Lower Salmon Kayaking

Paddle Through the Heart of Idaho

Overview

The Lower Salmon is a perfect beginner/intermediate kayak trip, while also having tons of options for fun for the whole family. While traveling through Idaho Mountain Backcountry landscapes, this is an awesome section to develop as a paddler, hone in on basic skills, have lots of recovery pools after big, fun, pool-drop rapids that will test your skills and boost confidence in a safe and manageable manner. Think of a smaller scale of “Grand Canyon” style of paddling with sections of flatwater interlaced with big, playful hydraulics. This trip offers big water pool-drop class III rapids with warmer water and weather than many other western rivers. (See WRO’s beginner/intermediate skill requirements overview.)

Trip Highlights

  • 5 days, 75 miles 
  • Big “pool drop” class III whitewater
  • River character: pool drop, wave train, playboating
  • Idaho mountain/ open Snake Plains landscape
  • Great beginner/ intermediate river for paddling development and confidence boosting 
  • Refreshing water for swimming and skills practice
  • Huge sandy beaches for great games, comfortable camping, and stargazing

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, great family trips, and an awesome way to get out and paddle. Join the kids as they play in swimming holes at camp, do some roll practice, 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 rapids are big, “pool drop” class II-III whitewater that are perfect for beginners and intermediates to practice skills, gain confidence, and have fun in some amazing backcountry Idaho scenery. With warm water and forgiving pools, fear of making mistakes and swimming rapids can be lifted, and it is a great chance to shift panic into a sense of humbleness and learning. Also, with back to back days on the water on this style of multi-day trip, it is super helpful for paddling muscle memory, dedicating focus to kayaking, and leaving behind the stressors of everyday life for a vacation of full backcountry immersion! Lastly, if the 5 days of kayaking wasn’t enough, some of the most epic-road side surf waves in Idaho exist along the Main Salmon near Riggins, ID, which this trip is very close to if you are traveling in your own vehicle and have the time.

Why Raft Support?

When self-support kayaking, you often have to be a minimalist. When traveling with raft support, you are able to bring all your heart desires, and probably more! Our rafts carry all of your personal things (costumes and dry shoes anyone?), and other items that self-support boating does not allow for such as coolers for gourmet food prepared for you (no more ramen and MREs!), beer, extensive safety supplies, a full-sized firepan with a daily fire, latrine facilities, logistics taken care of, etc. Without the bulky weight of your gear in your kayak, it allows for quicker, more responsive (and fun!) paddling, and also opens up possibilities for more low-volume styles of boats for those looking to spice up the class IV. 

 

If running this type of river without ever seeing it makes you nervous, or you are traveling alone, having a safety kayaker/ kayak guide is a great way to travel. Traveling with one of our knowledgeable safety kayakers is a great way to gain confidence and expertise through this technical run. Lastly, this type of trip also allows for you to bring non-kayaker family and friends to also be able to enjoy a perfect river vacation for everyone involved. 

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The Stats

Departure Month July, August
State / Region
Adventure Level Relaxed, Moderate
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Inflatable Kayaking, Hard Shell Kayaking

Reviews

Logistics

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

WRO Kayak Rentals

WRO has a wide range of playboats, half-slices, and river runner/ creek boats to reserve for the week in a variety of sizes. WRO does not provide paddle, skirts, helmets, PFD’s, or personal dry gear. For more information, contact Seth, [email protected] (Reservation website coming soon.)

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 (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. 

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.

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

Kayaking/ Miscellaneous

Will I have to paddle the whole time?

We generally ask that if people sign up for a trip as a kayaker that they plan to paddle the entire trip. This is mainly because we base our number of rafts, guides, and gear distribution off of planning on having people in their kayaks. That being said, we can absolutely make accommodations for individuals in certain situations, (Not wanting to run a particular rapid, medical situations, etc.)
All and all, this is your trip and we are here to ensure you have the best trip possible.

