The Main Salmon River: America’s Best Guided Outdoor Trip?

3 Min. Read
The Main Salmon River: America’s Best Guided Outdoor Trip
OARS Main Salmon River rafting trips have been called the "Best Guided Outdoor Trip" in the U.S. by Sunset Magazine

Idaho’s Main Salmon River Offers the Quintessential Multi-day Rafting Trip

As far as river trips go, the Main Salmon River in central Idaho is at the top of its class. Once named “Best Guided Outdoor Trip” by Sunset, this 6-day whitewater adventure takes paddlers on a 93-mile journey through the heart of the Frank Church “River of No Return” Wilderness, ending near Riggins, Idaho. At its best between June through early-September, the Main Salmon is a first-timer friendly rafting trip that even the most seasoned river runners can’t help but return to again and again for its scenic beauty, fun whitewater and idyllic beach camps.

OARS Main Salmon River Trip, Idaho (July 2016)
A paddle boat splashing through fun, Class III rapids on the Main Salmon River | Photo: Tom Gotchy


While the river is perfect for anglers and kiddos, the Main Salmon is home to some of Idaho’s best whitewater. High-volume, big pool-drops like Salmon Falls and Big Mallard offer plenty of adrenaline, but with low consequences, perfect for honing your paddling skills. During prime summer months, the Class III run offers great conditions for trying out a dory, paddle raft, inflatable kayak (IK) or even a stand-up paddleboard (SUP).

Couple playing horseshoes on a sandy Main Salmon River beach
OARS guests playing horseshoes in camp on the Main Salmon | Photo: James Kaiser

Beach Life

No, this isn’t Malibu, but with immaculate beachfront sites like Warren Creek Camp, the Main Salmon boasts a comparable amount of sand and sun. Giant stretches of soft, sandy beaches are perfect for camping and ideal for nightly river games such as bocce ball, Kuub and horseshoes. Not only that, but the Main Salmon offers warmer clear waters for swimming and playing, which makes your private beach all the more inviting. 

Native American pictographs found along Idaho's Main Salmon River
Native American pictographs found along Idaho’s Main Salmon River | Photo: James Kaiser


Hiking along the river yields stunning alpine scenery, abundant wildflowers and human history lessons. Idaho has been home to many cultures throughout its history; on multiple hikes from camp you can see Native American pictographs, wander through majestic yew groves and visit historic sites like the homestead of the infamous Buckskin Bill.

Whitewater rafting on the Main Salmon River in central Idaho.
A man takes in the view from a Main Salmon River overlook | Photo: Justin Bailie


It isn’t called the “River of No Return” for nothing! Put down your worry beads, you will of course return home to your laptops and espresso machines, but you won’t be returning the same as you left. Meandering through Idaho’s pristine 2.3-million-acre Frank Church Wilderness you’ll be free from the daily grind with only the hoots and howls of coyotes and the rushing river as your soundscape.

Barth Hot Spring - Main Salmon River Idaho
Paddlers take a soak in Barth Hot Spring | Photo: James Kaiser

Hot Spring Soaks

Ok, if none of the above has convinced you that you’ll love the Main Salmon, we’ll leave you with this: a natural hot tub, under the stars. A quick hike from the river lands you at Barth Hot Spring. After a long day of paddling, hiking and swimming, it doesn’t get any better than slipping into a dreamy natural hot spring

With all of this, it’s easy to see why the Main Salmon River really is the quintessential river trip experience, especially when you opt for a fully-outfitted trip with expert guides, top-notch equipment and delicious wilderness cuisine.

This post was originally published June 2015 and was last updated October 2023.

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