VCU Lower Salmon River Expedition
Come join us on our next VCU adventure!
Application deadline is April 17, 2020 (July 9 - August 7)

The Salmon River

Running northwest through central Idaho, this wild river once known as “The River of No Return” has been the home to humans for over 8000 years. To the prehistoric ancestors of the Nez Perce tribe it was Natsoh Koos, the Chinook Salmon Waters. Reached in 1805 by William Clark, he recorded it as completely impassable by canoe. This river flows for 425 miles through Central Idaho from the Sawtooth Mountains, running west and north on its way to converge with the mighty Snake River. Here it forms the boundary between Idaho and Oregon as it flows to the Pacific Ocean. Parts of this remote river system pass through some of the deepest canyons in the lower 48 states, similar to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River and Hell’s Canyon on the Snake.


When the well's dry, we will know the worth of water.– Benjamin Franklin

This interdisciplinary expedition is a collaboration between the VCU Center for Environmental Studies, the Outdoor Adventure Program and the Department of Biology. This immersive learning experience will offer students 6 credits in three courses: Expedition Planning & Management, Filmmaking in the Field and Natural History of the Lower Salmon River. Students will live and learn in the field as they travel the Lower Salmon River for ten days, taking turns leading the group, investigating the intersections of human and natural history across this rugged landscape. As a flagship experience for the VCU River Studies and Leadership Certificate Program, this expedition offers students an immersive learning experience including: exposure to a high desert river system, firsthand biological field techniques, living and learning through traditional expedition management, firsthand experience shooting, composing and editing primary footage of your class and some of the gnarliest whitewater paddling in the entire undergraduate curriculum.

Over the duration of the expedition, between May 14, 1804 and September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery traveled nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 km) from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean and back again.

Expedition Planning & Management is an experiential learning outdoor leadership course. Using Idaho’s Lower Salmon River as a classroom, students will be challenged to critically assess the pragmatic roots of group management, outdoor adventure environmental impact, outdoor education, leadership theory, outdoor camp craft, and risk management. By the end of the expedition, students will be able to connect class theory to practical application in a western river setting.

Filmmaking in the Field is a course designed to teach the fundamentals of science filmmaking in the rugged expedition setting.  Students will have the opportunity to document our journey down the Lower Salmon River, and create a film that communicates the scientific, cultural, and social stories of our Salmon River research expedition.  The course will cover the process of designing a narrative, camera fundamentals and shooting in the field, media and equipment management on an expedition, and film editing.  Students will gain proficiency in science filmmaking and enhance their capacity for communicating science, while having to manage the challenges inherent to shooting the expeditionary setting.  All cameras and peripheral equipment for the course will be provided, though students are welcome to bring their own gear if they wish.

The Natural History of the Lower Salmon River presents students with an investigation of the ecological components of this unique environment and and opportunity to compare it with our home river, the James. Students will identify and examine relationships between organisms and communities in this system and the impact of natural and human activities upon them.  Students will be tasked with recording a variety of observations, managing a schedule of data collection protocols and recording regular journal entries.


You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.– Heraclitus of Ephesus, On the Universe
Taking notes in the field

The team will spend 9 July – ~ 17 July training in Richmond for the expedition. Students will then fly to Boise, Idaho to rendezvous with the supply vehicles. We will then spend 10 days exploring and collecting data on the hydrology, scenic value, human impacts, and vegetation communities of the Lower Salmon River. The course then returns to Richmond for project analysis, summary, and debrief.