Table of Contents

Top 10 Reasons Why Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River Is the Best Summer Adventure

Idaho’s Salmon River runs through the rugged mountains of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Its Middle Fork offers a 100 miles of Class II-IV whitewater thrills and is considered one of the finest rafting adventures in America. In 1968, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River was designated a Wild and Scenic River and today you can immerse yourself in its pure wilderness environment, starting in its swift-flowing alpine upper reaches and flowing into a desert canyon. Here are the top 10 reasons to raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River this summer.

1. Whitewater Fun for All Levels

June’s higher water offers an adrenaline-fueled adventure that is perfect for skilled paddlers, while families will love the lower water levels and gentler ride in July and August. Whichever launch date you choose you can try out a new boating experience every day: relax on an oar boat, get wet with a team of paddlers, or captain your own vessel on one of our inflatable “ducky” kayaks. You’ll paddle between 10 and 20 miles each day, and it’s easy to do what suits your activity level. Some of the most memorable rapids are Pistol Creek, Tappan Falls and Rubber.

2. Riverside Hikes

Stretch your legs out of the boat on relaxing riverside hikes through the pines and up to interesting historical sites and refreshing waterfalls. Learn about traditional Native American Sheepeater people of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and even see their ancient pictographs, dating back thousands of years. Hear tales of Gold Rush prospectors and see their long-abandoned homesteads. And look out for a variety of wildlife from otters and beavers to bighorn sheep and black bears.

3. Perfect for Families

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is like summer camp for the whole family—whether you’re grandparents or parents traveling with kids or a large multi-generational group. At night, play fun games by the river and share tales around the campfire, and soak up the simple pleasures of life away from it all. Kids aged 6+ are best suited for the late July and August dates when the river is lower. Want to bring the whole family? Consider chartering a private departure with us.

4. Unplug & Recharge

While we’ve heard that wilder nature is better for your health and being outside is good for your brain, we often find it hard to be outside and away from our cell phones and mobile devices. Taking this adventure can help! The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is in a complete wilderness area with zero cell service for five nights. This means you can really get away, unplug, and recharge yourself. Connect with each other, not your phone, and take some quiet time down at the water’s edge to enjoy the burbling river.

5. Fly-Fishing

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is a world-class blue ribbon river known for incredible catch-and-release fly fishing opportunities. Learn about the river ecosystem and how its salmon supports the life further afield, including the orca population of the Pacific Northwest. We bring our own rods and can help teach all ages to cast, catch, and release.

6. Relaxing Hot Springs

Be prepared to indulge in a geothermal paradise on your summer rafting adventure. There are six natural hot spring in the first 52 miles of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and our top spot is Loon Creek. As well as natural pools, a handy pipe in the cliff enables you to enjoy a fantastic geo-warmed shower right by the river.

7. Great Guides

With 50 years of river rafting under our belt, you don’t have to worry about being an expert—all you have to do is enjoy the ride. We hire the best professional river guides and our seasoned Middle Fork team not only knows every inch of the river, but makes camping and cooking a breeze too. You’ll feel well cared for and empowered to push outside your comfort zone.

8. Amazing Food

Be wowed by wilderness cooking skills beyond your imagination. From fresh vegetables and locally baked breads to exquisite dishes adeptly whipped up in the Dutch oven and over the grill, you’ll never forget the meals on the Middle Fork. This is dining at its most delicious and you don’t have to do a thing. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy!

9. Pure Fun

A Middle Fork of the Salmon River rafting experience fosters an incredible team spirit and great camaraderie. Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or in a family group you’ll soon become part of the Middle Fork crew, ready to share the thrills and spills of river rafting together—and there is lots of laughter to be had. It’s pure fun.

10. Expert-Led Experience

Choosing an expert-led experience, permitted by Salmon-Challis National Forest means that you are in great hands every step of the way and that all environmental regulations are followed. MT Sobek have been running the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for 17 years and follow strict Leave No Trace rules to ensure that the landscape remains pristine for all who follow.

Want a summer adventure with memories to last a lifetime? Raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with us. Click here for the itinerary.

