As you plan your trip to Hells Canyon, you may look at a map and see multiple rivers flowing through and around the area. Idaho has thousands of miles of rivers and streams. We here at River Adventures traverse two rivers: the Snake and the Salmon. The former runs right through the canyon, while the latter flows far outside Hells Canyon through peaks and valleys of its own. What should you know about these two mighty Idaho rivers?

Course and Location

The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River at over 1,000 miles long, and runs directly through Hells Canyon. Meanwhile, the Salmon River flows for about 425 miles through canyons of its own in central Idaho. That’s right—the Salmon River is not actually in Hells Canyon proper! The two rivers meet just south of the Idaho-Oregon-Washington border.


The Snake and Salmon Rivers were used for human settlements as early as 8,000 years ago. Indigenous tribes like the Shoshone and the Nez Perce have lived in the area longer than historians may realize.

At the beginning of the 19th century, explorers in the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Astor expedition called the Snake River by different names. From Lewis’s Fork to the Mad River, they gave it a variety of names that didn’t stick. One expedition spoke to the Shoshone people living there about the river, and the Shoshone made a gesture like an S shape to represent swimming salmon. Explorers misinterpreted the gesture to represent a snake, so they dubbed it the Snake River.

Meanwhile, Lewis and Clark’s expedition found themselves stymied by the Salmon River in 1805, as the waters were too rough to cross. Clark referred to it as “the Westerly fork of the Columbia River” and initially named it Louis’s River for his companion. The name didn’t last, though. By 1810, maps were already referring to it as the Salmon River, in honor of the river’s most famous residents.

Fishing Opportunities

The Snake River is a beautifully biodiverse ecosystem, teeming with fish ready for you to catch. Prepare for a Snake River fishing adventure on one of our Idaho fishing trips, and look out for these species:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Channel catfish
  • Crappie
  • Rainbow trout

Meanwhile, if you’d rather fish the Salmon River, you may find any of the above species, plus:

  • Steelhead trout
  • Chinook salmon
  • Coho salmon
  • Atlantic, or landlocked, salmon

Get ready for your exhilarating adventure in Idaho by choosing one of the area’s mightiest rivers to place your focus. River Adventures will give you everything you need to know about these two Idaho rivers, so make your choice: Snake or Salmon?