Main Salmon

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Frank Church Wilderness, Idaho

Main Salmon River Rafting Guidebook

In terms of amazing multi-day rivers for families with kids, the Main Salmon is in the top five in the United States. Huge, sandy beaches. Splashy rapids with big catcher mitt pools below them. Warm water during the summer months means lots of splash wars, ducky adventures, and overall floating. And with 81 miles of river, it’s a long river trip, making it an ideal summer vacation.

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Corn Creek to Carey Creek – Class II & III

81 beautiful miles of Class II and III rapids with beach camping and warm water.

Mile 0.1 – Wheat Creek:

River Right. Just below the put-in ramp is Wheat Creek. This creek represents the eastern boundary of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The name comes from its proximity to Corn Creek.

Mile 1.4 – Killam Rapid:

Class III. Named for Jack Killam who built a cabin that straddled the trail on the south side of the river above Gunbarrel Rapid. The Killam family lived here in the late 1930’s. Rocks and tricky current provide the first opportunity for inflatable kayakers to swim. A substantial rapid at high flows.

Mile 2.0 – Gunbarrel Rapid:

Class II. At high water this is a difficult rapid. From here to Horse Creek there are low water beaches on the left that are great lunch spots or suitable as small camps.

Mile 2.5 – Lunch Bar Campsite:

River Left. A low water, short-day camp for a small group. Good lunch spot.

Mile 3.4 – Upper Horse Creek Camp:

River Right. Upstream of the creek.

Mile 3.6 – Horse Creek Rapid:

Class II. Horse Creek comes in on the right and separates the two camps. Originally Big Sheep Creek. A herd of abandoned horses were left here after the demise of two fur trappers. Seeing an opportunity to acquire the fur harvest, one trapper killed the other but was captured and hung before getting away. Another possible origin of the name comes from the activities of the Gattin brothers. They were known horse thieves who rebranded horses at their ranch on Big Sheep Creek and resold them in Montana.

Mile 3.6 – Lower Horse Creek Camp:

River Right. Low water bar just below the creek. Difficult landing in small eddy. On the opposite side of the river are the remains of a pack bridge that was condemned and removed in 1970.

Mile 3.6 – Bridge Piling Camp:

River Left. A mid-sized campsite.

Mile 4.2 – Stub Creek Rapids:

Class II. Read and run.

Mile 4.3 – Stub Creek Outfitters:

River Left. No camping. Cabins are used by a fishing outfitter.

Mile 4.7 – Legend Creek Camp:

River Right.

Mile 6.1 – Spindle Creek Camp:

River Right.

Mile 7.9 – Phantom Camp:

River Right.

Mile 8.05 – Ranier Rapid:

Class III. Large, fun waves make this a great end-of-the day rapid. It can be challenging for inflatable kayaks. When in doubt, keep paddling!

Mile 8.6 – Alder Creek Camp:

River Left. A comfortable low water camp, opposite Alder Creek.

Mile 9.05 – Alder Creek Rapid:

Class II. This read and run rapid has small, splashy waves.

Mile 10.0 – Otter Beach:

River Left. Low water camp at the end of a stretch of slow water.

Mile 10.2 – Fawn Creek Camp:

River Right. Shaded camp for small group.

Mile 10.6 – Upper Lantz:

River Right. This is a popular camp with a large eddy. and a pretty view of Little Squaw Creek. It’s an easy walk to Lantz Bar, which is just downstream.

Mile 10.7 – Little Squaw Creek Camp:

River Right.

Mile 11.1 – Lower Lantz Bar:

River Right. Large bar above sandy beach.

Mile 11.3 – Lantz Rapid:

Class II+. Enter right of center and then work left to avoid the rocks and wall jutting out from the river right bank. At certain water flows there can be a large center hole that is troublesome for smaller rafts and kayaks. Avoid the hole by going to the right of it.

