Thursday, May 21, 2020

10+ rock-solid ideas for Memorial Day weekend in Southwest Idaho

The Owyhees should be a fantastic place to be this weekend. Painted Canyon. 
Hi all,

Memorial Day weekend is upon us! Typically, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer camping season, but in a year like this, living with the COVID-19 pandemic, plus chilly temperatures forecast for the mountains, camping might not be the first thing on your mind.

Personally, I'm going to be leaning more toward day trips close to home.

If your heart is set on camping this weekend, dress warm for the mountains ... it's supposed to snow in the mountains tonight ... and consider camping in the Owyhee Canyonlands while the conditions are primo for desert adventures.

High temperatures will be in the mid-50s in McCall and Stanley on Saturday, 60 on Sunday, and mid-60s on Monday. After a week of wet weather, things are shaping up nicely for the weekend!

Because of snow in the high country, the best camping destinations are going to be in the lower-elevation areas this weekend. Think below 5,500 - 6,000 feet. Remember that Idaho State Parks won't be opening campgrounds until May 30, but the parks are open for day use.

Remember to Recreate Responsibly during the coronavirus pandemic ... practice safe social-distancing practices when you're outdoors, keep six feet between you and others, go in small groups of 10 or less, practice good hygiene, wear masks when in close proximity to others, and if you're feeling sick, stay home.

So here are 10+ last-minute camping recommendations for Memorial Day weekend:
  • Camping in the Owyhees should be excellent. Watch your step ... rattlesnakes may be emerging. Places like Leslie GulchSuccor Creek State Park or the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area would all be good bets. Be sure to take my Owyhee Canyonlands guide with you for tips on hiking and biking near your camping destinations. 
  • Morel mushrooms are popping in the Boise and Payette national forests. Morels are delicious and easy to identify. Look for them in the 4,500-foot to 5,000-foot elevation zone. See a recent  blog post on morel-picking in burn zones.  
  • Steve rowing the Bruneau with Ellie in the bow
  • Go fishing! Memorial Day is often the annual kickoff to the summer fishing season. Many reservoirs, ponds and river sections have been freshly stocked. See IDFG Memorial Day fishing report.
  • The Bruneau River is running at a perfect level right now for whitewater boating. Expert kayakers have been running the Jarbidge-Bruneau as well. I've heard it's been busy down there. But if you're going to organize a trip, now is the time.
  • Go car-camping on the North Fork or Middle Fork of the Boise River. Check on road conditions with the Idaho City Ranger District. I'm not sure if you'll run into snow. The Middle Fork of the Boise River would work just fine, driving up along Lucky Peak and Arrowrock and continuing upstream.  
  • Go camping in the national forest. Look for low-elevation sites in the Boise, Payette or Sawtooth National Forest ... see interactive map for sites that are shown in green (open).  Or, do a self-support camping trip and pick your own spot.
  • Salmon River beaches! A great spring camping location is on the sweet white sandy beaches along the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins. There are numerous big beaches up there where you can set up a great camp, hang out by the river, do some floating on the Salmon and/or go hiking. Use caution around the Salmon River, though, because the river is running high and climbing at 46,000 cfs! The hike on the Wind River Trail via the Wind River Pack Bridge about 25 miles upstream of Riggins has a number of switchbacks as you climb higher and higher up the Salmon River canyon. That'd be a great hike right now. Rapid River Trail is great in Riggins, too.
  • Take a day hike on the front side of the Owyhees ... See my Owyhee Canyonlands guide, available at most outdoor stores and book stores. I'd recommend Little Jacks Creek, the West Fork Shoofly Quick Loop, Between the Creeks, Toy Pass hikes, Reynolds Creek, Wilson Creek, Jump Creek Canyon or Wildcat Canyon. 
  • Head up to the Lochsa River and go rafting on the biggest whitewater weekend of the year on the Lochsa.  
  • Stay home and hike/ride/run in the Boise Foothills - It's super green, the wildflowers are out, and the trails will be dry by the weekend.
  • Stay close to home and go for a road bike ride. See my Boise Road Cycling Guide for ideas. 
  • Stay close to home and check out the Memorial Day sales at your favorite local outdoor stores. There are usually some great deals to be had, at up to 50% discounts! 
There you have it! Have a great weekend no matter what you do!
Sitting around the campfire is one of life's simple pleasures 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Forest Service opening campgrounds beginning next week in preparation for Memorial Day weekend

Elena, left, just finished her MBA at Boise State, and Quinn finished his junior year at Colby-Sawyer College. 
Hi all,

I am assuming that people are chomping at the bit to go camping, and next week, the Forest Service is opening a wide array of campgrounds in the Boise National Forest beginning on Wednesday, May 20, in the Cascade Ranger District around Lake Cascade, Warm Lake and the South Fork of the Salmon River.

