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Main Salmon River Idaho

The Main Salmon combines all the elements that bring people to wilderness river travel. Legendary whitewater, pristine scenery, abundant wildlife, sandy beaches and hot springs are samples of what this magnificent place has to offer. Grandeur is the word that best describes the River of No Return.

At over 6,000 feet from rim to river, the Salmon has carved the second deepest canyon in North America. It is deeper than the Grand canyon. It is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states, running a zig-zag course over 400 miles long. In addition, the stretch we run flows through the largest designated wilderness area outside Alaska. Add peak flows over 50,000 cubic feet per second and you have a wilderness river of legendary proportions.

The Main Salmon truly is a river of special character. Its forested canyon and pristine quality separate the Main from the Lower branch. Only a couple of rough dirt roads reach the river and the Main Salmon is little changed from the time of its earliest visitors. The sheer size, depth, and remoteness of the Salmon canyon, as well as its classic rapids, establish this river trip as one of North America’s premier wilderness whitewater adventures. Most rapids on the Main are “big-water” or “hydraulic” rapids. These are characterized by big curling waves that offer a thrilling roller coaster ride for all skill levels. Bailey Falls, Devil’s Teeth and Dried Meat are examples of these rapids where the trick is to enter correctly and paddle forward! The Main’s legendary “technical” rapids, like Salmon Falls and Big Mallard, have narrow chutes with exposed rocks on either side. These rapids require more precision and they offer a different kind of thrill.

The Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine forest of the Main Salmon is home to spectacular wildlife. Bighorn sheep wander near camp. A lone moose is sometimes seen drinking from a side creek. Bear are common along the river, though they avoid camps. Bald eagles are also common. The natives called this river “Tom-Agit-Pah,” which means Big Fish Water, because of its large Salmon and Steelhead trout. Although significantly reduced in number over the last few decades, with a little patience you may still sight salmon spawning in one of the Main’s many side creeks.

Human history in the Main Salmon area dates back over 8,000 years and Native American pictographs can still be seen along the river. The earliest inhabitants may have been ancestors of the Northern Shoshone and Nez Perce tribes encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1805, despite warnings from the Shoshone, Clark spent several days looking for a route through the canyon on horseback. His attempt stopped about 25 miles short of our Corn Creek launch site.

Over the last century the Salmon has seen many visitors with a variety of interests. Homesteaders and miners, mountain men and loners all passed through the canyon. Rafters still eat fruit off the trees near Jim Moore’s abandoned homestead. The old buildings left by Buckskin Bill still stand as a monument to “the last of the Mountain Men.” These days, though, it’s mostly just us rafters who come through here, and when you travel the Main Salmon you become a part of this history.

One Response to “Main Salmon River Idaho”

  1. adventure May 22, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Sounds like an amazing area!

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