Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Experience the ultimate thrill of white water rapids
Idaho has 3,100 white-water miles—more rushing water than any other state in the continental U.S.—and the very best for a rafting adventure is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, considered by many in-the-know rafters as one of the top white-water rivers in the world.
The Middle Fork carves a mighty canyon through central Idaho’s 2.36-million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest federally protected forest wilderness in the lower 48. The river drops some 3,000 feet in 100 miles, churning through 100 deep-rolling Class III and IV rapids. It carries you through spectacular forest and rocky gorges (should you have a moment to acknowledge your surroundings), and past sandy beaches for overnight camping and natural hot springs for soaking paddle-weary bones (one spring, called the Sunflower, spills over a rock to form a riverside hot shower). Sightings of bear, river otters, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk and large birds of prey are common, and rafters can also sneak in some superb fishing—Idaho’s acclaimed crystal clear waters are rich with rainbow, cutthroat and Dolly Varden trout. Watch the canyon walls for vivid rock art, inscribed by the ancient Tukudeka people, who once claimed these wild canyons as their homeland.
To experience this unique and thrilling countryside, you must float—no motor craft is allowed—on a four- to six-day camping expedition into the heart of the wilderness. Few Middle Fork tour companies are as experienced as Rocky Mountain River Tours, operated since 1978 by Dave and Sheila Mills from Boise. Campfire dinners are Sheila’s domain, featuring favourite recipes from her well-received The Outdoor Dutch Oven Cookbook (one of three she has written), served under a brilliant canopy of stars.
Consider some post-white-water R&R in an isolated, more-than-mile-high valley at the edge of the wilderness where you’ll find the Diamond D Ranch, which has hosted families since 1952. The Diamond D offers get-away-from-it-all week-long holidays with horse riding and hiking to high wildflower-spangled meadows, alpine lakes, natural hot springs and sharp mountain ridges, where the deeply trenched valleys of central Idaho appear to go on forever. Cutthroat and rainbow trout—the wily quarry of patient fly fishers—abound in quick-flowing streams and mirror-calm lakes. The striking scenery of Diamond D Ranch contrasts beautifully with the easy comforts of the ranch’s modern log cabins, suites and lodge rooms.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.