More campgrounds will open later in the week in the Idaho City, Lowman and Mountain Home districts, and Forest Service officials requested that the public remain patient as they work to open the campgrounds and remove downed timber and other debris prior to Memorial Day weekend.

The opening of campgrounds is good news for Idaho campers who have been yearning to go camping in the national forest where there are camping facilities, water and rest rooms. Forest officials recommend that forest visitors should follow the state's Recreation Responsibly guidelines in terms of going in groups of 10 or less, practicing good hygiene, wear PPE and maintain social distancing of at least six feet from strangers. 

Up to now, mainly day trips have been emphasized for hiking and biking, and campgrounds and rest rooms have been closed.

More updates:
  • Idaho State Parks are open for day use only. State Parks will be opening campgrounds for Memorial Day on May 30. 
  • The famed Middle Fork of the Salmon River and Main Salmon-River of No Return will be re-opened for public use on Saturday, May 16. Permits are required through
  • Access to the desert rivers in Idaho, the Payette River, non-permitted sections of the Salmon River, are open. Desert river flows are on the wane for rafting ... Owyhee River flow was 700 cfs today (1,000+ cfs is best for rafting), and Bruneau was falling below 800 cfs (1,000+ best for rafting).
  • Yellowstone National Park will begin a phased reopening starting on Monday, May 18, with access from the south portal, north of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the east entrance via Cody, Wyo.  
  • Can't see as much detail as to what's planned for campground openings and other facilities in the Payette National Forest or Sawtooth National Recreation Area at the moment, but keep checking to see what is planned as Memorial Day approaches.
Mountain snow is melting, and that is opening up more hiking and biking trails and forest roads.
The U.S. Forest Service interactive map showing what facilities are open and closed is still mostly red with closed sites, but it should be turning more green next week and beyond as facilities begin to open for the summer season.

It's really fun to hike up to the top of the Grand Ronde River canyon for excellent views.
Wendy and I took our kids Quinn and Elena on a 4-day trip on the Grand Ronde River in Eastern Oregon last week, and it felt wonderful to get out of town and go camping on this scenic river just 3+ hours from Boise. We had great weather for the trip.

Flowers galore!
But it was cold at night, and with plenty of firewood along the river corridor, we had a great campfire each night and also each morning. That just felt wonderful hanging out around the fire, feeling the warmth of the fire, the wonderful smell and sounds of the campfire, and swapping stories into the night.

Remember to respect other people when you're out visiting our public lands or going camping in the coming days or weeks. In other words, give them personal space out of respect for their health and safety and yours.

Let's continue to flatten and crush the COVID-19 curve in the weeks ahead!
- SS  

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Updates on National Forest closures, Idaho Power openings and outdoor ethics during COVID-19 pandemic

Make sure you practice proper outdoor ethics when you are out recreating on public lands.
Hi all,

It's been kind of disgusting seeing pictures of litter, garbage and even furniture(!) that people have been dumping on our public lands lately. 

It's kind of a sign of the times, I guess. People are flocking to Idaho's outdoors like never before during the COVID-19 pandemic because they want to get out of the house, and they have no where else to go! 

Perhaps we need to remind people about some basic outdoor ethics ... 

  • Pack it in, pack it out is one of those best practices. Self-contained day trips are recommended right now, so pack up the day's food and drinks, put it in a cooler, drive to your destination, do your outing, and drive home. No stops needed. Pack out what you brought with you. Leave nothing behind.
  • Leave No Trace means clean up your campsite before you go. Pack out all your garbage and try to erase all trace of your presence. Leave it nice for the next group.     
  • If you have to poop in the woods, dig a hole and do it properly. Bring a little shovel and pack your own TP. The restrooms might be closed. How to poop in the woods.
In the interest of de-mystifying and updating where you can go here, what's open and what's closed on the 1st of May, I have some details on that:
  • Idaho State Parks are open but overnight camping is closed. 
  • Ridge to Rivers trails in Boise are open. Try lesser-used trails and trailheads. Please practice at least 6 feet of social distancing. Please go out of your way to practice good trail etiquette. It's crucial right now! Uphill traffic has the right of way. Bikes should yield to hikers and trail-runners. Be a good trail ambassador!
  • The Boise River Greenbelt is open. Place practice at least 6 feet of social distancing. 
  • Bureau of Land Management lands in Idaho are open. Day trips are encouraged. 
  • Most named campgrounds and hot springs on National Forest lands are closed. Here’s a statewide interactive  national forest map that shows closure areas/sites throughout the state.
  • The Forest Service placed a group-size restriction of 10 people or less on national forests statewide. 

