People travel from all over the world to experience multi-day rafting trips on the Salmon River in Idaho, drawn to the allure of beautiful sandy beaches, warm water, and the feeling of being deep in the stunningly beautiful wilderness of the river canyon. For whitewater kayakers, the river is more than just a vacation. It’s an opportunity to be fully immersed in an ideal river environment for 6 days to progress in their kayaking skills. Idaho’s Main section of the Salmon River is considered Class III big water, the perfect training grounds for an advanced-beginner to intermediate paddler.

Main Salmon Kayak Trip

Kayakers eddy out on the Main Salmon River

At the beginning of the trip, kayakers usually arrive with goals in mind. Whether you want to work on nailing your stern squirts, catching eddies, surfing, or perfecting a specific stroke, the Main Salmon is the perfect venue to fine tune your kayaking skills. Each trip, we tailor the instruction to the skill level and goals of the group.

One of the skills we focused most on during our 2019 kayaking trip was advanced water-reading. Reading water is the ability to assess what is going on in a rapid; which features are present? Is that a friendly hole, or one to stay away from? Where is most of the current moving? Are there hazards present? Successfully reading the nuances of how the water moves is an essential skill that helps you choose the best line through a rapid. One of the best ways to learn this to read water is by scouting rapids from the riverbank.

Main Salmon Kayak

Learn how to style your lines like this kayaker

Early on during the trip, we approached one of the bigger rapids, called Black Creek Rapid. Paddlers knew what was downstream, and nerves began to rise as we paddled over to the scout on river left. While most guidebooks recommend the right line for this class III+ rapid, we were forewarned about a jet boat that was pinned on that side. So, we scouted the left line.

Main Salmon River Kayaking

Scouting Black Creek Rapid

There are a few different acronyms for scouting rapids; I like to use D.O.R.M.S. which stands for Destination; Obstacles; Route; Markers; Safety. Using this acronym, we helped kayak students see the line: From the top, you look downstream at a big, green tongue, which you follow until it narrows with lateral waves on each side. This line takes you in between the two rocks you want to avoid on either side at the bottom of the rapid. Then, eddy out on river right.

After setting our plan of attack, we divided into our groups to run the rapid. At the bottom, it was nothing but celebration as everyone made it through successfully! Each person exuded a sense of accomplishment after tackling this challenging rapid and putting their newfound skills to the test.

Main Salmon Kayak Trip

Instructor Sean Madden leads his group down Black Creek Rapid

We continued to build on these water-reading skills each day. Looking downstream from the top of rapids, I would ask my group which features they saw, what they wanted to avoid, where they wanted to end up, and which line they were going to take to get there. Instead of blindly following us through each rapid, many students began to feel comfortable picking out hazards and navigating the river.

After practicing these skills throughout the week, students put them to the test on the final day of our trip. We encountered Vinegar Rapid, the grand finale Class III-IV, and final crux rapid of the trip. At this scout, students were using the skills they learned to choose their own lines, putting into practice what we had been working on. With six days of practice and dozens more rapids under their belts, they went into it with calm and confidence, and they ended up styling it!

Kayaking Main Salmon

A happy student celebrating after Vinegar Rapid

After spending 6 days kayaking the Main Salmon River, advanced water-reading is just one example of the newfound skills you might walk (or paddle) home with at the end. Throughout the trip, you’ll have every opportunity to challenge yourself on the river with the guidance and coaching from Wet Planet’s passionate and experienced kayak instructors while soaking in the beautiful wilderness adventure.

Are you are interested in joining Wet Planet in Idaho on this 6-day full immersion kayaking vacation? Our 2020 trip launches on August 17, and we would love to have you! This trip is appropriate for advanced-beginners and above; check out our skill assessment page to see if you’re ready, and don’t hesitate to call us with any questions. You can even request your favorite Wet Planet instructor; he or she would be stoked to paddle with you again! And don’t forget, you can bring your non-kayaking friends and family along to ride along in a raft or paddle an inflatable kayak!

Kayak the Main Salmon

Paddling the Main Salmon in an inflatable kayak

Author Sharon is a kayak instructor and Reservations Manager at Wet Planet. She is incredibly stoked to share her love of whitewater and to be a part of the incredible team at Wet Planet!