Floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Updated August 23, 2016


Two more human-caused fires have been discovered in river camps recently. River patrol noticed a small fire scar at Grassy 2 on Aug. 15th; the next day, smoke started rising from that spot. When an outfitter arrived at Little Soldier on the 19th, a fire was burning in the cobbles and it was very hot. Both fires were extinguished before they could spread. Fire danger is very high, and all ashes must be packed out. Be careful of spillage (a fire blanket under your fire pan is recommended) and douse the area where your fire pan was used before leaving camp. This is the third human-caused fire in the river corridor; please be careful!

Chinook Salmon are spawning! The first redd was spotted about 1/4 mile above Cable Hole, on river right (map). It has been flagged, so when you see the red flagging tape, move as far away as safety allows from the side with the flagging until you see the green flagging. As other redds are identified, these will also be flagged and identified at the launch sites. When floating between the red and green flagging (200 feet), group up and float quietly and quickly through the flagged section. Do not approach the redds; if salmon are on it, they may be spooked away, wasting precious energy. If you see a redd that hasn’t been identified and marked with flagging, please notify Indian Creek, Little Creek, or the Middle Fork office with a date and location of the redd and whether fish were on it. Photo below of river patrol taking fisheries biologists down the river to search for redds.

Searching for redds, Aug. 11, 2016

Bears along the Middle Fork: A bounty of bears have been spotted along the river corridor recently, in addition to the one bear that was visiting boaters at Driftwood Camp earlier in August. A mama and two cubs were spotted in and around Wilson Creek a couple of times, and sightings of other bears were reported near Cove Creek, above Elk Bar, and across from Ship Island. The Driftwood bear was attracted by the traps boaters have been using to distract the yellowjackets and seems to really like these sweet treats. Remember to store all food items immediately so as not to attract bears, bees and other hungry critters to your camp. Please notify the Salmon Fish & Game office if a bear visits your camp.

Boat limit: Launches starting on dates within the spawning period (8/15-9/15) are only allowed a total of 12 craft per permit.

No water at the Boundary Creek Campground, the Launch Site, or at Dagger Falls Campground, due to problems with the spring. There is water at Indian Creek, but boaters and campers at Boundary will need to bring water for washing and for drinking/cooking. Both Boundary Creek and Indian Creek Guard Stations are open 7 days a week, 7 am to 5:30 pm. If  you are not launching from Boundary Creek or Indian Creek, the permit holder will need to contact the office AT LEAST 3 work days before the launch date to obtain their float permit before floating the river.

Boat Ramp: load lightly; lower slowly. The river patrol spent a few days at Boundary Creek in May replacing the damaged ramp boards with new ones. The new boards could create more friction too, so go slow and light. The checkers oiled the boards to prevent splintering, which makes the ramp slick, especially when wet; use caution.

Hazards should be expected at any time, especially with fluctuating river flows and weather; not all hazards are reported or listed. Always use caution and anticipate ever-changing conditions. Watch for the trees on the rock island below Joe Bump Camp, above Thimbleberry Camp. Also be careful when floating through the burned area around Hospital Bar; lots of roll-out was observed on river right.

When water levels are low, boaters should avoid floating the tributaries, including Marsh Creek, to avoid dragging through or stepping on redds. Section 9(a)(1) of the ESA prohibits taking of endangered species without a permit or exemption.  Any action that harasses, wounds, or kills an individual of a listed species or harms a species by altering habitat in a way that significantly impairs its essential behavioral patterns is a taking (50 CFR 222.102).   Civil penalties can be up to $25,000 per violation, and criminal penalties can include fines up to $50,000 and/or a year in prison per violation.  Oarring or dragging a watercraft of any sort over a redd can damage it and kill the eggs and could be subject to penalties under the ESA.

Marsh Creek boater reports

 Search for 2016 launch dates at www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777 to check availability. 

Middle Fork Salmon River August 2013 Welcome to the remote and rugged mountains and rivers of central Idaho. Each year, 10,000 people float the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Located in the heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Middle Fork 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 principles.   Upper Middle Fork June 2015 Depending on water flow levels, the Middle Fork provides a relatively moderate to fast-paced whitewater floating experience, requiring moderate to high skill levels. In 1968, the Middle Fork was one of the original eight rivers designated in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. It is classified as a Wild River and consists of a half-mile wide corridor running from its origin at the confluence of Marsh and Bear Valley creeks to its confluence with the main Salmon River.

Permits Required

A permit is required year-round to be on the waters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The permitted stretch begins at Dagger Falls and ends at its confluence with the Salmon. Only seven permits a day are allowed. Only one permit per person per year is allowed during the lottery control season (May 28-Sept 3). For more information about permit allocations, read the Permits and Reservations section.

Reserving a Permit for a Launch Date

The National Recreation Reservation Service is processing all river lottery applications, reservations, cancellations and payments. To look for available dates, visit their website at www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.

Lottery applications must be submitted online at www.recreation.gov and are accepted annually Dec. 1-Jan.31 (midnight Eastern time). For information about submitting an application, launch date calendars, demand and lottery statistics, visit the Four Rivers Lottery page first.

 Boater Information Topics for the Middle Fork Salmon

* Check In, Boat Screening, River Camps and Permitting Procedures

Trip Requirements                                  *   Chinook in the Middle Fork

Description of Launch Sites                   *   River & Wilderness Ethics

Required Equipment Details & Tips       *   Equipment Restrictions

Recreation Fee Guidelines                     *   River Safety & Gear

Cancellations and No-Shows                 *   General Information

Rapids and River Levels                        *  Storms, Debris  & Fire Effects

Invasive Species & the Middle Fork     *  Middle Fork Salmon River Use

New River Camps                                *  Preventing Illness Before It Starts

* Emergency Contact Information and Incident Reporting Form

             *  Boater Information (RiverTracks) - April 18, 2016 update

Sharing the River with Chinook Salmon – Avoiding Impacts While Floating

If you find a problem on the river pages, such as old information, broken links, or missing pages, please email us at middlefork@fs.fed.us. Suggestions for content are also welcome.

 Invasive Species Fund Stickers required

Idaho State Boating Law requires that all vessels display the Invasive Species Fund sticker to legally launch and operate on Idaho waters. Inflatable, non-motorized vessels less than 10 feet long are exempt. Go to www.invasivespecies.idaho.gov for more information; to purchase your sticker(s), visit https://idpr.idaho.gov/Renewal/Default.aspx or call 1-800-247-6332 for more purchase options. Vendors.

Maps and Season Passes

Maps and Season Passes need to be purchased ahead of time; these items are not sold at the launch sites. You can order maps online from the National Forest Store at http://nationalforeststore.com/ or use the order form links to the right.

Shuttle and Flight Services, Equipment Rentals, and other business information is available from the local Chambers of Commerce:

If you find a problem, such as old information, broken links, or missing pages, please email the url with a description of the issue to middlefork@fs.fed.us. Suggestions for content are also welcome.

Contact Information

Middle Fork Ranger District
311 N. US 93 Highway
Challis, ID  83226
(208) 879-4101 Fax: (208) 879-4198
Email: middlefork@fs.fed.us

Monday - Friday 8:00 - 4:30
Closed Weekends and Holidays