Main Salmon River – June-July 2016

June 28 – July 2, 2016

Wade snagged a permit for the Main Salmon River for late June.  The water level turned out to be about the same as our 2014 trip, which is a fun level.  It was 1.85’ the morning we launched, which is somewhere around 6500 cfs.  There were plenty of good waves and we had really good weather.

We had 26 people with 8 rafts and 1 two-man inflatable kayak.

Howard's new boat

Howard’s new boat


Layne enjoying some shade

Lee lining up for Black Creek

Lee scoping out Black Creek in the “Redd Green” boat

Our family arrived late at Corn Creek due to a flat tire.  We were lucky that the tire failed just outside of McCammon, Idaho, and not on the dirt road into Corn Creek.  We first looked for a nail in the tire, and then Jamie noticed air leaking from the backside of the tire.  We had a long slash on the inner sidewall.  After installing the spare, we drove to Pocatello and bought four new tires.  This set us back about three hours.

How many river rats does it take to change a tire?

How many river rats does it take to change a tire?

Luckily the group hadn’t eaten dinner before we arrived at Corn Creek.  Many of the others pitched in to help us rig our boats before dark.  The temperature had dropped to 97º by the time we rigged the boats – so it was a pretty hot week.


Wade did really well selecting campsites, winning two out of three coin tosses with other groups.

  • Lower Devil’s Teeth has a mixture of rocks and sand.  From the river, it doesn’t look all that great, but it really is a pretty decent campsite for a large group.
  • Magpie Creek is perhaps the nicest camp on the river.  It has a small sandy beach for the kids to play, and a large, flat upper beach that easily held our entire group.
Magpie Creek campsite

Magpie Creek campsite

Raft parking at Magpie Creek

Raft parking at Magpie Creek

  • Our third camp was our only non-reserved site.  We hoped to stop at Rhett Creek, but there were two people taking that large camp. We then tried for Boise Bar, but it was also taken.  We ended up at No Man’s Creek.  This would be a decent camp for a small group, but it was pretty cramped for our large group.  But it was getting very late, so we made it work.  There was a small stream at one end of the camp, which kept the kids entertained all evening.
Hannah taking an ice bath

Hannah soaking in the ‘cold tub’

  • Our final camp was Rabbit Creek, which has a huge sandy beach.  We were lucky to have this camp since he had to have a Life Flight helicopter land.
Rabbit Creek camp

Rabbit Creek camp

Water and sand rotorwash

Life Flight landing at Rabbit Creek


At this water level the rapids are pretty straight forward.  There are, however, a fair number with some nice roller waves which everyone enjoyed.  For more details on these rapids, refer to my 2014 trip report.

  • Ranier Rapid is the first rapid with decent sized waves.  It doesn’t look like much as you enter, but once you are in the wave train you can tell the waves are much larger than previous rapids.
  • Devil’s Teeth Rapid has several very large rocks.  The normal run is on the left side, but you need to be careful not to wash up on any of the rocks.  Our first camp was on river-left below the rapid.
  • Black Creek Rapid has a huge drop going down the tongue, and you really pick up speed.  The approach is extremely slow, and then you accelerate rapidly down the tongue.  The safest run is down the left tongue – the right side is choked with boulders.  There is a hole just off the right edge of the tongue, and two or three holes just after the tongue sticking out from the left bank.  At this flow, the run was straightforward – you just lined up in the tongue, and blew right through.  Most of us started on the left of the tongue and started ferrying right to just skirt the holes, but the current is so fast you don’t have much time to maneuver.  You mostly just try to keep the boat straight.
Hannah and Kim as we approach Black Creek

