pour out of the woods and into the river.
The first day of this Salmon River rafting expedition generally sets the pace for our time on the river. Typically, we spend a few hours on the water in the morning, sometimes stopping for a great hike, a visit to a waterfall or a Native American pictograph, or a soak in a natural hot spring. Come lunchtime, we stop to enjoy a delicious riverside picnic. After feasting and relaxing (or perhaps swimming, a game of Frisbee, or a side hike), we get back into our boats for more exciting whitewater before reaching camp by mid- to late afternoon.
Days 2 – 5
Continuing down the river for the next few days, we’ll see the scenery change from high mountains to gently rolling hills. Thick forests give way to miles of open grassland dotted with cool glades of pine. The views remain stunning, and the whitewater action-packed. Huge rapids like Powerhouse and Pistol Creek are interspersed with less intense yet still thrilling whitewater in the form of wave trains, chutes, and drops. Our journey downstream takes us to more hot springs, alcoves decorated with Sheepeater Indian pictographs, and magnificent Veil Falls, a unique waterfall that plummets freely into a natural amphitheater from a high rock overhang.
Towards the end of this stretch, the Middle Fork rushes into Impassable Canyon, a narrow gorge that creates some of the most high-intensity and continuous whitewater of the trip. Paddle hard through Redside, Rubber, and Hancock rapids, and enjoy the sudden, spectacular change in scenery from wooded hills to the sheer granite walls and huge boulders of Impassable Canyon.
On Day 6, we will reach the confluence with the Main Salmon. The guests who are only floating the Middle Fork will say goodbye and leave the river, heading back to Salmon, Idaho. The rest of us will continue our journey.
As we turn west at the confluence, the flow of the combined rivers more than doubles. At Corn Creek, where our Main Salmon rafting trips typically begin, we bring in the dories and fresh provisions for the continuation of our journey.
Days 7 – 12
The scenery of the Main is distinct from that of the Middle Fork; we’re traveling through the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. This broad canyon is heavily forested with towering pines and conifers and, early in the season, blanketed with vibrant wildflowers. We may be welcomed to the Main by a family of otters swimming near our boats, a herd of bighorn sheep scaling a steep canyon wall, a giant elk or moose wading in the shallows, or if we’re lucky, a black bear standing sentinel on shore.
With half the gradient and twice the water volume, the Main is a pool and drop river, alternating quiet stretches to look for wildlife or fish, and big, rolling rapids like Five Mile, Big Mallard, and Elkhorn. We’ll stop at a few of the historical sites, such as Buckskin Bill’s homestead and Jim Moore’s place (maybe you’ll find the fortune he buried in the hillside!), and perhaps a stop and short hike to Barth Hot Springs or the peaceful Yew Grove. The fishing is excellent during these days, and on August trips, warm air and water temperatures encourage frequent refreshing dips in the river.
On day 11, there’s a great swimming hole near French Creek and some of the river’s best rapids, including Ruby, Lake Creek, Lightning Creek, Chair Creek, and Fiddle Creek. We parallel the Forest Service road and say goodbye to those leaving the trip after the Main. On day 12, we reach Hammer Creek, where the Lower Salmon officially begins.
Days 13 – 16
At this point in the trip, it’s hard to believe that this mighty, deep blue river that rolls through dry, golden canyons is the same high-mountain, clear-water creek that we saw on the Middle Fork. Another significant difference is the water temperature—the river is much warmer here on the Lower, and those of us ready to test it out can swim through Rollercoaster rapid, which marks our entrance to Green Canyon. We’ll stop to visit some ancient pictographs and then continue our whitewater action with rapids like Wright-Way, Demon’s Drop, and Pine Bar Rapids.
As we float along the river, we’ll keep an eye out for the wildlife that inhabits the canyon. Golden eagles, ospreys, and river otters make frequent appearances; if we’re lucky, we might also see beavers, cougars, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
After Green Canyon come Cougar and Snow Hole Canyons, each offering a different perspective on the striking scenery around us. All the while, the river slowly unfolds its long and varied history, providing glimpses of old mining and ranching sites, geological displays of basalt formations, remnants of ancient Indian cultures, and the remains of old Chinese stone houses. Entering Snow Hole Canyon, we face some of the biggest, most exciting whitewater of the Lower Salmon: Half & Half, Snow Hole, and China Bar Rapids.
Early-season boaters can experience the challenge of Slide Rapid in Blue Canyon—perhaps the most spectacular of the four gorges through which we’ve traveled. Hikers in the group might enjoy climbing to a vista point for an impressive bird’s-eye view of the river winding through the steep and slender canyon.
Finally, the Salmon merges with the Snake River, again doubling in size on its run north to the Columbia and west to the Pacific Ocean. That last day on the bigger river, we’ll see increased boat traffic and evidence of development as we continue our float.
After passing the confluence with the Grande Ronde, we arrive at our take-out, Heller Bar. Our more than two-week journey has led us through approximately 300 miles of Idaho’s glorious, ever-changing wilderness through the protected areas and back to civilization. We say goodbye to our guides for a 45-minute van ride to Lewiston, ID, where our journey ends.
Meeting Time & Place
June: Salmon, ID
August: Stanley, ID
7 PM, the evening before your trip
Approximately 4 – 6 PM, Lewiston, ID
Dates & Prices
Save $200 on 2024 departures when you’re one of the first to book by March 31 and request “Premier Pricing” over the phone.
