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.
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.
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.
Mile 32.5: Marble Creek Rapid is one of the best places to kayak surf on the river.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Join a guided kayak trip with DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking
- Join an outfitter like Northwest Rafting Company or another Middle Fork outfitter
- Apply for a non-commercial permit through the Four Rivers Lottery
At the end of August, I was able to join the last Middle Fork of the Salmon trip of the year. It was my first time down this river that I have heard so much about. It was an incredible trip that I will never forget. I left my house near Hood River, Oregon early on Tuesday morning. I headed East towards the Boise Airport to pick up ECHO co-founder and Idaho Whitewater-legend, Joe Daly. We slowly wound up the steep mountain roads, straight into the...
Most of the well known whitewater rivers flow through Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or National Park Service land and many are National Wild and Scenic Rivers. The land surrounding many of the the iconic multi-day river trips are additionally protected as Wilderness or National Monuments. As a user of these public lands it's good to know a little about each designation. Most public lands are managed the United States Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Managment (BLM), or the National Park Service (NPS). National...