To the River
Floating on Idaho’s Lower Salmon River
with O.A.R.S. by ERIN KIRKLAND
“This is actually pretty relaxing,” he said. “Who knew?”
We were on day two of a four-day float down the lower
portion of Idaho’s Salmon River, a dry, craggy canyonland
that straddles portions of the Oregon border. Leading our
band of 22 guests were guides from O.A.R.S., one of the
longest-running guide companies in the river-running
business. Operating on water around the world, O.A.R. S.
not only dedicates itself to a thriving mission of safe,
comfortable float experiences, but also to promoting
conscious detachment from the day-to-day busyness most
people face in 21st-century life.
This combination of adventure and serenity, by
the way, is also a hot segment of the travel industry,
especially within the scope of family travel, as parents
seek to engage and reconnect with their kids.
The Lower Salmon itinerary is a popular one with
families, according to Steve Markle, vice president of
sales and marketing for O.A.R.S. Not only is it a shorter
duration (about 70 miles over four days), but this section
of the river also offers terrain perfect for youngsters.
“Kids have plenty of fun swimming in eddies, playing
on the wide, sandy beaches and exploring nature, but we
also have lots of beach games that keep everyone busy
and happy,” he said.
The trip departs from Idaho hub city Lewiston, where
guests arrive by air or car and meet up at a local hotel for
pre-trip instructions and gear distribution. Then it’s off to
the river after a quick stop at the museum in Nez Perce
National Historical Park for an introductory session on
Native American life over the past 10,000 years.
Five yellow rafts and two dories hold passengers
and supplies, with a guide for each vessel, offering a
recreational and historical method for floating on one
of the West’s most iconic waterways. Our days were spent
navigating the serene and sometimes whitewater sections
Top: O.A.R.S. trips
allow for plenty
of the Lower Salmon River, then stopping along the shoreline for lunch or a bit of hiking before settling in on the
stretches of beach for which the river is famous. Guides
are also chefs, porters and overall amusement-makers
for the long, warm summer evenings, plucking guitars or
fiddles and telling stories around the flickering campfire.
The entire experience places an O. A. R. S. trip somewhere
in between “glamping” and “roughing it,” with all the best
attributes of both — especially for children.
“We hire guides who enjoy working with kids and
families, and each takes a turn as ‘fun director’ every
night,” Markle said. “A lot of our guides also grew up on
the Salmon River, and they appreciate how the early
interactions with nature can be formative experiences.”
Indeed, my son and his young counterparts learned
about currents, archaeology, geology and local wildlife.
He also learned the value of teamwork and how to man
the “fire line” to load and unload boats. Plus, he helped
set up our tent each night.