• Flight package from Boise or car shuttle
• $4 per day Recreation Enhancement Act Fee
The Need-to-Know Info
Included in Your Trip Cost
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Transportation to Stanley (or Salmon) and back from Lewiston
- Pre- and post-trip accommodations and meals
- Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
The number and variety of boats on an OARS trip will vary based on water levels, the number of participants, and other factors we take into account when planning your adventure. Please be aware that in doing so we will ask you to share boat time with your fellow travelers. We don’t assign boats, nor can we guarantee exactly which crafts we bring, but trust us to provide you with the best possible mix for you and others on your trip.
Learn more about the OARS Fleet and the boats that may be a part of your experience: Oar raft, dory, paddle raft (requires 11 or more trip guests), inflatable kayak, and stand-up paddleboard.
After each active day on the river, we pull ashore to camp for the night. Our first task is to unload the boats using a fire line of crew and guests to expedite the process. Individuals then collect their waterproof bags and locate an area on the beach to camp for the night.
While you put up your tent, the guides will set up the kitchen and central dining/seating area with camp chairs. They will also locate a secluded area away from camp to set up the portable toilet, where privacy is assured.
As guides prepare dinner, hors d’oeuvres are served. This is an opportunity to relax, enjoy a drink if you wish, and reflect on the day with your fellow traveling companions.
In the morning, the first wake-up call lets you know that coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, juice, fresh fruit, and cold cereal are ready. You can fill your mug and grab a bite, then begin to pack up your personal belongings and sleep gear as the guides prepare breakfast. After breakfast, the entire camp is broken down and packed up. Once the guides have all of the gear loaded back onto the boats, we’ll head downstream to see what new adventures await us.
More info about Meals & Dietary Restrictions can be found on our Trip Resources page.
Average Air & Water Temperatures
|Air (Day) °F||Air (Night) °F||Water °F|
Our whitewater experience on the free-flowing Salmon starts off with a bang on the Middle Fork. Rated Class III-IV, the Middle Fork has more whitewater than any similar-length river in the U.S.—over 100 rapids in 100 miles. Turn by turn, as each tributary surges into the river, the Middle Fork dramatically changes in character from a big creek into a thundering river, all the while creating rolling wave trains and thrilling drops. If you’re into paddling, you can’t beat the Middle Fork. Once we reach the Main, we bring in the dories, where you’ll notice a significant difference in the nature of the whitewater as the river widens and increases in volume. While the Class III rapids of the Main and Lower are less technical than the Middle Fork, the pool-and-drop nature of the river offers time to relax and enjoy the scenery in between rapids. The increased flows allow you to ride the waves in our whitewater dories. If you’re ready for something new, the high volume, warm water of the Lower is a great place to try stand-up paddle boarding.
Before booking your trip with OARS, there are a few important considerations we’d like you to know about.
Reservations and Deposits
An $800/person deposit is required at the time of booking. Deposits may be made by check, money order, or Visa/Mastercard (American Express and Discover incur a 3% processing fee). Prices are in US Dollars, and all payments must be made in US Dollars. Payment of the deposit establishes your acceptance of our complete Terms and Conditions. Individual departures and trip capacity are strictly limited by the managing agency.
Canceling your trip after your deposit is processed will incur cancellation fees because OARS has absorbed costs on your behalf and will turn others away who would like to book the spaces we’re holding for you. Final payment is due 90 days before departure. Accounts on which final payment has not been received 60 days before the departure date will be canceled without exception.
Cancellations and Refunds
Your deposit is fully refundable, less a 3% processing fee, for 7 days after you book when you submit a deposit 7 days or more prior to the final payment due date.
If you must cancel your reservation after the rescission period described above, your cancellation fee will be determined according to the schedule below. We do regret we cannot make exceptions to the cancellation policy for any reason, including foul weather, poor air quality, wildfire activity, acts of terrorism, civil unrest, or personal emergencies. There is no refund for arriving late or leaving a trip early. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to consider purchasing a travel protection plan.
|Date of Cancellation||Cancellation Fee|
|180 or more days before your trip||$100/person|
|179 – 120 days before your trip||$200/person|
|119 – 90 days before your trip||$400/person|
|89 days or less before your trip||Full Fare*|
OARS reserves the right to cancel any trip due to insufficient registration or other factors that make the trip impractical to operate. In such instances, we will inform you at least 45 days before departure. Do not make nonrefundable travel arrangements unless you have spoken to your Adventure Consultant regarding the status of your trip.
If a trip must be canceled or postponed due to force majeure (factors outside the control of OARS), OARS will provide full credit for payments made toward future travel, or a refund less a 5% service fee plus any nonrefundable payments made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers. OARS will make good faith efforts to recover deposits made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers, however, we can’t guarantee recovery of any or all of the advance payments made. OARS is not responsible for expenses incurred by participants in preparation for a canceled trip.
If you transfer from one trip to another within the same season, there is a $50/person fee up until 120 days before departure. You may choose to make a one-time transfer of your payments to a credit account for use during the following season, which incurs a $100/person fee up until 120 days before departure. Transfers made after this time will be treated as cancellations.
O.A.R.S. Dories, Inc. is operated under special use permit with the Salmon-Challis National Forest and is a licensed & bonded outfitter on the Lower Salmon River
Ancestral Lands Acknowledgement
We respect and recognize that many of the river canyons on state and federal lands where we operate are the ancestral homes of indigenous communities. Where we operate on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, Main Salmon, and Lower Salmon River between Guard Station Campground and Heller Bar on the Snake River, we acknowledge the territories of the Shoshone-Bannock, Lemhi-Shoshone, Nimiipuu, Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla.
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