Among whitewater rafting rivers, the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho is a legend. The pure, clear, free-flowing river drops 3000 feet during its 105 mile Idaho rafting journey through Idaho's remote and spectacular River of No Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. Natural and untamed, Idaho's Middle Fork is protected by Congress as one of America’s first Wild and Scenic Rivers. It has shaped its course through a rugged and diverse landscape. There are no roads leading to its banks and little remains of man’s brief presence other than prehistoric pictographs and dilapidated log cabins. The whitewater rapids are fun for all ages and provide a certain excitement only Idaho's famous Middle Fork of the Salmon can!
ROW Adventures Middle Fork Salmon trip was chosen as one of National Geographic Magazines "50 Tours of a Lifetime!" The editor's say:
The selection process was competitive and our editorial team worked long and hard to find 2012’s most authentic, most innovative, most immersive, best-guided, and most sustainable tours. “Our theme this year was transformation. The outfitters we selected are experts at creating trips that have the power to change lives—the lives of the traveler as well as the residents of the destinations,” notes executive editor Norie Quintos. “The trip is usually just the beginning."
Since 2006 this is the fifth time that one of ROW Adventures' tours has been named to this exclusive list.
At a Glance
Duration: 5-6 Days
Length: 80-105 miles
Intensity: Intermediate, Class III-IV
Minimum Age: 7 (12 at high water)
Begins In: Stanley, Idaho
Ends In: Salmon, Idaho
Airport: Boise, Idaho
Natural hot springs, Native American pictographs, pioneer homesteads, incredible scenery.
Middle Fork Salmon Rafting
Idaho's legendary Middle Fork of the Salmon River is an iconic whitewater rafting trip. Bounce along through more than 100 rapids over the 105-mile stretch of the Salmon River. The free-flowing Middle Fork Salmon rafting trips drops 3,000 feet through central Idaho's remote and spectacular "River of No Return" wilderness. Natural and untamed, scenic and diverse, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of America's first "Wild and Scenic Rivers" protected by Congress.
We launch our boats into the Salmon River nearly 6,000 feet above sea level and immediately enter an enchanted forest of fir and spruce. The river is steep, shallow and narrow and we careen through boulder-choked rapids. With each passing mile, side creeks tumble into the Middle Fork's clear sparkling water and deepen the flow around our boats. The whitewater rapids are frequent and challenging on the Middle Fork. Guides speak their names with reverence - Velvet Falls, Ram's Horn, the Chutes, Pistol Creek, Devil's Tooth and House Rock to name a few on this Idaho rafting trip.
Dropping in elevation, the Middle Fork Salmon River widens and the spruce forest opens up to vistas of pine-studded mountains. Rafts drift quietly over deep pools of transparent water—home to native cutthroat and rainbow trout. Guides stop the group often to visit nearby Native American pictographs and pioneer homesteads. ROW guides are intimately familiar with this majestic canyon and use their interpretive knowledge to help draw the silent stories from these historic places.
Further downstream, the trip enters Impassable Canyon. Granite mountains of staggering dimensions slice out of the clear Middle Fork water and into the cobalt blue Idaho sky. We'll stop for hikes underneath Waterfall Creek and up to Veil Falls. Soaking in the many natural hot springs along the Middle Fork are highlights for many of our guests.
As we near the end of our Idaho rafting journey, having dropped 3,000 feet in elevation and gained a lifetime of memories, it's hard not to envy the Native Americans and pioneers who spent their whole lives in the vast wilderness along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
ROW offers raft-supported hiking tours of this magnificent country. Load up a day pack with supplies to get you through the day, then hike to camp where you're gear will be waiting, tent will be set up and food will be cooking.
Below you will find all available instances of this trip. Roll over departure dates to see a complete list of departures. Roll over the demographic icons to get a brief overview of the demographic group.
