General Area Information about the Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Updated January 2014
The Middle Fork of the Salmon is 104 miles of free-flowing wild and scenic river in the heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, originating 20 miles northwest of Stanley, Idaho, with the merging of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks. It traverses northeast through the remote and rugged mountains of central Idaho and was one of the original eight rivers in the nation designated as Wild and Scenic on October 2, 1968.
The river moves through a variety of climates and land types; from alpine forest to high mountain desert to sheer rock walled canyon; the third deepest in North America. Because of its remote location, man's presence in the area was somewhat limited, leaving it in the condition we see today. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and Forest Service stations are evidence of man's intrusion.
The Middle Fork is now an internationally recognized whitewater/wilderness float trip. Known for its scenic beauty and crystal clear whitewater, it is floated by more than 10,000 people each summer. It is a non-motorized floating experience, with many technical rapids. These class III and IV rapids offer boating excitement for both families and hard core adventure types. Hiking from the river campsites offers a taste of the wilderness experience and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of how past inhabitants lived.
The Native Americans who occupied the Middle Fork drainage were known as The Sheepeaters. They gained their name from the bighorn sheep that were prevalent in the area which sustained their diet. White trappers, miners and settlers began coming into the area in the 1850's. No road access was ever built and all supplies came in by horseback. Floating the river began in the 20's with a few adventurous souls who wanted to see beyond the rock wall canyon at Big Creek, where the trail ends.
Historic cabins and mining operations along the river are a testimony to the hard life that faced anyone brave enough to live in such an isolated area. Many of the sites are intact and make an interesting visual history lesson for those inclined to stop.
Wildlife along the Middle Fork is abundant due to the designation and isolation of the Wilderness. Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bear, cougar and wolves are just a few of the animals to make the area their home. The Middle Fork drainage was one of the release sites for the wolf reintroduction program. And the fishery is one of the best catch-and-release fly fisheries in the nation. It is also one of the last free-flowing tributaries of the Salmon River system.
The Frank occupies part of an extensive geological formation known as the Idaho Batholith. This formation, mainly granite, has been severely eroded, exposing underlying rock formations laid down during the Precambrian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous periods.
There are two Forest Service map and guide books available for purchase; one listing the river rapids and camps, the other detailing the geology of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Visit the National Forest Store to purchase online.