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HomeNL-2017-05 Salt River

Salt River Rafting Trip
March 22, 2017
by Bob Naeger

On March 22, I went on a commercial rafting trip in the Salt River Canyon. The Salt River rises in the White Mountains Northeast of Phoenix and runs for about 200 miles before entering the Gila River Southeast of Phoenix. The lower section of the Salt has a series of reservoirs and provides a major water source to the Phoenix area. The upper section has a short spring boating season fed by snow melt. The upper Salt is a white water river with Class 3+ rapids. Boaters have the choice of either a 10-mile day trip or a 3-5 multi-day trip. Permits are required. Permits for the 10-mile section are readily available from the White Mountain Apache tribe ($25/day). The US Forest Service issues Permits for the longer wilderness section based on a lottery. These must be applied for months before the season. Interestingly, the White Mountain Apache tribe does not allow open canoes or inflatable kayaks on the river.

I made my trip with Salt River Rafting. They are a well-run outfit. Their boats and equipment were in good condition and the guides were professional. They run the trip in self-bailing rafts. The guides row and the customers paddle as needed and directed by the guides.

Location Map   Trip Route

The day I made the trip, the flow was about 1700 CFS. At this flow, the rapids were not very complicated but they are big. Most of them had standing waves 3-4 high. The guides indicated the flow was raftable down to about 300 CFS but became very technical at low levels. I couldn’t take any pictures while on the water. I hope these photos give an impression of the river and countryside.

Apache Falls - Upstream of Put-in

Route 60 Bridges
over the Salt
Highway 60 out of
Canyon river right

This area is on the northern fringe of the Sonoran desert. There are sharp vegetation changes with elevation. Dropping into the canyon, you come out of a pine forest drop into a layer with various cactus, small brush and wild flowers. Near the take-out, we entered the elevation where Saguaros are present. An unexpected site was the presence of tailing piles from several abandoned asbestos mines. Dozens of asbestos mines operated in the area from the early 1900s into the 1960s.

Canyon walls on river right
near put-in
Rafts lined up
at lunch stop

River right Canyon walls-
Saguros at this elevation
Tailings from abandoned
asbestos mine

The day ended with a fantastic shuttle. We crossed a flowing creek with about 2-1/2 feet of flowing water in an ancient school bus. Quite a driving feat.

The author, Bob Naeger