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Salmon-Challis National Forest
1206 So. Challis Street
Salmon, ID 83467

(208) 756-5100

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Recreational Activities

Middle Fork of the Salmon River

  • Recent Condition Reports

Middle Fork Ranger District
P.O. Box 750, Highway 93
Challis, ID 83226

208-879-4101 - Monday - Friday, closed on Federal Holidays fax: 208 879-4198

How to obtain cancellations or a pre or post season permit -- click here.

General Information Check-in Procedures photograph of white water rafting, Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Trip Requirements Campsite Information
Safety and Gear Advice Kayaker Responsibilities
Recreation Fees Map Order Form
Cancellation and Launch Availability Season Pass Order Form
Description of Launch Sites Useful Websites and Resources
Rapids and River Levels Fire Effects Storms and Debris Flows
Equipment Requirements Big Creek Tributary Permits Middle Fork Heritage Times Noxious Weeds
Motorized/Mechanized Equipment Wilderness Ethics Summary Zebra Mussels & Nuisance Species
Map to Boundary Creek Handle with Care: Kids & Dogs on the River Visiting Archaeological Sites
Road Construction near Riggins Map to Newland Ranch (SCAT)  

General Information

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. Part of that protection asks you, the user, to learn and practice Leave No Trace principles. Enclosed in the permit holder's confirmation packet is a Leave No Trace Skills & Ethics hang-tag card for Western River Corridor and separate insert specifying the Middle Fork requirements in instances where they vary from the card. On the reverse side of the insert is a required equipment checklist.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon is 98 miles of free-flowing river in the heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, originating 20 miles northwest of Stanley, Idaho, with the merging of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks. It traverses northeast through the remote and rugged mountains of central Idaho and was one of the original eight rivers in the nation designated as Wild and Scenic on October 2, 1968.

The river moves through a variety of climates and land types; from alpine forest to high mountain desert to sheer rock walled canyon; the third deepest in North America. Because of its remote location, man's presence in the area was somewhat limited, leaving it in the condition we see today. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and Forest Service stations are evidence of man's intrusion.

The Middle Fork is now an internationally recognized whitewater/wilderness float trip. Known for its scenic beauty and crystal clear whitewater, it is floated by more than 10,000 people each summer. It is a non-motorized floating experience, with many technical rapids. These class III and IV+ rapids offer boating excitement for both families and hard core adventure types. Hiking from the river campsites offers a taste of the wilderness experience and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of how past inhabitants lived.

The Sheepeaters
The Native Americans who occupied the Middle Fork drainage were known as The Sheepeaters. They gained their name from the bighorn sheep that were prevalent in the area which sustained their diet. White trappers, miners and settlers began coming into the area in the 1850's. No road access was ever built and all supplies came in by horseback. Floating the river began in the 20's with a few adventurous souls who wanted to see beyond the rock wall canyon at Big Creek, where the trail ends.

Historic cabins and mining operations along the river are a testimony to the hard life that faced anyone brave enough to live in such an isolated area. Many of the sites are intact and make an interesting visual history lesson for those inclined to stop.

Wildlife along the Middle Fork is abundant due to the designation and isolation of the Wilderness. Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bear, cougar and wolves are just a few of the animals to make the area their home. The Middle Fork drainage was one of the release sites for the wolf reintroduction program. And the fishery is one of the best catch-and-release fly fisheries in the nation. It is also one of the last free-flowing tributaries of the Salmon River system.

The Frank occupies part of an extensive geological formation known as the Idaho Batholith. This formation, mainly granite, has been severely eroded, exposing underlying rock formations laid down during the Precambrian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous periods. A map and guide book detailing the geology of the Middle Fork is available for sale.

Fire Effects

In 2007, fires burned a significant number of acres within the wilderness, including 40 miles of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River corridor. Wildfire is a natural ecological agent and as such is allowed to play its natural role within the Frank Church--River of No Return Wilderness. During your trip, you will encounter areas that burned as a result of these fires, which can create varied effects on the landscape. Caution should be observed while traveling in or near a recently burned area. Also be aware that new fires can occur throughout the float season. Check our website for fire information, restrictions and closures.

Watch out for:

  • Burned snags, trees, and limbs falling in or near the burn perimeter, especially in windy conditions
  • Rolling rocks or logs, especially near trails and river corridors
  • Debris in rivers, streams, and trail
  • Stump holes in and near the fire perimeter where roots and stumps have burned out undergroun
  • Increased risk of flash floodin
  • Campsite and tent placement near standing burned trees.

Storms and Debris Flows

There is an increased risk of debris flows from the areas that burned in 2007 if there is a high intensity storm in these areas before there is good vegetative recovery. Debris flows of sufficient magnitude can block the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, causing water to back up. These blockages can quickly let loose, causing flood surges with debris downstream from the blockage. A high intensity storm in 2006 caused the debris flow from Lake Creek that resulted in a temporary blockage of the river and a log jam. Be aware of sudden changes in the river level that would indicate such a blockage has occurred and take appropriate action, if necessary, to secure gear and provide for human safety.

During high intensity storms, do not stop or camp at the mouths of streams, or immediately across the river from the mouth of a stream. Most of the assigned river campsites are located on high river terraces and have a low risk of flooding from high intensity storms. However, even small draws can produce floods and debris flows from high intensity storms. Be aware of the flooding potential when selecting your campsites when high intensity storms are predicted. These high intensity storms typically occur during the period from late June through early August.  

