Thursday, September 24, 2020

Take a scenic drive to see fall colors bursting in Idaho's Mountains

Caribou-Targhee National Forest, taken on Tuesday.  

Big-toothed maple trees glowing between Soda Springs and Lava Hot Springs 

Hi all, 

This week for my outdoor tip, I'd recommend taking a scenic drive to enjoy fall colors, which are really starting to pop in the higher elevations! 

I had a business trip to Southeast Idaho this week, and I was surprised and amazed how beautiful the colors were, especially as I went from Lava Hot Springs, south of Pocatello, toward Soda Springs. The big-toothed maple trees in the Portneuf Mountains, Bannock Mountains and other ranges in Southeast Idaho are turning deep red. Aspens are turning yellow, and cottonwoods are also beginning to take on a golden glow. The time is now! 

Visit Idaho lists two scenic drives in SE Idaho. I'd recommend the Oregon Trail - Bear Lake Scenic Highway , which goes from Lava Hot Springs to Soda Springs, Montpelier then Bear Lake. All interesting and scenic spots, a bit off the beaten track. 

With fires burning in the South Hills, the City of Rocks to Oakley scenic byway is out of the question. Fall colors may be popping in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and Stanley.  

Here's a post I did last year on five Idaho scenic drives. 

Clearwater River country 

Here are scenic drives in Southern Idaho ... see for more information.  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fall is a sweet time to visit the Middle Fork Salmon River - and other Idaho rivers

Steve and Wendy at a big wall of Native American pictographs on the Middle Fork. 

Hi all, 

Take a long look at the lovely Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and the beauty is so profound, it takes my breath away.

It's gin-clear, giving the sense that you're floating in a glass-bottomed boat, and in deeper spots, the Middle Fork takes on this turquoise blue-green hue that darkens with deepness. I just love looking into those deep, dark pools and marvel at the beauty. It's fun to look for schools of native west-slope cutthroat trout or big bull trout in those pools, too. 

I had the privilege of floating the Middle Fork with a small group of eight people last week, and it renewed my soul, as it always does. We decided to fly our gear into Indian Creek, 25 miles downriver from the official launch point at Boundary Creek, so we could enjoy a leisurely pace and take eight days of wilderness bliss for a quality vacation off-the-grid and away from all of the bizarre weirdness that 2020 has become. 

Dan and Kelly and all of our group will fit into this plane on the flight into Indian Creek.

Floating the Middle Fork in the fall -- after the official control season ends after Labor Day weekend -- is something that a lot of Idaho locals do because it's easier to get a permit at that time of year. My longtime friend Jeff Beaman had snagged the permit earlier in the year. We had six good friends from Boise on the trip, and a super fun couple from L.A. who had done the Selway River with Beaman a few years ago. 

We brought four rafts so we had two people on each boat, plus my pointer Huck. 

My first trip on the Middle Fork was in June 1987, 33 years ago, a higher-water trip that started with snow falling at the put-in, freezing temperatures, then steady rain, followed by 7 days of sunny blissful weather. The Middle Fork cast a spell on me that has lasted a lifetime.     

Ben Nydegger and Kelly in Marble Creek Rapids

The river pours out of the wilderness headwaters in Central Idaho, and it flows for 100 miles to the Main Salmon River. There are natural hot springs to enjoy nearly every day, countless side-hikes to explore, historic sites, Native American pictographs, Veil Cave, Parrott's Grotto, the Impassible Canyon, fun times with friends, Dutch oven dinners, fantastic, consistent trout-fishing, tons of rapids to negotiate and rocks to dodge, and occasionally, a long stretch of calm water when you can put the oars under your knees and stare up at the vertical mountains and canyons to look for bighorn sheep, elk, deer or birds of prey and marvel at the beauty. 

Even though the Middle Fork is close to home, being situated inside the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, I feel that I'm as far away from civilization as I might feel if I'm on a vacation in Baja or Hawaii. After working nose-to-the-grindstone since last January, my oh my was I ready for a quality break! 

