Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness
The Frank Church Wilderness Area
In The Frank Church Wilderness River of No Return Area, we can still experience the true Western Frontier, where the vastness of wild untouched nature remains real and you can feel it stretching out farther than your five senses. In “The Frank,” the liberating, regenerative power of Solitude still holds its full meaning. Here, the wolves and elk make their gruff peace, the otter and trout find balance, and the birds return to a reputable oasis from during their exhausting migrations.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River lies within a 2.3 million acre area designated as The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. In this Wilderness area lies the most remote (and one of the most rugged) parts of the contiguous United States. When we enter this area, we are stepping into a western Eden as only the first human explorers know it – no roads and the only society is what we chose to bring.
Idaho Senator Frank Church, one of the namesakes of Idaho’s Wilderness designation, was the Senate floor sponsor for The Wilderness Act of 1964. In 1968, he introduced the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which included the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, so that rivers “shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Wildlife and Geography
The Middle Fork is one of the healthiest trout fisheries in the world. In addition to offering world-class Salmon River fly fishing and Idaho whitewater rafting, an entire biodiversity cascades from this healthy ecological environment. The Middle Fork Canyon is one of the most important remaining environments for many species, including Wolf, Cougar, Lynx, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Bobcat, Badger, River Otter, Elk, and Mule Deer. Birds such as Bald and Golden Eagles, Ouzel, Grouse, Chukar, Great Horned Owls, Red Tail Hawk, Osprey, Swallows, and countless cute songbirds that will wake you if you are late for breakfast.
Idaho has many flattering nomenclatures, such as ‘The White Water State’ and ‘The Wilderness State;’ Idaho’s first geological surveyors claimed that if you flattened out all of the terrain features in Idaho, it would be bigger than Texas. “The Frank,” as this Wilderness area is endearingly called, lives up to all of these reputations, and the Middle Fork provides a spectacular profile of its wonders. Floating along with the flow is the most comfortable way to experience this incredible river canyon.
Willi Cannell, the owner of Solitude River Trips, is an ardent self-educator of history, concepts, and issues surrounding Wilderness policy and protection. Please contact him in person if you would like more information pertaining to Wilderness in Idaho.
The Middle Fork of “The River of No Return”
The Middle Fork is the largest tributary of the Main Salmon River, which is the largest tributary of the Snake, which is the largest tributary of the Columbia, which is the largest North American tributary of the largest Ocean (the Pacific) in the world!
The Middle Fork is over 116 miles long (no dams) and descends over 4,000ft in elevation. As it grows from a tumbling creek to a mighty river, the Middle Fork is fed by runoff from spectacular mountain ranges such as The Sawtooths, Pistol Ridge, The Bighorn Crags, The Tango Peaks, and the Yellow Jacket Mountains.
A spectacular part of the Middle Fork is how much the geology, wildlife, vegetation, and size of the river changes as you descend from the top of the canyon all the way to the confluence with the Main Salmon. This biological diversity makes Middle Fork of the Salmon one of the most unique river experiences in the world.
The Famous Impassable Canyon
Idaho’s Salmon River holds the second deepest river canyon – surpassing the Grand Canyon in vertical relief – and second only to Hell’s Canyon on the border of Idaho and Oregon. The Impassable Canyon is the deepest section of the Middle Fork where the river has carved the steepest canyon section into the ancient granite bedrock of the Idaho batholith.
The Impassable Canyon is characterized by sheer cliff walls that rise up thousands of feet before dropping straight down to the river banks. Our camps in the Impassable Canyon are hemmed in by majestic granite amphitheaters and are often visited by Bighorn Sheep and the occasional Mountain Goat can be spotted high on the cliff walls.
Geothermal activity emerges all over Idaho (In fact, the whole state has traveled right over the top of Yellowstone caldera. These thermic springs shoot steaming hot and healthy goodness out of mother nature’s elegant cracks and crevices. Take a break from fishing and rafting for some complete relaxation and rejuvenation while basking in these natural springs.
The Middle Fork is rich with human history and fascinating characters. The Sheepeater Indians, pioneers, miners, hunters, hermits, murderers, victims of the gruesome frontier, pioneer feminists, and wilderness guides have all left their legendary mark on this rugged area. Our guides are enthusiasts of lore, and love stopping to share an old mine, cabin, cave, or mystery.
One of the most interesting things to explore in the Middle Fork canyon are the pictographs left by the relatively unrevealed Sheepeater culture. What could these creative and bizarre messages mean? Many of the drawings are a mystery even to modern anthropology; with the slightest application of imagination, their eccentric meaning ignites before your eyes.
Salmon River Ecosystem
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River holds one of the strongest populations of all-wild West Slope Cutthroat Trout. The Cutthroat Trout is a very fragile species and has suffered massive habitat loss due to overfishing and river environment changes. The Middle Fork has been a stronghold for this incredible species primarily for two reasons: (1) Idaho Fish and Game’s single barbless hook, catch and release policy that has been in place since 1973, and (2) the protection of the Middle Fork from logging, mining, and other human impact on the river environment due to the Idaho Wilderness Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Wilderness Act.
Where is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River?
Round Trip Service From Stanley Idaho
“What a blessing to be on a world class rafting and fishing river that is almost exactly as it was when the white man first stumbled across it — no roads, houses, billboards, trails of any kind — only the gorgeous sounds and sights and smells of nature.”