Rapids and River Levels

The permit holder will receive a free copy of the Middle Fork river map at the launch site. Many of the rapids listed in the river map have been assigned a numerical rating, or range of ratings, based on the European Rapid Rating System. These ratings were determined by consulting highly experienced Middle Fork boaters; their opinion may not be the same as yours. Also, technical conditions will change continually with water levels and should not replace a thorough scouting and good judgment by the boating party. You can expect un-named and unlisted rapids during your white water adventure. Approaches to rapids are not signed.

Boating the Middle Fork is an experience full of adventure and thrills. A hazard to avoid is high water. Water levels above 5 feet (measured at Middle Fork Lodge) are considered hazardous; six feet and above is considered extremely hazardous.

When to fly in to launch is an individual decision. When the river reading at Middle Fork Lodge reaches 2.5 feet, the upper river is usually very rocky, low, and slow. Not only is the trip slow, it can be hard on equipment. At 2.0 feet or below it is extremely difficult to float the upper end and is it recommended that boaters fly into Indian Creek and launch from there or below.

Permit and Trip Requirements

All boaters floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon are required to obtain a trip permit before launching at any time of the year. Boaters floating a tributary and exiting onto the Middle Fork must have a reservation for the day they will enter the Middle Fork, and obtain a permit before launching. The only exception allows for Big Creek floaters who exit the Middle Fork the same day they enter the river corridor. However a tributary permit must be obtained from the Krassel Ranger District, 208-634-0600.

Seven launches per day are allowed on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Launch reservations for May 28 thru September 3 (the lottery control season) are assigned by the Four River Lottery System. Pre- and post-season launches may be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, by telephone only, beginning October 1 (or the first working day in October) each year.

The successful applicant (or reservation holder) becomes the permit holder, who must accompany their group at all times while on the river. Permits are not transferable.

Permit Holder must be 18 years old by the launch date.

Fee Payment. Permit holder is responsible for submitting payment of the entire group's Recreation Fees prior to launching. Fees must be submitted to the Middle Fork Ranger District at least three working days before the launch date. Please read the Recreation Fee Guidelines for more information and for details about our payment requirements and refund policy.

Conditions of the Permit. The permit holder will sign a permit affirming that they have read and understand the definition of a private float trip. The permit holder is then authorized to enter onto the Middle Fork of the Salmon Wild & Scenic River subject to the following conditions:

  • Permit holder signs the permit and becomes responsible for the group and must be present and accompany the group at all times while on the river.

  • Observe all local, State and Federal laws and regulations.

  • Camp in the assigned camps listed on the permit.

  • Carry and display permit upon request of any Forest Officer.

  • Carry a porta-potty with sufficient carrying capacity for the number of persons in your group (a person generates approx. 1 lb. of waste per day). If you have a pet, you must transport out all pet feces. A biodegradable plastic bag system will be allowed if it meets EPA Group II waste standards and its waste bags can be disposed of in landfills. A hard-shell waterproof container is required for the used waste bags.

  • Use a firepan or other container to contain all campfire ashes and charcoal. Ashes and charcoal are to be carried out. Build fires only in safe locations within a fire pan. Tend them with extreme care and completely extinguish prior to retiring for the night or leaving the area. Do not build fire rings.

  • Pick up all garbage including foil, plastic bottles, cans, cigarette butts, and pop tops, and carrying them out of the river area to a provided dump site and recycling station.

  • Do NOT use soap, not even biodegradable soap, in any stream, river, lake or hot springs.

  • Carry a mesh strainer fine enough to filter coffee grounds. This should be use to strain food particles and other materials from your dish- and gray-water.

  • Carry a bucket and a shovel for fire fighting.

  • During the Lottery Control Season, (May 28-September 3) group size determines trip length:

    Group Type
    Group Size
    Maximum Trip Length
    21 - 30
    6 days - 5 nights
    11 - 20
    7 days - 6 nights
    1 - 10
    8days - 7 nights


    21 - 24
    6days - 5 nights
    11 - 20
    7 days - 6 nights
    1 - 10
    8 days - 7 nights

  • Outside the Lottery Control Season the maximum group size is 24 and the maximum trip length is 8 days.

  • Public nudity is prohibited.

  • The Antiquities Act prohibits the casual collection of artifacts. For this reason, we ask that you protect and leave all archeological artifacts and natural features intact. Take only pictures and memories; leave only footprints.

Passenger List A formal, complete passenger list will be required on the day of the launch. At that time each person will be required to sign a document certifying that their trip is a private trip. A river trip is not commercial if: (1) There is a bona fide sharing of actual expenses, including transportation to and from the site; (2) The trip does not include any costs for payment of salaries or expenses of any person to help with the trip or logistics of the trip; (3) Costs shared by trip members include the costs of damaged or lost equipment, renting or buying minor equipment or the acquisition of new equipment to the advantage of an individual or an organization. Persons involved in unauthorized commercial operations are subject to fine and/or imprisonment.

Safety and Gear

Floating the Middle Fork is an experience full of adventure and thrills. Our intent is to promote boating safety by reviewing the following equipment and floater skill needs. Most Middle Fork floaters complete their trips safely and with few problems, even with water levels that fluctuate dramatically. Those who do have problems and are forced to walk or fly out are usually parties that are ill-prepared, including use of sub-standard boats, poor equipment or poor judgment, or parties that attempt to run whitewater beyond the skills, knowledge or capabilities of the boatman.

