Arizona’s Upper Salt River is virtually unknown outside of a loyal group of river runners. However, it is one of the most spectacular and unique wilderness rafting trips in the country. The combination of exciting and abundant whitewater, wilderness solitude, world-class camping, the desert sun in spring, and granite inner gorges that cut through the exotic Saguaro Cactus forests of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, makes it like no other river trip on earth. Often referred to as ‘Arizona’s other Grand Canyon’ the Salt can more than hold its own with its famous neighbor.
A note from Pete about the Salt:
The Salt was the first wilderness river trip I ever did. It was done as part of my first guide school and has a lot to do with why I am still guiding. From almost the start of Momentum as a company, showing people the Salt was on my radar. Twenty years later we were finally able to make it happen and we couldn’t be more excited.
As with all of our trips we will run the Salt with innovative and comfortable wilderness camping and creative menus featuring local and organic produce & products. And they will be guided with our extremely experienced, friendly, and humble guides.
It is a truly special river, and it has a special place in my heart. I hope we have a chance to show it to you.
The Salt begins 150 miles east of Phoenix high in the White Mountains, draining melting snow off of 11403’ Baldy peak, Arizona’s second highest mountain. Below the peak the White and the Black rivers merge to form the Salt, the largest river entirely within Arizona. From there the river tumbles through the lands of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and San Carlos Indian Reservation and into Tonto National Forest and the 32,100-acre Salt River Canyon Wilderness. Along the way it cuts through the transition zone between the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Region, exposing 1.4 million year old granite, some of the oldest rocks in North America.
Very few rivers still flow through the Saguaro forests of the Sonoran desert, and the wilderness section of the Salt is the only one with raftable flows and whitewater. The trip begins in oak and juniper woodlands and then cuts through rugged mountains dotted with stately saguaros and past meadows carpeted with blooming purple, yellow, red, and white cactus and desert flowers. Side creeks regularly enter with cool shaded pools, waterfalls, and slot canyons and washes to explore. Seeing the Sonoran desert by river in all its spring glory is an incredible experience.
The whitewater on the Salt is a big part of its uniqueness and overall quality. There is whitewater every day and in the first 37 miles, rapids come one after another with a frequency that is rare on a desert wilderness trip. The stretch begins with 14 miles of exciting but more mild class III whitewater as the Salt carves through a mostly sedimentary canyon. At mile 14 the Salt enters the first of three narrow granite gorges, the whitewater intensifies, and for the next 23 miles there are Class III and IV rapids every day. The whitewater climaxes in an ancient, dramatic, and jagged quartzsite canyon, at the infamous Quartzite Falls and Corkscrew rapids. In these rugged bedrock chasms the Salt shows its unique combination of boulder-strewn rapids reminiscent of California’s Sierra Nevada alongside the stunning scenery of the desert Southwest.
The desert camping is world-class, with beautiful sandy beaches, cool shaded side creeks, or a rich combination of both. The camps all offer hiking and opportunities to explore the hidden, shyer aspects of desert life. And the trip is done with Momentum’s signature style, attention to detail, and handcrafted quality. With comfortable and innovative wilderness camping, creative menus, personal service and hospitality, one of the most experienced (and friendly) guide staffs in the world, and with all the little touches we are known for. Our Salt trips also feature a higher guide-to-guest ratio, allowing us to run the river at a wider range of flows and adding to the overall comfort and experience.
Despite draining the wettest part of the state (3 to 4 times the precipitation of Phoenix) the season on the Salt is early and unpredictable, and average seasons are rare. But in good snow years from early March to late April, when other places are still digging out of the snow, the Upper Salt offers warm sun, the twinkling desert skies, and some of the most unique early season rafting anywhere.
For those who have joined us on other trips, the whitewater is somewhere between the Rogue and the Illinois in difficulty. And, while the area is remote and the whitewater is exciting, participants do not need to be experienced adventurers or athletes, or to have spent a night under the stars to join us. First timers with an adventurous spirit, in reasonable physical condition, who are excited to see one of America’s most unique river canyons are more than welcome.
For more than 50 spectacular miles, the upper Salt river canyon offers the rare combination of deep solitude, thrilling whitewater, and Sonoran Desert beauty. Join us in a journey through a land of Gila monsters, Javelina, and bighorn sheep; granite inner gorges flanked by crumbling sedimentary mountains; blooming ocotillo, palo verde, and desert flowers; classic whitewater; cool quiet pools and tumbling waterfalls; all watched over by the warm desert sun and the mystical and stately giant saguaros – the benevolent sentinels of the Sonoran Desert.