10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Salmon, ID

Written by Brad Lane
Updated May 11, 2023

Author Brad Lane enjoyed visiting Salmon while living in nearby Missoula, Montana.

The name Salmon is synonymous with adventure in Idaho. That's because this small mountain town borders the expansive Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Covering over two million acres, the Frank Church is one of the largest wilderness areas in the country.

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness

The town also borders the River of No Return itself. And, anglers and white-water enthusiasts from across the world flock to Salmon to enjoy the Salmon River.

The town of Salmon grew alongside the mining and timber industries. Much of this Western aura still exists today, though several places to visit like modern restaurants and shopping opportunities also entice tourists. But no matter the season, winter included, it's Salmon's basecamp status for the Idaho outdoors that puts this small town on the map.

Designated scenic byways are the only way to access this small town in the eastern part of the state near the Montana border. These mountain-rimmed highways offer plenty of sightseeing opportunities and places to pull over and enjoy the picturesque surroundings. And many of these views are the same shared with Sacagawea and the Corps of Discovery when they made their way through the area.

Discover the history and outdoor allure of one of Idaho's best small towns with our list of the top things to do in Salmon.

1. White Water Raft the River of No Return

Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River through Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness
Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River through Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness | Bob Pool / Shutterstock.com

Highlight: Iconic American river popular for white water rafting adventures

White-water enthusiasts from across the world flock to the Salmon River, also known as the River of No Return. This fabled waterway was one of the original rivers designated as Wild and Scenic in U.S. history. And with jaw-dropping mountain views and challenging Class III-IV rapids, it still lives up to its designation.

Alongside the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, much of the Main Salmon passes through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness — one of the largest unbroken wilderness areas in the lower 48. For this reason, minimal access points line the river, and the only way to see it all is with a multi-day expedition, a real bucket-list adventure.

Any overnight trip on the River of No Return requires a competitive permit. The best way to go about experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime rafting trip is to find an opening with a local guiding company. And there's no shortage of guides in Salmon and the surrounding area.

A few popular local outfitters include Idaho River Journeys, Solitude River Trips, and Wilderness River Outfitters. Several of the area's guiding companies also provide trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Lower Salmon.

Read More: Best Places for White Water Rafting in Idaho

2. Fish in the Salmon River

Steelhead trout in the Salmon River
Steelhead trout in the Salmon River

Highlight: Several gear and guide shops ensure a successful time on the river

Fly fishing in the Salmon River is an angler's dream come true. The Wild & Scenic river offers views ripped right from a postcard, and the teeming steelhead trout ensure an engaging activity. Anglers from across the world come to Salmon to experience the river — one of Idaho's top tourist attractions.

The Salmon River is over 400 miles long, and different regions have different fishing seasons. And while steelhead is one of the most popular species to cast for, the river hosts plenty of other fish, including rainbow trout and Chinook salmon. Anyone 14 years of age or older needs a valid Idaho fishing license.

Lifetimes have been spent picking up the natural rhythms of fly fishing on the Salmon. For more casual outings or visitors from out of state, hiring a local guide is the recommended route. The town is lined with businesses and people willing to share their knowledge of the water.

Rawhide Outfitters is one popular family-owned guiding company with longstanding results in the area. This friendly, professional guide service features half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips. For some bait and tackle and some possible advice, head over to Salmon River Fly Box on Main Street.

3. Dive into History at the Sacajawea Center

Highlights: Cultural and historic museum dedicated to Sacajawea, who was born nearby

The Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural, and Educational Center highlights the history of Sacagawea. This Shoshone guide led the Corps of Discovery across the American West. Sacagawea was born in the nearby Lemhi Valley in 1788. Early in her life, she was captured, traded, sold, and eventually relocated to North Dakota.

When Lewis and Clark made their way through North Dakota in 1805, the bilingual Sacagawea joined the expedition and made history, guiding the men back to her native lands. The museum dives deep into this remarkable history and attempts to tell the story from the indigenous perspective.

