Family Friendly Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

By: Jay Cooke

Jay Cooke writes about travel, healthcare, sustainability and technology. He's based in Northern California.

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April 11, 2024 | Adventure Experts

A whitewater rafting trip with your family can create years of incredible memories. One of the best rivers for a trip of a lifetime? The Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Central Idaho. 

This epic backcountry waterway, deep in the heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, is one of the greatest stretches of whitewater conditions you’ll find in the United States – if not the world.

Even better, this multi-day rafting adventure is absolutely doable for beginners and family travelers. The Middle Fork of the Salmon river is an excellent trip for all ages (7+), and no prior rafting experience is required. 

Family rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Why Raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River?

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the most breathtaking backcountry experiences you can imagine, a 104-mile-long crystal-clear river cascading through canyons and lush spruce forests, with hundreds of rapids along the way. The Middle Fork’s rafting season runs mostly through the summer months. Consider rafting the middle fork of the Salmon River in July and August due to school vacations and the lower water levels compared to the higher levels in June.

Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

It’s an exhilarating adventure, but highly manageable too. The Middle Fork’s rapids are generally of moderate difficulty, rated from Class II to Class IV, and expert guides will navigate the river for you. Calm stretches along the way mean you’ll have ample time to gently float or hop out of the boats for swimming, maybe spotting rainbow trout in the waters or otters along the shore.

Family Fun on the River

Whatever your family’s interests, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty and create lasting memories together. In addition to the rafting and swimming, there are many activities to captivate kids and parents alike, from hiking along the river bank to catch-and-release fly fishing.

Children catch and release fly fishing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Check out old prospector caves of western lore and one or two remote ranches, only accessed by airstrips along the river (and by the river itself). You might even find time to enjoy an ice cream!

female feeding white horse at ranch in Middle Fork, in Idaho

Go back in time and experience the cultural heritage of the Sheepeater people through ancient rock paintings found along the route.

Woman looking at Sheepeater pictographs on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Furthermore, feel refreshed and invigorated by many waterfalls and hot springs, which make for exciting stops. You can even fill your water bottles straight from natural cold-water springs that your guide will point out to you. The water is the best that many have ever tasted!

Children at a hot spring on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Educational Opportunities for Children

Rafting the Middle Fork offers fun educational opportunities for your children. They’ll learn about river ecosystems, wildlife, local history and nighttime skies. A river trip provides invaluable life lessons of teamwork, resilience and adaptability to new situations. It’s a hands-on experience that rewards curiosity and builds appreciation for the natural world.

People enjoying a waterfall on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Family Friendly Rafting with MT Sobek

Planning a family friendly river rafting trip on the Middle Salmon is a big undertaking. MT Sobek can help. We’ve been operating small-group river rafting trips on the Middle Salmon since 2007, and offer family-friendly departures for groups with children as young as seven. Check out the current savings on our family trips!

Guide and child rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho with MT Sobek

Our expert river guides prioritize safety. They provide briefings and tips on everything from rafting techniques to personal floatation devices, sun protection to swimming. They’re equipped with first aid savvy and safety gear to handle any situation that may arise. Plus, our guides are fun and will ensure an enjoyable journey for all!

All-Inclusive Experience

After an active day on the river, the last thing you want is hangry kids at the base camp. MT Sobek has your back here, too. Your rafting experience includes all meals and snacks. Our guides prepare hearty breakfasts, midday lunch, and delicious gourmet dinners every day by the campfire, with vegetarian and gluten-free options, and have plenty of snacks on hand: Trail mix, fresh and dried fruit, jerky, and more. Food is bountiful on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

River guide prepares a freshly cooked meal on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho with MT Sobek

Camping is another highlight of our trips. Each day after rafting we pull into our designated, dedicated campsites, right along the river. Our advance teams raft ahead to get everything set up for your arrival, pitching roomy dome tents complete with camping pads and warm, clean sleeping bags. Guides will prepare and clean up dinner so you can hang out with your family and friends.

Young man and tent on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Pre-Trip Planning

One great way to set your kids up for success on a river trip? Involve them in the planning early on. This teaches them best practices for nature-based adventure, instills a sense of ownership, and gets them stoked to go! 

Let kids help with packing a few easy, fun things for camp, like a headlamp, binoculars, and a waterproof camera. Small comforts like a camp pillow, favorite snacks, and a trip journal help too. A deck of Uno cards can go a long way at camp and everyone will want to join in. 

Parents should focus on the right clothing for your trip. Think easily-sheddable layers, and prioritize comfort and safety when choosing what to wear. Quick-drying synthetic shirts beat cotton tees and Capilene hoodies are perfect for covering your head and neck. Water shoes like Tevas work great, but skip the flip flops (which can easily be lost to the current). Don’t forget about sun protection: SPF 50 sunblock, a wide-brimmed hat, neck covering, sunglasses, and a sunglasses strap will steer you right.

Scenic rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MT Sobek

Overall, a multiday river rafting trip provides a wonderful bonding time for families, allowing everyone from grandparents to grandkids to reconnect and share new experiences, without the distractions of daily life. From the thrill of riding rapids to the wonder of spotting wildlife, your whole family will create incredible, invaluable memories to reflect on for years to come.