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Main Salmon2021-05-23T12:52:56-07:00

Main Salmon

In terms of amazing multi-day rivers for families with kids, the Main Salmon is arguably number one 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.

About this guide

This guide is from Corn Creek to Carey Creek. It covers all listed camps, rapids, hotsprings, and airstrips. Most points of interest are listed such as pictographs, hikes, and interesting stops.

River Info

The Main Salmon is a high volume river that starts five miles downstream of Cache Bar, the takeout for the Middle Fork of the Salmon. It flows 81 miles through the Frank Church wilderness ends at Carey Creek, which is upstream of Riggins, Idaho. This trip is often completed as a five day, however longer trips are common too.

Safety

The Main Salmon is a free flowing, pool-drop river. The water can be cold and fast, and if it’s high, the rapids are large. While the Main Salmon is considered a beginner river, you should have experience before rowing your own raft on this trip.

Permits

The Main Salmon is part of the Four Rivers Lottery. A permit is required year round, with the control season (lottery) being from June 20 – September 7.

Shuttle

Coming in at over eight hours, the shuttle is very long on the Main so it is highly recommended that you hire a shuttle service. A number of companies offer this:

The gauge most commonly used for the Main Salmon gauge is located at White Bird, which is downstream a number of miles below takeout.

Sometimes the USGS flow image breaks. If this happens, here is a direct link.

Main Salmon Flow
Gauge data provided by the USGS

Main Salmon Guidebook

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment or experience.

Class II Rapid

Class II rapid or river feature.

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Point of Interest

These include hotsprings, pictographs and more.

Airstrips

Don’t let the icon fool you, these are airstrips meant for bush planes.

Put-In / Take-Out

Used at Corn Creek, Vinegar Creek and Carey Creek.

Campgrounds

Riverside camping locations.

Corn Creek to Carey Creek – Class II & III

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

Length

Corn Creek to Carey Creek is 81 miles.

Difficulty

Beginner to moderate.

Feet per Mile

Corn Creek to Carey Creek is 12 FPM

Mile 0 – Corn Creek Boat Ramp: River Right. This is a large boat ramp shared by rafts and jet boats. There is water, pit toilets and a campground. Click here for a detailed description.

Mile 0.09 – 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 1.48 – 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. Family lived here in the late 1930’s. First opportunity for inflatable kayak swimmers. A substantial rapid at high flows.

Mile 2.01 – Gunbarrel Rapid: Class II. A 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 3.44 – Upper Horse Creek Camp: River Right. Upstream of the creek.

Mile 3.59 – Horse Creek Rapid: Class II. Horse creek comes in on the right and separates the two camps. Originally Big Sheep Creek. A heard 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 4.19 – Stub Creek Rapids: Class II. Read and run.

Mile 4.28 – Stub Creek Outfitters: River Left. Look for the cabins on the left. This outfitter focuses on steelhead fishing.

Mile 4.4 – Legend Creek Pictographs: River Right.

Mile 6.17 – Spindle Creek Camp: River Right.

Mile 8.05 – Phantom Camp: River Right.

Mile 8.09 – Ranier Rapid: Class III. Large, fun waves make this a great end of the day rapid. This rapid can be challenging for inflatable kayaks. When in doubt, keep paddling!

Mile 8.93 – Alder Creek Camp: River Left. A very nice low water camp, opposite Alder Creek.

Mile 9.05 – Alder Creek Rapid: Class II. This read and run rapid has small, splashy waves.

Mile 10.2 – Otter Beach: River Left. Low water camp at end of stretch of slow water.

Mile 10.49 – Fawn Creek Camp: River Right. Shaded camp for small group.

Mile 10.91 – Upper Lantz: River Right. This is a nice 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 11 – Little Squaw Creek Camp: River Right.

Mile 11.32 – Lower Lantz: River Right. Large bar above sandy beach densely infested with knapweed.

Mile 11.43 – Lantz Rapid: Class II+. Enter right of center and then work back 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 this by going to the right of it.

