The wild and rugged Lower Salmon River is full of large sandy beaches, fun whitewater and high canyon walls. Beautiful scenery and wildlife are around every bend. Big and somewhat difficult rapids are found where the canyon narrows. White sandy beaches make for the perfect spot to camp, relax and enjoy the sunshine. The Lower Salmon River has a little bit of everything for your whitewater adventure.
The Salmon River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the contiguous United States, and it has carved out the second deepest canyon in North America. The 87-mile stretch of the Lower Salmon River starts at Vinegar Creek, flows across Idaho, and eventually merges with the Snake River, which makes it perfect for a multi-day whitewater float. Most trips leave from Hammer Creek and take out 73 miles downstream at Heller bar (on the Snake River); these are usually 5- to 6-day trips. An alternative put-in spot is Pine Bar Recreation Site (10.5 miles down river). The BLM lists several shuttle services on their website.
Whichever section you choose to do, be sure to check with the rangers for current river conditions as well as fire restrictions. The Lower Salmon River is runnable year round (water flow permitting), but the best time is typically July through September when flows are between 3,500 and 15,000 cubic-feet per second and the weather is generally hot and sunny. Rapids range from Class II to Class IV.
A brief discussion of some of the notable rapids on this run follows, but please consult a river map for specific locations and information.
Self-issued permits are required for all boating on the Lower Salmon River. They are not limited and do not need to be obtained in advance. There is no fee. Permits are available at the launch sites at Hammer Creek, White Bird Gravel Pit, and Graves Creek or directly from the BLM office in Cottonwood. A Discover Pass is required for vehicles parking at state recreation lands in Washington (Heller Bar).
There are many large and sandy beaches along the river that make for great campsites. Many are open and exposed, so bringing a sunshade is a good idea. During the busy season, the larger beaches may require some sharing. Be respectful and choose an appropriately sized beach for your party.
There are plenty of opportunities to see a vast array of wildlife along the Lower Salmon and Snake Rivers. Bighorn sheep, whitetail deer, mule deer, river otters, beavers, and a variety of raptors, bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, are all commonly seen. The area has one of the highest densities of nesting raptors in the world. On the rare occasion a black bear or cougar might be seen.
Fishing is allowed on the river. Be sure to get the proper license before your trip. In the summer you’ll commonly find rainbow trout, small mouth bass and sturgeon. Salmon and steelhead also return to the river in the fall and spring.