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Middle Fork Trip Planning

Rafting Idaho, Fly Fishing Middle Fork Salmon River

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the most beautiful, diverse, challenging, and famous river destinations in the world. People travel from all around the world to experience the spectacular Impassable Canyon and wet their lines in pursuit of native cutthroat trout. Depending on the water level, it can be a raging whitewater hurdle or a technical dodge.

One of the most important, and sometimes unnoticed, roles of a Middle Fork river guide is to respect and protect the incredible river resource. When you arrive at your camps they appear untrammeled, and you will encounter many delicate cultural and ecological specimens. The pristine nature of the Middle Fork is no accident, and it is important that if you are passing through the Middle Fork canyon without an outfitter you educate yourself on the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Leave No Trace Policy!

If you are not visiting the Middle Fork with an outfitter, here is some basic information to help you prepare for a private trip:

LOCATION & NEAREST TOWNS

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River runs over 100 miles through the 2.3 million acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. This is one of the most rugged and remote areas in the contiguous United States. The town of Stanley, ID is the closest jumping off point for people traveling to the Middle Fork. Riverwear, River 1, and McCoy’s Tackle are some stores in Stanley that are full of friendly people who have lots of information for boaters and fishermen/women. At the end of your trip, the closest major town to the take out is Salmon, ID.

ACCESS

The two most common launch points are Boundary Creek/Dagger Falls Road (which is the only road access launch point for the Middle Fork), and Indian Creek (public airstrip at mile 22). The elevation at Boundary Creek is ~5,800 ft. The other two commonly used public landing strips along the Middle Fork are Thomas Creek (mile 33) and Bernard Cr. (mile 64). Indian Creek is typically used in the spring when the Boundary Creek road is still snowed-in or during extreme high/low flows.

SEASONS

The most popular time to float the Middle Fork is from late June to early August. The Highest flows are typically the first week in June, but flood stages can begin in May and last well into June on big snowpack years. The road into Boundary Creek usually opens around this same time of the year. You can call the Middle Fork Ranger District for road condition updates. Typically by the last week in July, the water is getting “low”, and by the end of August, a flight into Indian Creek to launch your trip may be the advisable choice. The Middle Fork is floatable through October, but ice becomes a potential danger in November.

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PERMITS AND REGULATIONS

The Middle Fork is permitted and regulated by the Salmon Challis National Forest and the ID Fish and Game. To make a reservation, you need to go through the rec.gov system. Because there is significantly more demand than the regulated use capacity, you will need to enter into a lottery system on Rec.gov to be drawn for the date you want. Make sure to have your reservation in the lottery before December. Once you have your reservation confirmation, you need to get your permit at the guard station before launching for your trip. Don’t miss your meeting the previous afternoon at 3:30 when you select your assigned camps.

If you are fishing or hunting, make sure to observe all ID Fish and Game Regulations. You will need a license that you can buy in Stanley, ID or online at Idaho Fish and Game Online Licensing Page.

LEAVE NO TRACE!

The Middle Fork is in a Wilderness Area, as well as a Wild and Scenic River corridor. This means that it is regulated with a leave no trace policy. The Forest Service representative at your launch point will give you a briefing on the Leave No Trace policy. You will need a fire pan, groover, and a way to carry your trash with you.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • The best guide book for rowing the Middle Fork is Matt Leidecker’s “The Middle Fork of the Salmon River: A Comprehensive Guide”.
  • Another excellent history book is Cort Conley’s “The Middle Fork: A Guide”
  • Salmon Challis National Forest’s Wilderness User’s Guide

If you decide a guided trip would be better for your group, contact us at Solitude River Trips for more information about our Idaho white water rafting and Middle Fork Salmon River fly fishing trips.

Rafting the Main Fork of the Salmon River

There’s a reason they call the Salmon “The River of No Return” — you’ll never want to leave.

