The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is hands-down the best alpine rafting trip in North America. It has everything you could ask for in a river trip: fantastic scenery, interesting history, hot springs, great whitewater, beautiful side hikes, world-class fly-fishing and crystal clear water. People journey from all over the world to raft this river. It makes a perfect rafting trip because of the plentiful Class II-III+ rapids in the 100 mile trip, which rarely require a portage.
Trips spend 4-6 days and cover 75-100 miles, depending on river flows. The Middle Fork, which is one of the original eight rivers included in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, is completely free of dams, so river flows are highly dependent on snow pack and the rate of snow melt. The river begins with many stream-like qualities, including the shallow depth, and only hints at the grandeur that is to come. You’ll hit a few big rapids in this tight, narrow section including Velvet Falls.
As your trip progresses, the canyon widens and the river deepens. Each day your head guide will brief you on what to expect. You will generally hit a few big rapids and many small ones each day. Your guides will occasionally stop to scout rapids and will communicate with each other and you about what lies ahead. With your safety being a top priority, they may not allow inflatable kayaks at times. Most guests rotate regularly between the oar rafts, the paddle rafts, and the inflatable kayaks (aka duckies) throughout the trip depending on the desired level of action.
You’ll spend about 4-6 hours a day on the rafts, with various stops to soak in hot springs, have lunch, take a quick-hike, or see a gorgeous waterfall. Your head guide will pace the day so that you arrive at your scenic campsite mid-late afternoon. In camp, you can hike, relax, play games, swim, soak, read, fish, bird-watch, or get to know your fellow rafters. The ECHO guides will be hard at work prepping appetizers, dinner, and desserts.
Rafting a wild river has its logistical challenges. Sometimes, parts of the river are blocked by fallen trees or flows could be too high especially in the early season (May-June). Airstrips along the way make it possible to fly guests into the river and begin the trip at different put-ins.
Depending on the snow pack, the rate of the snow melt and a variety of other factors, the first 25 miles of the Middle Fork are often too shallow to raft in late July and August, so we opt to move the put-in 25 miles downriver to Indian Creek. Instead of taking a bus to the Boundary Creek put-in, you may take a quick flight on a small plane and land at one of the airstrips along the river. This is a scenic and special way to begin your adventure. This will not shorten the length of the trip, because the lower water level creates a slower flow, so you’ll to enjoy the river at a more leisurely pace with more time to hike and explore. Don’t worry, the slower flow does not ruin the excitement of the rapids!
Whichever put-in you use, you will be given a safety talk and outfitted with your PFD (personal flotation device) for the trip. The guides will teach you paddle commands, show you how to sit on the rafts and instruct you what to do in the unlikely event that you fall out. They’ll show you some of the safety devices that are on each raft and give you some guidelines to follow throughout the trip.
Take-out is at Cache Bar, which is 4 miles past the confluence with the Main Salmon River. You’ll have lunch at the take-out and then hop on a bus to Salmon, Idaho, where the trip ends.