The Middle Fork of the Salmon River runs through more than 100 miles of central Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area. It offers people the rare opportunity to hunt fall chukars, fly fish for native westslope cutthroats and bull trout on unpressured waters, and paddle through whitewater rapids—all in the same day. Sounds like an outdoorsman’s paradise, right? It is, if you can get there. The same protection that keeps this land wild and unfettered also makes it a challenge to access.
After my experience there, I'd say the Middle Fork's most enchanting quality is neither exclusivity nor adrenaline rush. It is the way that a place so unchanged over time can be so transformative to those who visit it. Bound by the duties of protecting a wild and scenic river, you take out everything you brought in—but, you may leave with much, much more—as I did.
On the first day of chukar season (a Eurasian upland gamebird) this September, I flew over the Sawtooth Mountain range from Boise in a bush plane for a four-day, three-night cast-and-blast float down more than 30 miles of the Middle Fork. A tough place to survive in any era, the region attracted only the hardiest of settlers in the early 1900s. I hoped I could tap into that spirit.