There are inherent risks associated with backcountry and river recreation. The Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers are not suitable for the inexperienced boater. Accidents can happen in seconds, but emergency assistance can take many hours, even days. Self-rescue and survival skills, equipment and preparation are important.

Many natural hazards exist and conditions can change at any time, such as high and low water, named and un-named rapids, sudden weather changes, blocked river channels, falling rocks and trees, fire, wildlife, plants, insects, avalanches, land slides, blowouts, cliffs, large boulders, jagged rocks, water currents and temperature, ledge hydraulics, holes, eddies, whirlpools, strainer logs, exposed or submerged undercut rocks, boulder sieves, standing waves, etc.

Floaters should be prepared to portage around unexpected obstacles. There is no requirement for the Forest Service to remove obstacles from the rivers. All visitors to the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness should be prepared to deal with the effects of natural events. You are about to experience a functioning, dynamic ecosystem that will evolve and change as nature molds and sculpts its landscape.

Considering these and other factors, it is the responsibility of the boating party to exercise good judgment involving decisions to launch, and decisions regarding daily activities once on the river.

For these reasons, we ask that you predetermine your capability to float the river when planning your trip. A competent, experienced boatman should be present in each boat. Competent is defined as meaning "having run a boat equal in size, type and handling characteristics as the one taken on this trip." Experience is defined as "having run 50 miles of a classified river of similar character and hazardous conditions as are found on the Middle Fork." We strongly recommend that each boatman be familiar with water hydraulics and white water river running. No one should attempt to run the river in a canoe or kayak unless they have achieved expertise with this type of equipment.

A float boat is a floatation craft designed primarily for carrying a person or persons using water currents and includes the use of oars, paddles, sweeps, or hands to maneuver the vessel. Includes canoes, rafts, catarafts, dories, sweep boats, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, sport yaks, and inner tubes; however, this does not include life jackets or other personal flotation devices. Boats used should be of rip-stop fabric or equal, in good repair with a minimum of two compartments. Oars, sweeps or other steering mechanisms should be affixed to the boat by a device designed to provide leverage, steering capabilities and loose-free use. (Exceptions are kayaks and canoes.) Paddle trips are permitted, but are not recommended except for persons with considerable whitewater experience with paddleboats. One extra oar or blade should be with each boat. All paddles and oars should be in good condition, free from weather checking, knotholes or other defects.

A first-aid kit designed for wilderness survival should accompany each party.

The State of Idaho requires that all recreational vessels must have at least one Type I, II or III personal flotation device (PFD) that is U.S. Coast Guard approved and is of the proper size for each person on board. Type V PFDs are designed and approved for restricted activities and are only acceptable for the sport for which they are designed and so labeled. Children 14 years of age and younger on board vessels 19 feet or less must wear a PFD. The Forest Service recommends that PFDs be inspected for strenth and condition and that PFDs be worn at all times on the river.

Boats should not be overloaded. All equipment should be tied off from the floor of the boat. The boatman should have ample room to maneuver the boat from a stable position. Water level should also be a consideration when loading. Gear may need to be flown in to one of the airstrips when water levels drop. All personal items should be placed in waterproof bags and secured to the boat.

Your camp gear should be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of the river travel and light enough to avoid overloading your boat. Patching equipment for major repairs should be present in each boat.

We recommend that your food supply contain as many non-perishable items as possible. It is not uncommon for temperatures to reach 90 degrees or more in the canyon. All fresh food should be packed on ice in a well-insulated cooler.

Before making a final decision on the items you plan to take, we recommend that you pack all gear in your inflated boat. This may influence you to leave some gear at home or to acquire a larger boat.

A float trip is strenuous activity. All individuals should be physically fit to withstand the rigors of river travel. This precaution will make your trip less hazardous and more enjoyable.

A hazard to avoid is high water. We recommend that trips not be planned to occur when the river is in this stage. The high water stage usually extends into June. We consider water levels above 5 feet (measured at Middle Fork Lodge) as becoming hazardous. Six feet and above is considered extremely hazardous.

"Rig to Flip; Dress to Swim." Dress appropriately for bad weather or sudden immersion in the river. Proper insulation is essential. When water temperature is less than 50 degreesF., a wetsuit or drysuit with booties is essential for protection.

Overboard: If you become separated from your boat, keep your feet in front of you with your knees relaxed and let your life jacket keep your head above water. An exception to floating feet first - if there is a log strainer (tree) across the river. In this situation, you should go head first to get through the strainer. If in a rapid, let the river carry you until you reach calmer water where you can work your way to shore. Do not waste energy fighting the current.

On the shore: Be alert for rattlesnakes, falling rocks or trees, poison ivy, ticks, wasps, bees and yellowjackets, black bears, and other various flora and fauna.

The quality of the water within the Middle Fork drainage is typically good. However, we recommend treating the water you drink because it is always subject to contamination. The recommended method of treatment is to filter or boil all water prior to consumption.

