Middle Fork Salmon river from above during a cloudy sunset.

Wild & Scenic Rivers

Group rafting on the Middle Fork Salmon river.

GO Wild & Scenic With OARS

By the 1960s, when late OARS Founder and President George Wendt was just getting started in commercial whitewater rafting, it was becoming clear that our national policies and attitudes towards rivers were creating a crisis. Rivers were being polluted, dammed, dredged, diked, diverted, and degraded at an alarming rate. However, in 1968, to lend balance to our history of physically altering our waterways, Congress created the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Today, OARS is honored to hold whitewater rafting permits on some of the West’s beloved Wild & Scenic Rivers.

Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, ID

One of the original eight rivers in the nation designated as Wild & Scenic on October 2, 1968, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River originates 20 miles northwest of Stanley, Idaho, with the merging of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks. The designated segment extends 100 miles from Dagger Falls to the confluence of the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon. The Middle Fork is one of the last free-flowing tributaries of the Salmon River system. Because of its remote location, man’s presence in the area was somewhat limited, leaving it in the condition we see today. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and Forest Service stations are evidence of man’s intrusion.

Main Salmon river.

Main Salmon River, ID

Designated as Wild & Scenic on July 23, 1980, “The River of No Return” is the longest free-flowing river (425 miles) within one state in the lower 48. The upper section passes through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, while the lower section forms the southern boundary of the Gospel-Hump Wilderness. The designated reach of the Main Salmon River runs from the mouth of the North Fork of the Salmon River downstream to Long Tom Bar.

Snake River rafting trip.

Snake River through Hells Canyon, ID

The section of the Snake River from Hells Canyon Dam running downstream 66.9 miles was designated as Wild & Scenic on December 1, 1975. Originally home to the Shoshone and Nez Perce tribes, the area was settled by homesteaders and ranchers in the late 19th century. Today, the massive arid, extremely stark, and spectacular scenery of the canyon is mostly public land, much of which is designated wilderness.

Rafting the Tuolumne river.

Tuolumne River, CA

The Tuolumne River, from its source in Yosemite National Park to Don Pedro Reservoir 83 miles downstream, was designated as Wild & Scenic on September 28, 1984. The Tuolumne originates from snowmelt off Mounts Dana and Lyell in Yosemite National Park and courses 54 miles before crossing into Stanislaus National Forest and Bureau of Land Management public land. Below the National Park boundary, the river contains some of the most noted whitewater in the high Sierra and is an extremely popular rafting stream. It also provides views of some of America’s most spectacular scenery.

Rafting the North Fork of the American River.

North Fork of the American River, CA

This wild river is noted for its outstanding scenery, remote recreation, and historic gold mining values. About half of the North Fork of the American River is accessible by steep, historic trails. It was designated as Wild & Scenic on November 10, 1978, from a point .3 miles above Heath Springs downstream to a point 1,000 feet upstream of the Colfax-Iowa Hill Bridge.

Rafting on the Merced River in California.

Merced River, CA

The Merced flows through exceptional scenery—glaciated peaks, lakes, alpine and subalpine meadows—in alternating pools and cascades. Wildflower displays are spectacular. From its source (including Red Peak Fork, Merced Peak Fork, Triple Peak Fork, and Lyle Fork) in Yosemite National Park to a point 300 feet upstream of the confluence with Bear Creek, the Merced River was designated as Wild & Scenic on November 2, 1987.

Klamath river rafting.

Klamath River, CA

The Klamath River in northern California was designated as Wild & Scenic on January 19, 1981, from the mouth of the river to 3,600 feet below Iron Gate Dam. It is California’s second-largest river and a major salmon producer, particularly for coho and chinook.

Rogue River in Oregon.

Rogue River, OR

The Rogue River winds across farmlands and orchards before passing through a wilderness of forested mountains and the rugged boulder and rock-lined banks of Oregon on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The river is nationally renowned for its moderate whitewater, steelhead trout and salmon fishery, and extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities. The segment of the river extending from the mouth of the Applegate River downstream to the Lobster Creek Bridge was designated as Wild & Scenic on October 2, 1968.

Owyhee River in Oregon.

Owyhee River, OR

From Crooked Creek to the Owyhee Reservoir, the Owyhee River flows through a remote, arid, and almost unpopulated area. Much of the river cuts through deeply incised canyons that, along with canyon rims, are home to mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer, California bighorn sheep, and a large variety of raptors. The designated reach of the Owyhee includes Three Forks downstream to China Gulch, crooked Creek to the Owyhee Reservoir, and the South Fork from the Idaho-Oregon border downstream to Three Forks. It was designated on October 19, 1984.

A raft splashes through a rapid on the Green River through Desolation Canyon

Green River through Desolation Canyon, UT

Desolation Canyon became famous after John Wesley Powell’s historic descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869 and 1871. This nearly untouched canyon is deeper in some places than Grand Canyon at the Bright Angel Trail, featuring scenic red rock canyon walls that tower overhead. 

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River with cliffs at sun set.

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