Every river company takes a little different approach to running the Middle Fork. Our philosophy is to provide you with an adventure that YOU want (not one WE want), so let us know if you have any special interests or requests. If you enjoy hiking, we make extra stops and provide that opportunity. If you're keen on fishing, you can do so from an oar-powered raft, or hire a special 2-person fishing raft or drift boat. If you have something special you want to bring - a guitar? A case of your favorite wine? Whatever - we'll make room. Our aim is to please, and we do our best, while maintaining a lively, fun atmosphere in camp and on the river. Here are a few things that set us apart:
Experience & Awards - ROW Adventures is a seven-time National Geographic award-winning company. We haven't only been "operating" since 1979, we've never changed ownership! And for over two decades we've been providing amazing adventures on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Responsible Travel Ethics - We operate following the best in "responsible" or "eco" travel ethics including Leave No Trace camping and many other best practices that are sometimes forgotten about in the world of travel.
Rich Itinerary - One of the reasons that our Middle Fork trip is such a fabulous adventure is the incredible variety of things we do and see along the way. We don't have blinders on and simply chug guests down the river. Rather, we make sure to visit these incredible sites such as old pioneer homestead cabins, Indian rock art sites, hot springs, waterfalls, and we also have a few other 'secret' surprises in store for you.
Full-Service Camping - We are one of very few outfitters who have a cargo boat travel ahead to set up camp, including your tent and a complete kitchen with tables and chairs. This means when you get to camp you're free to explore – hike, fish, relax under a tree, rather than worry about the cumbersome unloading of cargo each day and setting up tents each night.
Luxury Camping – Our luxury-style camping includes all camping gear; spacious four person tents for every two people, freshly laundered sleeping bags, home made camp pillows and thick, self-inflating mattresses.
Famous for Our Meals - The quality of our food reflects the quality of the wilderness environment of the river canyons. Sustainably harvested wild Alaskan Salmon served with a fresh garden salad; Prime Rib combined with a Chilean salad and Idaho mashed potatoes or made-on-the-river Lasagna area few possible entrees. Desserts are made each evening in out Dutch ovens and range from authentic cobbler and pineapple upside-down cake. We serve juice each morning and moderate amounts of wine with dinner.
Guides Like No Others - Your trip is enriched by knowledgeable guides who share the canyon's cultural and natural history. No other company on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River trains guides like we do, and most of our guides are also Certified Interpretive Guides through the National Association for Interpretation. Beyond the critical skills each of our guides are exceptional people willing to share, teach, listen, learn, laugh, play, discuss and above all work hard to provide you with an informative, relaxed spontaneous adventure.
Highly Personal Service - We staff our trips with one guide for every 3-4 guests providing you the ultimate in personal attention. ROW Adventures will happily accommodate food allergies or dietary needs with advance notice by completing the trip application. . Our trip application allows you to personalize your river experience including which type of craft you would like ride in.
Carefully Orchestrated - Our guides are divided into a "guest crew" and a "kitchen crew." While the kitchen crew prepares dinner, our guest crew is available to spend time with you, lead a hike, show you how to cast a fishing line or simply sit in the shade and visit. This is a fundamental distinction between us and others.
Sharing Our Passion - Guides join you at all meals, sharing conversation and laughter at meal times and around the campfire.
All-inclusive - Complimentary beer, wine, juice and soda, all in moderate quantities, is provided. We are proud to serve fine local Northwest wines. We always have plenty of ice! All rafting gear is also included to make things easy for you. We provide complimentary wetsuits & wetsuit booties early and late season to make sure you stay warm and comfortable on the river.
Choice of Craft - We offer you a choice of river craft including oar rafts, paddle rafts, and inflatable kayaks (affectionately called 'Daring Duckies'). We understand that it is important to be as active as you like or enjoy the scenery this is why we offer three different types of crafts and often times ROW has the most paddle boats and duckies on the water.
Your Security First - We carry satellite telephones on all trips - for emergency use only.
Ideal Logistics - Our trips are designed to begin in Stanley and end in Salmon. While this may seem a little inconvenient, we do it for a reason. If a trip includes transportation back to Stanley at the end of the trip, you must be off the river no later than noon (and many companies are off by 10am!) as it is a two-hour drive to Salmon, plus another three hours to Stanley. ROW doesn't believe that you should pay for a day on the river, but end up on a bus for most of it. Thus, we enjoy lunch on the river our last day, arriving at the take-out about 2-3pm and to the town of Salmon by around 5pm.
Touch of Class - At the end of the trip we close the circle of friendship and celebration with a festive, hosted farewell dinner.
Easy for You - Pre- and Post-trip hotel reservations are handled by our competent office staff (hotel costs are not included in your basic trip cost).
