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 very few rivers to flow through the Saguaro Cactus forests of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, a truly exotic landscape.
The Salt River Canyon Wilderness was established by the Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-406) and contains 32,114 acres of very rugged country. Elevations range from 2,200 feet at the canyon's lower end to 4,200 feet on White Ledge Mountain. While the area may be visited at any time, because there are no trails in this wilderness, it is primarily accessed during the spring by whitewater rafts and kayaks.
The Upper Salt is a solid class III-IV river and requires whitewater boating skills. It is not a suitable river to initiate your whitewater boating experience unless in the company of experienced boaters. 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.
Detailed Upper Salt River Map - shows river mileage, rapid classifications, camping locations, restricted stopping areas, and river access points
A permit to boat through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness is required from March 1st to May 15th annually. The application period for the lottery for these permits is from December 1st through January 31st each year (Please note that for 2017 only the application period will be from January 3rd to January 31st). To apply, go to Recreation.Gov and search for Salt River Canyon Wilderness Permit or click here: Application.
The Forest accepts only one application per person. A permit holder must be at least 18 years of age and able to organize a non-commercial, multiple-day trip down this class III-IV Whitewater River.
Following the random drawing for permits, successful applicants have until February 20 to pay the $125 permit fee to secure the permit.
Cancellation: Boaters wishing to cancel their permit must do so 21 days or more prior to their launch date in order to receive a refund. Cancelled launch dates will be released at a random time within 24 hours of submission; continue to check the Recreation.Gov website throughout the permitted season for cancelled reservations. Boaters should try to anticipate high and low water levels before reserving a launch date.
Risk and Responsibility: The Salt River Canyon Wilderness is a very remote and potentially dangerous place. The river is a solid Class III-IV run, and is not recommended for novices and beginners. Every person intending to run the Salt River is personally responsible for assessing river and weather conditions, and their ability to cope with these conditions. All river running involves a significant degree of risk. 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.
Non-commericial Activity : The permit holder must ensure that trip participants do not engage in commercial use or activity. This is defined by 36 CFR 251.51: any use or activity (a) where an entry or participation fee is charged, or (b) where the primary purpose is the sale of a good or service, and in either case, regardless of whether the use or activity is intended to produce a profit. Normally, a trip is not considered commercial if participants share costs equally.
Tribal Permits : Recreation permits issued by the White Mountain Apache Tribe are required for whitewater boaters utilizing the portion of river flowing through the reservation. Tribal jurisdiction applies to the approximately 29-mile stretch of river downstream from First Campground and the Highway 60 Bridge put-in. Whitewater 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 on permit costs and regulations, call tribal officials at (928) 338- 4385. &nb sp;
Wilderness Restrictions : The permit holder must ensure that the group follows the following Wilderness Restrictions:
The permit Holder must sign the permit and have it in their possession on the trip.
The trip must launch only on the launch date specified on the permit.
Group size is limited to no more than fifteen people. Each person on the trip must carry a Valid Photo ID.
Groups must have a Fire Pan with sides at least 3 inches high their possession. Self-supporting kayak trips must have a Fire Blanket or Fire Pan in their possession. All fires must be contained within a Fire Pan or Fire Blanket.
Wood collection is limited to dead and down material only. Cutting or stripping limbs from trees is strictly prohibited.
All trips must possess a portable toilet system to collect all solid human waste for proper disposal at an appropriate waste facility. All solid human waste must be removed of the river corridor.
Motorized equipment or boats are prohibited within the Salt River Canyon Wilderness.
Possession or transportation of any part of native plants is prohibited.
Littering is strictly prohibited. Pack out all food remains, and trash (litter examples: orange peels, seed shells, cigarette butts, etc.).
Our Wilderness FAQs page has answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding Wilderness Areas.