Lower Canyons of the Salmon

Idaho's Premiere Beach Vacation

Overview

Idaho’s legendary Salmon River remains one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the lower 48. As it reaches its confluence with the Snake, the river flows through a section known as the Canyons, or Gorges, of the Salmon. The landscape here is more wide open than other stretches of river, and the sandy beaches are big. In several of the canyon sections there are also some fun big water-style rapids!

Trip Highlights

  • 5 days, 75 miles
  • Class II-III whitewater
  • Big “pool drop” whitewater
  • Idaho mountain/ open Snake Plains landscape
  • Great family trip
  • Rich pioneer and mining history
  • Refreshing water for swimming and paddling inflatable kayaks
  • Huge sandy beaches for great games, comfortable camping, and stargazing
  • Great stand up paddle boarding

On the Canyons of the Salmon, it’s all about the beaches and family time. You’ll find some of the largest sandy beaches inland of the coast in the middle of the Idaho backcountry, which makes for easy camping and great family trips. Join the kids as they play in swimming holes at camp or enjoy some personal time with a cold drink and a book from the comforts of a shade tarp. Roomy beaches make for plentiful games, and the camp eddy is an excellent spot to cool down on a hot summer day or try your hand at paddle boarding!

The Canyons of the Salmon gets its name from the several canyons you will float through on this stretch of river: Green Canyon, Snow Hole Canyon, and Blue Canyon. Unlike some of the other Salmon River trips offered by WRO, this float is not through a designated wilderness area. But despite the signs of humans and roads you will encounter, the scenery in this section is still beautiful–you will cruise through narrow canyons, camp on sandy river beaches, and watch the Ponderosa forests of the upper Main Salmon begin to give way to the grasslands of the Snake River region.

The whitewater is big, “pool drop” class III whitewater. This big water style means great wave trains for inflatable kayaks, along with many sections perfect for standup paddle boards! We bring an assortment of boats on this section: oar boats, paddle boats, inflatable kayaks, paddle boards, and a wooden dory on certain launch dates. Some of the big rapids to be ready for are Bodacious Bounce, Half and Half, China, Snow Hole and Eye of the Needle.

The lower Salmon also has some big water fishing opportunities–smallmouth bass during the summer, and Steelhead in the fall as they migrate up the river. During the peak of the summer, the water is a great temperature for swimming, but is a little warm for good trout fishing.

As you float the 50 miles of the Lower Salmon River through several impressive canyons, you reach the confluence of the Snake River. Once on the Snake, the currents slow and you start to encounter more signs of civilization as the trip comes to an end.

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The Stats

Departure Month July, August, September
State / Region Central Idaho
Adventure Level Relaxed, Moderate
Price Range $1500 - $2000
Activities Fishing, Inflatable Kayaking, Family Rafting, Hiking, Canoeing, Native American Sites, Pioneer History, Rafting, Wildlife, Whitewater Rafting

Reviews

Logistics

This trip is relatively simple logistically for your travel plans as it begins and ends in Lewiston, Idaho.

Before the trip:

Travel to Lewiston, Idaho (LWS) no later than 5:30 pm one day prior to your trip’s launch date, with lodging arranged for this first night. We recommend staying at the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel for logistic simplicity. The hotel has a free airport shuttle or parking available to leave your car if you plan on driving to Lewiston.

Plan on meeting for orientation at 6 pm the night before the launch at the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel. Here you will meet your trip leader, other guests that will be on your trip, and we will hand out dry bags, discuss the trip details and answer any last minute questions.
The next morning we will depart the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel and drive as a group to the river put-in at Hammer Creek, about an hour and 45 minute trip.

If you plan on driving, you can have your vehicle shuttled to the takeout with All River Shuttles.

All River Shuttles:
Phone: (208) 839-2308
Text: (208) 553-5411
Website: allriversshuttle.com
Email: [email protected]

Lodging:
Hells Canyon Grand Hotel
Phone: (208) 799-1000
Website: hellscanyongrandhotel.com (online booking)

After the Trip:

We provide transportation to Lewiston from the Heller Bar take out. It is about a 1 hour drive and we usually arrive by late afternoon.