Mile 11.3 – Tag Creek Camp:

River Left. Immediately below rapid on the left. Usually accessible at high flows. Rocky climb at low water. Comfortable camp once you get there. In the trees.

Mile 11.3 – Eddy Beach:

River Right. A small, low water beach.

Mile 11.7 – Disappointment Creek:

River Left. Like the miners before you, camp here and you might be. The camp is on a high bench downstream from the creek. In summer heat, it can be a strenuous climb. The nearby feeder streams, named Dismal, Starvation, Hungry and Steep hint at discomfort.

Mile 12.9 – Upper Devil’s Teeth:

River Right. Low water camp just above the rapid.

Mile 12.9 – Devil’s Teeth Rapid:

Class III. The run is between the “molars”. Lots of inflatable kayakers swim here.

Mile 13.0 – Lower Devil’s Teeth:

River Left. Large pleasant camp. You can scramble downstream about 100 yards to a pictograph site.

Mile 13.3 – Devil’s Teeth Pictographs:

River Left. Pictographs on the rock face.

Mile 14.3 – Overhang Camp:

River Right. Appropriately named, you can spot this camp from far up river. Sometimes called Hangover Camp.

Mile 14.7 – Elkhorn:

River Right. Large, pretty camp with apple trees and sometimes asparagus.

Mile 15.5 – Chamberlain Creek Camp:

River Left. Small, low water camp on the upstream side of the creek.

Mile 15.6 – Chamberlain Creek:

River Left. There is a trail on the downstream side of the creek that goes to Chamberlain Basin. The headwaters of Big Creek, which drains to the Middle Fork of the Salmon, is at Chamberlain Basin.

Mile 15.9 – Chukar Beach:

River Right. A medium sized low-water beach camp.

Mile 17.0 – Blackadar Camp:

River Right. This camp is located on a high bench in a Ponderosa grove. It is named after Dr. Walt Blackadar of Salmon who was well known for making a solo trip in Alaska down the Alsek River in 1971. The trip was featured in a Sports Illustrated article. Blackadar died while kayaking the South Fork of the Payette in 1978.

Mile 17.2 – Motor Camp:

River Left. A low water camp just above a right hand bend in the river. Keep your eye out for the engine in the center of the camp.

Mile 17.9 – Big Squaw Camp:

River Right. Low water camp about 1/4 mile downstream from the creek and around the bend in the river.

Mile 20.4 – Start of Black Canyon:

First glimpse of the Idaho Batholith and Black Canyon. The Salmon river courses through this huge mass of granite that extends 250 miles north and south and 90 miles across the center of Idaho. The purpose of the 1935 National Geographic Expedition was to study the features of the Batholith.

Mile 20.4 – Arctic Creek Lodge:

River Left. This is one of the locations the Army Corp of Engineers had identified as a potential dam site in the canyon. Designation of the Salmon as a Wild & Scenic river in 1980 eliminated the threat of future dams. The Artic Creek cabins are under Forest Service Permit.

Mile 20.4 – Salmon Falls:

Class I. This rapid is buried under the pool created when Black Creek blew-out in 2011.

Mile 20.9 – Black Creek Rapid:

Class IV. There was little excitement here until a debris flow from Black Creek in April 2011 created this rapid and at the same time submerged Salmon Falls upstream. Scout from the left bank. Depending on water level, this rapid has several routes.

Mile 21.4 – Black Canyon Beach:

River Right. Low water beach.

Mile 21.9 – Sabe Creek:

River Right. One of the prettiest creeks on the river.

Mile 22.5 – Barth Hot Springs:

River Left. No camping or stopping for lunch.

Mile 22.7 – Sunny Bar Camp

River Right. A moderately difficult carry to a nice camp.

Mile 23.0 – Guleke Hot Springs:

River Left. At low flows look for inscriptions. There are at least six rocks inscribed with names and dates. Guleke charged about $1,000 for a trip down the salmon. That price covered passage, the cost of the boat and the long, arduous trip back home to Salmon City.

