Lower Salmon River

Bureau of Land Management
Upper Columbia-Salmon Clearwater Districts
Cottonwood Resource Area Office
Route 3, Box 181
Cottonwood, Idaho 83522-9498

Please note that a non-limiting permit is required for all boating use of the Lower Salmon River below Hammer Creek. These self-issue permits are available at the major launch sites at Hammer Creek and Graves Creek and at the BLM office in Cottonwood. These permits will also serve as your permit to enter the Snake River between the mouth of the Salmon and Heller Bar.

While carryout of human waste has been required since 1991, new environmental regulations require a change in the way it is done. Plastic bags for waste are no longer allowed.

The River
The Lower Salmon River gorge offers a variety of experiences for the recreational boater. From Hammer Creek to it s confluence with the Snake (53 miles). the Lower Salmon falls an average of 12 feet per mile. It is a pool and drop river, offering relaxing stretches of quietly moving current punctuated with the roar of whitewater rapids.

The canyon terrain is as varied as the river itself. The river flows through four distinct canyons - Green, Cougar, Snowhole, and Blue canyons. In these canyons the walls are precipitous and rocky, and the river is narrow and fast. Most of the rapids occur here. Between the canyons the river is broader and slower, and the terrain is more open with rolling grassy slopes and rock outcroppings. Evidence of human presence is more prevalent, including occasional roads and ranches.

The Lower Salmon from Hammer Creek to its confluence with the Snake has been recommended to Congress for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System as a Scenic River. Congress has yet to act on this recommendation, but has passed a law prohibiting dam construction and all forms of dredge and placer mining in the river corridor. The final 20 miles of a Lower Salmon trip are on the Snake River through the lower end of Hells Canyon. The Snake, within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area below the mouth of the Salmon, is a nationally designated Scenic River.

Launching and Takeout
The Hammer Creek Recreation Site is Located 2 miles north of Whitebird on the west side of the ever. Access is by U.S. Highway 95 and paved county road. the launch site has a double-wide concrete ramp, plenty of parking, toilet facilities, drinking water, and electric outlets for inflation devices. There is an 8-unit campground with a camping fee of $5.00 per night.

The Pine Bar Recreation Site is located 15 miles south of Cottonwood via paved and graveled county road. This site serves as a take-out for one or two day trips from Hammer Creek or as a lunch site for two, three, or four day tops. The site has a double wide boat ramp, camping and picnic facilities, drinking water, and toilet facilities.

The Grande Ronde (Heller Bar) takeout is on the Snake River 23 miles south of Asotin, Washington via paved and "raveled county road. It is owned by the State of Washington, but is operated and maintained by the BLM and the US Forest Service.

Please observe the following courtesies when using these sites: Clear the ramps as soon as possible. Don't set up or take down your equipment on a ramp if other space is available. Powerboaters share the launch/takeout sites with floaters and must use the ramps to reach the water.

No garbage pickup is provided at the Grande Ronde. It is the boater's responsibility to carry out all trash and garbage to an approved site.

Respect the rights of other boaters. A little mutual concern and courtesy go a long way.

Length of Trip
A trip from Hammer Creek to the Grande Ronde covers 73 river miles. Average trip time is 4 to 5 days. Day and overnight trips are possible from Hammer Creek to Pine Bar (12 miles). A trip from Pine Bar to the Grande Ronde covers 61 river miles.

Shuttle (Hammer Creek to Grande Ronde)
Shuttle is 125 miles one way. Shuttle service is available in White Bird. Information on this and other possible shuttles and maps can be obtained from our office.

July through October is most popular, with most use occurring between Fourth of July and Labor Day. Summer temperatures are hot with the mercury often reaching 100F. Both spring and fall can be cold and rainy. Water temperature is also cold at those times, so be prepared to avoid hypothermia. Spring run-off causes high and extremely dangerous flows during May and June. Average water flows vary from 2,800 cubic feet per second (CFS) in late summer, to over 70,000 CFS during run-off. The best and safest floating generally occurs after July I, or when the water level has dropped below 15,000 CFS. You can get daily flow information by calling the BLM office at (208) 962-3245.

Recommended Craft
Rafts 12 feet and over (rigged for whitewater), kayaks, inflatable kayaks, drift boats. and whitewater canoes are used. Open canoes are not recommended due to difficult portages and heavy whitewater.

The Bureau of Land Management does not specify types of craft or inspect equipment. That is your responsibility as a boater. Be sure to carry good serviceable life jackets suitable for whitewater. They only help you when you wear them.

Retrieval of overturned or wrecked boats, gear, etc. is the responsibility of the owner. However, we are on the river often and will assist you if possible. Our river patrols often find or are given lost gear. Check with us to see if we can help.

Large sandy beaches are plentiful for camping. Some congestion occasionally occurs in the Whitehouse Bar/Snowhole Canyon area due to lack of campsites. Try to arrange your trip to camp above or below Snowhole Canyon to avoid this problem. If you are in a small group, be courteous and leave the large campsites for large groups. If you use rocks to anchor your tent or boat, please do not leave them on the sand. They are hard on toes and they multiply rapidly, soon covering most of the sand.

