Middle Fork Salmon Kayaking

The Quintessential Idaho Whitewater Experience

Overview

Springtime on the Middle Fork of the Salmon is an excellent time for experienced kayakers to see this legendary Idaho canyon, and discover why this section is sought after by paddlers across the country. May and June’s runoff brings high flows to the Middle Fork with exciting wave-trains, more continuous water, serious seams and hydraulics, big-water rapids, several nice surfing holes with eddy service, and countless waves to catch on the fly. The Middle Fork is credited for having 100 rapids in 100 miles, most of which are class III, and some high-action class IV. At lower and medium flows later on in the season, the paddling is still fun, opening up the canyon for more playboating and a slower, more technical style of paddling for those that want to experience this iconic river at a more mellow pace. Along with the epic whitewater, the Middle Fork Salmon’s scenery will leave you equally giddy, with breathtaking mountain views, striking granite canyons, towering pine groves, and early season wildflowers and greenery. This is a bucket list trip for kayakers everywhere.

  • Trip Highlights
  • 6 days, 100 miles of pristine water
  • River character: (High water) big water/ hydraulics; wave trains; continuous; challenging pool-drop
  • River character: (Mid flows-low water) Playboating; pool-drop; more technical/ boulder-drop
  • Class III-IV classic Idaho whitewater
  • Exciting whitewater every day
  • Close to other Idaho kayaking day-trip classics such as the Payette, Lochsa, South Fork Salmon, and Selway
  • Raft-support allows for logistic simplicity
  • Allows for family and friends to ride on rafts
  • WRO has wide range of rental kayaks available
  • Amazing side creeks and canyons
  • Several relaxing hot springs
  • Great hiking to stunning vistas and waterfalls
  • Rich geologic and human history

If you are an advanced paddler and feel comfortable running continuous class III with some solid class IV whitewater, this is a great trip for you. Springtime on the Middle Fork is not a trip for beginner kayakers! We have great options for more intermediate paddling, including when the Middle Fork is at medium or lower flows. (See WRO’s skill requirements overview.)

In the heart of central Idaho’s 2.3 million acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness flows the Middle Fork of the 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 begins in high, dense forests of Fir and Spruce, then passes by majestic Ponderosa Pines on grassy benches, and finally enters the impressive granite gorge of the Impassable Canyon. From the beginnings at Boundary Creek, there are more than 20 miles of continuous, challenging, full-on whitewater that will leave most people gripped as you lose almost 1000 feet in gradient as you make your way to Pistol Creek. With big hydraulic stern squirt seams, splat rocks, large boofs, and massive surf waves galore between the rapids, there will definitely be no shortage of entertainment on this trip.

The Middle Fork Salmon River corridor hosts more than just pristine waters and rapids. Bighorn sheep, deer, elk, black bear, wolves, mountain lions, playful river otters, westslope cutthroat, and eagles make their home along and in the river. Explore cascading waterfalls, 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.

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, June, May
State / Region
Adventure Level High, Moderate
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Hard Shell Kayaking

Reviews

Logistics

See you here
June and July Middle Fork Salmon trips begin in Stanley and end in Salmon, Idaho. August trips begin and end in Salmon.

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
Fly commercially into Boise, Idaho, then take Gem Air into Stanley, Idaho. Make your reservations at the Mountain Village Lodge (800.843.5475) in Stanley. They will pick you up at the Stanley Airport. We will have an orientation at 6:00pm the evening before your trip begins at the Mountain Village Lodge. Regardless of date, when water levels drop to a certain level we will fly into Indian Creek instead of driving into Boundary Creek from Stanley. All August trips will fly into Indian Creek.

All August trips will start and end in Salmon. For August trips, we recommend staying at the Stagecoach Inn (208.756.2919) in Salmon or another nearby option the night before the trip. Orientation will be at the Stagecoach at 6 pm.
Trips launching in August will fly directly to the river from Salmon.

Flying:

Gem Air Flights
Round trips from Boise to Stanley or Salmon and Salmon back to Boise can be scheduled with Gem Air.
Phone: 208.756.7382
Website: https://www.gemairflights.com
Email: [email protected]

Driving: If you choose to drive to Stanley, you can arrange to have your car shuttled from Stanley to Salmon by River Shuttles or All River Shuttles.