The Boise National Forest has closed named campgrounds and hot springs in general. Dispersed camping is OK but not encouraged. Hiking trails are generally open. Danskin Mountain trailheads are open now, and several parking areas for motorized recreation are open in the Idaho City area.
If you’re interested in visiting the Boise National Forest, check the web site before you go.
For a list of Boise National Forest closures, go here:

Call 208-373-4100 to leave a message and get a call back if you have a specific question. 

The Payette National Forest has closed named campgrounds and hot springs in general. Dispersed camping is OK but not encouraged. Pack it in, pack it out. See this link for information on what’s closed in the Payette National Forest. The South Fork of the Salmon River has been closed until June 30.

The Sawtooth National Forest just closed all of its named campgrounds and recreation sites until early June. Much of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is still under snow. Here’s a link to the Sawtooth National Forest web site. Sawtooth NF offices are closed, but you can reach staff at the following numbers:

Ketchum Ranger District, 208-622-0090.
Fairfield Ranger District, 208-764-3202.
Stanley Ranger Station, 208-774-3000.
Sawtooth NRA headquarters, 208-727-5000.
Minidoka Ranger District, 208-678-0430.

Reminder: Blaine County and Valley County are discouraging people from visiting at the current time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Numerous Idaho Power boat ramps and day use sites are reopening on Friday, May 1. Here’s a link to all the sites that will be opening, including a number of boat ramps at CJ Strike Reservoir. 

See the Recreate Responsibly page on the Idaho coronavirus site for more information.
- SS

Friday, April 24, 2020

Updates on Recreate Responsibly Idaho campaign, boating safety and fishing ideas

Hi all,

I've been working together with a consortium of state and federal agency officials who are spreading the word about Gov. Little's Recreate Responsibly Campaign. So I'm sharing some updates and tips for folks heading outdoors this weekend.

No. 1 continues to be if you're feeling sick, feeling cold or flu symptoms come on, stay home! Don't go out and potentially spread your germs to others.

Idahoans are doing a good job with the shelter-at-home strategy, we've had 1,836 confirmed cases overall statewide, 34 new cases yesterday, 822 recovered, and 54 deaths. See the overall effort to flatten the curve, the graph from the Idaho coronavirus page below.

 Source: Idaho Coronavirus web site:

People are flocking to Idaho outdoor venues in big numbers at popular areas, so please practice proper social distancing no matter where you go. Keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and others. You may want to wear a mask in congested areas.

Idaho State Parks are very busy in places. See article on this topic from Jerry Painter with the Post-Register in Idaho Falls. Park rangers had to close Bruneau Dunes State Park for about an hour last Saturday when the parking areas got too full. Eagle Island and Lucky Peak state parks have been very busy, too. Three Mile Island State Park in Glenns Ferry might be a possibility or Thousand Springs State Park near Hagerman.

Check before you go. You might call ahead or check online about whether parks are too crowded before you go there.

If a trailhead or destination seems overly crowded, try going somewhere else. 

Fishing is open. See article by Roger Phillips of Idaho Fish and Game about fishing in Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game has a great list of family fishing waters. See link to find a place to fishing close to home. Thank small ponds, reservoirs, the Boise River and other locations. A lot of those spots are stocked with rainbow trout.

Courtesy IDFG
Practice safe boating techniques if you go out power boating. Here's a video on boating safety. Go in small groups.