Rafting the Main Fork of the Salmon River. Photo by Matt McDonald

Rafting the Main Fork of the Salmon River. Photo by Matt McDonald

Location: Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho

Distance: 80 miles

Days: 4–6

Average gradient: 12 ft/mile

Best season: May-June

Permits: June-August (lottery), USFS early and late season

Difficulty: Class III/IV

Recommended Max Flow: 25,000 cfs

Recommended Min Flow: 4,000 cfs

Permit Required: Yes

Main Fork of the Salmon River Rafting Background

There’s a reason they call the Salmon “The River of No Return” — you’ll never want to leave. Spending 4-6 days rafting through dramatic green valleys over beautiful rapids and pool-drop water is a dream come true. Camping on pristine white beaches alongside wildlife and gorgeous spruce and pine forests is the icing on the cake.

The Nez Perce tribe first inhabited this area and ruins and petroglyphs can be found along the river. NRS’ Duct Tape Diaries hosted a great film on the legacy of the Salmon and the Nez Perce people.

The Salmon River was first named Lewis’s River for Meriwether Lewis, even though Lewis and Clark were too intimidated by the waterway to navigate it.

The Salmon is known as “the river of no return.” Navigators could raft down the river, but could not return upstream because the currents were too strong and the rapids too large. Since this area doesn’t have an easy roadway (or roads, period) and the canyon walls are too steep to travel across, once you reached the river’s end, you were done.

Salmon (the fish) travel from the Pacific Ocean to the Columbia, Snake, then Salmon Rivers to spawn. That’s about 1,800 miles of travel, and it’s one of the longest spawning runs in the world.

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Highlights

Challenges

The Main Salmon River is a classic rafting trip worthy of its epic status. Photo by Matt McDonald.

The Main Salmon River is a classic rafting trip worthy of its epic status. Photo by Matt McDonald.

when to go

Summer. Check conditions (below). Unless you are a very experienced boater, you do not want to raft the Main Salmon above 6 feet.

Difficulty and Skills

Rapids

There are 14 major rapids on the Main Fork Salmon River:

Class III-IV+

This depends on water level.

CFS: 4,000-25,000

As the Main Salmon doesn’t have its own gauge, the trick is to add the CFS from the Middle Fork/Main Fork confluence to the Shroup water gauge. When you’ve checked that out, reference this handy water height chart. Unless you are a very experienced boater, you do not want to raft the Main Salmon above 6 feet.

Water height chart.

The author rafted this section at 27,000 CFS on our highest day. While many of the Class II and even a few Class III rapids were washed out, Class III wavetrains could be found in the middle of a “flat section” on the map. If you go in early highwater season, keep your head on a swivel. One of our boats dumptrucked on an innocent looking pourover with wicked eddylines that sucked down the fully-geared boat’s tubes.

Low water is a whole new ball game. Look out for exposed boulders mid-river, pourover rocks with consequential eddies, and rapid elevation loss (read: tricky rapid).

Permits

Lottery permit, if applicable season

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) stickers

Permits are required year-round by the Salmon-Challis National Forest offices. From January 1 to mid-June is considered the Salmon River’s preseason. Early September to the end of December is considered post-season. June 20 to September 7 is lottery season; lottery applications run December 1-January 31, while pre- and post-season permits may be applied for beginning October 1.

All boats must be cleaned from previous rivers and obtain Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) stickers.

Permit information (and reservations) can be found here.

Make sure that your permit is printed out and somewhat easily accessible at all times. Take it from the author’s friend, a former River Ranger on the Salmon; there’s nothing “river cops” love more than making you unpack your whole dry bag to find your permit!

There are also $4 recreation fees per person per day.

Full trip requirements can be found here.

The route through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness takes you through wild and desolate country. Photo by Matt McDonald.

The route through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness takes you through wild and desolate country. Photo by Matt McDonald.

route summary

This description is for your reference, but always call the ranger station for the most updated information and check local maps.

The Main Fork of the Salmon River can look like prehistoric havens, rolling green Scottish hills, and Caribbean beaches with a few miles difference. The river winds through steep valleys with jagged pines sprouting along the lower hills. Large beaches dot the river banks, making for prime campsites. This river is great for families and varied groups at low- to mid- river levels with a spread out pool-drop system.

Maps and Guidebooks

We used Gaia navigation phone app because it’s easy to use to check if we are on route. The GPS tracking was super useful for finding the correct campsites at highwater (there are no signs), and for knowing when rapids were approaching.

