Boundary Creek to Cache Bar
Length: 100 miles, Usually 6 days
lass: III-IV (IV-V above 6 ft)
Gradient: 27 ft/mile
Permits: Required through the Forest Service
An expedition on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the best multi-day rafting and kayaking trips in the world. With hot springs, fun rapids, reliable flows, crystal clear water, excellent fishing, and superb camping, the 100 miles of river meets everybody’s needs. Top that off with the huge granite walls of Impassable Canyon, it is not surprising the Middle Fork Salmon is an original member of the Wild and Scenic River system.
The Middle Fork Salmon is not the only world famous multi-day whitewater in Idaho. Just north lies the Selway and to the west runs the South Fork Salmon. Both are a step up in terms of difficulty and remoteness but the Middle Fork is top for scenery, hot springs and a longer trip.
Video: Middle Fork Salmon Shoshone-Bannock Tuka-Deka Indians
When to Raft the Salmon River
Free flowing through the Frank Church, River of No Return Wilderness Area, the Middle Fork Salmon River runs all summer. Those that want a high flow whitewater extravaganza usually try to raft and kayak in early to mid June. The low water in late August and early September is preferred by anglers.
Late June through early August is the best time to float the Middle Fork Salmon for most people but it is also the busiest. This time after high water is when most outfitters bring inflatable kayaks (aka Duckies) which can be paddled after Indian Creek (20 miles into the run) adding another level of thrill to the rapids.
Middle Fork Rafting Permits for Private Trips
Getting a permit to do your own rafting trip on the Middle Fork Salmon involves some luck. It is part of the 4 rivers lottery.
The lottery season is May 28 through September 3 and applied for as part of the 4 Rivers Lottery which also includes the Selway, Main Salmon, and Hell’s Canyon of the Snake. The lottery is open December 1 through midnight Eastern time on January 31. Lottery results are typically posted mid February. While, cancellations are found here and confirmed by calling 1-877-444-6777 through www.recreation.gov.
Cancelled Reservations for Private Permits
Within 24 hours of a reservation being cancelled it is made available to the public randomly. Launches from Aug. 15 through Sept. 15 are not released due to spawning Chinook salmon.
Big Creek Permit
Big Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork is open to floating June 1 through July 31 with a Tributary Permit from the McCall District Office. However, boaters are not required to obtain a Middle Fork permit assuming they paddle all the way out in a day.
Commercial trips usually meet in Stanley, Idaho. When the water gets lower, instead of a bus to the put-in outfitters fly guests into Indian Creek bypassing the first 20 miles of the river. The scenic flight into the Frank Church is an adventure in its own right. Some outfitters charge extra when they have to fly while others do not.
A unique aspect on Middle Fork whitewater rafting trips is the use of sweep boats. These craft have sweeps (large specially designed oars) on the front and back of the raft. Since the gradient is so consistent on the MF Salmon, these rafts don’t need to row downstream. Rather they let the current take them downstream. Most commercial outfitters send a sweep boat ahead of the trip to set up camp so that when the rest of the group arrives there is minimal work to be done.
Middle Fork Salmon River Rafting Rapids and Highlights
Mile 0: Put-in
Put-in at the Boundary Creek boat ramp. Typically groups arrive the afternoon prior to their launch before 3 pm to be in the lottery to reserve campsites along the river and get their boats in the water so they are ready to go the next morning. The ramp can be busy, being efficient when using the ramp is appreciated by fellow rafting groups.
Mile 0.9: Gardell’s Hole (Murphs Hole)
At high water this is the first significant obstacle to miss rafting the Middle Fork. Flips here can lead to long swims. Typically boaters go left of the hole. It is an easy scout walking down the trail on river left from the Boundary Creek Put-in.
Mile 2.9: Sulfur Slide (III)
After Sulfur slide is another fun class III rapid Rams Horn. Below Rams Horn start working left to avoid a significant hole at Velvet Falls.