Recreation Fee Guidelines

All persons floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River must pay a Recreation Fee in the amount of $4.00 per person per day (or any part of a day) or be a valid Middle Fork/Main Salmon Rivers Season Pass holder. A fee reduction of 50% is available to Senior or Access Pass holders (formerly Golden Age or Golden Access Passports). Season pass holders and persons using a Senior or Access Pass for a fee discount must present their pass, along with their photo ID, to the launch personnel issuing the permit.

Permit holders will be responsible for payment of fees for their entire group. Payment should be made to the Middle Fork Ranger District, PO Box 750, Challis ID 83226-0750 at least three (3) working days prior to the actual launch date. Payment can be made with a personal check, money order, or credit card; however, please read the refund policy carefully before submitting payment. The permit holder must acknowledge any pass holders (Season, Senior or Access) at the time of payment for the group. Refunds cannot be made if the permit holder overpays for pass holders.

CREDIT CARDS ONLY: The launch sites are not allowed to accept cash, check or money order payments. If you have a last-minute addition to your group, you may pay for those at the launch sites using a credit card, although we encourage you to make payment at the Middle Fork office whenever possible. Map and pass sales are also limited to credit card payments only at the launch sites: note they have limited supplies of these items, so please order from the office before your trip whenever possible. The only exception is the campgroud fee; use the envelopes provided at the campsite.

REFUND POLICY: Refunds will not be made for individual trip members who can't go; they will only be made when the ENTIRE trip cancels. If you need to cancel your launch reservation after you have paid your fees, we will refund your payment less a $100.00 administrative fee, depending on type of payment. If payment was made using a credit card, all of your money will be credited back to your card; however, any other form of payment (check, money order or cash) will have an administrative fee of $100.00 deducted from your payment. If prepaid amount is less than $100, no refund will be made. Refunds will be paid to the permit holder only. The refund request must be made in writing and include the permit holder's name, address, telephone number, Social Security Number, launch date, amount paid, date of payment and form of payment (check or credit card).

Season Passes are available for purchase from the Middle Fork and North Fork offices for $40.00. This pass entitles the holder only (not other members of their party) to float the Middle Fork and/or Main Salmon Rivers without further payment of Recreation Fees within one year from the date of purchase. Passes purchased after total payment is made for a trip cannot be utilized for that particular trip. Season pass holders must present their pass, along with their photo ID, to the launch personnel issuing the permit. order form

Senior and Access passes (formerly Golden Age and Golden Access passports) entitle the holder to purchase a season pass at a 50% discount. Both the Senior and Access passes must be obtained in person, and are available at most Forest Service offices.Senior Passes are available only to citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are 62 years old or older. You must show proof of age, plus there is a one-time $10 processing charge. The Access Pass is available only to citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. who have been medically determined to be blind or permanently disabled. You may obtain this passport by showing proof of medically determined permanent disability or eligibility for receiving benefits under federal law.

If you have questions, please call BEFORE submitting payment.
Contact the Middle Fork Ranger District, 208-879-4101

NOTICE: In 2009, the launch sites will not be accepting any payments (except campground fees). All Recreation Fees will need to be paid to the office, and Maps and Season Passes must be obtained before reaching the launch sites, except for the one free river map that will be given to the permit holder.

Cancellations and Launch Availability

Please note that the reservation is not transferable (exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis for medical or special circumstances; call if you have questions about your situation).

If you cannot make the trip, you must always provide a WRITTEN cancellation to this office; no exceptions. Written cancellations should be sent as soon as possible, but have to be received no later than 21 days prior to your date for launch reservations of May 28 thru September 3. Cancellations for launches outside this period must be received no later than 15 days prior to your reservation date.

There will be no exceptions to the 21- or 15-day written cancellation requirements during normal water flows (between 2.0 and 5.0 feet). When water levels exceed 5.0 feet or fall below 2.0 feet, or if the road to Boundary Creek is not open, the time requirements may be waived, but a written cancellation must always be submitted.

ALL CANCELLATIONS MUST BE SUBMITTED IN WRITING! When submitting your written cancellation, please use the confirmation letter, write "Please Cancel" and plcae your signature below this notation. Then mail, fax or deliver to the Middle Fork Ranger District so it is received within the 21- or 15-day notification requirement. When faxing (208-879-4198), please call to confirm receipt.

Failure to provide timely written cancellation will trigger a no-show penalty. No-show status restricts you from holding a permit on this river for three years.

Cancelled launches will be allocated by telephone only on a first-come, first-served basis after the initial lottery in February and continuing throughout the year. Calls will be accepted from 7:45 - 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 - 4:30 p.m. Mountain time, Monday through Friday at 208-879-4101; press Option 2 to hear available dates. There is no waiting list; collect calls will not be accepted.

Description of Launch Sites

The two main launch sites for the Middle Fork are Boundary Creek and Indian Creek. The offices at these launch sites are usually open from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. seven days a week. The wilderness guards spend mornings at the launch areas, and take care of campgrounds or repairs in the afternoons. They are usually not far away or hard to find if you need help. They often leave a note on the office door about their whereabouts.

Most floaters arrive at the Boundary and Indian Creek launch areas the afternoon before their launch date. This allows the group to set up equipment and be ready to launch the next morning. In the spring and fall, Boundary Creek Guard Station may not be open, depending upon conditions. If it is not open when you launch, you need to stop at Indian Creek to obtain your permit. Until you get to Indian Creek, campgrounds will be first-come, first served.

