Main Salmon Kayaking

A Paddling Playground


The Main Salmon is a perfect beginner/intermediate kayak trip, while also having tons of options for fun for the whole family. Many kayak schools, instructors, and private boaters alike consistently claim that this is one of their favorite rivers for paddling, as it allows for plenty of options from those just getting comfortable in a kayak to more difficult, consequenced lines and epic play spots for advanced paddlers. An exception to this is at high water (usually May/ June), where this massive river has serious hydraulics, iconic big water surf, endless massive wave trains, and pushy features for those wanting a more difficult run. This trip offers big water pool-drop class III rapids with warmer water than many other western rivers. (See WRO’s beginner/intermediate skill requirements overview).

Trip Highlights

  • 6 days, 79 miles
  • Fun, splashy whitewater and playboating opportunities
  • River character: (Mid-low flows) Class III pool-drop, wave trains, big water
  • River character: (High flows) Big, pushy, continuous, massive hydraulics, class III+-IV+
  • Flatwater for skills development
  • Amazing side creeks and canyons
  • Several relaxing hot springs
  • Great hiking to stunning vistas
  • Learn about pioneers and visit homesteads
  • Rich Native American history and pictographs
  • Optional add-on to create the “Super Salmon” trip with the Middle Fork Salmon early season

In the heart of central Idaho’s 2.3 million acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness flows the River of No Return, also known as the Main Salmon. This trip is consistently rated as one of the most coveted multi-day permits for paddlers everywhere, and there is definitely a reason for that. This crystal clear mountain river’s dynamic landscape passes by majestic Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs, impressive granite gorges cutting through Idaho’s Batholic, and accented with large sandy beaches that you won’t believe exist in the middle of Idaho’s backcountry. With wave trains, prime surf waves and stern squirt seams, and splat rocks between pool drop rapids, there will definitely be no shortage of entertainment on this trip.   

The Main Salmon River corridor hosts more than just pristine waters and rapids. Bighorn sheep, deer, elk, black bear, wolves, mountain lions, playful river otters, trout, salmon and eagles make their home along and in the river. Explore Native American pictographs, pioneer historic sites, and hermit hideouts before settling in around a roaring campfire and delicious Dutch oven dinners. Relax under the stars with our knowledgeable, kind and fun-loving guides as you soak in the stillness of a remote mountain wilderness.

Like many free-flowing rivers around Idaho, the difficulty of this river changes with the snowmelt as the summer goes on. Earlier in the season, when water levels are above 20,000 on the White Bird gauge, this river has a more difficult “Grand Canyon”-like character with massive hydraulics, and a few rapids that push class IV-IV+ range, with difficulty increasing on many rapids with higher flows. That being said, some other features do get washed out. It is an incredibly powerful thing to experience more advanced paddlers, and an awesome addition to early season Middle Fork Salmon trips to create the “Super Salmon” 8 day trip. At flows below 20,000, this river is prime for beginner/ intermediate paddlers, as well as plenty of opportunities for playboating for more experienced boaters. The recovery pools are extremely forgiving on these pool-drop rapids, and many kayak schools and instructors use this river and claim it as their favorite multi-day instruction site. Another plus to this river is that when many other whitewater stretches are drying up throughout the summer, the Main has very fun rapids all the way through September! 

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 June, July, August, September
State / Region
Adventure Level Moderate
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Hard Shell Kayaking



The Main Salmon trip begins in Salmon and ends in Boise, 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:

If you need a WRO kayak rental, be sure that you reserve your boat ahead of time with the office. (See WRO kayak inventory.) Paddlers will need to provide their own paddle, helmet, lifejacket, drysuit or dry top, and optional safety gear. WRO also has drysuits available for rent, but many are rafter-designs and do not have kayak tunnels or rubber neck gaskets. 

Fly commercially into Boise, Idaho, then take McCall Air into Salmon, Idaho.

McCall Air

If you choose to drive to Salmon, you will need to arrange to have your car shuttled from Salmon to the take-out by River Shuttles.

River Shuttles

Motel Before: Make your reservations preferably at the Stagecoach Inn (208.756.2919) or the Salmon River Motel (208.756.8880) in Salmon. Your motel will pick you up at the Salmon Airport. We will have an orientation at 6:00pm the evening before your trip begins at the Stagecoach Inn.

After the trip:  We provide transportation to Boise from the take out.  We recommend staying at the Best Western Vista Inn near the airport (800.727.5006) or at the Owyhee Plaza downtown (800.233.4611). June and July trips will have a van ride to McCall, then on to Boise arriving early evening. In order to keep the river days shorter as the water levels drop, August trips have an optional ending with a scenic flight from Mackay Bar to Boise arriving mid-day with an extra fee for the plane. If you are interested in this option, be sure to let the office know when booking your trip to discuss cost, availability, etc.

Sample Itinerary

Day Before: Travel to Salmon, ID no later than 5:30 pm. We will meet up at the Stagecoach Inn at 6 pm for an orientation. We will distribute dry bags, go over any last minute questions, hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs, and make sure everyone has all the right gear.  

Day 1: We will head for the river around 8:30 am. After a scenic two hour van or bus ride along the Main Salmon we reach Corn Creek Launch Site. We will make sure everyone is fitted in their boats, go over some river signals and river safety. We will most likely make this first day a short river day, allowing people time to get comfortable with their boats and the river.

Day 2-5: We’ll be relaxing, running rapids, playboating, soaking in hot springs, exploring historic sites, swimming at camp, and anything else you’d like to do! Our schedule is flexible so we can customize the trip to your interests.

Day 6: After a half day on the water, we will have lunch at the takeout and say goodbye to your guides. The trip leader will most likely travel back with you to McCall, where you can arrange a flight back to Salmon, or drive all the way back to Boise, which takes about 4-5 hours. You will most likely return back to Boise in the early evening.


Kayaking/ Miscellaneous

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.

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On the River

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