Lower canyons of Idaho’s Salmon River
This magnificent river trip begins about 50 miles upstream from the confluence of the Salmon and the Snake River. After merging with the Snake, the trip continues downstream about 20 miles on the Snake River in the lower end of Hells Canyon on the Idaho/Oregon border to road’s end about 25 miles upstream from Lewiston, Idaho. Though not designated as wilderness, it is back country. There are only a few miles of primitive road along this 70-mile section of river. This portion of the Salmon River is a desert canyon, 3000 feet deep, with tableland above. Terrain consists of miles-long granite gorges alternating with rugged grassy slopes with scattered strands of timber and basalt rimrock. It is low elevation as well as the lower end of the Salmon River. These Salmon River rafting trips start at only little over a thousand feet.
White water on the Lower Salmon River…
Is similar to the Main Salmon River, though rapids are less frequent. There are several moderate, Class III+ rapids in normal river levels, and numerous smaller rapids. During high water in early summer, whitewater becomes too much of a good thing, and we do not schedule trips due to safety considerations. River temperature is warmer for swimming, well into the 70s by mid-summer, with beautiful sand beaches. Small mouth bass fishing is good in late summer and early fall.
Idaho white water rafting can begin early in the spring…
on the Lower Salmon River because of the low elevation. By early April the canyon is green with new grass, flowers are blooming, elk and deer are still low in the canyon near the river. In late April and early May the river begins to rise as snow in the upper end of the Salmon River begins to melt. During peak of high water in late May and early June, and lasting for several weeks in average snow years, river level can be too high for safety. At that time, Slide Rapids is one of the most difficult sections of white water rafting in Idaho. Mid-summer can be very hot, so we do not schedule rafting trips on the Lower Salmon at that time. Late August and September, when Salmon River white water rafting is winding down in other parts of the state, is the best time to float the Lower Canyons of the Salmon River. Mid-summer heat has moderated, but weather is still warm at this elevation–one last time to wiggle your toes in summer-warm sand. The traditional summer vacation period has past, and there are few people on the river.
Four day long weekend specials in September through the Lower Canyons of the Salmon:
By Labor Day temperatures are pleasant, and few people are still on the rivers. September trips are Friday thru Monday, so a trip can be a long weekend rather than a major vacation–especially over Labor Day. Because the Lower Salmon rafting trip is only four days and shuttle distance is less than the upstream sections of river, the total cost of the trip is less. For people from the northwest whose travel time to the area is moderate, this is an excellent short trip, without a major commitment of vacation time, and a good introduction to Idaho white water rafting trips. It is one of the most under-rated and over-looked of Idaho white water rafting trips. Our fall Chukar hunting/Steelhead fishing trips are on the Lower Salmon River, where we find more birds than upstream river sections, warmer temperatures, fall colors, and intercept uprunning steelhead earlier.
On this Lower Salmon River rafting trip as you imagine life during the settlement period more than a hundred years ago. Ranchers wintered livestock along the river because of the low elevations; little hay was needed. In the summer months, livestock was moved to higher elevation grazing areas. Even today, ranch hands winter along the river with livestock, isolated from the outside world for several months, except for airplane and radio. The few two-track roads that penetrate the canyon are snow-blocked through the winter. Chinese miners operating sluiceboxes for gold in the 1800s left foundations of rock houses along the river. Timber for log cabins was hard to come by in this semi-desert environment. The first battle of the Nez Perce Indian war of 1877 occurred near the launch point of this trip. We usually camp one night where the Nez Perce band, led by Chief Joseph, crossed the Salmon during high water after that battle, with the Cavalry pursuing them. The Cavalry could not make the crossing, and had to turn back.