The 9 Best Outdoor Guides in America (And Their Most Epic Adventures)
Ken Helfrich, Helfrich River Outfitters
Ken Helfrich’s career path was never a question. His father was a river guide, as was his grandfather, who also logged and trapped. “He did lots of outdoor activity occupations because you couldn’t make a living doing rafting in 1925,” says Helfrich. “And during WW2 you couldn’t get the fuel to travel to do the river trips, so it wasn’t until after WW2 that rafting started to become popular.”
Helfrich grew up in the family business and started working the McKenzie River during the summers when he was 13 years old. Today, he’s at the helm of the business, running trips in Idaho on the Main Salmon and the Middle Fork rivers, along with the McKenzie and Rogue rivers in southern Oregon. With the exception of McKenzie, all tours are multi-day, anywhere from six to eight days on the river. “My daughter Kelsey has been working for us for 10 years now – she’s 29– so we’re well into the fourth generation,” says Helfrich.
In summer 2014, his daughter and son-in-law began filming for a reality television show called “Way out West” about Idaho’s family businesses and outfitters. “It’s an interesting life to lead,” says Helfrich. “We love what we do.”
Ken Helfrch, the third-generation owner of the family-run Helfrich River Outfitters, Inc., calls the Middle Fork of the Salmon his family’s favorite river. “And I think it’s our guides’ favorite too,” he says. “The river flows through a 2.3-milllion acre wilderness area. You see no civilization for six days.”
Helfrich’s grandfather started running the Middle Fork in 1940, and then almost immediately WW2 started so he didn’t return until 1946. Now, Helfrich River Outfitters, Inc., runs more than a dozen trips on the Middle Fork every summer, both rafting and fly-fishing in drift boats, and a handful of fishing trips in the fall. The trips book out one to three years in advance, and include gourmet food and deluxe riverside campsites.