Middle Fork of the Salmon River – Stanley, Idaho, U.S.A.

America’s Great River Odyssey

It’s the journey that counts,” wrote Montaigne, “not the arrival.” True enough for the adrenaline-pumping trip on the Salmon River’s churning 100-mile, 100-rapids Middle Fork, which runs through 20,000 square miles of untamed backcountry, the largest fed­erally protected territory in the lower forty-eight.

Along with rafting through the Grand Canyon, this is the quintessential American river adventure. Deep-rolling class IV to V rapids carry you through spectacular rocky gorges, past sandy beaches for overnight camping, and natural hot springs to soak paddle-weary bones. Sightings of bear, river otter, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, and large birds of prey are common, and rafters can also sneak in some superb fishing – Idaho’s storied crystal-clear waters are rich with rainbow, cutthroat, and Dolly Varden trout. But the headliner is the undammed and unspoiled Salmon River itself, Idaho’s longest and most scenic, called the River of No Return by Lewis and Clark because of its difficult passage.

Since Idaho has 3,100 white-water miles – more running water than any other state in the continental United States – several river out­fitters offer over-the-top rafting trips on the Middle Fork. Most also offer trips through Hells Canyon (the deepest river-carved chasm in North America, deeper than the Grand Canyon) on the Snake River, and on the Main Salmon River, which has some fun class III rapids.

Of the Middle Fork’s scores of outfitters, few are as experienced as Rocky Mountain River Tours, operated by Boise’s Dave and Sheila Mills since 1978. The outfit has an unimpeachable track record, employs the best guides, and at mealtimes lays out an unbelievable gourmet spread. Campfire dinners include favorite recipes from Sheila’s well-received The Outdoor Dutch Oven Cookbook, served under a canopy of brilliant stars.

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