The Salmon River watershed offers a multitude of outdoor recreation experiences in a spectacular and remote setting.
Over ninety-eight percent of the watershed is public land administered by the Klamath National Forest and includes substantial portions of the Marble Mountain, Russian, and Trinity Alps Wilderness Areas plus wonderful stretches of Wild & Scenic rivers.
Depending upon the seasons and weather, the Salmon River offers exceptional whitewater kayaking and rafting, both road and mountain biking rides, hundreds of miles of hiking and packing trails in three wilderness areas, front country and back country camping, fishing and hunting, plus skiing and snowboarding.
Most recreational visits take place between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year.
You can purchase US Forest Service maps and wilderness guides at our online store.
Please practice Leave No Trace principles, drive slowly and always on the right side of the road, and be extra careful with fire.
There is no cell phone reception on the Salmon River. Emergency help can be accessed via a 911 call from a landline phone. Public phones are located at Idlewild Campground, Sawyers Bar, Forks of Salmon, Cecilville, near the 3 mile marker on the South Fork, Nordheimer Campground, and in Somes Bar. The local CB channel is 18, however, it is only occasionally monitored and reception is spotty. Due to our remote location, emergency help may be far away.
Gas is available 24 hours/day in Cecilville, however it is recommended to fill up before coming to the river. The Salmon River Outpost in Somes Bar has basic groceries and other essentials. The nearest full-size grocery store is in Etna, California--over the mountain in Scott Valley, a 1.5 hour drive from Forks of Salmon. The store is Forks of Salmon is closed as of October 2016 but may re-open in the future.
Completely undammed and unpolluted, the Salmon River is recognized as one of the finest whitewater river systems in the world. With almost 160 kilometers (100 miles) of runnable whitewater varying in difficulty from Class II to V+, there is something for just about any river runner. The North Fork, South Fork, Mainstem, and Wooley Creek are federally designated Wild and Scenic rivers.
The mainstem of the Salmon River is the most popular and infamous section of the river. This is a committing reach with powerful Class III, IV, and V rapids and difficult access.
The Nordheimer to Butler Flat section contains several Class IV-V rapids. The Butler Flat to Brannon Bar section is Class III-IV with one mandatory run rapid (Gaping Maw, IV). Both of these sections have reasonable river access only at the common put-in and take-out points. The lowermost four miles of the mainstem (Brannon Bar to the Klamath River) offers spectacular Class II whitewater and easier access.
Both the North Fork and South Fork also offer spectacular whitewater kayak runs of varying difficulty levels. Both rivers have Class IV-V gorge sections as well as Class III sections. At higher flows, the South Fork is navigable by small rafts from Methodist Creek to Forks of Salmon. The North Fork is not well-suited for rafts. Smaller tributaries in the watershed are less frequently paddled and include Wooley Creek, Bridge Creek, Crapo Creek, and Knownothing Creek.
Be sure you are putting on an appropriate section of river for your group's skill level. Due to the rugged terrain, powerful currents, and remote location, any emergency evacuation is a challenging prospect and help may be unavailable. All paddlers should be prepared to handle rescue themselves.
There is no definitive guide to the whitewater of the Salmon River watershed. We recommend A Guide to the Best Whitewater in the State of California as a decent, although incomplete and sometimes erroneous, guide book. (Please note that the put-in listed in the book for the North Fork gorge run (the Little North Fork bridge) is on private property. The actual put-in is one mile downriver at the dirt road just upstream from the 10 mile marker. There is no loss of whitewater. You can also put in upriver near the 12 mile marker.)