The scene at Indian Creek launch point. A little smoky. We didn't see anyone for 5-6 days.

We flew our people and gear into Indian Creek with Gem Air a day before our official launch date, so we actually had nine days of vacation on the Middle Fork. It felt really long, and I felt that we had pretty much soaked up the Middle Fork for all it's worth. Most groups take only 6 or 7 days, for comparison. 

I recommend staying as long as possible because it's such a cool place, and you never really know for sure when you might be back. I've done the Middle Fork more than 30 times, but I certainly never get tired of it. More and more, as time goes on, I feel like it's my home away from home. In the years when I've been able to do two trips on the Middle Fork in July or August, that's really good medicine for my spirit and soul. 

Long-time friends and Ho Hum team-mates Jim Acee and Kristin Nelson

Think about trying to get out on Idaho's scenic rivers in the fall when the weather is still nice. You also can plan a trip on the Main Salmon River, Hells Canyon, South Fork Snake River or sign up for a jet-boat scenic ride or fishing trip on the Salmon or Hells Canyon. If you don't have your own river gear, look for hot deals with outfitters through Raft Idaho. Jet boat trips can be found at the Riggins Chamber of Commerce web site. 

I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking so you can share in the glory of our mostly smokeless Middle Fork trip.
- SS 

Ben, Kelly and I hiked up the switchback trail by Camas Creek on our layover day. 

Steve enjoys the hot pool at Sunflower Hot Springs

Dan and Kelly at Sunflower Hot Springs

Kelly liked the hot springs at Hospital Bar as well ... 

Veil Falls     


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Smoke is supposed to clear by Sunday ... Big cool-down coming ... Bow season starts Aug. 30 in many locations

Hi all, 

Quite honestly, I don't have a lot to say this week. It's been really smoky for much of the last 5 days, and that sure puts a damper on my interest in going outdoors for a hike or a bike ride. Idaho DEQ has been recommending laying low mostly this week to avoid damaging your lungs. Swimming is a little better to at least cool off. 

I took advantage of a brief window of opportunity Wednesday morning and went for an early-morning bike ride. The brief rainstorm Tuesday night seemed to push the smoke out of the valley a bit. It remained pretty clear that morning to feel safe for an outdoor outing.

The good news is that a frontal system is supposed to move through Idaho Saturday night, and drop temperatures about 15-20 degrees by Sunday. The high temperature in Stanley is forecast to be 68 degrees F on Sunday, and 66 degrees F in McCall.

Hence, Sunday should be a great day to get out for a walk, run, hike or bike ride in the cool weather. If you head out camping this weekend, make sure to bring some warm clothes for Sunday morning! 

Another tip is that Sunday (Aug. 30) is the beginning of big game archery season in many parts of Idaho, depending on the big game unit. That means there will be a lot of people in camo and face paint out roaming the woods on foot, by truck or ATV/UTV. Just a head's up that you are likely to run into bow hunters for the next 30 days, following by rifle seasons. Consider putting something bright on your dog if you're going out in the woods. 

Here's a link to the NOAA Smoke Map

Otherwise, let's hope the skies stay clear for a few days, with more of a Northwest flow vs. a Southwest flow, which has been pushing smoke from California and Oregon into Idaho.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Try a scenic chairlift ride at Brundage Mountain or other Idaho ski areas while you still can ...

Hi all,

I've been hibernating in our cabin in McCall this week, blasting away on some writing and work projects, while trying to get out once a day for a hike, bike ride and/or a swim. I love how easy it is to do all of those things close to our cabin! 

On Wednesday, I thought it'd be neat to take my younger son, Drew, on a chairlift ride to the top of Brundage Mountain, and then hike down. We usually take Drew on hikes from the bottom of the mountain at Bogus Basin, and he does great climbing the mountain with us and doing a big loop to enjoy the 360 degrees views and the surrounding countryside. 

