Whitewater Kayaking on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

by Zachary Collier

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is so well-known that it is simply referred to as the "Middle Fork." It has jaw-dropping scenery, world-class fishing, hot springs, great camp sites, and wildlife.

Middle Fork of the Salmon Kayaking

Middle Fork of the Salmon Kayaking

Whitewater kayakers appreciate the continuous whitewater punctuated with a few big rapids each day. There are also some great play spots and tons of catch-on-the-fly surf waves.

What to Expect

Beginning at the Boundary Creek Launch Site, the whitewater is continuous and challenging through Pistol Creek Rapid at mile 22. Below Pistol Creek the river mellows out a bit with a few Class III+/IV (depending on river flow) rapids each day. The Tappan Rapids around mile 58 are particularly fun and may require scouting. After Big Creek joins the Middle Fork at mile 78 the river begins to have a big water feel and the frequency of rapids increases.

A Few Notable Rapids for Kayakers

Mile 5.1: Velvet Falls is one of the bigger rapids on the Middle Fork and can be scouted on the left. It’s a ledge hole at lower flows and huge breaking hole at higher flows.

Kayaking the left line around Velvet Falls at 6 feet

Kayaking the left line around Velvet Falls at 6 feet

Mile 21.7: Lake Creek Rapid may be worth scouting from the right bank. You can also walk down and scout Pistol Creek Rapid from here.

Mile 22.1: Pistol Creek Rapid is one of the bigger rapids on the Middle Fork and should be scouted on the right, especially at higher flows.

Kayaking Pistol Creek Rapid at 6.5 feet

Kayaking Pistol Creek Rapid at 6.5 feet

Mile 32.5: Marble Creek Rapid is one of the best places to kayak surf on the river.

Surfing the wave at Marble Creek Rapid

Surfing the wave at Marble Creek Rapid

Mile 58.1: The Tappan Rapids are a series of 4 back-to-back drops. Tappan Falls is the largest drop and can be scouted on the right or left side.

Tappan Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Tappan Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Mile 67.8: Haystack and Bernard Rapids are two back to back drops that come soon after passing the airstrip at the Flying B Ranch.

Mile 82.2: Redside Rapid has a few different options for kayaks and is quickly followed by Weber Rapid.

Weber Rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Weber Rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Mile 91.1: Rubber is a huge wave train with big laterals known for flipping both rafts and kayaks.

Mile 96.2: The Middle Fork joins the Main Salmon and the river volume doubles. Cramer Creek Rapid is a big rapid with big waves just downstream.

When to Go

Mid-May to Mid-June: If you like big whitewater then you’ll like the first part of the Middle Fork season. Weather and flows can be unpredictable so you’ll need to be prepared for anything. If the snowpack is higher than average then very high flows are possible.

Mid-June to Mid-July: This is usually the sweet spot for most experienced hardshell kayakers. The flows are typically in a fun range (3 - 4.5 feet) since most of the snowpack has typically melted. Cold weather and rain are possible but the weather is usually quite nice. You’ll want to be an experienced paddler with a sold roll since the river is quite continuous making the recovery from a swim challenging.

Mid-July through August: This is the best time to kayak for timid Class III/III+ paddlers. The river level drops throughout the summer making the rapids a bit easier and the whitewater less continuous during this time. You can also begin your trip at Indian Creek which makes the trip build nicely each day instead of starting with challenging and continuous rapids at Boundary Creek. This is the best time for kids and for fishing.

Which Kayak to Bring

You're going to paddle 100 miles so a comfortable kayak is important. Creek boats are great for comfort and for the inevitable long mileage days.

Kayak surfing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Kayak surfing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

If you like to catch waves on the fly, then a fast play boat like the Dagger Axiom or Jackson Antix is a ton of fun.

How to Go

The Middle Fork of the Salmon flows through the heart of Idaho’s Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness. Most trips meet in Stanley, Idaho and end in Salmon, Idaho. You'll need a permit and can do a trip one of the following ways:

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Author

Zachary Collier

Owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure NWRC offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

Connect with Zach:   Google+   Facebook   Twitter   Instagram

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