Realtime river flow information is shown below and is also available on Dreamflows or from USGS. Water levels can change quickly, especially during winter storms and spring runoff. Paddling season typically begins in November when cold rains bring the rivers up and continues through spring runoff which ends in late June or early July. Mid-summer is better suited to swimming than paddling as water levels become quite low.
|River / Fork||Flow (cfs)||Change||Time & Date|
|Salmon River at Somes Bar+||cfs/hour|
|South Fork at Forks of Salmon+*||cfs/hour|
|North Fork at Forks of Salmon+*||cfs/hour|
|Wooley Creek at Salmon River*||cfs/hour|
|Little North Fork at Salmon River*||cfs/hour|
* = estimated flow (accuracy uncertain, do not rely upon for running whitewater), + = flow courtesy of Dreamflows
The Salmon River is home to portions of three federally-designated wilderness areas and a stunning section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Bigfoot Trail, a 360-mile long route through the Klamath Mountains is under development and passes trhough the Salmon River watershed. Excellent hiking and horse packing opportunities can be found year-round here, although only mid-summer to mid-fall allows snow-free access to the high country trails. Horse packers are required to bring in feed in the early season and some areas are closed to grazing at all times. Please consult the Klamath National Forest wilderness rules and regulations and practice Leave No Trace principles. A California Campfire Permit is required for all campfires and stoves.
The Trinity Alps is an expansive mid to high elevation wilderness area covering 2,090km² (517,000 acres) on the granitic mountains dividing the Trinity, Scott, and Salmon River watersheds. More than 1280 kilometers (800 miles) of backcountry trails crisscross the Trinities, many of them leading to one of more than 100 lakes. Access points on the Salmon River side include Big Flat and the South Fork Salmon trailheads.
The small but rugged Russian Wilderness covers 49km² (12,000 acres) on the divide between the Salmon and Scott Rivers. The Russian Wilderness is globally recognized for having the highest species diversity of coniferous trees on the planet. Every major conifer species in the Western US can be found here. As if that's not enough, the Pacific Crest Trail traverses the wilderness and there are 22 high country lakes set beneath towering granite peaks. Access is via dirt roads departing from Etna Summit, Cecilville Summit, and from Forest Road 39.
Our favorite guidebook is Marble Mountain Wilderness with Best Hikes of the Marble Mountain and Russian Wilderness Areas being a runner up. Both of these books cover the Marbles and the Russians. We sell wilderness maps in our online store.
The Marble Mountains are a biological and geological melting pot set upon the junction of the Salmon River, Scott River, and Klamath River watersheds. The Marbles have hundreds of miles of trail and over 90 mountain lakes within 978km² (241,744 acres). The Salmon River's primary year-round hiking trail, the Wooley Creek Trail, is located in the southwestern portion of the wilderness. Because of its low elevation, it is usually snow-free through winter (except after big storms). Other access points are on the Sawyers Bar Road at Garden Gulch, the Little North Fork Road, the Mule Bridge trailhead above Idlewild Campground, and at Etna Summit.
Our favorite guidebook is Marble Mountain Wilderness. Next best is Best Hikes of the Marble Mountain and Russian Wilderness Areas. Both of these books cover the Marbles and the Russians. We sell wilderness maps in our online store.
There are 12 developed US Forest Service campgrounds in the Salmon River watershed. Ranging from small, no-fee campgrounds to larger fee-based campgrounds (some with group campsites but none with showers), there are almost always available sites. The greatest number of campers visit on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends; some campgrounds fill to capacity at these times. Several campgrounds and trailheads offer access for the disabled.
see www.lnt.org for more info
Any campfire, cooking grill, or cooking stove operation requires a valid California Campfire Permit. These can be obtained for free at any Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Office, or Bureau of Land Management office.
Please be especially careful with fire. Our watershed has a high fire danger for most of the summer and early fall and has experienced recent, massive wildfires.
Due to its remote location and tighter-than-average regulations, the Salmon River receives only modest fishing and hunting traffic. All fishing and hunting requires a valid license and tags and is regulated by state law and enforced by California Department of Fish and Game. Regulations change periodically so be sure you have a current copy of state regulations for the area.
The Salmon River and its tributaries are always closed to any salmon fishing. This is to protect the wild salmon fishery in the watershed.