Sample Itinerary

Day Before: Travel to Lewiston, Idaho (LWS) no later than 5:30 pm one day prior to your trip’s launch date, with lodging arranged for this first night. Plan on meeting for orientation at 6 pm the night before the launch at the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel (208-799-1000). Here you will meet your trip leader, other guests that will be on your trip, and we will hand out dry bags, discuss the trip details and answer any last minute questions.

Day 1: We will depart Lewiston from the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel around 8 am and have about an hour and 45 minute drive to the Hammer Creek launch site. You will then meet the rest of your guides, who will have the boats and gear ready to go. A general river orientation and safety talk will be given, and PFDs (lifejackets) will be custom-fitted before getting on the water and starting the adventure!

Day 2-4: We’ll be relaxing on the water and on sandy beaches, running rapids, doing side hikes, exploring historic sites, and anything else you’d like to do! Our schedule is flexible so we can customize the trip to your interests.

Day 5: Once we reach the confluence of the Snake River we will strap the boats together and motor the trip 20 miles to our takeout, Heller Bar, where we will do lunch. You will say goodbye to the guides, who will stay at the takeout to break down the trip. Your trip leader will accompany you on a roughly 1 hour drive back to the Hells Grand Hotel in Lewiston, usually by late afternoon.

 

FAQs

Camp Life and Meals

Will we be at a new camp each day?

Yes, we do normally change campsites every day. This allows us to cover new scenery, rapids, and side adventures each day at a fun, comfortable pace. Occasionally depending on water levels and mileage per day we might do a “lunch-over,” where we camp at the same place we have lunch and allow for more camp time and side activities.

Will there be a campfire each night?

Yes, we almost always have a campfire each night and each morning.

What clothes should I bring for camp?

Summer on the Lower Salmon is typically hot and dry, and things dry quickly out here. Your river and/or hiking clothes can double as camp clothes, but you are welcome to bring something else if you would like, such as a cotton shirt and lightweight pants or shorts, an athletic dress/skirt for women, or some fiesta-wear.

How big are the tents? Do I have to share a tent with someone else?

Most of our tents are high-quality three-person tents, but we only put two people in each tent. If there is an odd number in your group we will not make you share a tent with a stranger. We offer brands like Mountain Hardware, North Face, and Sierra Designs.

Will my tent be set up for me?

In the interest of a more genuine wilderness experience, we encourage people to pick their own sleeping sites and set up their own tents (or sleep under the stars, weather permitting!). If you need assistance, we’re happy to help and always show you how the gear works.

What kind of food will we be eating?

Wonderful, gourmet backcountry cooking! We are consistently told that we excel when it comes to our food’s quality that we can accomplish in the wilderness. Breakfasts always have an early option for yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola before we serve a combination of grains, vegetables, eggs, and breakfast meats, and dinners consist of culinary delights such as wild salmon and steak, many of which are cooked over open campfires and dutch ovens. Lunches are a combination of tasty salads, sandwiches, fruits, and assorted snacks. Healthy and nutritious options are always available, and meals always include fruits and vegetables (local when we can, including veggies from our own greenhouse and garden!). See our sample menu and our garden page for more information.

Can WRO accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies?

WRO will happily do our best to accommodate any dietary restrictions at no additional cost! We have experience working with vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut allergies, etc. Please notify us of any dietary restrictions or allergies as early as possible so that we can adjust the menu accordingly. In certain cases, individuals may want to supplement meals and snacks with some items of their own.

Does WRO provide drinks/ snacks?

WRO provides ample snacks as well as plenty of drinking water, fruit juices, and coffee, tea, and cream in the morning. We do not provide soda or alcohol. If you feel you would like to have soda or other canned beverages on the trip, please bring what you wish and we will help keep it cold! You are also welcome to bring your own alcohol (packed in unbreakable containers whenever possible, please). The only exception is our “fiesta night,” in which WRO will provide our famous riverritas.

How does hygiene work on the trip?