Drinking Water
Potable water is available at Hammer Creek and Pine Bar launch sites. Water from the river or side streams should be treated before drinking.

Sanitation/Human Waste
Toilets are provided only at the Hammer Creek and Pine Bar launch sites. Please remember that these are for human waste, and are not garbage receptacles. Do not throw garbage and trash into them. Your help is appreciated in keeping them clean.

During your river trip, urinate on wet sand or at least 100 feet from camping areas. Solid human waste must be carried out -- no sanitary facilities are provided along the river. Plastic bags for waste cannot be used. Please see Human Waste brochure for details on transportation and disposal. If you do not have a carry-out system, please contact us.

Bathing and Dish washing
Biodegradable soap should be used, but it doesn't belong in the river. Bathe well away from the river using a bucket. Wash dishes away from camp where inadvertent spills won't attract flies. Strain the waste water into a hole dug at least 100 feet from the river and above the high water mark. Put the strained food scraps into your garbage bag, and cover the hole before you leave camp. Remember that scraps of food left on beaches act as a homing device for bees and wasps. Please be sure to clean up thoroughly to keep these pests under control and away from camp.

All trash should be compacted and packed out. Separate bags for recyclables make it easy to recycle at the end of the trip.

Keep trash bags handy during the day for empty beverage cans and incidental litter.

Never sink cans or bottles in the ever.

If you smoke, put the butts in your pocket. They don't belong on the ground or in the river.

Before leaving camp, make a final check for small trash such as butts and pull-tabs.

Remember all trash must be carried out with you. No trash, including food scraps, should be burned. No facilities for garbage pick-up are provided at the takeout sites.

Private Land
Approximately 15% of the land on the Lower Salmon is privately owned. Please respect all landowners rights and property. Treat all land in the river canyon as if it were your own - most of it is!

Cultural Resources
The Lower Salmon is rich in both historic and prehistoric culture. Native American Indians, Chinese miners, and early homesteaders and ranchers have left evidence of their presence. Pictographs, pit houses, and stone tools, stone houses, opium tins, and mining tools, dilapidated buildings and remnants of abandoned homesteads are found throughout the canyon. These sites are fragile and irreplaceable. Explore the canyon and enjoy your discoveries, but leave them intact so others may discover them also. All artifacts and cultural sites are protected by law.

The three most common hazards in the river canyon are rattlesnakes, poison ivy, and cactus, all of which are abundant.

Hunting and Fishing
Fish in the Salmon River include cold water species such as steelhead trout, salmon, and rainbow trout and warm water species such as bass and catfish. White sturgeon are also found in the river.

Big game hunting for bear, deer, and elk is available in various parts of the canyon. Much of the hunting is by special permit. Salmon River Canyon provides fine Chukar hunting. All hunting and fishing requires an Idaho hunting or fishing license. Read the regulations carefully - they are strictly enforced.

Float Boats and Power Boats
Power boats, mostly jet boats, are an historic use on the Lower Salmon. Power boat use during the summer season is light, and most of the boats you encounter will be on the Snake River. During fall hunting and steelhead fishing season, power boat use increases greatly. To avoid conflicts, please observe the following rules of etiquette:

1. Although float boats have right-of-way, power boats need a deeper channel. Wherever possible, move to the side and give the center or deep channel to power boats.

2. Keep your boats in a tight group. Don't be spread across the width of the river so that the power boat has to run an obstacle course.

3. Have your boats go through a rapid in relatively close succession to avoid making powerboats wait for long periods of time at the bottom of the rapids.

4. If there are kayaks in your group, be sure to have "scouts" if the kayaks are playing in a rapids. A kayak is easily hidden in whitewater and is often not visible to a power boat. They need warning to be able to avoid an accident.

Commercial Use
Thirty six commercial outfitters are licensed and permitted to provide a variety of outfitting services for float trips on the Lower Salmon. Fifteen outfitters are licensed to provide power boat services. A list of outfitters can be obtained from this office upon request.

Commercial vs. Non-Commercial Use, or Modern Day Pirates
In addition to legitimate commercial and private non-commercial use, there is a third kind of river runner - the pirate or illegal commercial outfitter. A river trip is non-commercial if there is a bonafide sharing of expenses and no fee, charge, or other compensation is collected from individual participants in excess of accrual costs or expenses incurred. Nonprofit status of any group or organization under the Internal Revenue or postal laws or regulations does not in itself determine whether a trip or trips arranged by such a group or organization is non-commercial.

By contrast, a trip is commercial if anyone on the trip makes a profit, receives a reimbursement or salary, receives rental for use of equipment, or supports, in any part, other programs or activities from amounts received from a customer.

Why the concern? Operating under the guise of non-commercial boater, illegal outfitters are stealing carrying capacity from the private sector for their own profit. They compete unfairly with legitimate outfitters by avoiding use fees, license fees, insurance requirements, and the need to comply with standards of the industry. Their guides may or may not be qualified; their equipment may or may not be safe.

Summary of Regulations