This guideback includes detailed maps of rapids, scouting positions, campsites, and interesting sights along the Middle and Main Forks of the Salmon River. While it’s written from a middle- to low-water perspective (read: those highwater wave trains were never even mentioned) the campsite and mileage information is invaluable.

The Main Salmon River is a dog friendly trip. Photo by Matt McDonald.

The Main Salmon River is a dog friendly trip. Photo by Matt McDonald.

Put-Ins and Take-Outs

Put in

Nearest town: Salmon, ID

Salmon is your last chance for major supplies and gas, although there is a small convenience store at the turn-off for Corn Creek, and a convenience store at a resort down the road. Don’t count on the latter in early or late season, however. Salmon is also your last chance for gas before you head down and back from Corn Creek, so if you’re below a ½ tank, fill ‘er up. (Shuttle companies will require you to leave gas money for them to refuel, but don’t leave them stranded on fumes at the put-in, please.)

Corn Creek Campground is also 2.5 hours by semi-paved, mostly dirt road from Salmon. If you want to spend a night at a hotel in Salmon before your put-in day, just keep that in mind.

Take Out

Nearest town: Riggins, ID

Ah, Riggins. “How Idaho Used to Be.” Riggins is a small cowboy town with a rafting problem… they just don’t know it. There are a few restaurants and coffeeshops, plus one medium grocery-store for last-minute items. Don’t plan on stocking up in Riggins, but it’s great if you take out in time for dinner!

Getting There

Remember, both the put-in and the take-out require driving on winding, washboard-riddled dirt roads with places where two vehicles cannot pass each other. While the mileage may seem low, we assure you, Google Maps is 99.9% correct about the drive time. (The 0.1% we reserve for stopping to gawk at the gorgeous scenery.)

You could fly into Bozeman, Missoula, Spokane, or Boise and rent a car to get to Salmon, but that’s more logistics than we planned out. Check with your shuttle and gear rental companies to see if they offer human transportation from Salmon to Corn Creek, or Carey Creek into Riggins. (Riggins is going to be much more difficult to rent a car in, as it’s so small.)

To Corn Creek via Salmon, ID:

Seattle — 11.5 hours, 640 miles

Denver — 14 hours, 810 miles

Boise — 7.5 hours, 315 miles

Bozeman — 5.5 hours, 260 miles

To Carey Creek via Riggins, ID:

Seattle — 8 hours, 450 miles

Denver — 16 hours, 990 miles

Boise — 4 hours, 175 miles

Bozeman — 8.5 hours, 440 miles

Shuttle Services

River Shuttles out of Salmon, ID was our choice of shuttle companies. They’re a reasonable rate, reliable, and leave detailed notes about gas purchased and remaining gas money.

Resupply

Buckskin Bill’s Museum has ice, beer, and a few snacky treats, but don’t count on a full food resupply. However, with a max of 6 days on the river, you should have plenty of cooler space for all your meals. See our Gear section in this story for what we took and why or our Best Coolers story for more information on coolers for longer rafting trips.

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Rules and regulations

Here’s a list of some of the regulations in the Frank Church Wilderness for water travel. Be sure to check what is written on your permit and talk to the ranger about conditions before you go. See the US Forest Service site for a complete list.

Follow Leave No Trace Ethics including camping and pooping far from water. But for #1, the solution to pollution is dilution; urinate directly into the river.

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness does allow dogs. Dogs must be leashed around other groups and wear their lifejacket at all times while on a boat.

Group size restrictions based on the season.

Carry a printed and signed version of your permit on your person at all times.

Strain all kitchen waste water. Pack out all trash, including kitchen scraps. Don’t pollute the river with extra food!

Do not use soap (even biodegradable) in any stream, river, hot spring, or other waterway. Throw all soapy water at least 200 feet away from any waterway.

Every group must carry a portable toilet, and pack out any pet feces.

Every group must carry a fire pan and ash container.

Every group must carry a strainer fine enough to catch coffee grounds from grey water.

Every group must carry a bucket and shovel for fire prevention.

Every group must bring sand stakes to secure the boats at camp.

Max group size is 30 people year-round.

