Camping and Whitewater-Rafting Getaway on “The River of No Return”
In 1805, Lewis and Clark ventured down the Salmon River in dugout canoes carved from hollowed-out trees. They were enormous crafts— up to 40 feet in length and 3 feet and diameter—but they could barely navigate even calmer stretches of this river, not to mention the rapids. That's a testament to the power of the Salmon River, which regularly has Class III rapids, as well as a testament to how much boating technology has improved. Today, thankfully, it's easier and much more fun to attack this wild whitewater in a smaller craft. Yellow Jacket River Guides has an experienced team that directs rafting tours and camping trips on and around the mighty Salmon.
The company has three types of watercraft: large oar boats, paddleboats, and inflatable kayaks. “If you’re not comfortable in the water, you can ride in the oar boat where the guide steers," says owner Alison Steen. "If you’re ready to try something more intense, the inflatable kayaks are a lot of fun.”
Both trips begin with a chartered jet-boat ride upriver; the three-day Treasure Valley Weekend Getaway will go about 25 miles up, and the four-day Whitewater Escape ventures by jet boat about 80 miles from the launch point in Vinegar Creek. The four-day Whitewater Escape also concludes with a 25-mile jet boat ride through a final stretch of un-floatable water. The two excursions are virtually identical, with the exception of their lengths and a few different stopping points. Both trips will start downriver, and groups will break camp each night on white sand beaches along the waterway.
Typically 10–12 people make up each group, but groups can be as large as 24. Everyone can enjoy a late start to the day to let the morning chill pass over and to catch the season finale of a hilarious dream sequence. Soon after, you can spend a few hours paddling with plenty of downtime for swimming, hiking, and fishing.
"It’s not a cookie-cutter trip where everyone has to do the same thing," says Steen. "Only half the day is spent on the river, so there’s a lot of free time. Some people want to go on a strenuous hike, others want to sit and read, and some just want to take a nap. It’s very customizable.” The area is prime for bird watching; also keep an eye out for moose, big-horned sheep, and deer.
In addition to their mastery of Idaho’s first-aid and rescue training requirements, Yellow Jacket’s guides are well-versed in interesting facts about the land. Along the way, they’ll point out where to spot Sheepeater Indian pictographs and historical pioneer homesteads. They’ll also point the way to the all-natural hot spring.
At each day’s end, as campers finish up a hike or take a nap, guides will preside over the campfire to craft a gourmet meal made from savory meats and locally grown vegetables. The meal changes each night, but a highlight of the trip is Saturday’s luau on the beach, where groups will dig into a feast of polynesian pork tenderloin with a tropical salsa, stir-fried veggies over island rice, watermelon, and a dessert of pineapple upside-down cake.