On the Lower Salmon, there will be plenty of opportunities to swim. We need to keep soap (even biodegradable) out of the rivers to protect fish populations, so if you want to use soap and bathe on the trip, you need to do so above the high water mark. The guides can help carry and heat up some water if needed. Face and body wipes also work well for helping stay clean. We recommend buying biodegradable soaps, such as Dr. Bronners.

How do the bathroom systems work on the trip?

In order to keep these places beautiful for years to come, all rivers are “pack it in, pack it out.” We bring fabulous portable toilets and hand washing stations that we place in a private location away from camp with the best bathroom view you will ever have.

On the River

How long will we be floating on the river each day?

Each trip is tailored to the desires of the guests, but generally we will be on the water a total of 5 or so hours each day (give or take a couple of hours), broken by a lunch stop and any other side adventures. We usually start floating when the sun hits the water each day and arrive in camp late afternoon. Each day will be different, with varying options for hiking, exploring, swimming, fishing, and great lunch stops. Your lead guide will give you an overview of the day each evening before or morning.

What will I do with items I need accessible during the day or on the boat?

In addition to the large waterproof bag issued for packing clothing and camp items, everyone is also issued a smaller “day bag” to carry items you will need access to while on the river (sunscreen, camera, extra layer, etc.). Put anything you might need during the day in this day bag, as the larger bag will usually be inaccessible until we reach camp for the evening.

How will I keep my phone/camera/other valuable items safe from the elements?

We discourage bringing any unnecessary valuables on your trip. Phones can be placed in a Ziploc bag or waterproof case and put in your day bag if you would like to have it accessible for taking pictures during the day. If you are bringing a large, expensive camera, we recommend you bring a hard waterproof case, such as a Pelican case, in which to store it and accessories. For wallets, we recommend keeping them at the bottom of your overnight bag, or with your-go around bag that will be at the takeout.

What kind of boat will I be riding in?

We usually have a variety of boats so that everyone gets a chance to experience each type of river craft, water level permitting. During your registration, you will note your boat preferences so we can plan accordingly. Unless you have requested otherwise, we typically bring several oar boats, a paddle boat, and a few inflatable kayaks. On the Lower Salmon we may also bring some paddleboards, and even a wooden dory on certain launch dates. We recommend trying out each boat and riding with each guide as they all have something different to offer. The Lower Salmon is also unique in that you will get to experience riding on what’s called a “J-Rig” once we hit the Snake River confluence. This is a boat with large, military-grade catamaran-style tubes and a 10 horse motor. This is used as our gear boat most of the trip, and the rafts will be strapped to the sides of this boat on the motor out in the flat water at the end of the trip. For more information see our "types of boats" page.

If we say we want to paddle in the paddle boat, are we committed to paddling the entire trip?

Generally no, as we usually have enough boats that guests can rotate and have the option to paddle when they wish. That being said, if a paddle boat is requested for a trip, we need to make sure that there are paddlers for that boat.

What will temperatures and weather be like? Will it be cold? Will it rain?

Summer temperatures in the Northern Rockies can fluctuate dramatically in a 24-hour period, from freezing at night to 70-80's the next afternoon. Typical weather on the Lower Salmon is pretty consistently hot and dry, and it is fair to generally be able to expect weather between the 80’s-upper 90’s. However, storms can also roll in unexpectedly, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Rain is always possible, but trips earlier in the season are more likely to see precipitation and/or cooler temperatures than mid to late summer trips. Be sure to check out the weather section of the packing list for specific seasonal information and average temperatures for your trip, as well as doing your own research a week prior to your trip, checking anticipated weather at Hammer Creek/ White Bird ID (our put-in) as well as in Lewiston, ID (close to our takeout).

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

What kind of footwear should I bring? What shoes will I wear in the boat?

For most trips you will need two pairs of shoes, one to wear in the boats and one to wear hiking and around camp. By July, water temperatures on the Lower Salmon are very warm, and most people enjoy sandals over “water bootie” styles. Sandals should have an ankle strap and a good sole (popular options include Chacos, Tevas, and Keens). Old running sneakers can also work well as river shoes. Flip-flops are great for around camp but you need something that will stay on your feet while we are on the boats. Sneakers or a lightweight hiking boot will be fine for side hikes.