Campsite Planning

Some campsites along the Main Salmon are by reservation only, while others are first-come first-serve. Reserved campsites must be occupied by 7:00 PM and vacated by 12:00 (NOON) MST. But if no one shows up to a reserved site by 7:00 PM, they forfeit, and it’s yours to snag.

Campsite selection will vary greatly by water level, so take that into consideration when checking out reservation sites. Some beach camps that are fabulous at low water are completely non-existent at high water.

Water Planning

River water is potable, but we’d bring a filtration system along. You can also bring water jugs along with you, especially if you’re planning on bringing rafts. Strap a few into the bow for ballast, and you’re set to go at every camp.

Bears and Food Storage

There are no bear canister requirements, but it is a good idea to keep all your food collected in locked coolers and drybags overnight. This is grizzly bear habitat.

Designate a camp kitchen area away from the tent area.

See REI’s guide on How to Camp in Bear Country for more tips on keeping our kitchen clean and safe.

A sunset panoramic view of a campsite on the Main Fork Salmon River.

Side Trips

Before heading on side trips, make sure to have good maps, check your guidebooks, and your GPS app.

Barth Hot Springs

This is the perfect way to unwind those rowing shoulders and relax even more. Just make sure to unplug the stopper when you’re done!

Buckskin Bill’s

If you want a great history of the Salmon River’s treasure trove of artifacts and dots on the map, check out this NRS Duct Tape Diaries article. Stop here for an ice cream and a tour of Bill’s watchtower.

Petroglyphs

There are several petroglyphs along the canyon walls. Some are easily accessible from the river, while others may require a hike. Be respectful of cultural artifacts and leave everything you find as is.

Historic Buildings

Check out pioneer-era cabins, schoolhouses, and more along the river banks. Your guide book will have mile markers, descriptions, and even pictures of what you’re looking for. Be respectful of cultural artifacts and leave everything you find as is.

favorite post-trip food stop

Seven Devil’s Steakhouse is our favorite choice for post-river dinner, but Two Rivers Coffee is a primo spot to get your latte (and breakfast burrito) game on track.

Gear Rentals

There are multiple gear rental companies in both Salmon and Riggins, depending on where you’re coming from shuttle-wise and what all you need.

This means if you’re bringing along your best friend who’s never rafted before, you don’t have to drop $1,000 on gear they may not use again.

Many companies have full oar and paddle raft set-ups for rent, while others can provide just the basics — Paco pads, camp kitchens, groovers (you may just dump it at the SCAT machine in Riggins, yourself), spare oars, helmets, raft trailers, PFDs, dry bags, etc. Or, rent an inflatable kayak and games for camp. It’s a whole wide world out there!

We had to call a few companies for smaller rental items (like Paco pads) but they were very easy to work with. Ultimately, we chose Salmon River Experiences in Riggins, since the majority of our group came from that direction and had a trailer to haul the extra gear to Salmon. They were great to work with, and were absolutely fine when we dropped off our rental gear after-hours. (Not recommended, but a flip-boat-chase took up 5 hours that we expected to have lazing around town!)

Rafts along the Main Fork of the Salmon River at camp.

Gear List

This is a list of what we carried. For more Water Sport gear recommendations, see our Water Sport Gear section and our Camping Gear recommendations.

What to pack

BOAT

We would recommend a raft between 9’ and 16’ long, depending on how many people you will have in the boat, and how much gear you’re bringing, too. Groups can bring inflatable kayaks or hardshell kayaks, but rafts carry more gear. Just saying. Permits require spare oars.

TENT

We used the Kelty Night Owl 4 on this trip for one couple. While it may be a bit excessive, this is river camping; excess room is welcome room. We love its combination of super-fast set up and wide stargazer mesh, perfect for bugs and catching the wilderness sky. That’s why it’s one of our top picks on our Best Camping Tents story.

TARP

Pack a 10’x10’ tarp, at least, but bigger tarps can be helpful for larger groups. Tarps can turn a rainy evening into one of the best group hangout nights, and give you a dry place to make that kick-butt masala you’ve been waiting to whip up.

SLEEPING BAG

The men’s and women’s Marmot Elite 20 was plenty warm enough, even on colder, rainy nights. The extra insulation provided by the Paco pads helped with cold, damp ground, too. See our Best Sleeping Bags story for more recommendations.