See Recreate Responsibly web site for more information on what's open and closed.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Bring stuff with you for a day trip, food and water, etc., and pack out your garbage. 
  • Pack your own TP. You might need it. 
  • Hike from home if you can. 
  • Do bike rides from home. 
  • Road biking is great for social distancing. 
  • Avoid hazardous activities right now. EMS services are busy handing the virus. 
  • Boise Foothills trails are being heavily used right now. Try lesser-used trailheads. I'm seeing some people walking or running on 8th Street or Rocky Canyon Road to avoid congestion. 
Remember that there's sheep on the trails in the Boise Foothills. The sheep are moving east through the foothills right now. A new group of sheep will cross Idaho 55 this morning (4/24) at the Beacon Light interchange at about 9:30 a.m. If you go watch, please practice safe social distancing.

Leash dogs when you encounter sheep and walk your bike through the sheep so as not to antagonize the guard dogs. 

We all have to do our part! Thanks for your patience. We will get through this!

- SS

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Some tips on learning about birds in SW Idaho on outings close to home

Red-winged blackbird at Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve in Boise
Hi all,

I find that I am treasuring the small things in life right now during these weird times with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When out on a Boise Greenbelt ride or hiking the trails, I enjoy seeing things like the first wildflower blooms of the year, or watching the buds beginning to emerge on trees and shrubs. The stunning beauty of fruit tree blooms in our yard and the local 'hood. Just all kinds of little things make me smile.

We've all had to slow down the pace of our lives because of the coronavirus, stay closer to home, etc. At times like this, why not learn a little more about nature? For instance, why not take a little time to pay learn about the birds in your yard, your local neighborhood, the Boise River, the foothills or parks nearby? 

Yellow-headed blackbird at Hyatt Hidden Lakes
Springtime is a good time to watch for birds because there are lots of migrating birds passing through on their way to northern destinations and residents returning to nest. Songbirds we might see right now are feeding on buds and bugs, i.e., robins eating worms. Birds of prey are hunting for mice and ground squirrels. We see red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, kestrels and Swainson's hawks in the foothills doing courtship flight.    

Wendy and I went by the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve today (near Chinden & Marigold) in Boise just before noon to take a few fresh pictures and see what kinds of birds we'd find in the wetlands and ponds. Wendy was happy to see that some yellow-headed blackbirds had moved into the area to establish nests for the next generation. We also saw a great blue heron at close range hiding in a little thicket as we walked into the reserve. We heard red-winged blackbirds everywhere in the wetlands.

On the ponds, we saw mallards, american coots, northern shovelers, pied-billed grebes, buffleheads, gadwalls and american wigeon. Elsewhere on our bird walk today, we saw snow geese, wild turkey, swainson's hawks, song sparrows, house rinches, robins and Canada geese.

If you're interested in a program about birds, the Boise River Enhancement Network is providing an educational program at 11:35 am-1 pm on Friday (April 17) by Louisa Evers of BREN and the Golden Eagle Audubon Society. The program will be presented via Zoom, and it's limited to the first 100 people who login tomorrow. Ms. Evers will talk about how to find and identify birds.


Great-blue heron getting hassled by a red-winged blackbird
Golden Eagle Audubon has a TON of birding programs coming up, so be sure to watch their web site for more information. Next week's program is on the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. 
The Idaho Birding Trail, sponsored by Idaho Fish and Game, is an excellent resource for learning where to find birds and what species you should expect to see at various locations. In the Southwest Idaho region, there are about 40 birding locations on the Idaho Birding Trail, including the Boise River, Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge/Lake Lowell, Black's Creek, Bruneau Dunes State Park and much more.

If you're on Facebook, the Idaho Birding page is fun to watch because a number of expert birders are posting really high-quality photos of songbirds, ducks and raptors on a continuing basis. Once you've spent some time on that page, you can friend some of the frequent posters who take amazing photos and share them with the group.

While you're out birding, start building your life list. I am lucky that Wendy is so knowledgeable about birds. She can identify songbirds from their calls or from sight. I have a long ways to go on that front.

Here's some video from 2010 when our backyard kestrel box yielded big results ... four baby kestrels fledged the nest that year and we watched how they did in their first few days out of the nest. Consider building your own kestrel box for your backyard ... it's fun!

Have fun! 

- SS  

Friday, April 10, 2020

Hike/bike/run close to home; follow social-distancing guidelines - your future access depends on it!

All I saw on the Broken Horn Trail #12 yesterday was a small group of cows. Try more far-flung trails to find more personal space on the trails during the COVID-19 outbreak. See more tips below.
Hi all,

These are difficult and challenging times in many ways for the people of Idaho during the governor's Stay-at-Home order, and increasing restrictions on where people can go outdoors to get a breath of fresh air, enjoy some Vitamin D from the sunshine and get out of the house!