For Drew, a high-functioning autistic lad, this was his first chairlift ride. He doesn't like the thought of skiing, so we go snow-shoeing instead. But I thought, what a perfect thing to do for kids with disabilities to take them out of their comfort zone a little, and let them enjoy the thrill of getting a free and safe ride to the top of the mountain on a super smooth chairlift -- in the summer when it's warm! 

It might not be that big of a deal to us, but it's a BIG deal to them! 

Brundage operates its lifts Wed-Sunday. The one-ride lift ticket cost us $15 each. I wanted to take my pointer so he could get some exercise, but no dogs are allowed on the chairlift (understandable!), and no dogs are allowed on the Brundage trails. So we left Huck at home. 

The nifty thing about scenic chairlift rides with detachable quad chair systems is how easy it is to load and unload. The chairlift slows down to a crawl as you get on the chair, and it does the same at the top, decelerating as you approach the lift station. A sign says, "Keep your feet up!" when approaching the landing platform.  

At the bottom of the Bluebird Express lift, Drew walked right up to the loading platform with me and loaded on the chairlift like a champ. We took off our day packs and held them in our lap so our backs were free to lean against the back of the chair. We lowered the safety bar as soon as we were launched, and then Drew could see he was safe and sound. 

"Whew!" he said after we lowered the bar. "I sure don't want to fall off this thing. It's a long way down!" 

"But don't you feel safe now with the safety bar down?" 

"Yeah, I think so. I just don't want to fall off," he said. 

I talked about looking for deer and elk in the trees on the way up (we see tons of deer around our cabin), and we could see lots of wildflowers growing under the chairlift on the way up. Tall red paintbrush were in full bloom. 

The sky was kind of hazy on Wednesday because of some new lightning-caused wildfires in the Payette National Forest, and also fire smoke blowing into the area from Oregon and California. So we couldn't see the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon ... but Drew didn't really mind.

To hike down from the Brundage summit, they recommend taking hiking trails over by the Lakeview chair, and you can walk down the Growler xc trail over by the long Temptation ski run. You also can take the South Lodge access road down from the top, if you might prefer walking on a dirt road vs. a singletrack trail where you might encounter bikes. 

The views from the Lakeview chair area are splendid! Drew noticed Payette Lake, the city of McCall, and the McCall Airport. We saw lots of colorful wildflowers on the way down, quite a few chipmunks and squirrels, a goshawk cruising the treetops for a meal (bonus), and only one other hiker. 

Brundage, Bogus, Tamarack Resort and Sun Valley will be running their lifts through Labor Day weekend, and then it'll be up to your human power to reach the ski area summits. I highly recommend taking the lift to the top for a fun hike or bike ride on the way down. 

After we finished our trip, Drew said, "I'll never do that again," as he often says after the first time he does something new. But I promise you, it won't be his last chairlift ride. If anything, I wondered why it took me that long to take him on a chairlift!
- SS   

Thursday, August 13, 2020

OMG! Last weekend before school starts! 10 ideas for outdoor outings to beat the August heat!


Hi all,

It's kind of hard to believe, but summer vacation is on the wane, especially for families with school kids! There's only one weekend left before Boise Schools start up on Monday, Aug. 17. How have you done on your summer outdoor punch list?

This has been one of the most challenging summers ever because of COVID-19. Doing outdoor trips on a day trip-basis, close to home is smart and safe. Many people have missed out on planned trips out of state or out of country this summer because of COVID. 

For those who are looking for some last-minute ideas for outings this weekend, here are some recommendations ... temperatures are warming up into the triple digits, so many of these are geared to beat the heat:

1. Ride the ski lift to the top of Bogus Basin, Tamarack Resort, Brundage Mountain or Sun Valley and go hiking or biking from there. Good way to find cooler weather at mountain top-elevations! Spectacular 360-degree views off the summit! 

2. Go fishing - Go wade-fishing on the Boise River and stay cool. See the list of Idaho Fish and Game's Family Fishing Waters to find some other recommendations close to home.

