Before you plan an activity on the Payette National Forest, please be sure to check whether you will need a permit, river pass or interagency pass.
Common activities that may require a permit or pass may include wood cutting, harvesting a Christmas tree, picking mushrooms or float boating on the Payette National Forest.
Information for the South Fork and Big Creek Float Permits
On this site you will be able to gather information on getting your free mandatory permit to float Big Creek and South Fork Salmon River (SFSR). Both of these rivers require a permit to float and both rivers are located on the Payette National Forest.
Float boating equipment: Any device by which any person(s) may be transported in or upon a body of water; such as, but not limited to rafts, boats, air mattresses, inner tubes, hard shell kayaks, inflatable kayaks, canoes, etc.
All boaters floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Big Creek is a tributary to this river), and the Main Salmon River (SFSR is a tributary to this river) need a permit. These permits are based on a lottery draw system and difficult to obtain. Boaters floating the SFSR and Big Creek both end up floating onto the Main Salmon or Middle Fork of the Salmon Rivers.
The updated 2003 Frank Church River of No Return Management Plan recognized the need to give boaters floating Big Creek and SFSR a way to exit their floats. A Special Order (Order #04-12-362) was enacted on March 31, 2006 requiring floaters of Big Creek and SFSR to be in possession of a permit. These permits allow boaters to exit from Big Creek onto the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and exit the South Fork Salmon River onto the Main Salmon River, the same day they enter. This order will be in effect during any open boating period.
So how do I get my permit?
Permits to float Big Creek and/or SFSR can be:
Obtained in person at the McCall Ranger District in McCall, Idaho;
You can print out the permit here, fill it in, sign it, and mail it to the McCall Ranger District, C/O Front Desk, 102 W. Lake St., McCall, ID 83638 or scan and email the signed form to email@example.com
The district will then mail you back your tag(s) with your permit number(s) that gets attached to your boat, allowing you to exit to either Cache Bar on the Main Salmon for those floating Big Creek; or Vinegar Creek or Carey Creek on the Main Salmon for those floating out of the SFSR.
Please allow approximately 7 days for your permit request to be processed. If you have ANY questions, feel free to call the McCall Ranger District at (208)634-0400.
The permit for the SFSR allows use of the Main Salmon River however you may NOT camp on the Main between the confluence of the South Fork and the Main to Vinegar Creek. Camping is allowed beyond Vinegar Creek if you do not choose to exit at Vinegar Creek or Carey Creek.
For Big Creek, the permit allows use of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River from the confluence of Big Creek to the take-out at Cache Bar on the Main Salmon but does NOT allow camping on this section of river.
River Float Boat Closure Periods:
Be aware there are closure periods on some sections of both of the above rivers for the periods listed below for the protection of threatened fish (Special Order 04-12-318). Float boating restrictions are in effect from April 1 through May 31, and August 1 – September 30 of each year. Permits will not be issued for Big Creek, or the upper section of the SFSR during the closure periods. The entire Special Order, along with a map that displays the sections of river that are closed, can be found here.
The following sections of river are closed during these periods:
Big Creek, from the Big Creek/Smith Trailhead at the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area boundary located within Township 21 North, Range 9 East, Section 13, downstream in an easterly direction approximately 32 miles to the confluence with the Middle Fork of the Salmon River located within Township 20 North, Range 14 East, Section 10, Boise Meridian, Valley County, Idaho, and within the administrative boundaries of the Frank Church of No Return Wilderness, Krassel Ranger District, Payette National Forest.
Secesh River (a tributary to the SFSR), from its confluence with Lake Creek within Township 22 North, Range 5 East, Section 7, downstream in southwesterly direction approximately 8 miles to Chinook Campground located with Township 22 North, Range 5 East, section 26, Boise Meridian, Idaho County, Idaho, and within the administrative boundaries of the McCall Ranger District, Payette National Forest.
South Fork Salmon River, from its confluence with Goat Creek near the boundary between the Payette and Boise National Forests located within Township 16 North, Range 6 East, Section 1, downstream in a northerly direction approximately 22 miles to the confluence with the East Fork of South Fork Salmon River located with Township 19 North, Range 6 East, Section 3, Boise Meridian, Valley County, Idaho, within the administrative boundaries of the Krassel Ranger District, Payette National Forest.