The center also features several programs and events that relate this history further. Guest lectures and guided nature walks help transport visitors to an age when foreign explorers had yet to alter the landscape. A few special annual events include a Fall Frolic and traditional native gathering of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Address: 2700 Main Street, Salmon, Idaho

4. Road Trip on the Salmon River Scenic Byway

The Salmon River, seen from the Salmon River Scenic Byway
The Salmon River, seen from the Salmon River Scenic Byway | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Highlights: Pull-outs and stunning scenery line the main route into town

Every route to Salmon involves driving on a designated scenic byway. The most common approach, the Salmon River Scenic Byway, is an approximately 162-mile route stretching from the Montana border to Stanley. The town of Salmon is on the northern half of the byway.

The road earns its scenic status as it follows the counters of the river and cuts through Salmon-Challis National Forest. The drive is worth the visit alone.

Several pull-offs along the route lend access to things to do in the wild environments with river put-ins, hiking trails, and hot springs. On the southern end of the byway, the small town of Stanley is another central spot for Idaho adventure.

The Sacajawea Historic Byway also departs from Salmon, heading south on Highway 28. This route travels over 130 miles through the Lemhi Valley, known as the birthplace of Sacagawea. Alongside a gorgeous environment following the Lemhi River, historical and interpretive markers punctuate the entire route.

5. Venture into the Forest

Salmon Challis National Forest, Idaho
Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho

Highlights: Thousands upon thousands of acres of outdoor recreation

Visitors head to Salmon to experience the great outdoors. And surrounded by Salmon-Challis National Forest, one of Idaho's best national forests, the great outdoors is in great abundance. This surplus of beautiful landscapes lends to everyday activities like hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding throughout the summer.

A few iconic hiking trails meander near Salmon on their long-distance pursuits. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail goes right through town. The Nez Perce National Historic Trail also passes by up north. And on its way across the country, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail also traverses the mountains to the east.

Outside of these historic and scenic pathways, the surrounding mountains and foothills have hundreds of trails to follow. North of town, the North Fork Ranger Station is an excellent place to visit for trail suggestions.

Read More: Best National Forests in Idaho

6. Day Trip to Goldbug Hot Springs

Goldbug Hot Springs
Goldbug Hot Springs

Highlight: Two-mile hike leads to a stunning hot spring on the side of a mountain

The trailhead for one of Idaho's best hot springs is a short, scenic 30 minutes south of Salmon.

A strenuous two-mile hike leads up to Goldbug Hot Springs, with approximately 1,350 feet of elevation gain. The natural hot water pools at the top of the trail, etched into the mountainside, do wonders for the sore muscles obtained to get there.

Arguably the best time to visit Goldbug from Salmon is in the fall. Cooler temperatures prevail this time of year, and autumn colors add to the already beautiful mountain scene. Summer temperatures can be stifling hot for the uphill hike, but the pools are still popular during the summer months. Winter is also a dazzling time to visit, though the route increases in difficulty with ice and snow.

Goldbug isn't the only hot water source close to Salmon. Sharkey Hot Springs is also roughly a 30-minute drive south on State Highway 28. The Bureau of Land Management operates this unique hot spring, which features two small, outdoor concrete pools. The hot springs also feature basic amenities like restrooms and picnic tables. No hiking is required.

7. Ski at Lost Trail Ski Area

Lost Trail Ski Area
Lost Trail Ski Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Highlights: Massive downhill destination with cozy lodge and homemade chocolate chip cookies

Lost Trail Ski Area is 46 miles north of Salmon on Lost Trail Pass, on the Idaho and Montana border. Based on its position on the pass, it qualifies as one of Montana's best ski resorts. Still, it attracts Idaho skiers all the same.

This family-owned resort has 60 named routes accessible with five chairlifts and three rope tows. The terrain is generous at Lost Trail, with several tree runs and glades dispersed between the groomers. A favorite part of visiting is spending time in the Lost Trail Lodge, equipped with a cozy fireplace area and cafeteria-style dining.

Lost Trail receives over 300 feet of snow each season and is well known for its excellent conditions. The resort is open four days a week, Thursday through Sunday. That means snow has the chance to accumulate Monday through Wednesday for celebrated "Powder Thursdays."