3. Go SUP'ing, boating or swimming in a refreshing Idaho lake like Lucky Peak, Arrowrock Reservoir, Lake Cascade, Deadwood Reservoir, Payette Lake, Redfish Lake, or Priest Lake.

4. Float a river (day trip) - we're blessed with so many options here. Have you floated the Boise River this year? How about the Payette River -- there's the Main Payette, South Fork Payette or Cabarton run on the North Fork. Check with Cascade Raft, Idaho Whitewater Unlimited, Bear Valley or the Payette River Company about guided trips. The Payette's calmer sections are great for stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), sit-on-top kayaking and canoeing.

5. Climb a mountain - The pinnacle is to climb Mount Borah, the tallest peak in Idaho, but there are so many other options in Idaho, with dozens of peaks over 10,000 feet and 8 peaks over 12,000 feet. See Idaho mountain expert Tom Lopez's list of recommended mountain peaks. McCall mountain expert John Platt also has an extensive list of peaks and mountains that he's climbed.

6. Go backpacking in the Sawtooths, White Clouds, Pioneers or Big Lost Mountain Range. See Michael Lanza's recommended hikes in the Sawtooths in his blog, the Big Outside. See a recommended major loop in the White Clouds in Backpacker mag. For a great hike in the Pioneers, see my blog post about hiking Broad Canyon. 

7. Go camping on the North Fork or Middle Fork Boise River via Idaho City. Oodles of car camping areas up located up there, some with services and some self-support. Consult a Boise National Forest Map to find developed fee campgrounds with water hookups and rest rooms.

8. Paddle the Mid-Snake River to Shoshone Falls. You can rent kayaks or SUPs at Centennial Park in Twin Falls. Here's a recent post I wrote about that adventure.

9. Go rafting or jet boating in Riggins or Hells Canyon - Check with your favorite outfitter in the area to get out on the water.  Or check the IOGA web site

10. Go mountain biking on the Idaho Classics like Loon Lake, Fisher-Williams, Around the Mountain at Bogus, Ketchum-Sun Valley Trails, Galena Lodge Trails, or Jug Mountain Ranch trails. 

There you have it! Have fun and be safe!
- SS

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Find your Private Idaho at Harriman State Park, Ashton-Tetonia Rail-Trail in E. Idaho

Hi all,

Last week, I traveled to Salmon and Eastern Idaho to work on some conservation stories, and Wendy agreed to meet up with me at Harriman State Park last Thursday to stay in one of their yurts and spend time in that quiet, beautiful corner of Idaho.

We planned a long weekend to ride the cool bike trails at Harriman, do some fishing, maybe float the Big Springs section of the Henry's Fork in our double inflatable kayak, and ride the Ashton-Tetonia Rail-Trail. I always like to stop by Mesa and Lower Mesa Falls while I'm in the 'hood, too.

We got a great start to our little stay-cation Thursday afternoon. We checked into the Wythea yurt after 3 p.m., rode the bike trail around Silver Lake, saw a yearling moose in the woods, and then went over to the historic cabins overlooking Millionaire's Hole on the Henry's Fork and soaked in the grandeur of the scene.

Here's a long-form video that I produced several years ago for Life on the Range about the history, fishing, recreation and grazing at Harriman Park:

If you haven't ever been to Harriman State Park, it's truly one of Idaho's gems in the state park system.
Looking out into all of that gorgeous open space in the meadows surrounding the Henrys Fork leading up to Last Chance and Island Park is quite a sight to behold. If you hang out by Millionaire's Hole in the evening, you might see elk and moose wander out into the open at dusk. It's a place that always takes my breath away.

The Harriman Family gifted the property to the state of Idaho back in the 1960s under a provision that Idaho would have to create a state parks system to receive that incredible gift. Former Gov. Robert Smylieand the Idaho Legislature came through in 1965, creating the state park system and Harriman State Park became an official state property.

