How to paddle down the Middle Salmon

Paddling through the gorge; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Paddling through the gorge; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

[This story originally appeared in Canoe & Kayak magazine.]

Tucked in the heart of the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho, the Middle Fork of the Salmon is a river steeped in cultural, ecological, and geological history. The river passes through three major ecosystems as it flows undammed from the Sawtooth Mountains down 100 miles to its confluence with the mighty Salmon, its surroundings transforming from granite gorges and ponderosa pine forests to sage-covered hills. Bald eagles soar overhead, and otters and trout swim with the river’s currents. The sheer rock walls also offer evidence of the few people who lived in this wild wilderness long ago, such as the Sheep-eater Indians, gold miners, and even a hermit.

While there are many vantages from which to view the Middle Salmon, the only way to truly experience it is by paddling it, either by yourself or with a company crew.

Close up at the sweep boat, the freight train of the raft fleet; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Close up at the sweep boat, the freight train of the raft fleet; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

What: A six-day whitewater trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Note: Paddling the Middle Salmon requires a permit, which is why if it’s your first time down, we’d highly recommend going with a raft company. It’s nice to leave the logistics of getting the permit, providing food, and handling shuttle to and from put-in to the professionals.

[This story originally appeared in Canoe & Kayak magazine.]

Looking down at Marble camp and one of the best waves on the whole run;photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Looking down at Marble camp and one of the best waves on the whole run; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

Where to go: The Middle Fork Salmon put-in at Boundary Creek.

We are eating good tonight; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
We are eating well tonight; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

When to go: The end of May through the middle of August during most seasons. Best time to go is probably late June for warmth but still good water levels.

Adriene, Shannon and Devon paddling ahead of the crew; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Salmon travelers paddling ahead of the crew; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

The stats: Near 100 miles from the put-in at Boundary Creek to the confluence into the Main Salmon River.

Always bring party clothes for an evening of fun; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Always bring party clothes for an evening of fun; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

What to do: Float and paddle down the 100 miles of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Most crews offer duckies to paddle, paddle rafts to team up on, or oar rigs to chill and soak up the summer Idaho sun with.

Looking up at one of the waterfalls that you can hike to; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Looking up at one of the waterfalls that you can hike to; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

Do: Every activity the guides suggest. Hit every hot spring and hike every trail along the Middle Salmon. Paddle the duckies—individual inflatable kayaks—in the calm water and through some big rapids. Also bring costumes for the random raft and camp parties you will end up having.

Morning yoga to stretch sore limbs and prepare for more boating; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns
Morning yoga to stretch sore limbs and prepare for more boating; photo courtesy of Charli Kerns

Don’t: Forget to tip your guide, if you’re doing a commercial trip. They generally start working at 5:30 a.m. and don’t stop until after 10 p.m. every day. They provide you with better cooking than back home, safe rides down the river, and fun stories about the area. Also don’t forget rain gear and warm clothes. Even in summer, it can snow or rain, bringing the temperature and your overall mood down if you’re not prepared.

[This story originally appeared in Canoe & Kayak magazine.]

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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