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The River of No Return

Idaho’s Salmon River offers an ideal outdoor summer vacation experience for visitors in search of both serenity and exhilaration.

Nicknamed “The River of No Return,” Idaho’s Salmon River is one of America’s most idyllic and exciting natural wonders. Here, deep inside the walls of one of the largest canyons in North America, flows a seemingly endless river that is nearly untouched by outside civilization. It offers visitors an unforgettable outdoor escape suited for both families and thrill-seekers.

The Salmon River winds through about one million hectares of Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, the largest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48—the continental states of the United States, excluding Alaska. Here, along America’s famed Rocky Mountains, the river flows uninterrupted through the second largest canyon in the entire continent. With mountainous gorge walls towering at over 5000 feet, the Salmon River Canyon is deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon. In total, the Salmon River stretches over 680 kilometers through Idaho, making it the longest free-flowing river in any single American state. 

Visitors from all over the world come to experience the rapids and waves of the Salmon River. It is renowned for a wide variety of water recreation activities, with rafting, inner tubing, canoeing and kayaking being the most popular options. Stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP’ing) is one of the popular new activities for adventure seekers, and can be best described as standing upright on a surfboard while navigating the waters with a large hand-held paddle. If you’re looking for something a little less physically demanding, the Salmon River also has many peaceful deepwater pools to splash in, as well as natural hot springs for relaxing. No matter what activity or level of excitement you crave, the river offers both serene floating waters and exhilarating Stage 5 rapids for travelers of all ages and skill levels.

Adding to the Salmon River’s idyllic outdoor experience are its immaculate riverside beaches, trails and camping areas. They are the perfect break areas away from the water and another way to explore the River of No Return Wilderness. The sprawling sand beaches surrounding the river offer some of the best camping sites in the United States. Local wildlife like elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats are found along the various hiking trails that stem from the riverbed.

Salmon River is usually accessed through organized travel groups, led by authorized river outfitter companies. There are over 20 such licensed outfitters who lead groups down the river. During the peak summer months from June to September, only a limited number of excursions are allowed each day. This guarantees the quality of the Salmon River experience, ensuring that the river’s waters and surrounding beach campgrounds do not become overcrowded. Permitted expeditions with an outfitter can last anywhere from one to eight days, depending on the group size, and usually come complete with all necessary camping supplies, water recreation equipment and food. The cost typically ranges from $300 to $400 (approximately Rs. 20,000 to 26,000) per day per person.

June and early July usually feature higher water levels on the Salmon River, making them more popular among visitors in search of challenging river conditions. In late July and August, the river’s water level normally drops and it becomes more tranquil, for families and elderly visitors.

Salmon River is a thrilling and fascinating complement to the surrounding Rocky Mountains that loom overhead. Its vast and untamed rapids give the river a quality that is truly distinctive amongst America’s natural wonders. With its surprising blend of peaceful scenery and outdoor exploration, the river will undoubtedly inspire you to test your limits for adventure, regardless of age or skill level.


Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.