Mile 11.49 – Tag Creek Camp: River Left. Immediately below rapid on the left. Okay at high water. Rocky climb at low water. Comfortable camp once you get there. In the trees.

Mile 11.55 – Eddy Beach: River Right. This is a low water, exposed beach.

Mile 11.86 – Disappointment Bar: River Left. Like miners before you, camp here and you will be. The camp is on a very high bench immediately downstream from the creek. It’s a hellacious camp for a site overrun with knapweed.

Mile 13.03 – Upper Devil’s Teeth: River Right. Low water camp just above the rapid.

Mile 13.05 – Devil’s Teeth Rapid: Class III. The run is between the “molars”. Lots of inflatable kayakers swim here.

Mile 13.03 – 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 14.56 – Overhang Camp: River Right. Appropriately named, you can spot this camp from way up river. Inexperienced boaters also call this hangover camp.

Mile 14.89 – Elkhorn: River Right. Large, very pretty camp with apple trees, asparagus and lots and lots of knapweed.

Mile 15.56 – Chamberlain Creek Camp: River Right. This is a small, low water camp on the upstream side of the creek.

Mile 15.58 – Chamerberlain Creek: River Left. There’s a trail on the West (downstream) side of the creek that goes to Chamberlain Basin. At Chamerblain Basin you’ll find the headwaters of Big Creek, which drains into the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

Mile 15.93 – Chukar Beach: River Right. This is a medium sized camp with a beach that comes out at low water.

Mile 17.1 – Blackadar Camp: River Right. This camp is located on a high bench in a Ponderosa grove. It’s named after Dr. Walt Blackadar of Salmon who made a solo trip down Turnback Canyon of the Alsek Rive river in 1971. This trip was a feature article in Sports Illustrated.

Mile 17.38 – Motor Camp: River Left. This is a low water camp just above a right hand bend in the river. Keep your eye out for the engine in the center of camp.

Mile 18.07 – Big Squaw Camp: River Right. Low water camp about 1/4 mile downstream from the creek and around the bend in the river. Original sites of the Guth cabins.

Mile 20.4 – Start of Black Canyon: At the Arctic Creek confluence you’ll first enter Black Canyon. This is the first glimpse of the Idaho Batholith, which is a “deep rock” and the Salmon river courses through this huge mass of granite. This granite extends 250 mils north and south and 90 miles across the center of Idaho. The purpose of the 1935 National Geographic Expedition captained by Hancock and Cunningham was to study the features and extent of the Idaho Batholith.

Mile 20.4 – Arctic Creek Lodge: River Left. This is one of the locations the Army Core of Engineers had identified as a potential dam site in the canyon. Designation of the Salmons as a Wild & Scenic river in 1980 eliminated the threat of future dams. The Artic Creek cabins are under Forest Service Permit.

Mile 20.68 – Salmon Falls: Class I. This rapid no longer exists as it is now buried under the pool caused by Black Creek Rapid, just downstream. When it was a rapid, Salmon Falls featured large holes on the left, with a small slot for rafts right of center that was an exciting drop.

Mile 20.99 – Black Creek Rapid: Class III. There was effectively nothing here until a debris flow in April 2011 from Black Creek created this rapid and at the same time, submerged Salmon Falls, which was just upstream. If you would like to scout, do so from the left bank. This rapid is typically run left of center.

Mile 21.55 – Black Creek Beach: River Right. Low water beach

Mile 21.96 – Sabe Creek: River Right. Once of the prettiest creeks on the river.

Mile 22.53 – Barth Hotsprings: River Left. No camping or stopping for lunch.

Mile 23.04 – Guleke Hotsprings: River Left. A lower flows look for inscriptions. There are at least 6 rocks with names and dates. Guleke charge 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 23.39 – Barth Camp: River Left. Just around the corner from the hot springs. This is a very good camp but strong current can make the landing difficult.

