by Julie Trevelyan
Salmon River Rafting - River of no Return

Salmon River Rafting

Ready to river raft Idaho’s Main Salmon River—also known as the “River of No Return”? Relax, it’s not nearly as ominous as its moniker sounds. Back in the day, people could only head downstream as fast as the current took them, with no way to return except via long, arduous hikes. Since it slices a crevice into the earth that is the second deepest canyon in North America (Hells Canyon, carved by the nearby Snake River, would be number one deepest), when explorers first saw it they adopted a suitably awed respect for and even fear of this rambunctious river. Famed explorers Lewis & Clark contemplated a run but ultimately nixed it in favor of good old foot power instead. Luckily for us today, though, modern engineering means rafts that can easily navigate the currents, and Holiday means guides who know every inch of this beautiful whitewater Idaho river.

Barth Hot Springs

Barth Hot Springs

Idaho whitewater rafting is renowned in general. As the longest undammed river flowing through a single state in the continental U.S., the Salmon River is quite an impressive piece of natural architecture. Usually divided into three sections known as Upper, Lower, and Main, the Salmon has some of the very best whitewater in America. Buckle up, because great river rafting thrills await you on the Salmon!

Trip specifics

Average Flows:

The Salmon River has an average water flow of  11,000 CFS (cubic feet per second). Mostly a river of fun, splashy class III rapids, the currents ebb and flow with the seasons as well as with the year’s amount of snowpack and rainfall. See current water flow conditions at the USGS site.


Chamberlain Creek is a possible hike on our Main Salmon River trip. A short jaunt here stretches your legs and allows you the opportunity to take in the spectacular natural beauty of this river trip. Classic Idaho scenery, complete with ponderosa pines and deep blue skies, will greet your eyes on this trail. An added bonus might be a soak in Barth Hot Springs—what a way to unwind after a sweet day on your rafting adventure!


The River of No Return - History

Historical Significance:

The ancestors of Nez Perce and Northern Shoshone Indians likely inhabited the Main Salmon River area thousands of years ago, hunting and gathering and utilizing the abundant natural resources of the mighty river curving through their landscape. Petroglyphs and pictographs remain today colorful, thought-provoking reminders of the many peoples who lived here for centuries. More modern trappers, hunters, and explorers also left their mark in the form of wild tales of adventure as they sought to make a living in this remote area. Settler Jim Moore headed to the Salmon River canyon in the 1890s and led a vivid life until his death in 1942. His home and burial place still stands and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


The River of no Return Who will enjoy this trip most:

Families! College friends! Solo travelers looking for adventure! The Salmon is a great all-around river that can happily be enjoyed by diverse groups.

Fun facts:

1. Rapids names include Big Mallard, Devil’s Teeth, and Dried Meat.

2. The river was called Tom-Agit-Pah by natives, which means Big Fish Water.

3. The discovery of placer gold along the Salmon in the 1860s created a gold rush.

4. Buckskin Bill, “the Last of the Mountain Men,” still has testament to his presence in the form of old buildings still standing near the river.

Written by Julie Trevelyan.

Julie TrevelyanJulie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.

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