South Fork of the Salmon River
Goat Creek section, Idaho


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The Goat Creek section of the South Fork Salmon is a scenic Idaho gem sprinkled with high-quality rapids. The jagged granite mountains tower overhead and the road runs far away from the canyon, giving this section a remote, wilderness feel. This section is a must-do run for kayakers who visit the area.

This ended up being the first section we ran during our annual Idaho trip. Our original plan was to start on the Secesh, but that river looked pretty mellow as we drove over the pass, so we kept going past the put-in. At this point we were feeling a little woozy after our marathon drive from Oregon and our hasty roadside camp the night before, but we were eager to get on the water! On this particular trip Grace Thompson and Brian Zabel were riding in one car, while Conor Kelly and I were riding in the Waterfallia van with Jesse Coombs ( we were later joined by EJ Etherington and Bob Lee in Yellowpine ).

Brian Zabel scopes out a map somewhere in the mountains of Idaho.

Halfway down to the confluence with the SF Salmon we spotted a van in the Secesh river. We stopped and checked out this rather novel parking job. We found out later that four teenagers had accidentally driven the van into the river two days before..

Conor Kelly checks out the van parked in the Secesh. Note that the van was carefully wrapped with 'caution' tape and someone went to the considerable trouble of painting 'REPORTED' on the roof..

We dropped a car at the campground marking the take-out for the SF Salmon and headed upstream. On the drive to the put in we were intrigued by the beauty of the place as the road climbed high above the canyon ( always a good sign! ). Eventually the road came back down to the river, and when we arrived at the put-in we noticed an inordinate number of trucks parked along the road, and things got weird pretty quick..

As we were unloading gear, a dusty Chevy pulled up with a 40-something guy at the wheel and his teenage kid. The following rather bizarre conversation ensued:


I was taken a little off guard by that, so I just replied: "WHAT?!?"

Loony local #1: "There INDIANS down there fishing!!" Indicating the canyon downstream. "They're territorial. You go down there you're apt to get shot. They don't want any white men on the river when the Salmon are running."

You GOTTA be kidding me. I almost laughed in his face. Did he just say WHITE MEN and INDIANS in the same sentence? WTF?!?

"Yeah.. ok.. we'll be careful.." I replied, trying to keep a straight face.

That said, his words resonated. We had noticed that we were the only non-Indians at the take-out campground, and the salmon were running in the river. So perhaps there was something to loony local #1's warning. So, we decided to decide if we were dealing with just one crazy guy, or if there was more than one, or if we had entered some time warp back to the early 1800's.

We should've known better, but..

We approached another local. "Hey, we heard there are Indians down in the canyon." I said. "Is it ok to go in there?"

Loony local #2: "Yep, there's at least a hundred of em' down there! I've seen em! If I was going in there I'd take a big rock with me!"

A big rock. That's what he said: A. Big. Rock.

Now we were a little concerned that there might be an element of truth to their warnings and this section was off limits during fishing season. Were we on a reservation? Brian didn't think so. Finally, we decided to put on the river anyway. "It's all about respect." I said. "If we see Indians fishing in a rapid, we get out and ask their permission before running it."

"Ok, but I'm just trying to figure out how to get this big rock in my boat." someone said. Everybody laughed.

( Just for the record, we never saw a single Indian in the canyon that the Goat Creek section runs through, but we passed lots of very friendly Indians fishing with spears on the drive out along the flatter, lower section. )

All of the weirdness at the put-in faded away when we put on this magnificent river; I really can't say enough good things about this section. Crystal clear water, impressive granite monoliths, and towering fir forests. The run feels very, very remote.

Jesse and Conor relax above the steep section in South Fork Canyon.

The whitewater kicked off in earnest about a mile or so downstream with a long, fun drop that ended with a nice set of ledges, named 'Double Drop' in the guidebook. Good stuff! Jesse went first and cleaned up on it, and then we followed, one at a time.

At this point we were overtaken by friendly locals Chris Pajak, Erik Larsen, and Mike Copeland ( who runs the Boise Boaters Listserv ). We would see all of these guys again later in the trip, most notably in the Payette drainage.

Jesse Coombs probes the first part of Double Drop in his '4Fun'.. .

Brian Zabel has a sweet line over Double Drop.

Downstream the great scenery and fun rapids continued. We were all very impressed with the overall quality of the river and canyon, and it was a great way to start off our trip to Idaho!

Conor Kelly ( foreground ) and Jesse Coombs enjoy more fantastic views in the South Fork canyon.

There was one log portage towards the end of the run, and then a couple of short, fun ledges. One of the short ledges is dubbed 'The Swimming Hole' in the Amaral Guidebook. One member of our group ended up in the hole, and after counting fish for awhile took a short swim in the pool..

Conor Kelly boofs 'The Swimming Hole', also pictured in the Amaral guidebook.
One of the group got a little worked over in this hole and took a short swim.

Gradually the river mellowed out as we approached the take-out campground

Conor Kelly, with another perfect boof on the South Fork..

We arrived at the Poverty Flat take-out campground with big smiles on our faces. The Goat Creek section had definitely set a high bar for scenery and fun rapids on this trip, and we were hungry for more.

Brian spoke glowingly of the area around Yellowpine, which was about twenty more miles up the gravel road further into the mountains. We had planned on going there anyway, but he increased the anticipation. We were supposed to be meeting EJ Etherington and Bob Lee there, so we loaded up our gear and hit the road for an even more remote corner of the state..

We ran this section in early July during a big snow year. May through June is best during average years. I think we had about 3.5 feet on the main salmon gauge. I wouldn't go much lower than this.

For more info, pick up a copy of Grant Amarals guide to Idaho Whitewater, an essential and thorough resource for all paddlers interested in this state. Grants book is Idahos' version of the California 'Bible', and is just as informative and entertaining as the Stanley/Holbeck guide.