Northwest of the rural mountain community of Salmon, just a stone’s throw from the Continental Divide, the mighty Salmon River veers west abruptly leaving civilization behind. The road to the river ends at the Corn Creek boat launch, the beginning of the 79-mile wilderness section of the Main Salmon, known as the “River of No Return”. The Salmon has a rich history of mining, homesteading, exploration and preservation. The first white men who considered running the Salmon were Lewis and Clark in 1805. After Clark’s reconnaissance mission, they decided that it would be impossible to navigate the river in canoes with horses following along the bank. Many years passed before anyone attempted to run the river.
In 1872 the Northern Pacific Railroad organized a survey of the Salmon River Canyon and the results found it to be “the most difficult instrumental survey ever made in the United States…In every reasonable sense an impracticable route.” In the 1880’s, boatmen started running wooden scows, flat bottomed boats that used long poles with blades in the bow and stern to steer, from Salmon to the mine at Shoup, the boatmen would dismantle and sell the boats for lumber and return to Salmon by road.
In 1896 the most famous scow captain on the Salmon, Harry Guleke, piloted his boat to Riggins about 152 miles proving the entire river could be navigated. Guleke dominated the river for 40 years, his typical trip would start in Salmon and end in Riggins or Lewiston just past where the Salmon meets the Snake River. At the trips end he would sell the boat for lumber and start the entire process over again, hence the “River of No Return.” As boatmen started running the river, settlers staked mining claims and homesteads along the banks of the Salmon. Historic features can still be found at Campbell’s Ferry, Jim Moore’s, Rhett Creek, Buckskin Bill’s, Polly Bemis and Shepp Ranch, with Jim Moore’s place and the Polly Bemis being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Amos Berg ran the first rubber raft down the River of No Return in 1939.
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was established in 1980 and named after Idaho’s late senator Frank Church, who was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. The wilderness encompasses over 2.3 million acres that includes the 79-mile wilderness section of the Salmon River. The Salmon was also designated “Wild and Scenic” in 1980.
Present day river runners can step back in time and explore the River of No Return and the surrounding wilderness. This is a true escape from all the pressure of daily life. Sit back and enjoy the simple pleasures, run rapids, natural hot springs, reconnect with friends and family, take a hike and view wildlife. The Salmon River offers exciting whitewater, sandy beaches and fun for everyone in your group.
To reach the put-in from the town of Salmon, take U.S. 93 north for 16 miles to North Fork. Turn left at the North Fork store. The put-in is 46 miles down the road at Corn Creek.The take-out is on the far side of the state, 24 miles upstream from Riggins (U.S. 95) at Vinegar Creek.Camping: There is camping near the put-in at two Forest Service campgrounds upriver from the confluence with the Middle Fork. Near the take-out, there is camping at numerous Forest Service campgrounds along the river between Vinegar Creek and Riggins.
A permit is required to run the Salmon between June 20 and Sept. 8. Cancellations are often available for short-notice trips. To obtain a permit, call or write the North Fork Ranger Station, Box 840, North Fork, ID 83466, (208) 865-2383.
Additional Information: A detailed river map is available from the Forest Service. For a mile-by-mile description of running the Salmon, see John Garren's Idaho River Tours. For a historical account of the river, see Johnny Carrey's and Cort Conley's River of No Return.