On the drive from Ketchum to Stanley, you will see the first trickles of the longest free-flowing river in the Lower 48. These are the headwaters of the mighty Main Salmon river. It begins as no more than a small creek passing under Idaho Highway 75. By the time the Salmon reaches Stanley, it has collected the waters of many tributaries, gained depth and width and can confidently be called a river. It is on these headwaters of the Main Salmon where all "day stretch" river trips based out of Stanley take place.
The day stretch of the Main Salmon has rapids for all levels and ages. Rapids are classified on a scale of 1 to 6. A class 1 rapid consists of fast moving water and riffles with no obstructions that boaters need to get around. Niagara Falls is considered a class 6 rapid. In other words, class 6 rapids are defined as un-runnable (though there are the occasional crazies who try). The Salmon day stretch consists of a Class 3 and Class 4 Stretch. A class 3 rapid, by definition, has moderate waves, and requires a few easy maneuvers. Class 4 rapids have larger, irregular waves and require a higher level of boating expertise and caution to run them.
Family-Friendly Class 3
The Class 3 section of the Salmon is about 15 minutes down river from Stanley. This trip starts off with a splash as the first class 3 rapid, Piece of Cake, is just around the corner from the put-in. This rapid is a standard class 3: fun moderate waves and straight-forward maneuvering. At the end of the rapid there is deep calm water, perfect for resting and watching as others run Piece of Cake. From there, it is relatively calm water until the second class 3, The Narrows. The Narrows is named as such because the river is squeezed into a beautiful, narrow canyon. The result is a long, fun wave train interspersed with views of steep dark rock, clinging bushes, and crystal clear Warm Springs creek. After exiting the most stunning, and perhaps wettest part of the trip, the river calms again allowing time for reflection and swimming before lunch. After lunch, the gradient flattens and the last twenty minutes to the takeout is a mellow float. This Class 3 stretch of river is perfect for children and other inexperienced boaters. The rapids are exciting with low consequences should you end up in the water. And the length is just right for keeping even the young ones entertained until the very end.
Adventurous Class 4
The Class 4 section starts upriver from the Class 3 section, allowing people who choose this trip to do both. This section, in general, is more technical and has bigger waves with the two class 4 rapids, Shotgun and The Dam providing particular excitement. Shotgun is the first class 4. This rapid is long with straight forward deep holes. There are two big exciting drops which soak the boat and its riders. After Shotgun, there is time to regroup and prepare for the second Class 4, The Dam. This rapid is the aftermath of the destruction of the only existing dam on the Salmon river. The river curves around the remnants of the dam and drops, creating two large, curling waves. This rapid is much shorter than Shotgun and once again, tends to get everyone in the boat soaked. Shortly after this rapid, the much mellower class 3 section begins. The Class 4 section is only available early in the season when the water is high. As the water drops, this section becomes un-runnable.
The Scenic Stretch
For those who would rather just enjoy the beauty of the Salmon river without the added pleasure of getting splashed by it, the scenic stretch is perfect. There are two options for the scenic stretch. If a little class 1whitewater and a lot of up close views of the Sawtooth Mountains is what you are after, starting up river of Stanley is the best option. On this stretch, there are minor waves which may get you wet but there are also unparalleled views. The river runs so close to the base of the Sawtooths that all the craggy, rugged details can be seen. Here, the perfect balance of moving water and solid rock is found. Keep in mind this section becomes too low to float as the season progresses. For later in the season, there is another scenic stretch which starts in the town of Stanley and floats through meadow and forest and by two hot springs to the Mormon Bend campground. There are no waves on this section, only calm moving water, distant views of the Sawtooths, and frequent wildlife sitings.