Exploring the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness
Sprawling across more than two million acres within the state of Idaho, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is one of the largest federally managed wilderness areas in the United States. It encompasses rugged mountains, dramatic canyons, and wild rivers that lure backpackers, whitewater rafters, and kayakers. Many who venture into this remote and untouched wilderness comment on the spirituality of the experience, with the natural world at its most magnificent.
Surrounded by Forest Service land and adjacent to the Gospel Hump Wilderness, the Frank Church-River of No Return is inaccessable by road; the only way in (and out) is on foot or by boat, with many opting to experience this breathtaking area on whitewater rafting trips. At just over 2.3 million acres, it is the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness area in the lower 48. The designated area provides vital protection to wildlife, several mountain ranges and the popular Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Who was Frank Church?
Originally from Boise, Frank Church studied law at Stanford University before going on to become an influential senator. He left his biggest mark as an environmentalist and was the floor sponsor for the 1964 Wilderness Act, as well as the 1968 Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. As a result, more than 200 rivers across the United States have been “preserved in free-flowing condition”, with the act ensuring “that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Among these is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, which flows through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
Frank Church also played a leading role in passing the Central Idaho Wilderness Act in 1980, which created the River of No Return Wilderness. It was named in reference to the early settlers who transported goods along the waterway but were unable to do so in the opposite direction due to the strong currents and steep canyon walls.
In 1978, President Carter embarked on a three-day float trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, alongside the future Idaho governor, Secretary Cecil Andrus. It is suggested that this moving experience made a big impact on Carter, who signed the final Central Idaho Wilderness Act on July 23, 1980. Four years later, Frank Church was honored with the renaming of the River of No Return Wilderness, shortly before he died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 59.
Whitewater Rafting in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness
While there are more than 2,500 miles of maintained hiking trails to explore in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, tackling the whitewater rapids of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the most thrilling ways to explore the region. The clear, pure, and free-flowing Middle Fork travels 105 miles dropping 3,000 feet through rugged, diverse and inspiring terrain. The remote nature of the Middle Fork, coupled with epic whitewater and rapids like Devil's Tooth, House Rock, the Chutes, Velvet Falls beacon to adventure seekers and whitewater rafters throughout the world. By day, you’ll be treated to incredible scenery as you make your way down the river and explore along the surrounding hiking trails and hot springs. Once the sun sets, you can settle in for an unforgettable stargazing experience, almost as far as you can get from any light pollution. ROW Adventures has had the delight of sharing whitewater rafting, hiking and fishing trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon for over four decades now.
Territory Acknowledgement - Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Paddling the strongly flowing course of the Salmon River will see you following in the footsteps of Native American tribes and early traders. ROW's Middle Fork trips pass through the lands of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce), Pohogues (Shoshone-Bannock) Tribes and the Agaidika (Lemhi-Shoshone) Tribes. As part of our commitment to Territory Acknowledgement and understanding our travel destinations, we recognize these committees and the significance of our travels through their territory.
A Sanctuary for Wildlife
The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area provides a sanctuary for mountain lions, black bears and moose, as well as bighorn sheep and white tail deer. In addition to being home to a healthy colony of beavers, it provides critical habitat for wolverines. Previously endangered wolves were reintroduced to the area from Canada in 1995 and by 2011, their breeding numbers were sufficient for them to be removed from the endangered species list in Idaho.