Custom Trips - Trips can be chartered for special occasions - bachelor / bachelorette parties, family reunions, all women/men groups, etc.
Permits and Licenses - Permits and Licenses - ROW Inc., doing business as ROW Adventures, is proud to be an Equal Opportunity recreation service provider and employer under permit from Salmon, Payette, Boise and Challis National Forests. All our operation and facilities are operated on a non-discriminatory basis. ROW Inc. is bonded and licensed by the State of Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board.
More on Responsible Travel - ROW Adventures is a strong advocate for wild rivers. We support many river conservation groups with both time and money. We also encourage our guests to help. When you receive your invoice from us, you will find a $1 per person per day voluntary donation included. For our Middle Fork of the Salmon River trips this money goes to Idaho Rivers United and American Rivers. Both are superb non-profit conservation groups working to protect wild rivers, fish and clean water for the communities that depend on them. If you choose not to donate simply delete this item from your invoice when you remit payment.
Our trips support local hotels, on our farewell dinner we eat in a local restaurant, we hire local guides and buy all our trip provisions and food in local communities. This means our trips and the money you pay for them has a significant impact to our local area.
Our trips offer an excellent opportunity for our guests to interact with locals, providing a cultural element that allows you to learn more about the American West.
One of our core values is respecting the Earth and we practice this throughout our operation. At our office we work to minimize our footprint through wise energy use and practicing the four R's - recycling, reducing, re-purposing and reusing. We source as many products as we can locally and buy our coffee from "Seeds for Change" and use the "Save Our Salmon" blend, thus providing coffee that is Fair Trade and Shade Grown while supporting a worthy cause
What are typical meals on the river? The quality of our food reflects the quality of the wilderness environment in the Middle Fork canyon. We hand select the freshest fruits and vegetables and pack them carefully in huge ice-coolers. Likewise, these coolers carry fresh dairy products and meats. With these ingredients we prepare bountiful, healthy meals.
Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice and served with broccoli and Béarnaise sauce. Baked Idaho trout, served with green beans and Idaho mashed potatoes. Juicy ribeye steak, fajitas, or made-on-the-river lasagna are a few other possible entrées. Big salads of vegetables and fruit add color and variety to every meal. Desserts are made fresh each evening in our Dutch ovens and range from double fudge brownies to pineapple upside-down cake. We serve juice every morning and moderate amounts of bottled wine with dinner. We also provide two beers and two sodas or juices per person, per day. There's always plenty of cold water, lemonade mix, tea, coffee and cocoa. And you're welcome to bring your own beverages or alcohol as well. We have plenty of ice to keep your drinks cold.
When is the best time to go? Because the Middle Fork has no dams, the water is highest when early-summer warmth melts the snow from the high mountain peaks. Winter snowpacks affect each season’s water levels. In general, the river peaks in mid-to-late June. Early June to early July is the time to come if you want high water thrills. Mid-July brings somewhat lower flows as the bulk of the snowmelt has already runoff and novice rafters may be more comfortable joining us at this time. The river gradually lowers as the summer passes, bringing incredible clarity to the crystal waters. Late August and September are wonderful times to be on the river because few people are around and the colors of the hills become more radiant. This is also the best time to fish the Middle Fork.
How do I get to Stanley? Air taxi transport to/from Boise is available. Or drive to Stanley and shuttle your car to the takeout point in Salmon. If low or high water requires a flight into Indian Creek, there is an extra charge. Call 1(800)451-0841for pricing.
What type of watercraft do you use? In addition to the sweep boat that carries all the camping gear, we use three other kinds of river craft. The traditional raft is a 16-foot self-bailing, oar-powered raft which a guide controls with two large oars. (Many companies use 18-22 foot rafts, which take a good deal of the fun out of the rapids.) We also offer smaller 14-foot paddle rafts. Four to six people paddle while a guide steers. On some stretches of river, we can add inflatable kayaks, or Daring Duckies, to the mix.
You have the choice to ride in any of these boats, and many people enjoy trying all three during a trip. On the few trips we operate with less than 13 guests, we may not have enough people to support a paddle raft. (We will still have duckies on smaller trips, if requested.)