Mile 23.1 – Barth Camp:

River Left. Around the corner from the hot springs. This is a good camp but strong current and rocks can make the landing difficult.

Mile 23.8 – Sandy Hole Camp:

River Right. On right hand bend, look for single Ponderosa. A good lunch spot after a stop at Barth. Small camp – probably okay for two or three tents.

Mile 24.2 – Poor Bar:

River Left. A good high water camp but, from its name probably not a good place for prospecting. Downstream and on the other side of the river from Nixon Creek. Look for dead snag in the middle of camp.

Mile 24.8 – Bruin Bar:

River Left. Excellent camp with a difficult landing at higher flows. On early season trips, stop and scout from upstream to make sure you’ll be able to get in.

Mile 25.8 – Hancock Rapid:

Class II. There are rapids on both the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon named for Monroe Hancock who piloted sweep rigs for Captain Guleke. Along with John Cunningham, he captained the 1935 National Geographic trip down the Main Salmon. On the right, towards the bottom of the run, is a large kayak eating hole.

Mile 25.9 – Hancock Camp:

River Left. Sometimes called “long beach”. Immediately below rapid.

Mile 26.5 – Wake Up Rapid:

Class II. Large waves lurk in here.

Mile 27.1 – Dillinger Creek:

River Left. The significant creek entering on the left is Dillinger Creek. Supposedly the first prospector to discover gold on Oregon’s Rogue River.

Mile 29.2 – Idaho Centennial Trail:

River Right.

Mile 29.5 – Magpie Camp:

River Left. Heavily used large camp.

Mile 30.9 – Hida Creek Rapid:

Class II.

Mile 32.2 – Andy the Russian Rapid:

Class II. This rapid comes at the confluence of Bargamin Creek. Andy Strauss had a cabin upstream of here about a mile. This rapid has very large waves at high water. At smaller flows it’s read and run.

Mile 32.0 – Bargamin Camp:

River Right. About 50 yards below the creek. High water bench, small beach at low water. Good campsite with hiking opportunities. Easy hike to scout Bailey. Good trail up Bargamin. The creek is a/k/a “Little Salmon”. From its headwaters, Bergamin drains south to the Salmon River while Running Creek drains north to the Selway.

Mile 33.2 – Bailey Bar:

River Right. Low water camp and good lunch spot.

Mile 33.4 – Boy Scout Rock:

Class II. The story goes that a group of Boy Scouts in inflatable kayaks had back-to-back flips and wraps on this rock on an early season trip. At certain flows you can see why this rock could cause big problems. Pay attention here.

Mile 34.5 – Five Mile Rapid:

Class III. It can be hard to spot when you enter the rapid but there is a large hole in the center towards the bottom. Enter left and keep working left to avoid this raft flipping feature.

Mile 34.8 – Split Rock Rapid:

Class IV. As the water comes down this rapid gets more pronounced with larger and larger waves. Enter right of center and pick your way through. This is a fun one.

Mile 35.1 – Stinker Rapid:

Class II. This is a short, splashy rapid.

Mile 36.0 – Yellow Pine Bar:

River Right.

Mile 36.9 – Upper Yellow Pine:

River Right. Nice camp. (The Forest Service Amendment to Trip Permit calls this and Lower Pine “Camp Creek Camps”). Good trail from here to view Mallard. A crank, battery-operated phone system was installed by the Forest Service in the 1940s and operated until the 1980s. The system connected several homesteads and ranches. The wire can be seen at this camp.

Mile 37.03 – Lower Yellow Pine:

River Right. Nice camp with good swimming beach.

Mile 37.44 – Big Mallard Camp:

River Right. Great, large camp just below Mallard Creek.

Mile 40.6 – Elk Horn Rapid:

Class III. Scout from the left. Look for elk antlers on a tree just before the rapid on river left.

Mile 41.91 – Growler Rapid:

Class III. Named to reflect the disposition of a nearby settler, becomes technically difficult at low flows.