Mile 23.82 – Sandy Hole Camp: River Right. Small camp on the high bar just around the corner from Nixon Creek. Suitable for 6-10 people with a lot of stamina and energy.

Mile 24.34 – 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 25.09 – Bruin Bar: River Left. Excellent camp with difficult landing at higher flows. On early season trips. On early season trips, stop up-stream to make sure you’ll be able to get in.

Mile 26.05 – Hancock Rapid: Class II. There are rapids on both the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon named for Monroe Hancock, a skilled boater who ran sweep rigs for Captain Guleke. Along with John Cunningham, he captained the 1935 National Geographic trip down the Main Salmon. After leaving Bear Bar, Hancock built another cabin about 20 miles downstream of Reed Creek. More action is available if you stick towards the right. Towards the bottom right there is a large kayak eating hole.

Mile 26.22 – Hancock Camp: River Left. Sometimes called “long beach”. Immediately below rapid.

Mile 26.55 – Wake Up Rapid: Class II. Large waves lurk in here.

Mile 27.13 – 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 29.27 – Idaho Centennial Trail: River Right.

Mile 29.79 – Magpie Camp: River Left. Heavily used large camp.

Mile 30.93 – Hida Creek Rapid: Class II.

Mile 32.26 – 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 32.29 – 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.  About the creek-“Little Salmon” From it’s headwaters, Bergamin drains south to the Salmon while Running Creek drains to the Selway.

Mile 32.66 – Bailey Rapid: Class III. Large holes lurk in the center towards the bottom of this rapid. Enter the rapid right of center and then get right of the center holes. These holes can get big enough to turn rafts over. If you want to scout that can be done from the right bank.

Mile 33.17 – Bailey Bar: River Right. Low water camp or good lunch spot.

Mile 33.44 – Boy Scout Rock: Class II. The story goes that a large group of Boy Scouts in inflatable kayaks had back to back to back to back (you get the picture) flips and wraps on this rock, all at the same time. At certain flows you can see why this rock could cause big problems. Pay attention here.

Mile 34.46 – 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 34.79 – Split Rock Rapid: Class III. 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 35.11 – Stinker Rapid: Class II. This is a short, sometimes splashy rapid.

Mile 36.03 – Yellow Pine Bar: River Right.

Mile 36.92 – 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.

Mile 37.03 – Lower Yellow Pine: River Right. Nice camp with good swimming beach.

Mile 37.18 – Big Mallard: Class III. Perhaps the most famous rapid on the Main Salmon, Big Mallard has a large hole that fortunately is easy to stay away from but requires you to get up close and personal with the feature. Click here for a detailed description.

Mile 37.44 – Big Mallard Camp: River Right. Great, large camp just below Mallard Creek.

Mile 39.17 – Whitewater Ranch: River Right. Often used by vehicle campers. Not a good floaters camp.

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 42.96 – Campbell’s Ferry Pack Bridge: This bridge was completed in 1956.

Mile 43.22 – Jim Moore’s: River Right. Jim Moore was a prospector that settled on this large bar and built all of the structures here, of which, there are many. It’s said his cache of gold is located somewhere on the property and has never been found. To access his property, you can do so by either stopping at Jim Moore’s Camp, just downstream, or at the Campbell Ferry’s Bridge, just upstream.

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 52.73 – Buckskin Bill’s: River Left. Formally known as Five Mile Bar, this is where Slyvan “Buckskin Bill” Hart called home. There is a small museum here as well as a re-supply shop. Click here for a detailed description.

Mile 53.18 – Pebble Beach: River Left.

Mile 53.54 – Haynie Bar: River Left. This is a large camp. Look for the big boulder that sits just on shore as your visual for where to pull over. Tent sites are on the bar just upstream from here.

Mile 54.22 – Jackson Bar: River Right. Also known as Wilson Bar, this is a less desirable camp.

Mile 54.22 – Wilson Bar Airstrip: River Right. This airstrip was completed in 1958. This is the only public airstrip within the Main Salmon corridor. Click here for a detailed description.

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.

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