After we finished our second raft trip through the Grand Canyon in 2014 (post) and a float through Hell’s Canyon in 2016 (post), we looked around for another long river to raft in the U.S. Others had spoken well of the Salmon River in Idaho, so we signed-on to an O.A.R.S. guided trip on the Middle Fork (post), followed immediately by one on the Main Salmon River (a “combo” trip). The Salmon is one of the largest rivers in the continental United States without a single dam on its mainstem. While both the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon run through the 2.5 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho, the Main continues west to skirt the south side of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. Both have been designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and U.S. Forest Service stations are evidence of man’s intrusion in this area.
Rafting: All the fun of wilderness backpacking without having to carry anything. It also allows us to visit remote areas that would be a considerable challenge to reach, much less traverse, on foot. We were hooked the moment we tried it! So after we finished our second raft trip through the Grand Canyon in 2014 (post) and a float through Hell’s Canyon in 2016 (post), we looked around for another long river to raft in the U.S. Our O.A.R.S. guides on the Colorado had spoken well of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, so we signed-on to an O.A.R.S. guided trip on the Middle Fork, followed immediately by one (post) on the Main Salmon River (a “combo” trip). The Middle Fork runs south to north for 104 miles through the 2.5 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho; the largest roadless area left in the lower 48 United States. The entire Middle Fork is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and is one of the last free-flowing tributaries of the Salmon River system. Only a few trails, landing strips, private ranches, and U.S. Forest Service stations are evidence of man’s intrusion in this area.
Our quest to visit all of Oregon’s federally designated wilderness areas eventually brought us to the Hells Canyon Wilderness, which encompasses a total of 217,497 acres: approximately 83,811 acres on the Idaho side of the Snake River and approximately 133,686 acres on the Oregon side. Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America: approximately 8,000 feet deep measured from He Devil Peak (in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains) to the Snake River (in comparison, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is “only” 6,000 feet deep). This wilderness is a subset of the much larger (652,488 acre) Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles the border of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho and is split into two distinct halves by the Wild & Scenic Snake River. Recreational activities in Hells Canyon include fishing, jet boat tours, hunting, hiking, camping and whitewater sports (like rafting!). Much of these activities rely on the Snake River, whose pre-dam erosive capabilities esentially created Hells Canyon. The river is home to numerous fish species, an abundance of class II-IV rapids (some of largest in the Pacific Northwest), diverse wildlife, and miles of trail systems.
Oregon’s Rogue River flows from its headwaters at Boundary Springs within Crater Lake National Park westward for 215 miles to where it enters the Pacific Ocean near Gold Beach, Oregon. One hundred twenty-four miles of the river have been designated as Wild and Scenic and hiking trails follow it for approximately 100 miles. The most well know and justifiably famous of these is the Rogue River Trail, a National Recreation Trail which runs for 40 miles from Grave Creek to Foster Bar. In 2015, we backpacked this trail over four days and three nights, with camps at Bunker Creek, West Mule Creek, and Brushy Bar Creek (post). This year, we did short dayhikes to Rainie Falls (post) and Whiskey Creek Cabin (post), having bypassed the cabin during our backpacking trip. After having walked the trail, we thought rafting the river would a complimentary (and less energetic) way to gain a different perspective on one of Southern Oregon’s most iconic features. We got our friends Wayne and Diane to join us and arranged for a 4-day raft camp/lodge package with Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness Adventures (based on our having used them previously to shuttle our car for the backpack and for a “family comes to visit” day of rafting on the recreational (Hog Creek to Grave Creek) section of the river). We were also enamoured of the beer-carrying capabilities of a raft versus our backs (since freeze dried beer has proven to be the ultimate oxymoron).