Mile 42.76 – Campbell’s Ferry:

River Left. The original ferry was built by William Campbell around 1890 and provided the only dry means of crossing the river for 50 miles. With the construction of the Three Blaze Trail, prospectors and supplies came down from Dixie and were ferried to connecting trails that lead to Thunder Mountain. During the boom years of 1900-1902, nearly 2,000 people crossed the river. Campbell died in 1901.The ferry operated until 1956 when the bridge was completed.

Mile 43.22 – Easter Egg Beach:

River Left. Many boaters think it’s the bar upstream of the rock outcropping , but Easter Egg is the beach downstream of the rock outcropping. Whichever one you prefer though.

Mile 43.38 – Jim Moore’s Camp:

River Right. A mix of beach and cobble bar. If you plan on camping here be ready to share the beach as folks will stop here on their way to explore nearby Jim Moore’s cabins.

Mile 34.6 – Ruff Creek Camp:

River Left. This is a small camp.

Mile 43.9 – 31 Rapid:

Class II. The story goes that this rapid was named for Bob Smith, an outfitter, after a phenomenal day of catching steelhead in the pool upstream.

Mile 44.27 – Whiplash Rapid:

Class III. At high flows this is an enormous rapid and should be scouted. At normal flows and lower pay attention to keep away from the rock jutting from shore on river right. If you’re camping at Groundhog Bar, which the rapid passes by, pay attention so you don’t miss camp.

Mile 44.3 – Groundhog Bar:

River Right. This is a large camp that is not accessible at high flows. At normal and lower flows, catch the eddy on river right that forms in front of the large rock feature that gives Whiplash Rapid it’s teeth.

Mile 45.5 – Reed Riffle:

Class II. Read and run.

Mile 45.51 – Reed Creek Camp:

River Right. This is a nice camp that has a pretty creek just upstream of it.

Mile 46.33 – China Bar Rapid:

Class II. The river makes a big left hand turn. Stick to the inside left and you’ll be fine. If you aren’t paying attention and get swung to the center there is a large shelf here that can ruin your day.

Mile 46.79 – Rhett Creek Camp:

River Right. Located just upstream of Rhett Creek, this is a large, exposed camp.

Mile 49.17 – Paine Creek:

River Right.

Mile 50.31 – Boise Bar Rapid:

Class II. An easy rapid except for the very large hole located towards the bottom near right of center. Stay towards the left.

Mile 51.18 – No Man’s Camp:

River Right.

Mile 51.51 – Teepee Camp:

River Right. This is a small camp. The grave marker here is for Jack Ranger who drowned crossing the river here in 1928.

Mile 53.18 – Pebble Beach:

River Left.

Mile 54.22 – Jackson Bar:

River Right. Also known as Wilson Bar, this is a less desirable camp.

Mile 54.25 – Jackson Bar Riffle:

Class II. Pay attention to the sleeper holes in this riffle.

Mile 54.82 – Ludwig:

Class III. This is the last significant rapid for approximately 21 mile as the “lake” begins shortly after this. Stick left of center at this rapid and avoid the bottom rocks. As you enter, look left to try to spot Three Mile Creek, supposedly named for the distance to the South Fork confluence

Mile 2.37 – Mackay Bar Pack Bridge:

This bridge was built in 1935.

Mile 55.6 – Mackay Bar Bridge Camp:

River Right. Trucks are often parked here from the Painter Mine Road.

Mile 55.86 – Deadman’s Hole:

River Left. Small camp that may get some air traffic from Mackay Bar.

Mile 56.38 – Mackay Bar Ranch:

River Left.

Mile 56.11 – Mackay Bar Airstrip:

River Left

Mile 56.63 – South Fork Salmon:

River Left. The confluence of the South Fork Salmon is at this point.

Mile 56.63 – South Fork Camp:

River Left. This is a cool camp because technically speaking, you’re on the South Fork of the Salmon.

