10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Salmon, ID

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 18, 2021

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. 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 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 | Zachary Collier / photo modified

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

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 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

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

Official site: http://www.sacajaweacenter.org/

4. Road Trip on the Salmon River Scenic Byway

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

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 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

Visitors head to Salmon to experience the great outdoors. And surrounded by the 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.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/scnf

6. Day Trip to Goldbug Hot Springs

Goldbug Hot Springs

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.

Official site: https://www.blm.gov/visit/goldbug-hot-springs

7. Ski at Lost Trail Ski Area

Lost Trail Ski Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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 of the week, Thursday through Sunday. That means snow has the chance to accumulate Monday through Wednesday for celebrated "Powder Thursdays."

Official site: https://losttrail.com/

8. Pitch the Tent or Park an RV

Camping next to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

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, Century II Campground, features parking spots right next to the Salmon River.

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. For more information on Idaho national forest campgrounds, head over to www.Recreation.gov.

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

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 Oddfellow's 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

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

Official site: https://lemhicountymuseum.org/

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