Rafting the Salmon River – Riggins, ID
Nestled along the Salmon River in the canyons of central Idaho is the town of Riggins. With a population of just over 400, it can be easy to miss unless you need a place to stop off for gas or grab a bite to eat. I’ve passed through this tiny town many, many times over the years and never once made it a stopping point or final destination. It’s best known as a hub for fishing, rafting and kayaking enthusiasts with people traveling from all over the country to take on the mighty Salmon River.
Lined with soft, white sand and canyon walls taller than those of the Grand Canyon, Kyle and I have often said we’d like to camp along the river but it was one of those trips we just never got around to. Until now.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this or not, but our good friend Dylan used to be a rafting guide in Riggins, he knows that river better than I know the street our house sits on. He recently purchased his own raft and was itching to take it out on it’s maiden voyage. He and Megan graciously extended an invite to go camping a little over a week ago and of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cross another item off our ever-growing Idaho bucket list.
We drove the 225 miles down 95, rocking out to Tenacious D, Jimmy Fallon and some of our other favorite road trip tunes, only stopping in Moscow to pick up some last-minute supplies from NRS. Driving through the Palouse, we passed farm after farm with bright yellow and green fields lining the highway, meeting with the baby blue sky at the horizon. Driving southbound through the state of Idaho is my favorite drive ever. The geography changes so drastically, from forested lakes, to the rolling hills of the Palouse and then into the canyon country leading to Hells Canyon and eventually into the high desert of Boise. I haven’t really ventured beyond that point – that’s another item on the bucket list.
Also known as the River of No Return, the Salmon River boasts some of the best fishing and rafting in the country. It is one of the longest rivers in the continental U.S. and doesn’t have a single dam on its mainstream. From my limited experience, the surrounding area is often dry and hot, explaining why the few small towns are centralized along the river.
We camped a little ways upstream of town, on a nice bank close to the Spring Bar launch. There, we met up with some of Megan and Dylan’s friends and set up camp for the weekend. The water was still very cold, I imagine it doesn’t really ever warm up. Thankfully, a friend of Dylan’s owns an outfitter in town and was nice enough to loan me a wetsuit. I think I would have been miserable if it weren’t for that and the dry top I borrowed from Dylan. I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am for everyone’s hospitality on this trip – as a total novice I was grossly unprepared and had no idea what to expect.
After some intermittent downpours on the first day, the skies cleared and we experienced nothing but good weather for the remainder of the trip. As we shoved off on Sunday for our 4-ish hour trip, Captain Dylan took the ‘helm’ of Old Yeller (as he lovingly calls his raft) and I could see his inner raft guide kick in.
“What is the number one injury while rafting?” he gave us his old safety speech. “Sunburn. Be sure to apply and reapply often.”
Early on we traveled over Ruby Rapids, a good way to start off the trip. Dylan expertly selected his path and navigated through rapid after rapid, never once missing his mark. All along the way he called out names of rapids and bars where people were camping. My favorite rapid ended up being Time Zone. You enter the rapid in Mountain Time, cross under the bridge and get spit out an hour earlier into Pacific Time. Trippy, eh?
Megan and Dylan brought their dogs, Bear and Bea, to raft for the first time. Bea was chill, riding out the rapids like she’s done it a million times. Bear on the other hand, tried to jump ship multiple times and serenaded us with his squeaks for the full duration of our journey. But overall, both did great and were exhausted by the time we got back to camp.
That night we feasted on tri-tip, pasta salad and watermelon and enjoyed a campfire with some drinks and s’mores.
I was a little nervous about this trip because it was spontaneous and I felt so unprepared, but as it turns out, it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a camping trip. Kyle was our main documenter on this trip since I don’t have a waterproof case for my camera. Enjoy his video, I know I say this every time, but it’s his best one yet :)
I would like extend a HUGE thank you to Megan and Dylan for giving us such a wonderful experience and a super fun weekend. I only hope we’re able to repay you someday for your generous hearts and adventurous spirit that you share. We are so thankful to have you as neighbors and friends and look forward to many more adventures together!