Catch and release fishing for steelhead is allowed each year between November 1 and February 28 on certain sections of river using only barbless hooks. No steelhead may be kept.
Dates may change annually so be sure to check regulations.
Segments of the Salmon River & its Forks open to steelhead fishing:
Please handle fish as little as possible and only with wet hands. Better yet, there are new gloves available which don't damage the live skin of fish. A good technique for releasing untouched fish is to grasp hook shank upside down and shake lightly.
Certain tributaries of the Salmon River and its Forks are open to resident trout fishing. Please consult the fishing map to identify these stream reaches.
Many of the high country lakes in the Marble Mountains, Russians, and Trinity Alps are stocked with brook and rainbow trout and are open to fishing.
Hunting is regulated and enforced by the California Department of Fish and Game. Licenses and tags are required. Most hunting on the Salmon River is for big game although some upland game bird and small game hunting is also done.
Most of the Salmon River watershed is public land administered by the Klamath National Forest. Please be sure you are not shooting in the vicinity of private residences, all of which are located immediately adjacent to public lands.
Although there are no developed snowsport facilities on the Salmon River, there are great backcountry skiing, snowboard, and snowshoeing opportunities. The higher elevations of the watershed receive 2-8 meters (6-20 feet) of snow in a typical winter and snowpack usually begins at 1350 meters (4500 feet) elevation.
Experienced winter recreationalists can access the high country of all three wilderness areas, however, most winter recreation takes place in the vicinity of Etna Summit and Callahan Summit where plowed county roads offer relatively easy day access to trails and slopes. Be aware that roads are not plowed at night and only sometimes on weekends. Carry chains or other traction devices, extra food, water, and blankets in case you get stuck.
The Carter Meadows area near the Callahan Summit and the Taylor Lake Road near the Etna Summit offer cross country ski trails as well as nearby access to moderate to steep backcountry terrain.
Please be knowledgeable and aware of avalanche dangers and safety before venturing onto backcountry slopes and carry appropriate equipment for traveling in avalanche areas. As would be expected, some areas are very avalanche-prone.
The Salmon River is an excellent and largely undiscovered location for backcountry bicycling.
Although almost all single track trails are located in wilderness areas and are legally off-limits to cycling, there are hundreds of miles of dirt roads open to mountain biking.
The out-and-back dirt road ride from Forks of Salmon to the Blue Ridge Lookout Tower on the Picayune Road offers mountain bikers a wonderful out-and-back ride with spectacular views. It's all uphill to the lookout with a total elevation gain of about 1350 meters (4500 feet). It is possible to descend from the lookout to Sawyers Bar or Cecilville as well. Other nice dirt road rides include the Yellowjacket Road near Forks of Salmon, the Eddy Gulch Road near Sawyers Bar, and the Knownothing Creek Road on the South Fork.
Quiet, winding mountain roads, scenic river and mountain views, and a mix of moderate and steep climbs make the Salmon River ideal for backcountry road biking. All three paved roads in the watershed (on the river's North Fork, South Fork, and Mainstem) offer wonderful road biking opportunities in the form of out-and-back rides. For touring cyclists, several roadside US Forest Service campgrounds provide nice overnight camping options. Local cyclists will tell you that the Salmon River area is better suited to road biking than mountain biking.
A classic but grueling Salmon-Scott River century loop ride begins in Forks of Salmon. Ride up the North Fork to Etna Summit, descend to Etna in the Scott Valley and continue south on Highway 3 to Callahan. Turn right onto the Cecilville Road, climb up to Callahan Summit and descend back to Forks of Salmon via Cecilville. There is over 2,450 vertical meters (8,000 vertical feet) of climbing on this 165 km (102 mile) ride which is best done when temperatures aren't blisteringly hot. Snow and cinders on the road can be an issue in spring.
Although our roads are fairly quiet and you may not see many cars, always ride to the right and be prepared for traffic at all times. The curvy, blind nature of the roads often makes seeing oncoming traffic an impossibility.