If your launch date occurs when Indian Creek is not open or if you plan to launch from an airstrip or tributary below Indian Creek Guard Station, you will need to contact the Middle Fork Ranger District to obtain your permit. In these situations, please call 208-879-4101 to make arrangements to secure your permit at least a week before your launch.

Boundary Creek is accessed by dirt road from Idaho State Highway 21, and is often closed by snowdrifts until late May or early June. You can use a check or cash to pay for these fees using the fee envelopes provided at the campgrounds. The turn-off to Boundary Creek is located 23 miles west of Stanley or 107 miles east of Boise between mileposts 109 and 110. This road is commonly referred to as the Bear Valley Road; it is rough and narrow so please ensure that your vehicle and/or trailer are prepared for 25 miles (approx. 40 minutes) of single-lane dirt road. Indian Creek is a fly-in location only. Several flights are often required for large groups.

Information about vehicle shuttles and air service providers is available from the chambers of commerce in the surrounding communities.

Boundary Creek Campground Area consists of a trailhead for the Middle Fork Trail, which has horse facilities (unloading and stalls), and long-term parking. The campground at Boundary Creek has a $5.00 fee per night and contains 13 units. Dagger Falls campsite is also a $5.00 fee area located approximately 1.5 miles away and is also used by boaters who want to avoid over-crowding at Boundary Creek. Please consolidate your group into 1 or 2 campsites to make room for everyone. At both Boundary & Dagger Falls, water is usually available; garbage service is not. Pack out what you bring in! You should make arrangements with your shuttle driver to dispose of your garbage.

The Boundary Creek Launch site becomes operational soon after the access road is passable. The launch area is located directly below the campsite, within walking distance. The launch is a large drive- through area with room to rig on both sides of the traffic lane. Restrooms, a covered interpretation gazebo and a permit office are the only buildings in this area. The launch ramp is located next to the office; it is a wooden structure which drops down the side of the bank to the river. A handicap access path leads down to the river on the northwest side of the office.

The Boundary Creek launch site closes in late summer/early fall when water levels drop and the majority of the floaters begin launching from Indian Creek. The campgrounds remain open until cold temperatures threaten the water system. The boat ramp is accessible until snow closes the road. The bottom boards are removed when the water system is closed in the fall to prevent damage from the ice. They are replaced in the spring once the launch site opens.

The Indian Creek Launch site usually becomes operational in early May and typically stays open through October. The launch area consists of a boat ramp, a composting toilet, and an administrative workstation that includes an office, three private residences for employees, a barn, and several other administrative structures. The station is located on one side of the airstrip; the boat ramp, composting toilet and beach are on the opposite (river) side of the strip. Most groups fly in the night before their launch and set up camp on the beach. Please do not block the ramp or other boaters' access to the beach. This beach is very busy during the summer, so when you set up camp take only the amount of space necessary to provide space for other boaters. If you desire more privacy set up camp below the runway on a bar downstream from the ramp.

When the Indian Creek Airstrip is very busy, extreme caution is advised around the airstrip. Camping is prohibited within 75 feet of the sides of the airstrip and 500 feet from each end. Your flight service will drop your gear off at or near the ramp to facilitate your launch.

Unlike Boundary Creek, Indian Creek launch site is within the boundaries of the Frank Church--River of No Return Wilderness area, therefore certain rules apply at Indian Creek that do not apply at Boundary Creek. Battery- or generator-operated pumps to inflate your boats are prohibited. You must use either a hand or foot operated pump. When using the composting toilet remember -- do not dispose of any plastics, glass, metal, or sanitary napkins/tampons in the toilets. These do not compost and will plug the grinders.

Garbage service is not available at Indian Creek or Boundary Creek. Pack out what you pack in!

Other points along the river are: Marsh Creek, Thomas Creek Airstrip, Lower Loon Airstrip and Creek, Camas Creek, Bernard Airstrip and Big Creek. The airstrips are located at mile 35, 50 and 68 respectively and are primarily used for river access when water levels are low to very low. Camas, Loon and Big Creeks are tributaries to the Middle Fork and are usually only navigable during higher water/spring run off. Marsh Creek is sometimes used to access the Middle Fork before the road opens in the spring, since it can be accessed just off Highway 21. These creeks are ever changing and swift runs. They should only be used if you have small craft and excellent boating skills. They frequently have debris and log jams, and if the water is too high, you may not be able to get under the pack bridges. Remember, too, that your launch date is the first day that your boat(s) should hit any section of the Middle Fork (Dagger Falls to the confluence), and that a permit is required to be on the waters of the Middle Fork for any part of a day (except Big Creek Tributary Permits). Please contact the Middle Fork Ranger District to obtain your permit before launching from these airstrips or tributaries.

Big Creek Tributary Permits

Big Creek floaters must obtain a Tributary Permit from the Krassel Ranger District but they are no longer required to obtain a Middle Fork of the Salmon launch reservation and permit if they will go all the way out in one day (no overnight stays). Contact the Krassel District at 208-634-0600.

Check In and Permitting Procedures

For security reasons, the wilderness guards are only allowed to accept credit cards for maps, season passes, and recreation fees; cash and checks are no longer accepted at the launch sites. This is for the protection of our employees. The only exception is the campground fees ($5.00 a night per unit). Please use the envelopes provided at the campsites and deposit in the fee tubes. Please purchase your maps and passes ahead of time from the Middle Fork office whenever possible; the guards have limited supplies at the launch sites.