SLEEPING PAD or mattreess

We both used Jack’s Plastic Paco pads on this trip. They’re waterproof, self-inflating, and make great padded seats on the boat.

COOKING SYSTEM

We used two 2-burner propane stoves with cast iron pans and a large soup pot for a group of 10 people.

WATER FILTER AND STORAGE

We brought a Steripen as backup, but did not use it; we packed in plenty of water for the five days. The Steripen is lightweight, easy to use, and provides almost instant clean water. It’s one of the winners in our Best Backpacking Filters story.

MINOR MEDICAL KIT

Having small med kits in easily-accessible places on each boat is a good idea. Band-aids, medical tape, and even chapstick can be all you need. See our guide to Make Your Own Emergency Kit for this kind of situation.

MAJOR MEDICAL KIT

You’re on a multi-day trip; you need emergency supplies. We recommend items like gauze, Band-aids, medical tape, vet wrap, Benadryl, antibiotic cream, eye drops, butterfly strips, iodine wipes, nitrile gloves, a CPR mask, ibuprofen, upset stomach medication, and any medications your group takes regularly.

HEADLAMP

You’ll need one for camp.

HYPOTHERMIA KIT

Cold water can shock your system even if it’s 90 degrees out. As we found out when one team member accidentally dumptrucked into the water, cold clothes make a bad situation even worse.

Bring extra warm clothes like fleece leggings, wool baselayers, thick jackets, and a warm hat for anyone who takes a swim. The bigger the better, too, to accommodate everyone’s size and height. See our Best Synthetic Jackets guide for layers that are warm, even when wet.

PIN KIT

Also known as a Z-drag kit, every group should have at least one pin kit to rescue a boat pinned against a rock or strainer mid-river. Pin kits include prussiks, water-rated rope, at least two pulleys, and extra carabiners. Check out how to set up a Z-drag with Paddling Mag.

SHOES OR BOOTS

Classic river wear takes the form of Chacos, but they may not be your favorite water shoes. Half of our group wore Chacos, and the other half wore Astral river shoes. The ones with Chacos mostly wished they had worn Astrals. Just saying.

HEADLAMP

We carried the Black Diamond Revolt, which worked well for midnight bathroom excursions, was lightweight enough (and small enough) to throw in either a dry bag or a jacket pocket, and stood up well to sandy beaches. See our Best Headlamps story.

FOOD

We’re going to say this only once — coolers, coolers, coolers. Food storage, food packing, and food planning all revolves around coolers. If you have larger cooler space, you’ll have an abundance of room for fresh veggies, more fruits, and more contents, period. We researched, tested, and reviewed coolers on the Main Salmon River for our Best Coolers guide. If you’re short on cooler space but have dry bags to spare, throw your dry goods into a dry bag.

Water levels and group preference will determine how intense of meals you want to prepare, but it’s the river — you can go big, you can get creative, and you can bring out the gourmet goods. Plan for lunches on individual boats with easy-make items like wraps, jerky, fruit, veggies, pretzels, etc. Breakfasts can be simple granola bars (but that’s no fun) or biscuits and gravy a la Salmon. Each couple in our group was in charge of a breakfast and a dinner, while each raft handled their own lunches (and kayaks just ate on flat water) and it worked out perfectly.

FOOD STORAGE

There are no food storage requirements, but we still recommend packing your food each night. See REI’s guide on How to Camp in Bear Country for more tips on keeping our kitchen clean and safe.

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PFD, RIVER KNIFE & WHISTLE

These are essential, and the river rangers won’t let you go without these items. Every person should have a PFD, and every PFD should have a rescue knife and a whistle for safety. Check out our story on Best Personal Flotation Devices article for the best options.

HELMET

Like motorcycles, some rafters choose not to wear helmets in whitewater. As someone who’s fallen off of a motorcycle and smashed her head on river rocks, I always bring a river helmet for anything over Class III. Find one that’s rated for whitewater, but is also comfortable for several hour stretches. (You can take it off on flatwater, don’t worry!)