8. Pitch the Tent or Park an RV

Camping next to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Camping next to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Highlights: Hundreds of camping opportunities catering to all types of overnight stays

Pitching a tent or parking an RV is one of the most popular ways to spend the night in Salmon. The region offers every type of camping, from free primitive sites in the national forest to landscaped RV campgrounds with cable. One such RV campground, Andreas On The River RV Park, features parking spots right next to the water.

The Bureau of Land Management operates a few convenient places to camp close to town. The Shoupe Bridge and Morgan Bar Recreation Sites have medium-sized campgrounds that cater to tents and RVs (no hookups). These popular spots tend to fill up fast on summer weekends.

The U.S. Forest Service also operates a few developed campgrounds close to Salmon. These semi-primitive enclaves have picnic tables and fire rings at each site. Developed forest service campgrounds have pit toilets and bathroom areas. Many U.S. Forest Service campsites are reservable ahead of a visit.

One of the most popular ways to spend the night is primitive camping in the surrounding Salmon-Challis National Forest. This type of free camping occurs on the sides of forest service roads with no bathrooms or piped water. Primitive campers are asked to remain on previously established campsites and to pack out all trash.

9. Catch Some Local Flavor in Salmon

Historic building in Salmon, Idaho
Historic building in Salmon, Idaho

Highlights: Dozens of local eateries catering to a wide range of appetites

Salmon has a surplus of locally owned restaurants for its relatively small population of 3,000 residents. It's the hungry tourists that supply the demand of restaurants lining Main Street, and thanks to the adventurous surroundings, several of these eateries offer meals big enough to satisfy a hiker's appetite.

One of the most popular places to visit at the center of town, Junkyard Bistro, is one such spot to get a fulfilling meal. This American restaurant offers a delectable selection of sandwiches, wraps, and pasta. It also features fare like rice bowls and gnocchi.

Some notable spots for breakfast include Oddfellows' Bakery and Wally's Cafe. Wally's featured menu item is a flaky Mama's breakfast pot pie that's sure to tide over most appetites. And for the best slice in Salmon, head over to Last Chance Pizza for a wide selection of pie and salad.

10. Step into the Past at the Lemhi Historical Museum

Highlights: Local museum showcasing the town and region, including native cultures

The Lemhi Historical Museum is an excellent spot to check out between adventures. This non-profit museum details the county's history dating back to the native cultures that once flourished in the Lemhi Valley. Alongside interpretive information, the museum has an extensive collection of antiques and replicas.

The Lemhi Shoshone native population has prominent exhibit space at the museum. This display includes several authentic pieces of clothing and beadwork. Artifacts from the Chinese people that immigrated to Lemhi County during the late 1800s also occupy an entire room. Other points of interest include exhibits on the county's mining and ranching heritage.

And it's not just stand-and-observe at the Lemhi Historical Museum. The facility is active in the community and hosts special events throughout the year. Guest lectures and free historical workshops are standard entries on the activity calendar. The museum also offers a unique photo printing service for anyone looking to recover, repair, or otherwise preserve historic photographs.

Address: 210 Main Street, Salmon, Idaho

Map of Things to Do in Salmon, ID

Best Time to Visit Salmon, Idaho

The summer months are the best time to visit Salmon, Idaho, including June, July, and August. These are the three warmest months and offer the most abundant sunshine for adventures.

Expect average temperatures in the 80s throughout the summer, with minimal rain on the forecast. This perfect weather makes it the most popular time to visit, and seats at restaurants may be harder to find.

The autumn extends from September into October, with winter settling in by Halloween (end of October). The fall season does provide a scenic time to visit, especially as the larches on the mountainsides start to take a new color. Expect chilly and possibly below-freezing overnight temperatures further into October.

Spring starts to take shape in March, although the better spring months to visit are April and May. Expect lingering snow throughout April, actively melting under warmer and sunnier days. A trip in May is recommended for spring travel, which will avoid the densest of summer crowds.