The Upper Salt River runs through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, often referred to as Arizona’s other Grand Canyon. While it lacks the size of the Grand Canyon, it certainly measures up in terms of outstanding, rugged geology and sheer scenic beauty. It is one of a few rivers to flow through the saguaro cactus forests of the Sonoran Desert, a truly exotic landscape.
A Tonto National Forest Upper Salt River boater permit is required to float the Salt River Canyon Wilderness from March 1st to May 15th annually. The Upper Salt River is a solid Class III-IV river and requires whitewater boating skills. As the water level drops the river becomes more technically difficult, and at low water a few of the rapids approach Class V. Because it is a free flowing river, it also has the potential to go to flood stage and become very dangerous in just hours.
The weather varies greatly in the Sonoran Desert, and it is not uncommon to find yourself wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and later wearing your winter weather gear. It is a good idea to check the weather before you leave for your trip, as there is no cell phone service in the canyon. Water levels vary from year to year, so it is wise to check on the snow pack in Arizona’s White Mountains.
There are no trails in the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, but many of the side canyons are great hikes. The wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert can be magical in the spring, and just walking out into the desert from any of the camps can lead to fabulous scenic hiking.
There are several grocery stores in Globe, the nearest town to the Salt River Canyon Wilderness. There are four companies with permits to shuttle visitors to launch and take-out points along the Upper Salt. These include: Wilderness Aware Rafting (800) 231-2738, Mild to Wild Rafting (800) 567-6745, Salt River Rafting (800) 425-5253 and Canyon Rio Rafting (800) 637-4604. The shuttle takes approximately three hours round-trip if you do not stop in town.
If you have questions, you may call the River Manager, Don Sullivan, at (928) 402-6236.
Due to the ongoing closure of White Mountain Apache Tribal recreation sites, including the Upper Salt River put-in, the Tonto National Forest is suspending the lottery for 2021 permits for the Salt River Canyon Wilderness. Should the closure end before or during the permitted season of March 1st to May 15th, a first come first served permit process will be announced.
A Tonto National Forest Upper Salt River boater permit is required to float the Salt River Canyon Wilderness from March 1st to May 15th annually. You must launch on your permitted day. Typically boaters launch on river right from First Campground on Apache Road 1 just down from where the Highway 60 Bridge crosses the Upper Salt River. The take-out for the permitted wilderness section is just downstream of the Highway 288 Bridge on river left, 52.3 miles downstream from First Campground. Most people with boater permits plan a four or five day river trip, although the permit does not limit your length of stay. Group size is limited to 15 people.
Boater Permit and Lottery Information: A boater permit is required for private boaters floating through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, March 1 to May 15. A lottery is used to allocate launches for this period and applications are accepted on this website from December 1 to January 31. Only one lottery application is allowed, per person. There is a $20.00 lottery application fee. Following the lottery, successful applicants have until February 20 to pay the $125 boater permit fee to secure the permit.
Please read, understand, and agree to abide by the conditions and stipulations required for this boater permit, including:
Permit holder must be at least 18 years of age.
Permit holder need not be the trip leader, but must be present on the trip and in possession of the signed permit.
Trip must launch only on the launch date specified on the permit.
Group size is limited to no more than 15 people. Each person on the trip must carry a valid photo ID.
A fire pan with sides at least 3 inches high is required. All fires must be contained within a fire pan. Self-supporting kayak trips may substitute a fire blanket for a fire pan.
Wood collection is limited to dead and down material only.
A portable toilet system is required to collect all solid human waste for proper disposal at an appropriate waste facility. All solid human waste must be carried out of the river corridor.
Motorized equipment or boats are prohibited within the Salt River Canyon Wilderness.
Possession or transportation of native plants is prohibited.
Littering is strictly prohibited.
This is a non-commercial activity. Trip participants may not engage in commercial use or activity.
Risk and Responsibility: The Salt River Canyon Wilderness is a remote and potentially dangerous place. The river is a solid Class III-IV run and is not recommended for beginners. Every person intending to run the Upper Salt River is personally responsible for assessing river and weather conditions. It is the permit holder’s responsibility to ensure that the group has the proper skills and equipment to navigate the river safely. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends use of Type III or Type V Personal Flotation Device by each person, on all watercraft.
Tribal Permits: Permits issued by the White Mountain Apache Tribe are required for boaters on the portion of river flowing through the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, which includes the approximate 29-mile stretch of river downstream from First Campground and the Highway 60 Bridge put-in. Boating is strictly prohibited by the Tribe through those sections of the canyon upstream of Apache Falls (one-quarter mile above Highway 60 Bridge). For more information, call tribal officials at (928) 338-4385.
There is a $16.00 non-refundable lottery application fee, due at the time of application. Please note that $10.00 of this fee supports the Tonto National Forest Wilderness River Program and $6.00 is the reservation fee.
There is a $125.00 boater permit fee for successful lottery applicants.
There is a $125.00 boater permit fee, and a $6.00 non-refundable reservation fee, when a first-come, first-served boater permit is reserved.
You must cancel your boater permit 21 days or more prior to the launch date in order to receive a refund of the $125 boater permit fee. Cancelled launch dates will be released at a random time within 24 hours of submission; continue to check this website throughout the permitted season for cancelled reservations. There will be a $10.00 non-refundable reservation fee when a first-come, first-served boater permit is reserved.
To change the launch date, the permit holder must cancel their existing reservation and make a new reservation.
To transfer the permit to another person, contact the River Manager, Don Sullivan, at (928) 402-6236 or cell (928 595-1647).
7680 S. Six Shooter Canyon Road Globe AZ 85501