Main Salmon River, Idaho: Trip Highlights


by Mary Frances Hansford

We had an incredible six day, five night journey down the Main Salmon River just last month. Eight vibrant women joined us for the trip, bouncing down the water in kayaks, duckies, rafts and an open boat. This trip is like no other with its full days of whitewater, camping under the stars and remote venue. It is a challenge to share in words all of the wonder that this trip entails so I’m just going to hit on a few of the highlights. You’ll have to come for yourself to really know what it is like to spend a week on the Main Salmon.

THE RIVER- The Main Salmon River, also known as “The River of No Return”  is magnificent. It is big and gentle water which makes for a fun and bouncy wave train adventure. It is also the second deepest canyon in North America, just after Hell’s Canyon on the Snake River (Nope, its deeper than the Grand Canyon) which makes for deep sloping walls of rocky ridges and historic rock formations. It is rich in history and beauty.

One of the most interesting and unique experiences about doing a multiday river trip is that you never leave the river. We are on it and in it, each day. And once we have reached our campsite, just on the shore, we sit and sleep by it, listening and watching as it continues its path, carving through the canyon. The sound and vision of the river are completely soothing. The river is like the breath in yoga, it calms and clears the head of that mindless chatter. It is almost impossible to not find yourself lost in the moment, and forgetting the little worries you had back home. Each curve reveals a new stretch of river, a new experience for you to embrace.


PEOPLE & FRIENDSHIPS- We had a incredible group of women on the trip- eight completely unique and enthusiastic women. The women ranged in age 30 to 55 and were mostly from the Southeast, with one exception, Karen from Oregon. We floated the river in mostly kayaks, but also a couple of duckies, one solid open boat and of course the three rafts. We cheered for each other during every rapid and helped eachother with rolls, surfing, yoyoing, hula hooping, hand rolling, yogaing, laughing and listening. Each woman had a special reason for being on the trip that ranged from fun to self-discovery to stress relief. We all left with a new breath, a new bright light inside that came from our new experience and our new friendships bonded by the river.

CANYONS RIVER GUIDES- Our four river guides were superb! Lisa Whisnant (Whizzy), Laura Bechdel, Tessa Greer, and Erica Laidlaw all worked together to make the trip seamless and fun. They prepared each and every meal with care, paddled those big ore rigs with all of our gear and picked the finest campsites for each night. Besides working hard to take care of every detail, they also provided us with laughter and fascinating stories about the river and its history. Whizzy has been guiding on the Main Salmon for nearly 30 years and describes rafting it as “coming home”, so needless to say, her love and respect for the river is contagious. Laura, Erica and Tessa have all grown up on the river, taking trips with their families with Canyons since they were little fish. So, each of them shares the passion and connection with the river in a special way. They all added a unique personality to the adventure. I could go on forever….

FOOD- The food the guides prepare is exceptional! Each meal is prepared with care with the finest ingredients available. Canyons makes a point to use local and organic foods whenever possible, so that means fresh Salmon, homemade jams and locally roasted coffee. The recipes are all family recipes passed down from the Canyons family over the years. Some of the menu included- grilled Salmon, crab cakes (Mom’s recipe flown in from Maryland), homemade lasagna, fresh salads, steak, mashed potatoes, cheesy corn bread, pancakes, eggs to order (every morning!), sausage, biscuits, brownies, and sooooo much more. I could go on forever here too ….

YOGA- Each morning Anna woke up the guests with a gentle dinging of the Tingsha Bells for yoga. Once everyone made it to the yoga space and laid down on the mat in that breathtaking setting, Anna would start the class with gentle breathing and stretches to open the hips and shoulders: all those muscles that tighten when we sit in our boats for a long time. By the end of yoga, the sun would be peaking over the ridges and warming our bodies. My favorite morning of yoga, we did sun salutations to each direction, and Anna shared all of the meanings and animals of the directions, which made it so fun.

MOON- The moon played a pretty significant role in our trip down the Main this year. We put on the river Friday and Saturday night it was full. So, needless to say it was like a bright spotlight beaming on us each night. When you are that far removed from artificial light, the moon is nearly as bright as the sun. Saturday night a few of us couldn’t resist, and went for a moonlit skinny dip! I think we started with just the few of us who hadn’t yet trickled off to bed but we were so loud with our laughing that within a few moments most of the other women come out to join us for a frolick!

THE RAPIDS We had a few wild rides and dynamic swims in the canyon! However, after each rapid, everyone emerged smiling and laughing! To name a few- Elk Horn, Black Creek, Vinegar, Chittam and Bailey.

THE STORIES & STOPS Just about everyday we would learn about a new person, Indian tribe or historical event that happened on the river. We stopped at several homesteads along the river where people still live and farm. We also stopped at a warm Hot Spring called Barth Hot Springs where we bathed in clear blue naturally heated pools. We viewed pictographs along the way as well, drawings Native Americans left on the walls long ago. It was amazing to see how clear they remain, exposed to the elements like that. They allude to the fact that many people for many years have inhabited the canyon. The river has nurtured many people through the years. Fortunately in 1980 the Salmon was designated as a wild and scenic river, preserving it under law.

The trip is definitely an experience like no other. I’m so grateful I could be a part of it and experience such an amazing trip with so many amazing women! Hope you can join us next year! Dates are set, so get ready September 5-10 2012!

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