Let's keep working on flattening the curve! The Stay-at-Home strategy is working!
The City of Boise Parks & Recreation Department has people watching the Greenbelt and foothills trailheads to see how people are doing maintaining at least 6 feet of space between people when they are out recreating on the trails. We really have to pay attention to these guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or we could see more restrictions and closures occur.

The Boise Parks & Recreation closed all tennis and basketball courts this week to prevent the spread of the virus.

Some tips to remember:
  • If you have cold/flu symptoms stay home! 
  • Go hiking/biking/running close to home. 
  • Walk from home to trailheads nearby to leave more space for people to park. 
  • Bike from home. 
  • Go out early in the morning or later in the evening ... less-popular times to do an outing. 
  • Do a road bike ride/loop from home ... Road-biking is a good choice for social distancing ... 
    • Cartwright Road Loop is a good one
    • Lonely road out to Swan Falls from Kuna
    • Pleasant Valley Road out to Tenmile to South Cole to Kuna-Mora Road 
    • Boise Road Cycling Guide has over 30 rides to consider ... 
Looking back at the route to Mt. Kepros in the Boise River WMA. Trailhead is on Black's Creek Road.
Less-popular hiking areas to consider:
  • Mt. Kepros, part of the Boise Grand Slam, starting from the first summit on Black's Creek Road. Mt. Cervidae is another good one.
  • Mud Flat Road/Owyhee Backcountry Byway ... go for a scenic drive and hike from there. The Oolite BLM interpretive trail is a cool spot for adults and kids on the way south from Grand View. 
  • Far-flung trails in the Ridge to Rivers system. Try something new and different. Avoid Camelsback Park.
  • Boot hikes on snow on the Deer Point Service Road or Eastside toward Stack Rock. 
  • Backcountry skiing/snowshoeing at Bogus Basin. 
  • State Parks are open for day use ... 
Less-popular mountain biking areas to consider:
  • Far-flung trails at Avimor such as Broken Horn Trail.  
  • Ride more difficult trails in the Boise Foothills such as Hard Guy, Scott's, 8th Street, Rocky Canyon Road, Watchman or Council Springs near Harris Ranch to find more personal space.
All state parks are open for day use ...

Let's all do our part to maintain proper social distancing so we can keep our outdoor opportunities open and available during this difficult time. Thanks!
- SS 


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Just as spring comes to Idaho, we're told to stay inside ... If you go outside, please practice social distancing ...

Hi all,

In several outings recently, I've been watching the shrubs and trees beginning to bloom, the showy blossoms of fruit trees leading the way.

Spring is about new life and renewal, but with the coronavirus spreading throughout Idaho and the world, everyone is concerned about potentially catching the virus or even dying from it.

If you are not a believer that COVID-19 is real threat, read the op-ed by Dr. Brett Russell of Ketchum, who caught the virus and felt its impact in a severe way. He is recovering, but he told his story so well. Very scary situation.

Our best strategy is to shelter in place, cocoon at home with your loved ones, and try to keep the contamination rate to a minimum. Gov. Little has announced a statewide shelter-in-place order effectively immediately.

Fortunately, we can go outdoors, but try to avoid the popular and crowded areas. Keep a safe distance of at least 6 feet, and avoid large groups.   

Wendy and I went on a Greenbelt ride yesterday, and I saw this sign posted next to the pathway near the Plantation pedestrian bridge.

"Stay Safe" - Do your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Link to state COVID-19 page.
  • If you are sick, go home
  • Follow social distancing recommendations and stay 6 feet apart.
  • Avoid group gatherings 
  • Wash and sanitize your hands often. 
"Failure to adhere to these guidelines could lead to closure of City of Boise parks and trailheads."

OK, so let's all do our part to hunker down and beat this damn virus.

I am not going to recommend any particular destination this week. Our neighboring counties have issued orders advising people to stay away. I have seen those messages from Owyhee County and Valley County. We need to respect their wishes as much as possible.

Find ways to enjoy the outdoors close to home. Get a breath of fresh air. Avoid popular parks and trailheads. Time your trips to avoid crowds. Go early in the day. Late in the day. Mid-week. Keep your social distancing to safe levels. Let's beat this thing!
- SS