Mile 5.1: Velvet Falls (IV)
A huge hole at high water, Velvet Falls is usually run on the left side of the river. It is a beautiful and impressive whitewater feature, one of the iconic rapids on a Middle Fork Salmon rafting trip. Below here is consistent busy water. Stopping to warm up at Trail Hot Spring (mile 7) or Sheepeater Hotsprings (mile 13) is worth while on a cold day.
Video: Middle Fork Salmon River Rafting at Velvet Falls
Mile 18.5: Rapid River
A major tributary from river right, Rapid River has a Class IV road access springtime run.
Mile 21.8: Lake Creek Rapid (III)
Formed by a landside in 2006, Lake Creek Rapid has changed significantly over the last decade. While it is easier than it once was it is still taken seriously due to the potential for a long swim since Pistol Creek Rapid (IV) is just downstream. Boaters often scout both rapids at the same time from river right.
Mile 25: Indian Creek Guard Station and Airstrip
At high water (above 6 ft) and low water (below 2.2 ft) many outfitters fly their guests in and start trips here. Rafting groups will also fly gear in to cut down on the weight in their rafts for the upper 20 miles.
Mile 31.5: Marble Creek Rapid (III)
Marble Creek comes in on river left. Just upstream is Marble Creek Rapid a fun drop. There are many nice campsites in this area. Just downtream is the popular stop, Sunflower Hotsprings (mile 33). There is a pool and hot waterfall that lands next to the river.
Mile 34: Middle Fork of the Salmon Lodge
The Middle Fork Lodge is a private ranch. At the base of the bridge here on river left is the Middle Fork Salmon River gauge.
Mile 50: Loon Creek
A major tributary, Loon Creek (video) has a nice Class IV-V packrafting/kayaking run. A 20 minute hike on a well developed trail up Loon Creek takes boaters to one of the nicest and most popular hot springs nestled next to the creek.
Mile 57: Grouse Creek Rapid (III-)
This S-bend rapid leads into the series of Tappan Rapids
Mile 58+59: The Tappan Rapids (II-IV)
Tappan I is a good warm-up for the biggest rapid of the series Tappan Falls. After Tappan Falls is Tappan 2, Tappan 2.5 and Tappan 3.
Mile 60: Camas Creek
A nice shady spot for lunch with a potential hike up the side canyon. Camas Creek (video) has a Class V kayak/packraft run.
Mile 67: Flying B Ranch
A classic stop on Middle Fork river trips, the Flying B has ice cream bars and sandwiches for sale. There is also a landing strip here and in the fall many hunting groups start off from here.
Mile 68: Haystack Rapid (III)
Below the Flying B the river runs through a busy boulder field. At high water there are big waves hence the name Haystack Rapid.
Mile 78: Big Creek and Entrance to Impassable Canyon
Another major tributary, Big Creek has a nice Class III-IV kayak run. The bridge here is one of the only places hikers can cross the river in the wilderness area.
Mile 80: Veil Falls
A short hike leads to an amazing waterfall and perfect place to relax in the afternoon.
Mile 82: Redside Rapid (III)
This rapid is worth a scout particularly with Weber Rapid (III) just downstream.
Mile 88: Cliffside Rapid (III)
As the water drops this rapid becomes more difficult. Many kayakers have swan in the big hydraulic along the wall at lower flows.
Mile 91: Rubber Rapid (III/IV)
Rubber is one of the most impressive whitewater rapids on the Middle Fork at high water.
Mile 93: House of Rocks Rapid (III+)
Pick your favorite of the three doors between the huge rocks. Not sure think about going left.
Video of Sweep Boat Running House Rock Rapid
Mile 96: Confluence of the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon Rivers
The volume of water increases significantly as the Middle Fork flows into the Main Salmon. Middle Fork rafting companies sometimes take-out their guests here and then boat down the Salmon to the Cache Bar take-out.
Mile 99: Cramer Rapid (IV)
This rapid is worth a scout at higher water. It has been changing over the last few years.
Mile 100: Cache Bar Take-out
This is a tight take-out with lots of boats. If you’re lucky, you have a permit for the Main Salmon and can float around the corner and raft for another week.