Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek

Salmon River + Mountains, Idaho

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Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek

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  • The Corn Creek Ranger Station.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The complicated campsite reservation system for the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Putting in just above Corn Creek on the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Loading for day one on the Main Salmon.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The boat ramp at Corn Creek.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The Legend Creek pictographs at mile 4.3.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Granite from the Idaho Batholith stands in proud formations along the riverbank.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Working through a clam stretch on the Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The scout for Black Creek Rapid is on river left.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Black Creek Rapid in the Black Canyon.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • At this flow the line was left.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The hot springs at mile 22.4 are actually upstream of Barth Hot Springs, where there are no soaking opportunities. This pool, however, is developed and has water piped in from the nearby source.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The Salmon River's Black Canyon.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Bruin Bar.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Summer on the Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Enjoying some down time at Yellow Pine Bar.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Yellow Pine Bar.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Good friends, a few tunes, and a campfire help cap a day on the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Morning views along the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The pack trail that runs along the river makes side hikes a great option on short days.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Keeping the duckies in a row with a little advice about the upcoming rapid.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • High summer temperatures can be brutal on the Main, and shade on the boat can make the day more comfortable.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Pulling in above the Frances Zaunmiler Wisner Pack Bridge to stop for lunch and a look at the Campbells Ferry Ranch.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Doug Tims currently resides at the Campbells Ferry Ranch and is a tremendous resource when it comes to the history of this area.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Campbells Ferry Ranch.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Campbells Ferry Ranch.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Frances Zaunmiler Wisner, for whom the pack bridge is named, lived in the ranch until 1986.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The massive wood-fired kitchen stove at the Campbells Ferry Ranch.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • A periodical from November 27, 1937, lay on a table in the Campbells Ferry Ranch. - Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Frances Zaunmiler Wisner was a bit of a photographer.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Reed Creek Camp on the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Fire is a part of this ecosystem, and smoke is often a part of running this river in the summer.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The unique architectural vision of Buckskin Bill endures at Fivemile Bar. This homestead is part compound, and Buckskin Bill feared eviction following the passage of the Wilderness Act. It was never an issue.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Buckskin Bill's cabin, where he lived until 1980.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The inside of Buckskin Bill's cabin.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The museum is an homage to ingenuity. Buckskin Bill made most of his tools, guns, and armor.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Buckskin Bill displaying some of his handmade goods in 1969: a helmet, a muzzle loader, a powder horn, and an amunition pouch.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The South Fork Salmon joins the Main just downstream from Mackay Bar (mile 56).- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Floating the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Granite cliffs tower over the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The swimming hole above Swimming Hole camp hosts some excellent cliff jumping.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Evening over Swimming Hole Camp.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Coffee and a campfire by the Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The Polly Bemis Ranch. Polly was a Chinese immigrant who worked through servitude to become free. Life had additional challenges in store. Stop here to learn a little about Polly and her endurance.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Morning at Sheep Creek Bar, Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • Morning at Sheep Creek Bar, Main Salmon River.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
  • The Carey Creek Boat Ramp marks the end of the trip.- Main Salmon River: Corn Creek to Carey Creek
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Beautiful scenery. Rich history. Large beaches. Great fishing.
Cons: 
Popular river. Seasonal weather extremes. Evident human impacts.
Region:
Salmon River + Mountains, ID
Average Gradient: 
12.00 ft/mi (2.27 m/km)
Route Characteristics: Character: 
Pool Drop
Gauge URL: 
USGS
Overall difficulty: 
IV
II
III
IV
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Put-in location (lat, long coordinates): 
Corn Creek Boat Ramp
Suitable for: 
Kayaks
Rafts
Take-out location (lat, long coordinates): 
Carey Creek Boat Ramp
Total Distance: 
80.00 mi (128.75 km)
Current Local Weather:

Notable Hazards + River Information

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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Team

Overview | Permits | Camping | Flows + Weather

Overview

The section of the Salmon River extending from Corn Creek to Carey Creek is commonly referred to as the Main Salmon, and it picks up approximately 5 miles below Cache Bar, the take-out for the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Downstream of this Main Salmon stretch boaters will find several popular day floats and a longer multi-day float commonly known as the Lower Main Salmon. The Main Salmon stretch is approximately 80 miles long, and it is often floated in six days. Private boaters float alongside commercial outfitters, and rafters share the river with generally courteous jet boaters (a legacy entitlement from before the implementation of the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980).

Along the way boaters will have the opportunity to see some of the country’s most beautiful river canyon scenery, raft exciting whitewater, delve into a rich culture of early river runners and homesteaders, soak in hot springs, hike side trails, ponder pictographs, peer up steep canyon walls, and enjoy views of the campfire and stars from broad beach campsites. The Main is frequently compared to the Middle Fork, and the two trips do have different characteristics, but it is worth noting from the outset that both are magnificent ways to spend your river time, and both provide pristine wilderness experiences from within deep canyons that you’ll never forget.