Mile 56.73 – South Fork Island:

River Left. This camp is available during low water flows. The camp is at the bottom of the island. Pay attention as you come around the corner so you don’t miss the eddy.

Mile 56.73 – Diversion Tunnel:

River Right. Just as the river makes a sharp bend to the left, you’ll see the end of a tunnel that was blasted out to generate electric power from diverted water. The power was to be used for a mining operation near the mouth of the South Fork. It was never completed and abandoned in the early 1940’s.

Mile 56.87 – Beginning of the Lake:

Not truly a lake, but it might feel like it sometimes. From this point until close to takeout, the river has plenty of flat water and long pools.

Mile 60.81 – Mann Creek Camp:

River Left.

Mile 61.38 – Warren Creek Camp:

River Left.

Mile 61.58 – Swimming Hole:

River Right. Also known as Warren Bar.

Mile 62.22 – Indian Creek Camp:

River Right. This is a nice camp just downstream of the creek. There’s a trail here that goes up the creek to a grove of Yew trees, which are presumed to be some of the oldest and and largest in the US. Extracts from the bark are processed to yield Taxol, a cancer drug. These trees are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species act.

Mile 65.09 – Rabbit Creek Camp:

River Left.

Mile 12.89 – Polly Bemis Ranch:

River Left.

Mile 66 – Shepp Ranch:

River Right.

Mile 66.21 – Polly Corner:

Class II. The river makes a jarring right turn that creates tricky current.

Mile 67.83 – Basin Creek Camp:

River Right.

Mile 68.67 – Whiskey Bob’s Camp:

River Right.

Mile 69.11 – Upper Bull Creek:

River Right.

Mile 69.24 – Lower Bull Creek:

River Right.

Mile 70.97 – Gold Rush Bar:

River Right.

Mile 71.15 – California Creek Camp:

River Left. This is a large, popular camp that features a sprawling beach just downstream from California Creek.

Mile 72.81 – T-Bone Camp:

River Right. This is a low water beach that may have been named for its proximity to Bull Creek.

Mile – Maxwell Bar:

River Left. This is a large beach with minimal to no shade. Great camp for kids as there’s a large sand dune to jump off of into the river.

Mile 75.14 – Dried Meat:

Class III. This rapid was blasted with dynamite after a jetboat accident in 1962 that resulted with five people drowning. Today, the rapid has big waves.

Mile 75.86 – Johnson Creek Camp:

River Right.

Mile 77.6 – Long Tom Creek:

River Left. The Long Tom mine was located at the headwaters of this creek. The term “long tom” refers to a combination sluice box and rocker used by miners.

Mile 77.98 – Chittam Rapid:

Class III. This rapid can be very difficult at high flows. At all flows the run is generally the same, keep moving right from start to finish. At high flows there are large center holes and the bottom left wall can be troublesome. The scout can easily be done from river right.

Mile 78.17 – Vinegar Creek Take Out:

River Left. This is a narrow boat ramp more commonly used by jet boats.

Mile 78.78 – Vinegar Rapid:

Class III. A steep rapid that gets more exciting as the water gets lower. Stay to the right the whole way through for the cleanest line. Keep your eyes out for the large center wave / hole towards the bottom and make sure you get right of it.

Mile 80.5 – Carey Falls:

Class II. Easy to avoid, but if you accidentally go right you’ll find yourself in one of the larger holes on the entire river. Run left to avoid an embarrassing dunk right before takeout.

Mile – Wind River Camp:

River Right. This is a large camp within sight of take out.

Mile 81.01 – Wind River Pack Bridge:

This pack bridge is the wilderness boundary. Near completion in 1961, it partially collapsed and wasn’t completed until the following year.

Mile 81.04 – Carey Creek Boat Ramp:

River Left. This is a large boat ramp that can fit up to three groups. During high flows be careful with the current as it is easy to accidentally go around the bend.