River Shuttles
Phone: 800.831.8942
Website: https://www.rivershuttles.com
Email: [email protected]

All River Shuttles
Phone: 208.839.2308
Website: https://allriversshuttle.com/
Email: [email protected]

After the Trip
We provide transportation to Salmon from Cache Bar take out. It is about a two hour drive. You can either fly out of Salmon to Boise later that day or stay in Salmon and fly out the next morning. We recommend staying overnight in Salmon at the Stagecoach Inn (208.756.2919) in Salmon or if you decide to go to Boise the Best Western Vista (800.727.5006).

Sample Itinerary

Day before the trip: Arrive in Stanley, Idaho (or Salmon, for August trips). We’ll get together in the evening at the Mountain Village Lodge (or Stagecoach Inn in Salmon) to hand out dry bags and go over any last minute details and answer questions.

Day 1: We’ll depart around 8AM and have a 2-hour drive to the Boundary Creek launch site. After a safety talk and orientation we’ll begin our journey. *lower water trips will launch from Indian Creek, 25 miles down river from Boundary Creek. Indian Creek is only accessible by plane.

Day 2-5: We’ll be relaxing, running rapids, fishing, hiking to beautiful waterfalls, soaking in hot springs, 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 6: We’ll arrive at our takeout at Cache Bar in the afternoon for lunch and have a roughly 2-hour drive to Salmon, Idaho. You can spend the night in Salmon and enjoy a farewell dinner that evening, or catch an evening flight with Gem Air to Boise.

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 creeky 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.

How old does my child have to be to participate?

The Middle Fork at high water is fast, often cold, and can be high consequence. We would not recommend children under the age of 14 for these trips, but have made exceptions based on river experience. Trips later in the season or different rivers allow for younger age ranges. Contact us to ask about your child age and river dates.

What if there is a family emergency back home? How will they locate us?

We always carry a satellite communication device for emergency situations and stay in contact with WRO staff in Salmon, who are aware of our location and campsites during the trip. If our office staff is notified of an emergency they will let our crew know, but it is definitely not imeditate as we are typically traveling in remote wilderness areas.

What happens if someone gets sick or injured?

All of our trip leaders are certified Wilderness First Responders, along with the majority of our other highly capable guides, several of whom are Wilderness EMTs. All guides are trained in Swiftwater Rescue. Evacuation plans are in place for each trip in case of an emergency, and a satellite communication device is carried at all times.

What is an appropriate gratuity for your guides?

Guides are usually tipped 10-20% of the cost of the trip, more for exceptional service. The guides equally split the total tip amount from each guest. They are most appreciative of receiving this directly from the guest, which will usually be given to the trip leader at the end of the trip to distribute to the rest of the guides, so we recommend planning ahead to have cash or checks on hand. Please do not make tip checks out to Wilderness River Outfitters. They will need to be made out to the guide or to cash. Most of the guides also use Venmo.

Is there an option for a trip for only my group?

We do offer chartered trips. You often will need to plan these types of trips well in advance, as you will be booking out the entire trip for your group and need the launch date to be empty. Chartered trips must pay for the entire slot to reserve the trip, which minimum number of guests vary depending on the river you are interested in. For the Middle Fork Salmon, this minimum is currently 18 guests. Ask the office for additional details on chartering a trip with us.

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?

Spring trips in Idaho can be very cold and unpredictable. It is recommended to have plenty of fresh, warm, dry clothes to change into at camp. Ensure that you have fresh thermal-layers, fleece or wool, synthetic down, warm hats and gloves, and wool socks. Some sort of sturdy/ insulated pants are also nice. Winter camp booties or close toed shoes are recommended for around camp.

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 (local when we can, including veggies from our own greenhouse and garden!).

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.

How does personal hygiene work during the trip?

We need to keep soap out of the rivers (and the hot springs), 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?

Spring and early summer temperatures in Idaho can fluctuate dramatically in a 24-hour period, from freezing at night to 50s and 60’s and sunny the next afternoon. Storms can also roll in unexpectedly, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Rain (and sometimes even snow) is possible in this area this time of the year. The water temperatures on the Middle Fork Salmon early on are cold, as they are early spring snowmelt rivers. Expect to dress warmly on the river underneath your drysuit. 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 Boundary Creek, ID (our put-in) as well as in Shoup, 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 0 degree sleeping bag, a packable 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 0 degree sleeping bag, a packable 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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