Hannah and Kim as we approach Black Creek

Howard entering Black Creek rapid

Howard entering Black Creek rapid

Lauren and Alex dropping down the tongue

Lauren and Alex dropping down the tongue

  • Bailey Rapid was fairly intense.  There were about three holes just left of center.  I remembered there being one hole, but not three.  As I slid down the tongue I knew I had to ferry right further than anticipated, so I ended up running the rapid backwards to row away from the holes.  That added a little excitement, but we had a really clean run.
  • Fivemile Rapid is a surprise.  It is not well known, but in my opinion, it is one of the more dangerous rapids on the river.  On my first trip down the Main in 1977 I tried to side surf the huge curler wave in my kayak.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was surprised at the power in the rapid, so I pulled into the eddy to watch our support rafts come through.  My brother was on the back of a 16’ paddle boat.  He got launched and cleared the front of the raft by at least 10’.  He looked like Superman!  In our morning captain’s meeting, I warned everyone about this rapid.  But after a few hours on the river it is hard to remember all of the details I provided.  I skirted the curler wave to the left, and looked in awe at the huge hole and rock hiding behind the wave.  Kevin and Jason remembered something special about this rapid, but couldn’t remember the details.  It is interesting to hear Kevin’s comments in the video as he coaches Jason at the oars.  Unfortunately, the inflatable kayak flipped in this wave and Hannah slammed into the rock.  Her hip was bruised and she was pretty sore afterwards.
  • Big Mallard Rapid can be a difficult rapid.  The cleanest run is right down the left bank, sneaking between a rock jutting out from shore and a huge rock/hole about 15’ out from shore.  It is a tight fit, but the waves let a 16’ raft slide through quite easily.  Russ didn’t take my advice and ended up rowing out into the current to go right of the hole.  This can be done, but it takes a lot of effort.  Since Russ was in a cataraft, and he is a very experienced boatman, he was able to make it okay.  Jamie was in the inflatable kayak at the time and didn’t realize they were in Big Mallard until it was too late to take the left sneak.  But in an IK, it isn’t too hard to avoid the huge hole or the other rocks in the rapid.
Barry taking the left sneak through Big Mallard

Barry hitting the left slot in Big Mallard

  • Elkhorn Rapid had a few surprise holes that I ended up hitting.  Luckily none of them were large enough to cause us problems.  It was really a pretty fun section.
  • Dried Meat Rapid has a good drop and a huge wave, but it is very smooth and you hardly even get wet.
  • Chittam Rapid can be a dangerous rapid.  It has a series of large holes in the middle, and the current pushes into the cliff on the left side.  I suggested everyone follow the advice of my guide book, and float left of the shallow island above the rapid, and then ferry right across the tongue to avoid the holes.  Jamie and Russ were the only ones that took my advice – everyone else went down the left side.  They got a good ride down the waves, but then had to row away from the cliff.  The only mishap was Jason and Taylor in the IK.  They didn’t ferry over far enough and hit two holes.  They punched through the first one, but the second one sent them for a swim.
Jamie rowing Chittam

Jamie getting a perfect run through Chittam

Barry and Karla

Barry and Karla getting a good ride in Chittam

Sarah getting a wild ride in Chittam

Sarah riding the bull

  • Vinegar Rapid can be a fun rapid.  It has some good waves and a hole that could flip boats.  Some felt that this was the best rapid of the river.  I guess I went too far right, because we didn’t get much of a ride.
  • Carey Falls has a large wave at the top, which is a favorite play spot for kayaks.  We drifted into the wave, and to my surprise, we stalled on the crest and almost slid back down.  I should have carried a little more speed coming in – the wave was more powerful than I expected.


Here are some miscellaneous photos from our trip.

Jamie giving me a break from rowing

Jamie giving me a break from rowing

Fun roller waves

Dee enjoying the roller waves

The Gardiner kids dropping into Black Creek

The Gardiner kids dropping into Black Creek

Jamie's dragonfly

Jamie’s dragonfly

Kevin being a good sport

Kevin being a good sport

Jason and Taylor in the duckie

Jason and Taylor in the duckie

Jason and Taylor about to take a swim in Chittam

Jason and Taylor about to take a swim in Chittam




About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
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One Response to Main Salmon River – June-July 2016

  1. Dave McIntire says:

    Hi Dee

    Nice trip report! And the float looked like a blast (except for Hannah’s incident). Cooled down to mid 90s huh? Good time for a float and no wonder Idaho is burning.

    Hey, if you think of it, please change my email for these to I read this email, but use it mostly for stuff thats not ‘friends’ related.

    I noticed you had pretty good sound on your GoPro. I’m sure you had it in the waterproof case, but still, it seemed better sound than mine has in its case. Perhaps I’m mistaken about that. Anyway, did you use a GoPro pole to hold it out and film yourselves? That adds alot vs just watching the river come at you and listening to the boaters. Great looking adventure!!

    Soooo…that looks like it puts the San Juan rapids to shame…at least the ones Larry and I were going to face. I feel like such a wimp…but we were such a weak team…


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