Canyons of the Salmon: A River Beach Vacation
March 17, 2021
By Jonas Seiler
WRO has long operated on the famed ‘Main Salmon’ stretch from Corn Creek near the town of Salmon to Carey Creek near Riggins. Warm water, splashy waves, and beach camping are all highlights. For many years at WRO, rafting on the Salmon River ended at Carey Creek. Luckily, in 2019, we acquired a permit to operate on the beautiful, if not lesser known, Canyons of the Salmon on the lower section of the river. This awesome stretch of river is well suited for smaller charter groups, kids, and custom trips.
Beginning at Hammer Creek boat ramp near Whitebird, Idaho, the Canyons of the Salmon, often referred to more simply as the ‘Lower Salmon’ is a gem in its own right. From Hammer Creek, there are approximately 75 miles of fun on the Salmon and later the Snake rivers. We take out at Heller Bar boat ramp near Asotin, Washington.
Although there are many similarities between the ‘Main Salmon’ and the ‘Lower Salmon,’ there are a few very distinct differences. We like to imagine the Lower Salmon as a beach vacation. The water is even warmer, the beaches are even bigger, and the whitewater is friendly and splashy. The Lower Salmon flows through 4 distinct canyons on its way to the Snake. Green Canyon, Cougar Canyon, Snowhole Canyon, and Blue Canyon each have fun rapids and unique scenery. The last 20 miles of the trip is on the Snake River in Hells Canyon!
Rapids primarily consist of splashy class III, with a few more challenging rapids mixed in. Fun rapids like Wright Way, Bodacious Bounce, Snowhole, Sluicebox, and Eye of the Needle are evenly spaced throughout the trip.
There are hundreds of beautiful beaches on the Lower Salmon. There are large beaches that can accommodate groups up to 30 people, as well as countless other smaller beaches that can accommodate smaller groups. As we mentioned, the water is warm and great for swimming and the beaches can be great arenas for games like horseshoes and bocce ball.
What about the weather? With lower elevation, the Lower Salmon is located in a dry desert environment. This means hot days that are perfect for swimming, while rain is less likely than areas upstream. With a dry environment, there is little to no standing water around the river, which means few, if any, bugs. The Lower Salmon is the perfect place to sleep out under the stars. With the mild climate, this stretch ends itself well to fall trips, with weather usually staying relatively pleasant through the end of October.
The fishing can be excellent on the Lower Salmon. During peak summer months, the main quarry is Smallmouth Bass, but there is opportunity to catch White Sturgeon, Northern Pikeminnow, and trout. In the fall, it is possible to catch Steelhead and hunt for Chukar Partridge. If you are interested in hunting or fishing on the Lower Salmon, give us a call!
Although the hiking opportunities on the Lower Salmon are not as plentiful as upstream on the Main Salmon and Middle Fork of the Salmon, there are still a few options for shorter hikes. We take time to visit Native American (Nez Perce) pictographs, remnants of Chinese mining operations from the 19th century, and maybe even an old orchard or two.
We offer a variety of craft on the Lower Salmon. You can participate in a paddle raft or relax in an oar raft. For the adventurous types, we bring a few inflatable kayaks. Some stretches of the Lower Salmon are well suited for stand up paddleboards (SUP).
Our permit allows us to launch river trips any day of the week, making it a super flexible option. The season usually starts in the first half of July and runs into October. With relatively easy logistics that typically begin and end in Lewiston, Idaho, the Lower Salmon is a great option for smaller sized charter groups. There are two potential starting points on the Lower Salmon; the aforementioned Hammer Creek near Whitebird and Pine Bar, near Cottonwood. Depending on the flow, the group, pace, and the craft, it is possible to do trips 3 to 6 days in length. This stretch is great for kids as young as 5 (depending on maturity) and adults alike. A family trip on the Lower Salmon, either in summer or fall, will be a trip you won’t soon forget.
With flexible dates, a long season, easy logistics, friendly whitewater, fishing, and nice weather, the Canyons of the Salmon can be a great first multi day rafting trip or a relaxing easy trip with old friends. Give us a call!