Early Season Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Alzar School | 12.05.08

Hello! Kristin and I just returned from a blazing fast trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River here in Idaho. We’d wanted to hit this world-famous run for years, but had never been lucky in the lottery permit process. So, this year, a group of friends called in for an early season permit and we jumped at the chance to get on the trip.

This early in the season, the road to the traditional put-in (Boundary Creek) is snowed in, so we decided to take the tributary Marsh Creek into the Middle Fork. When we put in on Friday morning, it was snowing pretty hard. The first few miles of the creek had snow walls about 3 feet deep. Fortunately, there were no significant log jams, and the creek was low enough that our support cataraft was able to fit under all of the low pack bridges that cross the creek.

We booked it down Marsh Creek, portaged around Dagger Falls, and made it to mile 14 on the MF that first day, putting our mileage at 31. We felt pretty fortunate to descend low enough that we did not have to camp in the snow. The next morning, we woke to sunny skies, and had a great second day on the river. We saw lots of evidence of last year’s forest fires, including remnants of several avalanches with splintered, charred logs protruding from them. We ended up going 53 miles that day, camping at Sheep Creek, where we spent the evening watching a huge herd of elk grazing on the hillside above us.

Yesterday it was a leisurely 33 mile paddle out to the take-out at Cache Bar. The river was flowing at a medium-high level, so all the Class III rapids on that stretch were incredibly fun, with giant waves. There was lots of great surfing on the fly too. Plus, we didn’t go more than a 1/2 mile without seeing a mountain stream entering the river.

I was extremely impressed with the Middle Fork of the Salmon, and while we had to rush down it this time, I look forward to exploring that beautiful, Wild and Scenic river again in the near future. I’ll keep putting in my lottery application in hopes that I get a early July permit. Until then, it definitely warms my heart to know that we have such a special place here in Idaho, and I hope every paddler gets the opportunity to run its rapids, soak in its hot springs, and have as great an experience as we did. Best wishes!

– Sean