What to pack

BOAT

We would recommend a raft between 9’ and 16’ long, depending on how many people you will have in the boat, and how much gear you’re bringing, too. Groups can bring inflatable kayaks or hardshell kayaks, but rafts carry more gear. Just saying. Permits require spare oars.

TENT

We used the Kelty Night Owl 4 on this trip for one couple. While it may be a bit excessive, this is river camping; excess room is welcome room. We love its combination of super-fast set up and wide stargazer mesh, perfect for bugs and catching the wilderness sky. That’s why it’s one of our top picks on our Best Camping Tents story.

TARP

Pack a 10’x10’ tarp, at least, but bigger tarps can be helpful for larger groups. Tarps can turn a rainy evening into one of the best group hangout nights, and give you a dry place to make that kick-butt masala you’ve been waiting to whip up.

SLEEPING BAG

The men’s and women’s Marmot Elite 20 was plenty warm enough, even on colder, rainy nights. The extra insulation provided by the Paco pads helped with cold, damp ground, too. See our Best Sleeping Bags story for more recommendations.

SLEEPING PAD or mattreess

We both used Jack’s Plastic Paco pads on this trip. They’re waterproof, self-inflating, and make great padded seats on the boat.

COOKING SYSTEM

We used two 2-burner propane stoves with cast iron pans and a large soup pot for a group of 10 people.

WATER FILTER AND STORAGE

We brought a Steripen as backup, but did not use it; we packed in plenty of water for the five days. The Steripen is lightweight, easy to use, and provides almost instant clean water. It’s one of the winners in our Best Backpacking Filters story.

MINOR MEDICAL KIT

Having small med kits in easily-accessible places on each boat is a good idea. Band-aids, medical tape, and even chapstick can be all you need. See our guide to Make Your Own Emergency Kit for this kind of situation.

MAJOR MEDICAL KIT

You’re on a multi-day trip; you need emergency supplies. We recommend items like gauze, Band-aids, medical tape, vet wrap, Benadryl, antibiotic cream, eye drops, butterfly strips, iodine wipes, nitrile gloves, a CPR mask, ibuprofen, upset stomach medication, and any medications your group takes regularly.

HEADLAMP

You’ll need one for camp.

HYPOTHERMIA KIT

Cold water can shock your system even if it’s 90 degrees out. As we found out when one team member accidentally dumptrucked into the water, cold clothes make a bad situation even worse.

Bring extra warm clothes like fleece leggings, wool baselayers, thick jackets, and a warm hat for anyone who takes a swim. The bigger the better, too, to accommodate everyone’s size and height. See our Best Synthetic Jackets guide for layers that are warm, even when wet.

PIN KIT

Also known as a Z-drag kit, every group should have at least one pin kit to rescue a boat pinned against a rock or strainer mid-river. Pin kits include prussiks, water-rated rope, at least two pulleys, and extra carabiners. Check out how to set up a Z-drag with Paddling Mag.

SHOES OR BOOTS

Classic river wear takes the form of Chacos, but they may not be your favorite water shoes. Half of our group wore Chacos, and the other half wore Astral river shoes. The ones with Chacos mostly wished they had worn Astrals. Just saying.

HEADLAMP

We carried the Black Diamond Revolt, which worked well for midnight bathroom excursions, was lightweight enough (and small enough) to throw in either a dry bag or a jacket pocket, and stood up well to sandy beaches. See our Best Headlamps story.

FOOD

We’re going to say this only once — coolers, coolers, coolers. Food storage, food packing, and food planning all revolves around coolers. If you have larger cooler space, you’ll have an abundance of room for fresh veggies, more fruits, and more contents, period. We researched, tested, and reviewed coolers on the Main Salmon River for our Best Coolers guide. If you’re short on cooler space but have dry bags to spare, throw your dry goods into a dry bag.

Water levels and group preference will determine how intense of meals you want to prepare, but it’s the river — you can go big, you can get creative, and you can bring out the gourmet goods. Plan for lunches on individual boats with easy-make items like wraps, jerky, fruit, veggies, pretzels, etc. Breakfasts can be simple granola bars (but that’s no fun) or biscuits and gravy a la Salmon. Each couple in our group was in charge of a breakfast and a dinner, while each raft handled their own lunches (and kayaks just ate on flat water) and it worked out perfectly.

