Salmon River (4 Rivers)

Salmon-Challis National Forest

The Salmon River originates in the Sawtooth and Lemhi Valleys of central and eastern Idaho. Springs and snowmelt feed this wild river as it makes its way through the second-deepest gorge on the continent. Only Hells Canyon on the Snake River is deeper. The Salmon's granite-walled canyon is over 1,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon. For approximately 180 miles, the Salmon River canyon is more than a mile deep. 

The Wild section of the Salmon consists of 79-miles of free-flowing river in the heart of the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness, between Corn Creek and Long Tom Bar. 

The Main Salmon River is a renowned whitewater and wilderness float trip, known for its history, scenic beauty, big water, and sandy beaches. The Salmon provides an amazing mix of adventure and tranquility that makes it an excellent family trip. Each year, approximately 10,000 people float this beautiful river.

The Salmon River is historically known as The River of No Return. For more than 105 years after the first European Americans came to the area, only one-way trips down the river were possible. The most commonly used boats were wooden scows, designed to carry heavy loads and withstand whitewater. They were then dismantled and used for lumber at the trips' conclusion. It was from these trips that the Salmon's nickname, "River of No Return," originated.

The Salmon is administered under a permit system to protect it from excessive human impacts. Part of that protection asks you, the user, to learn and practice Leave No Trace ethics. Because of its remote location, man's presence in the area was somewhat limited, leaving it in the condition we see today.

Notifications and Alerts

Permit & Season Information

Permits are required year-round for individuals wishing to float the Wild section of the Salmon River, which extends from Corn Creek to Long Tom Bar. The lottery control season extends from June 20 through September 7. 

The peak season on the Salmon runs from June through September. If floating during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall), plan accordingly for cold weather and/or high water. Winter weather can limit floating opportunities December through March.

Boaters floating the South Fork of the Salmon River and exiting onto the wild section of the Main Salmon must obtain a Tributary Permit before floating. 

Need to Know

Launch dates are NOT transferable. Alternate trip leaders are NOT assigned. Reservations MUST be cancelled if the permit will not be used. The Forest Service strictly adheres to the Cancellation and No-Show policy described under the Fees & Cancellations section of this website.

Scheduled infrastructure maintenance will affect access to and from the river in 2023. Delays and closures should be expected. Refer to the Notifications Banner for details. Choose your launch date accordingly.

The permit holder must at least 18 years old by the launch date.

Only one application can be submitted for this river’s lottery. 

Only one reservation can be held at a time and one total permit issued per person during the lottery control season 

Reservations cannot be held by individuals being penalized for violating the cancellation policy. 

Reservations will be revoked if an individual submits duplicate applications or is being penalized for violating the cancellation policy. 

The permit holder will be the responsible person for the group and must accompany the group at all times while on the river.

Group size determines trip length during the Lottery Control Season, (June 20-September 7):

Outside the Lottery Control Season, the maximum group size is 30 and the maximum trip length is 10 days. 

The reservation holder will provide a complete passenger list.

This reservation is for a non-commercial permit unless the reservation holder is authorized as a commercial operator on the Middle Fork.

Each group will carry and use the following required equipment for safety and convenience (see the Required Equipment webpage for details):   

The safety of visitors and protection of this wonderful, natural resourc, are always our top priorities. As such, securing your permit also comes with agreement from you and your guests to the following:  

All watercraft will be clean, drained, and dry upon arrival at the launch site. Each boat will have an appropriate Idaho Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) sticker. 

All watercraft must be inspected by Forest Service staff prior to going into the river. 

Groups will pick up all garbage, including foil, plastic bottles, cans, cigarette butts, micro-trash, ashes, and human waste, and carry it out to a provided dump site and/or recycling station. 

All archeological artifacts and natural features will be left intact. 

All boaters must maintain group integrity with a maximum distance of 1/4 mile from person or boat with party. If party has a reserved camp, a boat can be sent ahead of group to set up camp.  

Groups will observe all local, state and Federal laws and regulations. 

A maximum of 2 kicker motors is allowed per float party. Motors cannot exceed 10 horsepower. 

Public nudity is prohibited. 

A signed hard-copy permit must be obtained from the Forest Service before launching.

Groups will carry and display their permit upon the request of any Forest Officer. 

The Salmon River runs adjacent to the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness. Mechanical transport and motorized equipment are not allowed in Wilderness Areas. This includes bicycles, carts, and boat motors. The use of Drones (Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS) is not allowed within Wilderness Areas. To learn more, see the USDA Forest Service’s Recreational Drone Tips , and visit Unmanned Aircraft Systems on the FAA’s site.

Fee Policy

Reservation or Lottery Application Fee: $6.00. This fee is non-refundable.

Special Recreation Fee: All persons floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon will pay $4.00 per person per day.

See Discount Pass Policies for information about Salmon Rivers Season Pass and Interagency Senior/Access Passes.

Cancellation Policy

The reservation is non-transferable. If you cannot go on your reserved launch date, you must cancel it.

If your launch date is in the control season (June 20 – Sep 7), failure to cancel by 11:59 PM Mountain Time 21 days prior to your launch date will trigger a Late Cancellation Penalty, which restricts you from holding a permit on this river for three years. To calculate the 21 days, start counting backwards, where the day before is one day prior and so on, e.g., if launch date is June 22, cancellation must occur by 11:59 PM of June 1.

Outside of control season, you must cancel at least three days prior to your launch.  

Exceptions: When water levels exceed 5.0 feet at Corn Creek, or if your control season launch is within 21 days of when you reserve it, the reservation can be cancelled three days prior to your launch date without a late penalty, but it must be cancelled to avoid a No-Show penalty.

The $6.00 reservation fee is non-refundable.

Contact Information

Mailing Address

1206 S. Challis St Salmon ID 83467

Phone Number

208-481-2625

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