Flows: A visual check is needed, and if you haven't run the stream before it can be difficult to assess. The level should look like bone-zone from the take out bridge, just barely like you could make your way through the rapids without getting stuck or coming to a stop. If flows are good, the exit to Frustration Falls will be closed off and the traditional Vanishing Falls portage might not be very doable. If you could run the rapid above the bridge without touching a rock, there is probably too much water. It's best to go with someone who has done the run before to be sure.
To have an idea when it's worth getting a visual check, use the Sandy @ Marmot gauge linked to this page. If the river is running from snowmelt, look for 500-1,000 cfs. If the tributaries still have some water in them look for 1,000-1,500 cfs. This isn't a sure thing, but it gets you close.
Stream: The Salmon River Gorge consists of class V waterfalls, seperated by class II floating. It is a serious adventure, to be taken seriously.
After hiking in, Split Falls is first. Just downstream is a boulder garden that is a portage at low flows. Just beyond that where the river turns right is another portage via seal launch on the right. The eddies for this portage are not large.
Downstream is class II floating to Little Niagara, scout right.
Not far below is Vanishing Falls. Scout right, the portage involves a throw and go. The more water, the tougher it is to get out above the next ledge. Make sure to jump into the center of the current, at least one ankle has been broken landing in shallow water near the bank. Vanishing Falls has been run numerous times, but is portaged more often. The hazards and challenges are apparent when scouting.
More class II with a couple intermediate rapids leads to a beautiful narrows above Frustration Falls, the signature drop of the run. It can be scouted and portaged along the right with effort. Frustration is a multi-tiered falls that takes consideration and thought. Hazards abound, the standard line starts left and ends right (middle has been run but is reportedly shallow). If the flows are not low, it becomes difficult to impossible to exit once running the final tier, as another portion of the falls blocks off the exit route.
The next horizon line is a runnable 20 footer, then an obviously massive horizon line at Final Falls. Get out on the right and either repel off the small/lonely tree into the pool below, or if you trust the depth of the pool jump straight into the base of the falls. If you jump from the repel point, you will probably hit bottom.
Below Final Falls is about 1 mile of bouldery class IV, there is one sieve in here that most people portage so be diligent until the river fades to class II. From there it's half hour or so of mank with some wood to avoid until the take out bridge.
Take out: 45.2777, -121.9399
Put In: 45.2287, -121.8752
To get to the put in from the take out bridge, either hike upstream 6 miles, or navigate the gravel roads up near Clear Lake to a trailhead near the confluence of the Salmon River and Linney Creek. Don't put in here, or you will face a sketchy portage at Stein Falls.
It is not obvious where to hike down from the trail to Split Falls, so it is recommended you go with someone who has already done the run. If you can't do that, when hiking from the top wait until you hear Stein Falls. THe trail shortly heads away from the river and up around a very small tributary, when it wraps back towards the Salmon River it will come to a nose of land with a meadow on the side of the river. There is an animal trail along the base of a small cliff band and down the nose of land to Split Falls.
Oregon Field Guide has a nice segment on the Salmon River Gorge.
A description and some photos of the Salmon River Canyon can be found on Oregon Kayaking along with several other stories of the original efforts to pioneer the run.
Into the Outside has a description and some links as well as some additional flow insights.
This river is protected as a Wild and Scenic River.
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This week, Oregon House Bill 2835 re-passed the Oregon House on a 52-7 vote. Having earlier cleared the Senate, the bill now awaits a signature from the Governor to be signed into law. For decades, opportunities to protect and improve the ability of the public to access and legally use waterways for recreation have seen minimal progress, while efforts to severely limit access have been a consistent threat. Oregon House Bill 2835 is a pivotal piece of legislation in Oregon, and the first proactive waterway access bill in recent history to have made it through the state legislature.
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