Apart from the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, the Salt is Arizona's premier whitewater river. It is famous for its desert scenery and surprisingly high quality whitewater. The ultimate experience is to take a multi-day trip through the wilderness section, where the river tumbles between black rock banks lined with saguaro cactus--a scene unlike anywhere else. However, multi-day trips require reliable flows and a lottery permit from the Forest Service after March 1.
For quick trips and play runs, there is the daily section, which is simply the first 8 or so miles of the full stretch. This has multiple access points via a dirt road and is contained entirely within the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Boating and camping here always requires a per-day permit from the tribe, which is available online. Be sure to print yours in advance and carry it with you at all times, because rangers do check.
The daily section is a splashy Class III run that only gets more fun with more water. At high flows it is solid Class IV. Kayaks can get by with as little as 300 cfs, but rafts will want at least 1,000 cfs. It is worth the drive from Phoenix or Flagstaff, especially because this is often the only thing running anywhere in the state. A quick shuttle, multiple put-ins, and plentiful camping make this a great run for spending half a day or a whole week.
The standard put-in for multi-day trips is at Mule Hoof near First Camp. This spot is ideal for launching rafts, but putting in further upstream avoids the crowds and nabs a few additional rapids. Instead of parking in the large lot near First Camp, follow the dirt road upstream to where it crosses under the highway bridge. You can park anywhere along here and put in at the rock ledges upstream from the bridge. The large rapid above this is Apache Falls, Class IV, and it is off limits by tribal law, as is the rest of the upper gorge.
All of the rapids are read-and-run, but getting out to scout is always an option. If you will be maneuvering a raft, the trick is go right at all islands to stay in the deeper water. The first mile provides Class II rapids that are good for warming up. After a stretch of flatwater you will enter the horseshoe that packs in all the fun Class III rapids. There are boofs, play spots, and plenty of river features to practice or show off skills. After this mile or so in the horseshoe, the river mellows out a bit for the next 3 miles.
A brief list of some of the notable rapids on this run follows, but please consult a river map for specific locations and information.
The first option for take-out is at Second Camp, around river mile 5.5. Continuing past here earns you a few more bigger rapids, including the juicy Mescal Falls, Class III+. There are other options for river access past Second Camp, and the last possible take out for the daily section is just past Mescal at Hoodoo Rapid. Driving this far requires crossing Cibecue Creek, so four-wheel drive is recommended. Other than this spot, the dirt road is bumpy but passable to any kind of vehicle as long as it is dry.
Boatable flows require sustained snowmelt from the White Mountains, which usually happens in March. This is fairly reliable, but some years see hardly enough flow for multi day trips. Even with low flows or a short duration, however, you can still get your fix on the daily section, making it a staple run for thirsty Arizona boaters.