"The Middle Fork of the Salmon is widely regarded as the ultimate wild and scenic river in America. This is the pristine stronghold of the surviving Snake River basin salmon, a major river almost entirely in wilderness, and a canyon 6,000 ft deep with rapids and hot springs, sublime campsites, cascading tributaries, and abundant and diverse wildlife. This is one of the longest national rivers designated from south to north."
- From 'The Wild and Scenic Rivers of North America' by Tim Palmer
The Middle Salmon begins small and fast. There are few major rapids (but watch out for Velvet Falls), yet the countless minor ones demand our attention. Gradually the canyon opens up. The river is now a real river, broad and sometimes shallow, sometimes constricted into narrow slots of rushing water, waves, and holes. We will be challenged by Marble Rapid, Grouse, and the Tappans. In the Middle days of our trip the water is slower but great fun, especially for those in duckies.
The last two days, you'll float on through the impressive Impassable Canyon, with almost vertical rock walls. You see the Middle Fork at its full strength here. The rapids are bigger and closer together. When we enter Impassable Canyon the river becomes so tight that, looking downstream, one sometimes doubts there will be room for the rafts. Here the rapids are larger, more exciting, and more frequent. Redside, Porcupine, Cliffside, and Weber come in quick succession, and are followed shortly by Rubber, the largest rapid on the river. Soon after Rubber the rapids House Rock, Hancock, Devil's Tooth, and others follow in quick succession. As the trip nears an end, you enter the Main Salmon and encounter Cramer, which is a relatively new rapid caused by a landslide in 2003. It provides the perfect end to the trip just above take-out at Cache Bar.
Wildlife in the Middle Fork canyon includes deer, elk, bear, cougar, coyote, fox, river otter, Bighorn Sheep, and mountain goat. Most wildlife will make an effort to stay out of view, but the Bighorn Sheep are amazingly unafraid of river travelers. Small herds of ewes and kids will often stand a few feet off the water and watch boats float by. Ram and bear sightings are becoming more common and eagles soar overhead.
When we begin the river is small and fast, the canyon tight and intimate, and we float past dense groves of Lodge pole Pine and Douglas Fir. Gradually the canyon grows and opens up as the Lodgepole Pine forest is replaced by grass, sagebrush, and the occasional but majestic Ponderosa Pine. This is the winter home of the elk, who have headed for the high country by the time we arrive. As we enter the famous Impassable Canyon, spectacular sheer rock walls replace the more gradual slopes, and the canyon narrows in dramatic beauty.
The Middle Fork is a superb fishing stream, and is one of the few native fisheries left in the United States. This means that it has never been stocked with hatchery fish. The abundant Dolly Varden, Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, and endangered Chinook Salmon are all native fish protected by a catch and release law. Fishermen must use barbless hooks and release their fish unharmed. The water is so clear that it is common to spot countless fish from boats.