FOOD STORAGE

There are no food storage requirements, but we still recommend packing your food each night. See REI’s guide on How to Camp in Bear Country for more tips on keeping our kitchen clean and safe.

PFD, RIVER KNIFE & WHISTLE

These are essential, and the river rangers won’t let you go without these items. Every person should have a PFD, and every PFD should have a rescue knife and a whistle for safety. Check out our story on Best Personal Flotation Devices article for the best options.

HELMET

Like motorcycles, some rafters choose not to wear helmets in whitewater. As someone who’s fallen off of a motorcycle and smashed her head on river rocks, I always bring a river helmet for anything over Class III. Find one that’s rated for whitewater, but is also comfortable for several hour stretches. (You can take it off on flatwater, don’t worry!)

WHAT TO WEAR rafting

Below is what we wore on our Main Fork Salmon River trip. Read about our favorite things to wear while backpacking and hiking at our Outdoor Apparel page.

Rain Jacket/Shell

A rain jacket is a great alternative to a paddle jacket, since it’s effective in camp and on the water. Trust us — one of our members brought a paddle jacket only, and suffered the first night in camp until we pulled out the spare rainshell from our hypo kit. See our Best Rain Jackets guide for more suggestions on rain jackets we recommend.

Rain pants or splash pants

Not everyone loves getting drenched by whitewater, especially on cold or rainy days. Splash pants will keep most of the water off of you and keep you comfy for longer.

Neoprene and/or fleece leggings

For colder days, big whitewater, or those who just don’t love cold water, fleece leggings are going to be your best friend. There are several thickness options depending on when and where you want to use them, but the thicker, the warmer. Neoprene is designed to keep you warm in every water condition, and are pretty quick drying.

Neoprene and/or fleece top

Your top half needs to be warm, too. These are great layering pieces that come in pull-over or full-zip options.

Down jacket

Gotta be warm at camp! See our Best Down Jackets article for our jackets we’ve researched, tested, and loved.

Sun hoodie

A light layer that’s also UV-protective. This will keep you cool and comfortable on the water and prevent sunburns galore. See our upcoming Best Sun Shirts story for more on the sun protection.

Pair shorts

A pair of board shorts, athletic shorts, or rafting-specific shorts will work well on the boat. Bring a second pair to wear around camp, if you want! See our Best Women’s Running Shorts or Best Thru-hiking Shorts stories for shorts that we love for active use outdoors.

Quick-dry t-shirts

Make sure you have two shirts to choose from, especially if one is still wet from the day before.

Long-sleeve shirt

Something comfy and cozy that you can wear around the campfire! An extra hoodie works well for this, too. See our upcoming Best Baselayers story for ideas.

Pair underwear

Pair socks

For camp only. We personally love Darn Tough. See our Best Hiking Socks story for more ideas.

Pair neoprene socks

Your feet will thank you for wearing Neoprene Socks when they’re in 40 degree water all day!

Pair sweatpants

Warm hat

For use on camp or on the river.

Sun hat

This is one piece of clothing you don’t want to forget! Being on the river for hours on end can be exhausting with the sun beating down, and a sunhat will give you extra stamina. We’re fond of the Kavu Chillba.

Pair gloves or mittens

These will save your rowing hands, or keep you even warmer if you’re the passenger. Rain can feel like sleet when you’re out rowing down the river in cold water. See our Best Winter Gloves story for some suggestions that are affordable that can also work on the water during summer.

Map

Your guide book should have a waterproof map, but if not, print out and laminate the section of river you plan to raft.

Sun Protection

Bring sunscreen and apply it. Period. Sunglasses will also be incredibly helpful on the sun-reflective river.

Swim Suit

Wear this under your other river clothes (or as your river clothes!) so you’re all ready for jumping in.

Source https://www.mtsobek.com/travel-journal/adventure-experts/top-10-reasons-why-rafting-the-middle-fork-of-the-salmon-river-is-the-best-summer-adventure/

Source https://www.rivertrips.com/how-to-plan-a-trip-on-the-middle-fork-without-an-outfitter/

Source https://www.treelinereview.com/where-to-go/main-fork-salmon-rafting

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