Beginning in 2009, the launch sites will not be accepting any payments. All Recreation Fees must be paid to the office prior to launch, and maps and season passes must be obtained before reaching the launch sites, except for the one free river map that will be given to the permit holder. Campsite fees deposited in the fee tubes will be the only exception allowed.

The launch date on your confirmation letter is the first day that your boat(s) should enter upon any section of the permitted waters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Dagger Falls to the confluence).

While many floaters arrive at the launch areas the afternoon before their launch date, we ask that you do not start rigging your boats until after 2:00 p.m. You can rig and drop your boats into the eddy; however, those groups who are launching that day have priority. Do not rig on the ramp and be sure to place your boats as far downstream in the eddy as possible. If you have more than four boats tie the other boats behind those four. Your group can check in with the guard at 3:30 p.m.; however, if all groups have not launched for that day, your party may have to wait to rig and check in. For check in, the permit holder does not have to be present initially; someone from the group can check in, however, they must know the name of the permit holder to do this.

The launch personnel must check required equipment before your permit will be issued. They will inspect your fire pan, ash container, mesh strainer, shovel, bucket and porta-potty either the afternoon before or the morning of your launch. Please be sure someone has checked your gear before you pack it in the boat, otherwise, you will be required to unload it for inspection.

Campsite requests are made at the time of check-in, and will be accepted beginning at 3:30 p.m. the day before the launch. The permit holder does not have to be present; anyone in the group can request campsites. However, they must have the permit holder's permission to do this. Please remember these are requests only; they are not first-come, first-served. As each group arrives, the checkers will take their requests; Forest Service launch personnel do not wait for all groups to be present before accepting camp requests. If several groups arrive at the same time to request camps, then a round robin may be used. Forest Service personnel are the final authority in the campsite request and assignment process; you can expect them to be fair to all parties, private and commercial.

When selecting camps, be aware that some camps have been burned. If you are assigned a camp that has been burned, use caution when selecting your tent and kitchen sites.

Camp Assignments: Launch personnel will have the final say in campsite assignments, using the following guidelines whenever possible. During the Lottery Control Season, (May 28-September 3) the campsite assignment process will follow strict adherence to campsite size and layovers will be extremely limited. A coin toss determines which group gets which camp when two groups request the same camp. Each group can challenge or be challenged once for a camp. Smaller groups are required to take smaller campsites (groups of 12 or less are considered a small group for campsite allocations). One hot springs may be requested per group, but these are not guaranteed. Only one night is allowed between Big Creek and the mouth of the river because of the limited number of sites in the canyon.

Only one group is assigned to each campsite, unless the groups agree to share a site and the total size of both groups is 30 or less. Layovers may be approved on a case-by-case basis, and are only allowed at the less popular sites (see camp list). Trip length is determined by group size (see specifics under trip requirements). Check with launch site personnel occasionally to determine the status of your requested camps. The camp assignments will be finalized the morning of your launch and will be written on your permit; please review them carefully before launching. These camps are not exclusive to your group; be aware that other users -- backpackers, stock users, etc., may be using an assigned camp, so you will need to share your space, especially around hot springs.

Before receiving the trip permit, the permit holder must present their letter of confirmation and the photo identification listed on it, preferably the day before the launch when making campsite requests. Once the letter and identification have been verified, the permit holder must finalize their Recreation Fees, which are $4.00 per person per day. These fees should be prepaid to the Middle Fork Office, at least three working days before your launch; however, last-minute additions may be paid at the launch site, but only by credit card. If members of your group wish to buy a season pass, these should be purchased ahead of time from the Middle Fork office, but limited quantities will be available at the launch sites and may be purchased using a credit card. Be sure to account for these passes and any Senior or Access Pass discounts before sending in your recreation fee payment. A free "Middle Fork of the Salmon River map and guide" will be given to the permit holder.

The day of your launch, the trip leader will need to check in for updates on camp assignments. Once your group is rigged and ready to go, the entire group must gather near the permit office and receive a wilderness ethics talk. Everyone in the group must sign a passenger list attesting that they are participating in a private, non-commercial float trip. A summary of the talk is included in your packet; please take this with you in case you have questions or floaters that fly in after your group has received its talk. After the talk, the permit holder will receive boat tags (required for each floating craft, including inner tubes and boogie boards), their map and garbage bags, and must sign and receive their permit. Before launching, check your permit carefully; then check the launch area (and the campground if you spent the night) for any personal items that may have been left behind. Be sure your vehicle is parked at the transfer camps and the keys are where the shuttle service expects them to be. Finally, fill your water bottles and have a great trip!

How busy does it get?

Boundary Creek and Indian Creek both become very crowded during the season. Private floaters and outfitters generally launch in the same area at both sites. If you get to the launch area and it is clear, you can choose a spot and unload your gear off to the side. Be sure to allow room for vehicles to circle through the launch area. Keep your gear confined to a small area to avoid having it mixed in with someone else's stuff. Much of the gear looks the same, so be sure to mark yours clearly. Many people consider items found on a river trip as "river booty"; however, some items are turned in at the North Fork Ranger District as people leave the river corridor, or they notify the Middle Fork office when they return home. Clearly marking your gear (name, address, phone) increases your odds of having it returned.

