Didn't score a river permit or looking for a more budget friendly guided trip? The Lower Salmon River is the answer. Here’s the map and guide to planning the trip, jetboat shuttle, and other details.
Here's what you need to know about the Lower Salmon - It's not worth doing. Try a different river. It's not one of the "famous 4 rivers" for a reason. Nothing to see here, and tell your friends to stay away... that's what those who've discovered this place want you to know.
The secret will get out eventually. Social media influencers will make sure of that, as they always do. So let's beat them to the punch so the truly prepared can enjoy this timeless treasure.
The Lower Salmon is a hidden gem!
Despite not having the normal impossible permit process, this river is no less spectacular. Featuring towering rocky cliffs, ancient history, sandy beaches, fun rapids with warm water are a combo that is nearly impossible to match. The lower canyon has the same remote feel, as the Main Salmon and Middle Fork, rivers that people pay $3000+ per person to experience for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So what's the catch? The Lower doesn't have the high alpine forest views or complicated regulatory oversight. But it does have larger beaches and warmer water, which makes a better experience for most families.
The Lower Salmon is 52 miles long to the confluence with the Snake, 72 if you float out to Heller Bar. Most groups do it in 4 days. Day 4 being the jet shuttle or final 20 miles. The typical put-in is at Hammer Creek, but can be started higher up. The rapids on this river are classified as III-IV, which makes it suitable for intermediate to advanced rafters.
The Slide - This rapid, in particular, can be dangerous at high water. At over 20,000 cfs, it becomes a Class V rapid. At extreme high flows it has been called the largest rapid in the lower 48 and world class kayakers have made similar statements.
However, at lower water levels, it can become nearly flatwater under 10,000 cfs.
The river typically drops to family friendly levels and the water warms up by July 4th. You can't go wrong with planning a trip after mid July. Under 10,000 cfs, the rapids become read and run class III that brings a moderate challenge to the experienced rafter with Snowhole and China as the exceptions.
The Gauge: Salmon River at Whitebird
If you can confidently read water, navigate class IV, and this isn't your first river rodeo then rowing your own boat would be a great experience.
If not, check out a guided trip! For only a few hundred bucks, you can show up worry free and ready to go with meals and entertainment provided.
Even the most adventurous teenagers will be excited by the 30+ major rapids. Dozens of class III's and some class IVs.
Class IV. Scout this fun drop on river left. Large holes and wrap rocks bring added risk if you don't enter the rapid correctly. From the scout, the entrance line can easily be seen. Once lined up, it's a clean run down the center right.
Class IV. Scout on the river left. There are many "false china" corners leading up to this rapid. The river very slowly picks up speeds as your group can eddy hop down the left shore. The cleanest line is always along the left shore. Very close to the left shore. You have to fight to stay on this line. Many clear the corner and drift right to find themselves in large holes at the bottom of the rapid.
Inflatable Kayaks and Paddle boards: This is a great river for the adventurous seeking a wild ride. All the rapids have been done by expert paddleboarders. Most athletic teenagers can handle this river in an inflatable kayak under 10,000 cfs with the proper guidance. Snowhole and China bring a high risk of swimming with shallower water.
This river boasts massive sandy beaches of immense size. Due to the lack of dams and natural state, the river experiences significant flooding in the spring, resulting in murky brown water and a tremendous amount of sediment transported by the current. This sediment rebuilds the beaches each spring.
There are plenty of options for camping along the river. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Follow the rules of the river so the perfect beach can be enjoyed by the people coming after you. Pick up micro trash, use a fire pan to carry out ashes, and don't leave rocks or glass on the beach for someone else's toe to find.
Certain areas can get busy mid summer. Camp running is not allowed and has its own set of regulations. There are plenty of camping options. Many beaches are much larger than they appear from the river.
Small groups should not occupy large beaches during the busy season.
You can row the 20 miles of slow water from the Snake/Salmon Confluence out to Heller Bar. It's a 2.5 hour drive from Hammer Creek to Heller Bar. Using a shuttle service makes this a breeze. You will need a Washington State Discover Pass to park at Heller Bar.
The last 20 miles are flat with only a handful of class II's. If you don't have a motor, there's a chance this long last day becomes a long day and night if the winds pick up. Get an early start to avoid afternoon winds.
Now let’s talk about the jet boat shuttle. This is more cost effective for large groups. The jet boat shuttle is a unique experience and great way to top off the trip!
Many people are confused because you jet up the Snake River to Pittsburg Landing, rather than back up the Salmon. This leaves a 50 min drive over the pass back to Hammer Creek. Details below:
Schedule a jet boat outfitter in advance. Coordinate pickup on the morning of the your last camp, usually morning of the 4th day on the river. The Salmon is the boundary between MST and PST timezones so plan accordingly.
Meet your group at Hammer Creek the night before your trip launch. Drop off people, gear, etc. Drive all vehicles over to Pittsburg Landing. Drive one vehicle with all drivers back to Hammer Creek.
Launch and enjoy the river trip.
Camp at or below the Snake/Salmon confluence on your last night.
Break down gear and roll boats to be ready to load in the morning.
Deflating and rolling boats feels like you burned the ships and are now stranded in one of the most remote corners of the country. Pray your trip leader scheduled the jetboat for the right day, because there's no cell service here.
Be ready for river tides, the hydroelectric dam upriver on the Snake releases more water during times of high power demand. This results in higher water during the night at the confluence. Coolers, PFDs, and sleeping river guides may float away in the night.
Nominate one person to sleep low on the beach to warn of rising water. Just kidding, but you get the idea to place gear high as the water will rise.
The jet boat companies appreciate when your gear is broken down and ready to load when they show up in the morning. They can have busy schedules.
Jet up to Pittsburg Landing and drive over the pass back to Hammer Creek.
Lower Salmon Map - This explains the shuttle process.
Group size limit: 30 people
There required gear items found in the regulations below:
If you’re looking to fish on your trip, the Lower Salmon is home to several species of fish, including steelhead, smallmouth bass, and sturgeon. You’ll need to obtain an Idaho fishing license before you can fish, and there are regulations in place to ensure that the fish populations remain sustainable.
The Lower Salmon is an excellent destination for those who want to experience the thrill of rafting without the hassle of obtaining a permit. With stunning scenery, thrilling rapids, and plenty of camping options, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. So, grab your raft, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget!
Questions about the Lower Salmon? Reach out!
Stop by the Adventure Idaho Store in Riggins for rentals, river gear, guidebooks, etc!
See ya on the river!