Who guides your trips? On any river trip, the guides are the most important factor for your safety, enjoyment, and the success of the trip. ROW guides are exceptional people with years of river experience. We maintain a tobacco-free policy and most of our guides have taken interpretation courses from certified instructors. We look for guides who are willing and eager to share, teach, listen, learn, laugh, play, discuss, and, above all, work hard to provide a safe, relaxed and spontaneous adventure.
While in camp, two or three guides are preparing dinner while the others are free to spend time with you. They might show you the way to a nearby hot spring, give a fly-fishing lesson, or just to sit and visit with the group. Our guides are the main reason many of our guests return to ROW time and time again. (References gladly provided.)
What do you do when not on the river? One of the reasons the Middle Fork is such a fabulous trip is due to the incredible variety of sites and activities along the way. ROW takes pride in historical interpretation and takes advantage of as many side excursions as possible. We share stories of the early pioneers and hike to at least one old homestead cabin. We explore at least three different Native American pictograph sites.
We stop to soak in hot springs and always try to camp at one of them. Our trip is planned so the fifth day doesn't have many river miles. We stop and explore Waterfall Creek and maybe lead a hike under the falls. After lunch we hike to see Veil Falls, and we have a few other 'secret' surprises. We strongly believe that understanding builds greater appreciation, and we hope our love of this majestic canyon is contagious.
What is riverside camping like? We call it luxury camping. In order to make your trip run as smoothly and comfortably as possible, we use a large sweep boat to carry camping gear, food and supplies ahead of the main group. This allows our smaller rafts to be lighter and more maneuverable, which makes for a safer ride with more bounce and splash. And the sweep boat arrives at camp early to setup the kitchen and spacious 4-person tent we supply for you.
All you have to do is carry your personal gear to the tent of your choice and roll out your sleeping bag, flannel liner and thick, self-inflating foam sleeping pad (all of which is provided by ROW and stored in a ROW-provided waterproof bag).
(Note: In rare circumstances we may have a trip on the Middle Fork with less than 13 guests. In this case, we may not run our sweep boat. Our guides are still happy to set up your tent.)
What gear do I need? ROW provides each guest with a packing list before the trip. For items you may not have, we've got you covered. Wetsuits and booties are provided at no extra charge for trips departing June through July 6th. We also supply sleeping bags, liners, sleeping pads and waterproof bags.
(While this is a typical itinerary, every trip is unique. Water levels, as well as the campsites we are assigned by the U.S. Forest Service, vary week to week. This itinerary is meant to give you a snapshot of the trip but should not be considered an exact itinerary. Extreme high water or low water trips begin at Indian Creek—a 25-minute flight from Stanley, ID.)
DAY 0 –Arrive in Stanley by 7:00pm MST to meet ROW’s team leader at the Mountain Village Inn for a one-hour orientation meeting. We'll answer any last-minute questions and provide waterproof bags for your gear. Dinner on your own. You could schedule some time at the hotel’s private hot spring (reserve when checking in).
DAY 1 – Meet your group at 7:30am. We'll take a two-hour bus ride to Boundary Creek and start our trip. At 6,000 feet elevation, the air is crisp and the forest thick with fir and spruce. At the river we'll go through a safety orientation while your personal gear is loaded onto our rafts. After orientation, everyone chooses a raft (paddle or oar-powered) and climbs aboard. The first 15 miles of the Middle Fork are fast and rapids are steep, narrow, come in quick succession. During lunch, we'll explain how we minimize our impact on the river with Leave No Trace camping ethics. After lunch the river continues to be lively and challenging. Every few hundred yards a creek tumbles into the river, increasing the flow. We travel between 10 and 15 miles the first day and arrive at camp around 4:00pm. Enjoy the free time for hiking, fishing, reading or just relaxing. Hors d’oeuvres are served around 6:00 and dinner around 7:30. After dinner, a campfire is lit and the warmth invites all to share stories of the day, and life.