Once you have unloaded your gear and blown up your boats, move the vehicles to the parking lot above the launch to avoid congestion in the boat ramp area, and rig your boats off to the side before setting them on the ramp. DO NOT RIG ON THE RAMP! If the launch area is already crowded, park above and walk down to assess the situation rather than driving into a mess. If you plan on taking your time and need to pack food and get organized, please pick a spot away from the ramp.

Customer service is a high priority for the Middle Fork Ranger District. Hopefully, your experience at the Middle Fork launch sites will get your trip off to a good start. The outfitters are also given these suggestions so everyone is equally informed. However, if you feel that someone has treated you unfairly, or you have problems, please let a guard know, or use the "How are we doing?" sheet provided in the permit holders packet.

Equipment Requirements

Fire Pan and Ash Containers

All boating parties on the Middle Fork Salmon River are REQUIRED to carry fire pans and a sealable metal or heavy-duty plastic container for ashes

Bottle or liquid gas stoves may be used but MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY A FIRE PAN. This way all floaters will be prepared to have a campfire in case it is needed. The Middle Fork is a high elevation river, with snow possible any month of the year, which is why everyone must carry a fire pan.

A fire pan can be any metal container with 3-inch sides or more, and large enough to prevent your fire and ashes from spilling onto the ground. Unmodified garbage can lids are unacceptable.

It is a good idea to use some type of grill with legs to set cooking utensils on. Barbecue grills make good cooking surfaces.

Driftwood is often plentiful; please gather only what you will use while in the camp and avoid creating large piles of driftwood. You are only allowed to use dead wood that is on the ground for your fires; do not strip branches from trees.
It is recommended that you carry a supply of charcoal for your fire pan, however, just in case the camps have been cleaned of wood or fire restrictions go into effect. During periods of extreme wildfire danger, open fires may be restricted to charcoal only in your fire pans, or complete closure to open fires.

For an ash container, you must have a metal or hard-plastic container with a sealable lid, such as an ammo-can, a five-gallon paint can or a heavy-duty plastic bucket. Plastic bags are not permitted.

Recommendations for using your fire pan:
1. Before the fire is built, elevate pan off the ground three to four inches by using small rocks; this will prevent the scorching of vegetation or leaving a hot spot in the sand for someone to step on.
2. Place a 1/2 inch layer of sand or dirt on the bottom of the pan. This prevents pan burnout and lengthens the life of your fire pan.
3. Use small wood for your morning fire. As you break camp, let your fire burn down as completely as possible.
4. Scoop ashes into ash container, pour and stir a small amount of water into ashes to dampen. This procedure will cool down any hot ashes that are left. Pouring water into fire pan causes the pan to warp.
5. When you rebuild your fire, place the dampened ashes into your fire pan in place of the sand or dirt. Repeating this procedure every day continually burns the old ashes to a fine powder.
6. Do not burn plastics or metal; these are likely to produce toxic fumes.

Human Waste Carry-out Requirements

All boating parties on the Middle Fork Salmon River are REQUIRED to carry a porta-potty with sufficient capacity to carry out all human and pet feces for their group.

One simple way of transporting solid waste is to use airtight ammo boxes. Commercial units are widely available and may be a good investment if you plan to run a lot of rivers. Compact dry toilet systems (waste alleviation and gelling) are not SCAT machine compatible and will only be acceptable for the Human Waste Carry-out Requirements on the Main and Middle Fork Salmon Rivers if they meet EPA Group II waste standards and their waste bags can be disposed of in landfills. These systems must be accompanied by a waterproof hard-shell container to hold the used waste bags.

Your equipment will generally include:

  • Commercial porta-potty or ammo cans (the big ones commonly 18"x8"x14"). Sand and paint the inside of your potty for ease in emptying and washing. Coat with a non-stick spray or cooking oil before use. The number of people and the length of the trip determine the number of cans or tanks. It usually takes one large ammo can to hold 70 to 80 person-days of waste, so for an 8-day, 10-person trip, you would only need one ammo can for waste and one for equipment.

  • Toilet seat and toilet paper.

  • Deodorant chemical that is compatible with the SCAT machine.

  • Hand-washing bucket, soap, and a garbage container (sack) for feminine hygiene items, wipes and other items that do NOT go into the prota-potty because they are not biodegradable and will plug the SCAT machine.

  • Straps to secure the toilet to the SCAT machine for cleaning (usually two 3-foot straps for ammo cans, longer ones for bucket and some commercial types).

The "Leave No Trace" hang-tag card (provided in the permit holder's packet) has a good overview of human waste and how to dispose of it on your trip. Please pay particular attention to the insert that spells out some of the differences between the card and the allowed practices for the Middle Fork, especially about not putting tampons, wipes or any other items in the potty. Also, urine should go in the river, or on the wet sand at the river's edge. If a "pee bucket" is used, dump that into the current. Helpful hint: On the morning of your take-out, add water to your porta-potty. This helps loosen materials and makes the unit easier to clean at the SCAT machine.

The SCAT machine is installed at Newland Ranch one mile downriver from the North Fork Ranger Station. This machine dumps and sanitizes 20mm ammo cans, 5-gallon buckets, and high tech toilets, operating somewhat like a giant dishwasher. Operation of the machine is free, but you will need to supply the straps. An RV dump station port is also available for porta-potties that are not compatible with the SCAT machine. Do not put anything in your potty that might clog the screen or the grinders! Sand, ashes, toilet or hand wipes, sticks, kitty litter and other foreign matter will plug the machine and create costly repairs and down time.