What clothing should I wear in the boat?

Generally, you can expect Lower Salmon trips to be hot and dry. (But be sure to check the weather forecast before packing for your trip, as summer storms are not unlikely. Quick-dry clothing, layers, and sun protection are the most important things to keep in mind. It is typical to wear long-sleeved sun shirts, lightweight long pants, and a hat with a bill. Some might just wear a pair of shorts over a bathing suit. Some people like to keep bandannas or sarongs with them on the boat, which you can get wet and use as extra sun protection and to cool off. It is important to keep your rain gear and an extra layer in your small day bag, so you have options in case the weather changes.

Why do you recommend synthetics instead of cotton?

While on the river you will get wet going through rapids (what fun would it be if you didn’t?!). Synthetic materials are lightweight and dry much quicker than cotton. They also keep you warmer when wet. Comfort is essential to having fun! That being said, the rare exception to this rule is on hot trips on the Lower Salmon in the summer, where occasionally some people prefer to have cotton shirts that stay wet longer, and keep you cooler.

What size and type of sleeping pad does WRO provide?

We provide deluxe, self-inflating basecamp “Therm-a-rest” pads. These are very comfortable and fit very nicely in our gear bags.

Can I bring my own sleeping pad/bag/tent/other gear?

You are welcome to bring your own sleeping gear if you wish, but if you do, please bring your own complete sleep kit and let us know ahead of time. Our sleep kits consist of a Thermarest pad, a 20 degree sleeping bag, a sheet, a pack-able pillow, and a ground cloth that acts as a sand mat. We can provide an empty dry bag to store your sleep kit in.

How big are the waterproof bags and how much stuff can they hold?

Everyone is issued a waterproof “day bag” to carry items you will need access to during the day while on the river. This day bag is 9 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. Everyone is also issued a large waterproof bag for your personal gear and clothing. This bag should be plenty large enough for everything listed on our suggested packing list. We recommend limiting your personal gear to 35 pounds.

Logistics

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Lewiston the day before your trip is scheduled to begin. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests at the Hells Grand Hotel at 6 pm, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz coffee mug Hydroflasks and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home.Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip. We recommend that you store this at the bottom of your overnight bag.

How, where, and when do we get our fishing licenses?

If you want to fish, an Idaho fishing license is mandatory, and can be purchased just before you arrive if it is an in-person purchase. If you look at Idaho Fish and Game’s website, it will direct you to options for online purchases that can be mailed to you (allow 3-4 weeks for this option), or also in-person vendors in Lewiston and around Idaho. Idaho also has the option to purchase a fishing license just for the time you are on the river.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend or on the way to the river. Examples in Lewiston include Big 5 Sporting Goods, Sportsman's Warehouse, and North 40 Outfitters.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. Lewiston may have limited taxi options such as Uber or Lyft, so if you don’t have a vehicle, staying in the recommended lodging is especially convenient.

Miscellaneous

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Lewiston the day before your trip is scheduled to begin. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests at the Hells Grand Hotel at 6 pm, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz coffee mug Hydroflasks and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home.Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip. We recommend that you store this at the bottom of your overnight bag.

How, where, and when do we get our fishing licenses?

If you want to fish, an Idaho fishing license is mandatory, and can be purchased just before you arrive if it is an in-person purchase. If you look at Idaho Fish and Game’s website, it will direct you to options for online purchases that can be mailed to you (allow 3-4 weeks for this option), or also in-person vendors in Lewiston and around Idaho. Idaho also has the option to purchase a fishing license just for the time you are on the river.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend or on the way to the river. Examples in Lewiston include Big 5 Sporting Goods, Sportsman's Warehouse, and North 40 Outfitters.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. Lewiston may have limited taxi options such as Uber or Lyft, so if you don’t have a vehicle, staying in the recommended lodging is especially convenient.

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