Floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon

Updated May 6, 2022

Welcome to the remote and rugged mountains and rivers of central Idaho. Each year, approximately 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. 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 and ends at its confluence with the Main Salmon River.

Permits Required for 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 the confluence with the Main Salmon River. 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 “Middle Fork of the Salmon River (4 Rivers)” or call 877-444-6777. If a launch date is not available, all seven launches have been reserved.

Reservation holders can also see the latest information about their reservation by logging into their Recreation.gov account, looking at "My Reservations", then looking at "Reservation Details". This will display any notifications and the contents of the confirmation email at the bottom. This is also where you can modify or cancel a reservation.

For the 2022 float season, the Forest will return to in-person camp requests at the launch sites using a round-robin process. For more information, visit our Check-In, Boat Screening, River Camps, and Permitting Procedures page.  

Launch Site Status

  • Indian Creek: Office open on 4/29. Hours 8:00 am - 4:30 pm.
  • Boundary Creek: Office open on 5/27 if the road is open. Hours 7:30 am - 6:00 pm.
  • Newland Ranch: Open 5/9

Recent Trip Reports

As a wild river, boaters should always be prepared for encounters with a variety of potential hazards. After a fire, there is increased risk of falling trees, rolling rocks, and other hazards to watch out for. Conditions are continually changing due to fluctuating water levels, weather events such as high winds and storms, as well as earthquakes. Boaters should be prepared to portage. Information provided does not include all hazards that may exist. 

Listed by Date report received:

4/19/22 - "Lots of wood in Marsh Creek. Tree in left channel at First Bend. River-wide tree at Hells Half Mile. River-wide tree below Sater Cabin." [FS note: Sater Cabin is just below Little Creek Guard Station.] 

4/29/22 - "Trees below Indian Creek were no problem. No problems at all."

5/5/22 - The River Office has continued to get reports that Marsh Creek has more wood than in the past. Expect to portage.  

Need to Know

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

  • 1 - 10 People: Max trip length = 8 Days (7 nights)
  • 11 - 20 People: Max trip length = 7 Days (6 nights)
  • 21 - 24 People: Max trip length = 6 Days (5 nights)

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

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Cancellation Policy: If you are unable to use your permit, you must cancel 21 days before your launch date during the Lottery Control Season. Reservations are not transferable. For more information, refer to the Cancellations and No-Shows page.

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Invasive Species Stickers required. Idaho State Boating Law requires that all vessels display the Aquatic Invasive Species Permit Stickers 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 800-247-6332 for assistance and purchase options. Stickers must be obtained before arriving at the launch site. These items will not be available from the Forest Service, but they 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.

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Big Creek floaters are required to obtain a Tributary Permit, but they are not required to obtain a Middle Fork permit if they will go all the way out in one day. Big Creek is only open to floating June 1 through July 31. Contact the Payette NF for Big Creek and South Fork tributary permit information.

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The use of Drones (Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS) is not allowed within wilderness. Drones 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.

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Chinook Salmon

Wild Chinook Salmon spawn throughout the Middle Fork and its tributaries.

Click the link below to see where salmon redds (nests) were located last fall and avoid grounding boats or wading in these areas. The fry emerge in late spring, so please avoid damaging their nests.

More information about these amazing fish can be found on our Chinook information page.

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. Oaring 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.  

Airplane redd - 2007 

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.

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 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 – Includes possible layover camps, restrictions, mileage, and camp capacity.

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

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Please read and share these materials: the outline of the Wilderness Ethics Talk for the Middle Fork of the Salmon; 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.

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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

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

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Shuttle and Flight Services, Equipment Rentals, and other business information - search online or inquire with the local Chambers of Commerce:

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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

Salmon-Challis National Forest
1206 S. Challis Street
Salmon, ID 83467
(208) 756-5100
middlefork@fs.fed.us