Most note that the Main is a better choice for families, and this is a fair assessment given the river’s character and climate (depending on the family, of course). Being downstream means it receives more tributaries and carries more water, which also means that its gradient isn’t as steep. The Middle Fork averages 28 feet per mile; in contrast, the Main averages 12 feet per mile. The most challenging rapids on this stretch still range from Class III+ to Class IV at normal flows, though they can be more straightforward and more forgiving than those on the Middle Fork. Large pools and long stretches of lazy water separate the rapids, and these sections are ideal for cooling off in the summer heat that bakes the canyons. In terms of elevation, the Corn Creek launch sits at 2,920 feet, significantly lower than Middle Fork’s Boundary Creek put-in that sits at nearly 5,700 feet. Air and water temperatures are considerably warmer on the Main, which can translate to long days beneath the summer sun and delicious nights beneath the stars. Larger flows and warmer weather also extend the floating season on this stretch well beyond the lottery dates.

Boaters floating through this 40-million-year-old canyon will be experiencing one of the country’s deepest. The granite that forms the massive canyon walls and idiosyncratic shapes is part of the Idaho Batholith and is approximately 65 million years old. The earliest signs of human habitation in this area are approximately 12,000 years old. The Shoshone and Nez Perce lived in the area prior to the arrival of white settlers, and their pictographs can be found at several points along the river. The Main also has an abundance of homesteads, cabins, and defunct mining operations left behind by the settlers to this area. The history and culture of this river runs deep, and visitors will have plenty of opportunities to appreciate the lives these early residents led. It is vital to respect these areas and leave them untouched and undamaged. As with your river practice in general, please leave no trace.

Wildlife along the Salmon River includes large game such as black bear, elk, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep. Foxes, coyotes, porcupines, and beavers are among the smaller mammals, and chukars are common along the rocky banks. Fishing on the Main varies greatly depending on the season and the water temperature: Rainbow, cutthroat, and bull trout come alive in the cooler weather, while warm-water fish like bass are a better bet in the summer heat. Runs of Chinook salmon and steelhead have made this river a favorite among fishers, especially in the fall when fishing and hunting trips can be combined.

There are many rapids on this section that are Class II and above. Below is a list of rapids considered Class III-IV at normal flows.

  • Black Creek Rapid (Class III-IV, mile 20.9): Scout left. Stay right as the current pushes left.
  • Big Mallard Rapid (Class III-IV, mile 36.9): Scout from below Lower Yellow Pine Camp. Keep left to avoid the rocks and hydraulics.
  • Elkhorn Rapid (Class III-IV, mile 40.4): Scout left. A large boulder sits at the top and can be navigated in either direction, but the boulders downstream are the trick. The rapid ends with current pushing into or over a large rock that should be avoided.
  • Vinegar Rapid (Class III-IV, mile 78.4): Two large holes can put a damper on your take-out plans; run right of center.

Permits

While some sections of the Salmon River may be floated by private boaters without a permit, both the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the section of the Main Salmon from Corn Creek to Long Tom Bar (above the Carey Creek take-out) require permits. The Forest Service uses the Four Rivers Lottery and Permit Reservation System to issue permits for the Selway, the Snake, the Middle Fork, and the Main Salmon. Applications for this lottery can be submitted between December 1 and January 31; for the Main Salmon, the lottery applies for trips run from June 20 through September 7. Boaters floating the Main Salmon outside of these dates can start reserving their dates on October 1 at the Recreation.gov site used for pre- and post-season applications.

All boaters need to practice Leave No Trace principles at all times. Fire pans and ash containers are required along with portable toilet systems and food strainers. Given the high number of visitors this river corridor receives, responsible recreation and stewardship here is a must.

Camping

Campsite selection on the Main Salmon would be considerably more efficient if it were managed online in the same manner as the permits. Instead the system relies upon a large board that is posted at the Corn Creek Ranger Station; this board lists a schedule of available and occupied reservable campsites. Once boaters have a sense of which campsites will be available during their float (taking into account the pace of boaters who are already on the water), boaters can post a wish list of campsites on the board the night before they launch. The permit holder then meets with the rangers and other permit holders on the morning of launch day for campground assignments. With any luck, posting the wish list the night before will circumvent conflicts over camp selection (or facilitate some bargaining).

The Corn Creek Campground just upstream from the boat ramp has 17 first-come, first-served sites. Potable water is available.

Flows + Weather

The Main Salmon is floatable year round, though flows can become dangerously high during the spring runoff, and weather can become miserably cold in the winter. Unlike the Middle Fork, however, the water does stick around through late summer and fall. Boating this river above 6.5 feet on the Corn Creek gage is extremely hazardous.

Average summer temperatures can be quite warm on the Main Salmon, and days that stretch into the 90s and beyond are not uncommon; warm evenings around camp on the large river beaches can be a welcome respite from the scorching sun. Storm systems are common, however, so be sure to bring insulating layers and rain gear in addition to your sun protection. Shoulder season temperatures can mean highs in the 50s and 60s and lows approaching freezing. Ice flows develop on the river in the winter, but it is still possible to float on certain stretches for the highly dedicated.

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Published in collaboration with SOAR Northwest

Our mission is to assure that our trips on the Selway River and the Salmon River results in your full enjoyment of the beauty and wilderness values of this very special part of America. SOAR Northwest is run by an experienced team of river running professionals. We have a strong history of safety, quality, and integrity as a premier outfitter on the Selway and Salmon Rivers in Idaho. 

07.17.13

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