The Salt River dances through 51 miles of lively whitewater from the US 60 bridge north of Globe down to the AZ 288 bridge near Roosevelt Lake. Boaters can raft or kayak on one- or two-day trips on the upper section or run the entire stretch in 3-5 days. Midweek travel gives the best chance for solitude, especially in the upper section. Only experienced river-runners should attempt this wild water, as several rapids through the twisting canyons have a rating of Class IV. The bigger rapids have earned names such as "Baptism," "Maytag Chute," "Reforma," "Overboard," "Cliff Hanger," and "Wakeup."
Rafting companies supply skilled crew and all the equipment so that anyone in good health can go through. Trips use paddle rafts (everyone participates in paddling), oar boats (only the guide rows), and combinations of the two. The companies request several weeks' advance notice on all the trips. Try Salt River Rafting (800/425-5253, www.raftthesalt.com), Mild to Wild (800/567-6745, www.mild2wildrafting.com), and Wilderness Aware Rafting (800/462-7238, www.inaraft.com). Globe Ranger District office (7680 S. Six Shooter Canyon Rd., Globe, AZ 85501, 928/402-6200) and www.wmatoutdoors.org/commercial_rafting have a list of current rafting outfits.
The Forest Service requires visitor groups to be no more than 15, to use suitable nonmotorized craft, and to practice "no trace" camping. Large rafts over 15 feet can be too unwieldy; open canoes will swamp. Because the Salt has become very popular, all river users must use a fire pan, carry out all non-burnable trash, and pack out all human solid waste.
Flow levels depend on the winter snowpack, so springtime affords the best chance of sufficient water. The liveliest rapids (Class III-IV) most commonly occur mid-March to early April, and the weather is usually reliable after late March. Bridge-to-bridge trips depend on water level—fast flows in early season (March and April) make it a three-day float; lower flows later in the season (May or June) make for four- or five-day trips. The Salt River Project has a recording of flow rates, 602/236-5929, or you can check the USGS website at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/az/nwis/rt. Generally for the Salt River, 750 cubic feet per second is considered low water and 4,000 cfs or above is high water.
Rafting companies take care of the needed permits for their trips. Private parties must plan well ahead. You'll need a tribal permit along the upper stretch because part of the south shore belongs to the San Carlos Apache tribe and the north shore to the White Mountain Apache, who issue the permits; permits won't be required if you start from Horseshoe Bend and maybe from Gleason Flat (check). The store near the US 60 bridge and other outlets on the reservation sell tribal permits, which are easily obtained. For information on the tribal permits, contact the Hon-Dah Ski and Sport Shop (928/369-7669) or the White Mountain Game & Fish Dept. (P.O. Box 220, White River, AZ 85941, 928/338-4385). The Forest Service requires a permit March 1-May 15 for the wilderness section between Gleason Flat and Roosevelt Lake. Since demand far exceeds available dates, permits are issued by a lottery system; contact the Globe Ranger District office (928/402-6200). Both the Globe Ranger District and Phoenix Supervisors (602/225-5200) offices have a detailed booklet on the Upper Salt River.
On to Tonto National Monument