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Inside Idaho: Why is it called ‘The River of No Return?’


When I was about 10-years-old, my parents took my two brothers and me steelhead fishing on the Salmon River – about 45 miles upriver from Riggins. I remember my dad saying as we plowed up the current: “Kids, we’re headed up the river of no return!”

[Inside Idaho: Where does the name “Idaho” come from?]

I remember thinking… “Say what?! What kind of family fun activity is this?”

While we returned to our car, my curious kid self also learned how the river got its nickname.

Originally a one-way trip

According to USDA Forest Service website, the Main Salmon River was called “The River of No Return” dating back to when boats could navigate down the river, but could not get back up through the fast running water and large rapids.

Today, you actually can return — with jet boats driven by experienced drivers who go both up and downstream.

The larger Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness also carries the nickname, getting it from the river, which flows right through it.

In 1980, the United States Congress designated the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Today, it encompasses four National Forests spreading across almost 3,750 square miles of uninhabited, protected land in Idaho. It is the largest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48.

Next week in our Inside Idaho series: As the weather heats up, more people are getting outside and seeking adventure. Next week, we’ll explore a hidden cave about a 30 minute drive from Boise.

Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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