DAY 2 – We awake around 7:00am and enjoy fresh-brewed coffee. Breakfast is served and you pack up your personal gear. The rafts are loaded and we depart from camp around 9:30 for an adventure-packed day of rapids, magnificent scenery and fun. We make it a point to visit one or two pioneer homesteads on these first few days. We'll likely stop to explore the old miner’s camp at Powerhouse Rapids. Today’s a good day to keep your eyes open for the nest of the American Dipper, a small gray bird that swims underwater and builds its nest above fast-flowing water. We'll have plenty of fun rapids as the river continues its quick descent. We'll pull out the “Duckies,” our inflatable kayaks, for those seeking a more intimate experience with the river. We’ll stop for a soak in Sunflower Flat Hot Springs where several pools above the river cascade over a rocky cliff to create nature’s perfect shower. We make camp around 4:00pm and enjoy hiking, fishing and relaxing. After dinner the night sky welcomes stargazers and, later on, the river lulls you to sleep.
DAY 3 –The river canyon opens now and we’ve dropped over 1,500 feet in elevation. Days and nights are warmer. The fir and spruce give way to ponderosa pines, sagebrush and riparian hardwoods. The sparkling-clear water carries us swiftly along as the river channel widens and narrows with the underlying geology. One of today's highlights is stopping to view pictographs of the Native American Tukudeka, or Sheepeaters, who lived in this canyon until the 1870’s.
The afternoon is casual as the current slows a bit. We'll learn about early pioneers like Charlie Norton, who had a run in with a bear as amazing as the saga of Jedediah Smith. By mid-afternoon we arrive at camp near Loon Creek, around 50 miles from our starting point. Tonight’s highlight is a hike to the Loon Creek hot springs and fishers may enjoy casting a line into Loon Creek. Summer evenings are long, with darkness arriving around 9:30pm in June and July. The night sky, crackling campfire and fresh mountain air will help you sleep like a baby.
DAY 4 – Another day of fun rapids and incredible Rocky Mountain scenery. We’ll likely see big horn sheep as we pass several mineral licks. Those fishing will continue to find bountiful trout and birdwatchers are likely to spot golden eagles and falcons. We pass our last hot spring at Hospital Bar, so named because early cattlemen let their stock rest and feed at this large flat and easy ford across the river. We'll also see Tappan Ranch, where Red and Daisey Paulsen-Tappen grew a bountiful garden and raised a family with self-sufficiency and $300 a year in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Continuing on we run the Tappan rapids. This is a great photo opportunity with plenty of splashes and thrills. The final miles to camp offer a chance to lean back and take in the monumental scenery of the River of No Return Wilderness.
DAY 5 – Today we run Haystack Rapid, the most dynamic rapid on the river. Side canyon “blow outs” have changed its course twice in the last few years. This is the official start of Impassable Canyon. Below Haystack rapids, the canyon narrows and deepens creating a series of action-packed rapids. A favorite stop is at Waterfall Creek, where a steep trail leads up to the Bighorn Crags. We walk beneath the falls and on hot days finish with a jump into the river. Shortly downstream the river cuts into the Idaho batholith – the largest monolithic chunk of granite in North America. The river has carved into the granite and created towering walls for neck-bending panoramas. Further downstream we stop to hike to the base of Veil Falls, a soul-stirring cavern replete with pictographs and magic. Today’s scenery is truly among the most astounding on earth.
From camp the silhouette of canyon walls against the wine-dark sky will captivate you as you reflect, celebrate and further connect with newfound friends on your last night on the Middle Fork.
DAY 6 – As we push off from shore the river takes us past the former hideout of Earl Parrot, Hermit of Impassable Canyon. His story is as big as the canyon and adds just one more thread of wonder to your Middle Fork experience. As the sun breaks over the canyon rim, more big rapids greet us as we pass beneath vistas of staggering dimensions.
We stop to enjoy lunch on a glistening sand beach just a few miles above the Middle Fork's confluence with the Main Salmon. We proceed onto our takeout, carry personal gear to the waiting bus and settle back for a two-hour ride to the town of Salmon. Enjoy a hot shower and change of clothes then meet your guides for ROW’s hosted farewell dinner.
DAY 7 – If you drove to Stanley and had your car shuttled, it is waiting for you at the hotel. If you are flying home, you'll board an air taxi for the one-hour flight back to Boise to connect home.
Permits & Licenses:
ROW Inc., doing business as ROW Adventures, is proud to be an Equal Opportunity recreation service provider under permits from Salmon, Payette, Boise and Challis National Forests. All our operation and facilities are operated on a non-discriminatory basis. ROW Inc. is bonded and licensed by the State of Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board.
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