salmon river mountains

Salmon River (Idaho)

The Salmon River is located in Idaho in the northwestern United States. The Salmon is also known as The River of No Return. It flows for through central Idaho, draining and dropping more than between its headwaters above the Sawtooth Valley and its confluence with the Snake River. Its discharge is per second. It is the second largest tributary of the Snake River behind the Clearwater River. Cities located along the Salmon River include Stanley, Clayton, Challis, Salmon, Riggins, and White Bird.


The headwaters of the Salmon River are in the mountains of central and eastern Idaho (Lemhi Range, Sawtooth, Salmon River Mountains, Clearwater and Bitterroot Range). The main fork of the Salmon is joined by the Yankee Fork, East Fork, Pahsimeroi, Lemhi, North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork, and Little Salmon rivers before emptying into the Snake River on the Oregon-Idaho border, north of Hells Canyon, south of Washington and south of Lewiston.The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the premier recreational rafting and kayaking rivers in the world.

Ten miles downstream of its confluence with the Middle Fork, the Salmon River becomes the dividing line for the two time zones in Idaho: Mountain time to the south, Pacific time to the north.


The Salmon River area has been home to people for at least the last 11,000 years. Much of the area was inhabited by several tribes, including the Nez Perce. The river was a rich source of food for the indigenous people of the area, who relied on the abundant salmon species and other wildlife.

Corps of Discovery

In August 1805, just after crossing the continental divide, Lewis and Clark ventured down the Salmon River, but found it to be too rough to be navigable. Clark wrote:

"...I shall in justice to Capt. Lewis who was the first white man ever on this fork of the Columbia Call this Louis's river. ...The Westerly fork of the Columbia River [the present Salmon River] is double the size of the Easterley fork [the present Lemhi River] & below those forks the river is ...100 yards [100 m] wide, it is very rapid & Sholey water Clear but little timber."

The honor didn't last long; by 1810 maps of the area were already referring to "Louis' River" as the Salmon. Clark had thought that the Salmon River was the Snake River, thus he called it the "Westerly fork of the Columbia". The Snake River retained the variant name "Lewis River" or "Lewis Fork" longer than did the Salmon.


In the 1860s, placer deposits of gold were found along the river, and a gold rush began. Miners came to the area, causing clashes with the Nez Perce on their ancestral tribal lands. Many historic and present day mines (including dredging operations) can be seen while traveling along the river.


Two segments (the Middle Fork and a section of the main Salmon River) are protected as National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Today, the Salmon is a popular destination for whitewater kayaking, canoeing or rafting. The Middle Fork, more than long, travels through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area. The South Fork flows through Payette National Forest. The main fork raft trip run is slightly less than and ends south of White Bird, although the stretch of river is . Single and multiple day trips on the river are available and offer beautiful views of wildlife and scenery. The river canyon allows for magnificent views of the complex geology of the region. ((The middle fork Salmon River)) is known as one of the best catch and release fly fisheries in the nation.

Campgrounds along the river are available and offer stunning views of the river. Hiking and mountain biking are popular in the area.

Salmon River Canyon 1945

U. S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
of Oscar Risvold


The Salmon River historically produced 39 percent of all the steelhead (salmon) and 45 percent of all the spring and summer chinook salmon in the entire Columbia River Basin. The Salmon River basin contains most (up to 70 percent) of the remaining salmon and steelhead habitat in the Columbia River Basin. Despite the abundant salmon habitat in the river, these fish have been declining, in large part because of the effects of four federal reservoirs and dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.



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