Will safety kayakers/ kayak guides be on the trip?

WRO provides safety kayakers on trips at paddlers' request or if there are more than four kayakers on a trip. We especially try to make sure this is true during high water/ spring trips. Our kayak guides have experience on each of our rivers, as well as with instruction and rescue. We currently cannot provide one-on-one instruction with the types of trips we run, and try to focus on providing river beta and safety.

If I'm on a mixed raft support/ kayak trip, will I be able to scout rapids/ play/ separate from the group?

Generally, yes, to an extent. We try to stay together as a group to keep our repair and major first aid kits accessible to both rafters and kayakers at all times. A certain amount of playing is okay, and we definitely encourage you to do so, but we try to keep our group about a quarter mile distance within each other. If there is a particular rapid you want to scout, try to have an idea the morning of, and let the trip leader know, we will all scout as a group.

I am a whitewater canoeist, are there options for me?

If you are a confident whitewater canoeist with comparable experience, (see skill requirements) we encourage all types of whitewater enthusiasts out there. There are different types of rivers and trip times of the year that may fit your paddling experience and style better than others (high water, big hydraulics versus more creaky and technical), so please check in with the office or read on our kayak trip pages on what those might be. WRO does not currently offer whitewater canoes or accessories in our rental fleet, so you will be responsible for transporting your gear.

I am a part of a kayak school/ company and would like to book a trip for a group of my clients with a WRO permit. How does this work?

As you would charter the whole trip, this needs to be planned well in advance to ensure that there is a full trip date open for your group. The only exception to this might be if another chartered trip was canceled. Call the office for details on charter fees, guide expectations, available dates, etc. There are group discounts and charter commissions available.

Camp Life and Meals

Will we be at a new camp every 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.

Will there be a campfire every night?

Yes, we almost always have a campfire every evening and morning.

What clothes should I bring for camp?

This will vary greatly depending on the time of year. Early summer in Idaho can be very cold and unpredictable. It is recommended to have plenty of fresh, warm, dry clothes to change into at camp. However, for mid-season trips, sun protection is often key, with quick-dry layers to swim in, and comfortable camp shoes and lightweight layers such as thin pants, skirts/ skorts, dresses, etc.

How big are the tents? Do we 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 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 by guests that we out-do their expectations when it comes to our food’s quality that we can accomplish in the wilderness. Breakfasts and suppers consist of culinary delights like 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 (locally sourced and organic whenever we can, including veggies from our own greenhouse and garden!). For additional information, check out our "Sample Menu" page.

Can WRO accommodate dietary restrictions/ 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, with the exception of a fiesta night that we provide drinks. You are also welcome to bring your own alcohol (packed in unbreakable containers whenever possible, please). As there are portages on this trip, we recommend thinking about options such as hard alcohol packed in non-glass containers and bagged wine, though beer is okay if that is your preference.

How does personal hygiene work during the trip?

We need to keep soap out of the rivers, 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.

How does the bathroom system work during 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 handwashing 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, and great lunch stops. Your lead guide will give you an overview of the day each morning.

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

This depends greatly on the time of the year. Storms can also roll in unexpectedly, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Rain is possible in this area, though the likelihood is less late summer. The water temperatures significantly warm up as the season goes on, with many people wearing only a dry top or shorty, or sometimes even just a sunshirt when they’re paddling in the late season heat. In July and August, temperatures can be up to 100 degrees some days, but luckily it is easy to cool off in a kayak. 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, ID (our put-in) as well as at Heller Bar, ID (close to our takeout).

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

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 "Therm-a-rest pad, a 20 degree sleeping bag, a sheet, a pack-able pillow, and a ground cloth. 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. You will be able to use your own dry bag if you would like, just let our office know.

Logistics

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 "Therm-a-rest pad, a 20 degree sleeping bag, a sheet, a pack-able pillow, and a ground cloth. 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. You will be able to use your own dry bag if you would like, just let our office know.

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