Floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Updated April 26, 2021

Permits Required on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

A permit is required year-round to be on the waters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River; the permitted section begins at Dagger Falls and ends at its confluence with the Salmon. There is a limit of seven float boat parties (commercial and non-commercial) per day. For more information about permit allocations, read the Permits and Reservations section. All reservations, lottery applications, cancellations and payments are handled by Recreation.gov. To look for available dates, visit their website at www.recreation.gov and search for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (4 Rivers) or call 1-877-444-6777. If a launch date is not available, all seven launches have been reserved.


Boater Reports:

April 23 Marsh Creek: Group launched on Marsh Creek on April 16th with a water level of 2.11 feet. They encountered a significant number of downed trees as well as a snow bridge; most of these were within 4 miles of the confluence with Bear Valley Creek. They had lightly loaded cat boats, which they had to portage multiple times; one portage was especially challenging, as they had to go way out and around due to terrain. 

April 26 lower Middle Fork: There was a log on Sevy's Rock, making the left run of Redside impassible. It may move off the rock when water levels rise.

Please note that conditions are continually changing due to fluctuating water levels, weather events such as high winds and storms, as well as earthquakes. These reports are offered for informational purposes only and do not include all hazards that may exist.


Marsh Creek Fish Trap 2021 The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has installed their fish trap in Marsh Creek.  The trap is located approximately 1.5 miles downstream from the creek access at the bridge, just off Highway 21. This is a large, screw-style fish trap; there is an anchor cable across the creek and guy wires attached to stabilize it in the stream for best performance. 

For more information, see the news release


2021 Float Permit and Camp Assignment Process for the Middle Fork of the Salmon

As we work through an unpredictable and ever-changing situation, health and safety is our priority.  We are committed to continuing support of our communities and fulfilling our mission as we work together to minimize the impacts and spread of COVID-19. 

In 2020, the Salmon-Challis National Forest used a virtual process to issue permits for reserved float boat launches on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River; that will continue through the spring of 2021.

Wildflowers in the meadow, June 12, 2020 Prior to staffing the launch site(s), spring boaters will request both their camps and float permit via email 7-14 days in advance. Please create your reservation on Recreation.gov at least 7 days prior to the launch date, in order to account for proper processing and validation of the permit. Instructions are included in the reservation confirmation email that the trip leader receives.

Once the launch sites are staffed for the 2021 season, the Forest plans to use a "hybrid" approach to assign camps and issue float permits. Camps will be assigned by email a week prior to the launch date. Float permits will be printed and issued at the launch sites after mandatory gear and craft inspections are completed. Craft inspections by Forest employees are required before boats enter the Middle Fork. Boats that arrive after office hours (7:30-5:30) should be staged at the top of the ramp. 

Instructions regarding how to request your reserved float permit will be included in the confirmation email from Recreation.gov. Reservation holders can also see the latest information by logging into their Recreation.gov account, looking at My Reservations, then looking at the Reservation Details. This will display the information from the notifications at the top and the contents of the confirmation email at the bottom. This is also where you can modify or cancel a reservation. Reminder: the confirmation email is not a float permit; a hard-copy permit must be issued and signed by a Forest employee.

As the 2021 float season approaches, updates will be posted here and as notifications at the top of the river's Recreation.gov page. The permit issuing process, status of recreation sites, etc. may evolve as conditions change. 


To learn more about Floating the Middle Fork, see the topics below and to the right.

Group size affects trip length. During the Lottery Control Season (May 28-Sept. 3):

  • People (21-24) - Up to 6 Days (5 nights)

  • People (11-20) - Up to 7 Days (6 nights)

  • People (1-10) - Up to 8 Days (7 nights)

Outside the Control Season (before May 28 and after Sept. 3), the max group size is 24, and max trip length is 8 days.  

Read and share these materials; the outline of the Wilderness Ethics Talk for the Middle Fork of the Salmon, along with prevention information regarding invasive species, and how to ensure craft are clean, drained and dry to help stop aquatic hitchhikers and other invasive species from reaching these pristine waters. Last year, the weed wash station near Salmon was open six days a week and was free. Other topics are available below and to the right.

Cancellation Policy: If you are unable to use your permit, you must cancel 21 days before your launch date. Reservations are not transferable.


Spring boaters: Avoid last year's Chinook Salmon redd locations until the fry emerge.

Please use these maps to identify redd locations along the Middle Fork to prevent damage to the nests.

Marsh Creek chinook - 2010 Chinook Salmon spawn throughout the river and its tributaries in the fall. Information can be found on our Chinook information page. Boaters should avoid grounding boats or wading in areas where redds have been identified. Avoid floating the tributaries when water levels are low, as it is extremely difficult to avoid dragging through or stepping on redds. Marsh Creek usually has a significant number of redds, and Big Creek is only open to floating during the months of June and July.

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.  


Big Creek boaters must obtain a tributary permit before floating; contact the Payette NF for tributary permit information.


Maps and season passes must be purchased ahead of time; these items are not be available at the launches. Use these links for ordering information; allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.

State of Idaho Aquatic Invasive Species Permit Stickers must be obtained before arriving at the launch site; these items will not be available from the Forest Service, but are usually available at Idaho State Parks offices. When ordering online, the non-motorized permits are $7 each and are labeled "PS3-PAISS Non-Motorized" permits.


The use of Drones (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) is not allowed within wilderness. Drones (UAS) are considered to be aircraft, and are both “motorized equipment” and “mechanical transport”. As such, these aircraft cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from congressionally designated wilderness areas. To learn more, see the USDA Forest Service’s Recreational Drone Tips and visit Unmanned Aircraft Systems on the FAA’s site.


Welcome to the remote and rugged mountains and rivers of central Idaho. Each year, approx. 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. 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 begins at the confluence of Marsh and Bear Valley creeks to its confluence with the main Salmon River, along with a half-mile wide corridor on each side of the river from its center.


 Boater Information Topics for the Middle Fork Salmon

Must-Watch Video for all participants

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

Trip Requirements                     

Required Equipment Details & Tips   

Boundary Creek Ramp Etiquette             

River Camp List

Description of Launch Sites                   

* River & Wilderness Ethics

* Equipment Restrictions

Recreation Fee Guidelines                      

River Safety & Gear

Cancellations and No-Shows      

Marsh Creek         

General Information

Rapids and River Levels                        

Storms, Debris  & Fire Effects

Invasive Species & the Middle Fork    

Chinook in the Middle Fork                 

* Preventing Illness Before It Starts

* Emergency Contact Information and Incident Reporting Form

* Sharing the River with Chinook Salmon – Avoiding Impacts While Floating

Middle Fork Salmon River Use


All trip participants must watch the following video.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, home of the Shoshone-Bannock Tuka-Deka produced in 2016 by Charity Parks and featuring Diana Yupe.


Invasive Species 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 Idaho's Invasive Species web page for vendor locations, to purchase your sticker(s) online, to locate inspection stations, and for additional information. You can also call 1-800-247-6332 for assistance and purchase options.

Shuttle and Flight Services, Equipment Rentals, and other business information - search online or inquire with 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