Please put all garbage in the dumpsters. An aluminum recycling station is available for your convenience. Your cooperation is appreciated.

Strainer, shovel and bucket

All boating parties on the Middle Fork Salmon River are REQUIRED to carry a mesh strainer capable of straining coffee grounds and food particles from liquids; and a shovel and bucket for camp sanitation and emergency fire fighting situations.

Use your strainer to filter out all food particles from your dishwater and cans. Use the buckets to catch the liquid wastes from your meals and your dishwater, and then toss the water over a broad area above the high water mark. Use any soap products well above the high water mark, even biodegradable soap. Liquids (leftover pop, coffee, etc.) should be diluted and put into the current; grease should be burned or packed out.


FISHING on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and its tributaries is catch-and-release, using only artificial flies and lures with one barbless hook. The use of live bait is prohibited. Please refer to the Idaho Fish and Game regulations for specifics. A valid Idaho fishing license is required, and are available at most sporting goods and some convenience stores statewide; they are not available at the launch sites. For more hunting and fishing information, contact the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, 1-800-635-7820.

Dogs are allowed on the Middle Fork, but need to be leashed at the guard stations, the launch and take-outs sites. You will also need to clean up any deposits your animal(s) make and keep them under control when coming into contact with others. Do not allow them to chase wildlife, including squirrels and chipmunks, or to dig holes. Also keep them out of the poison ivy so they don't collect the oils on their coats then transfer onto you.

Black bears should always be considered unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Expect the unexpected. A black bear will usually detect your presence and flee the area before you notice--unless the bear has been conditioned to people and their foods. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear. When hiking, make noise to announce your presence. Keep all foods, soaps and other smelly items away from tents and sleeping areas. Finally, maintain and leave clean camps. For more about camping with bears, check out this website: Also be alert for cougars and wolves.

Shuttle and equipment companies: The Middle Fork District does not maintain lists of businesses providing services or equipment. To obtain names, addresses and phone numbers for shuttle or flight services and/or equipment rental or suppliers, contact the Chamber of Commerce of the neighboring communities. The names and numbers of the local Chambers are: Challis 208-879-2771, Stanley 800-878-7950, and Salmon 208-756-2100. For more information about visiting Idaho, including a free state map, call 1-800-847-4843 or visit their website,

Kayaker Responsibility

Kayakers must carry all required equipment; however, due to space limitations, allowances are made for the size of this equipment for self-support trips.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with fire pans, ash containers and porta-potties.
Fire Pan/Ash Transport Requirements for Kayakers: All kayak groups and soloists must carry a fire pan and ash container.

A. Fire pan must be fire resistant, provide a minimum fire surface area of 144 square inches, and have sides at least 2 inches higher than the base of the pan. Fire pan may be rigid, folding, collapsible, or of blanket style construction. If guards are suspicious of the fire resistance of the material, a demonstration may be required.
Ideas For Fire Pans: Middle Fork kayakers have used hubcaps, large baking pans, removable bases from animal cages and homemade sheet metal pans in the past. A fireproof blanket supported by collapsible/folding wire frame is one lightweight solution.

B. Ash container must be metal or hard plastic, have a waterproof seal, and provide 300 cubic inches of storage space. Gallon paint cans or Tupperware-type containers work well. A one-gallon can and a half-gallon can, together, would exceed 300 cubic inches.

The fire-building kayaker, limited by space constraints, will need to pay special attention to reducing the volume of ash or charcoal that accumulates during a float trip. Build small fires using small pieces of fuel when a fire is deemed necessary. Tend the fire and stir frequently to assure complete burn down. Lastly, after the first fire, use the old ashes and charcoal under each new fire so that they will continue to burn down.

When using relatively small fire pans, there is increased likelihood that some of the fire may escape from the pan in the form of charcoal, partially burned wood, or ash. The small fire pan user must carefully and thoroughly clean the fire pan area of all evidence of his fire to satisfy the intent of the fire pan regulations.

Porta-Potty Requirements. For kayakers, a Porta-Potty can be a plastic pail with a snap on lid (such as an ice cream container). The lid must seal tightly in order to be approved. Dry Clorox or Pine-sol helps reduce odor. The container should have some type of vent to release methane gas build up. Biodegradable plastic bag systems will be allowed if they meet EPA Group II waste standards and can be disposed of in landfills.

Other equipment ideas: strainer = cheesecloth; bucket = cooking pot; shovel = paddle.

COMPLIANCE: The Forest Service may check for compliance in any river camp and may inspect fire pans, ash containers, porta-potties, or any required equipment at any time on the river.

Logs and Log Jams (2006 & 2007):


Logs on the Middle Fork 4/26/07


Middle Fork Boaters on Their Way Downstream

July 27, 2006 -- River floaters stranded by a logjam on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River since Monday July 24 were able to continue on their journey downstream today after the Forest Service opened the channel through Pistol Creek rapid. The first private boat through the rapid was a drift boat that went through Wednesday at 6 p.m. -more-


USDA Forest Service - Salmon-Challis National Forest
Last Modified: Friday, 04 April 2008 at 16:29:36 EDT

USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.