Wendy and I went out to eat at the Trout Hunter's Lodge in Island Park Thursday night, right on the banks of the Henrys Fork as multiple bug hatches were swirling above the river in the evening twilight.

I didn't sleep very well in the yurt that night. The next morning, I woke up with diarrhea. That continued through the morning, and I felt like crap. Must have picked up some bad water or food along the way, and it was hitting me like a ton of bricks. Wendy had reserved a room in Ashton that night, and I headed for the hotel to sleep it off being close to a bathroom. So much for doing anything on Friday for me. Wendy went swimming and met up with an old friend is Island Park for dinner.

I slept from 2-10 p.m. that day in the hotel room. I woke for a few minutes, and then slept through the night to 6 a.m. The diarrhea continued. But I had enough energy to drive home to Boise. I threw my stuff in the car and zipped home on the freeway. Because diarrhea is listed as one of the possible symptoms of COVID-19, I called Primary Health and signed up for a test at noon on Saturday to follow protocol.

Knowing that it'd take 3-5 days to get test results back, we had to cancel our Lower Salmon River trip, planned for Tuesday-Sunday this week before Quinn goes back to Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire to finish his senior year. DAMN! That pissed me off. And it was depressing.

I was pretty sure I just had a stomach bug. But my oh my, it was a doozy. It knocked me down with fatigue for three days. I finally started feeling a bit better by Sunday evening, and then Monday I felt much more energetic, but I still couldn't eat anything and had no appetite because of the Imodium I was taking to treat the loose bowels. Finally, Tuesday, I emerged feeling more normal, and Wednesday morning, I got learned that my COVID test was NEGATIVE. 

Anyway, I still would recommend a fun stay-cation in the Island Park area to do the things mentioned above. Here are some links to find the fun:

Harriman State Park - The 16,000-acre park has 22 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. You can go on a guided horseback ride, too. Rent a yurt or one of their cool cabins and stay in that gorgeous spot to soak up the scenery and enjoy all of the amenities right out the back door. 

Ashton-Tetonia Rail-Trail - The trail is 29.6 miles long. You can start in Ashton and ride to Tetonia or vice-versa. There's a local shuttle service available. It's a gravel surface trail with several very high bridges over Fall River and Bitch Creek (the tallest and longest one). You can see the backside of the Teton Range and the Grand Teton as you're riding the trail through seed potato fields and grain fields. Very quiet and lightly used trail.

Floating and fishing the Henry's Fork - There are many sources that are more knowledgeable than I am about fishing the Henry's Fork, but suffice to say, it's a very challenging stream to fly fish. People come from all over the world to do it because of the large rainbow trout that lurk below the surface. If you don't fish, there are numerous sections of the Henrys Fork that you can float in a raft, drift boat, IK or SUP. Pick up a map of the Henrys Fork in Island Park or Harriman Park. The Big Springs section is crystal clear. Really special.

Mesa Falls - 114-foot Upper Mesa Falls is the tallest and most spectacular of the two falls. Take the scenic drive from Ashton or Island Park to the falls and take the short walk over to an overlook to see the falls. Well worth the drive and the walk!

Have fun and be well!
- SS

Thursday, July 23, 2020

A multitude of mountain lakes and hikes beckon in NW McCall

Hi all,

It seems that many visitors to McCall are attracted to the Lick Creek Road area for hiking to high mountain lakes for day trips or backpacking. Actually, the high country around McCall has high mountain lakes in many locations. But you shouldn't overlook the hikes and lakes off Goose Lake Road.

That's my topic this week.

Previously, I've blogged about numerous kid-friendly short hikes in McCall, including going to Upper Hazard Lake off the Goose Lake Road. Most of the hikes/lakes in that area are kid-friendly, from super young kids to teen-agers. Think about bringing a fishing pole. Don't forget your bug stuff, either.

Wendy and I joined our COVID buddies Mark and Laurie Anderson for a super pleasant hike to the Grassy Mountain Lakes last Saturday. Wendy and Laurie also were interested in climbing to the top of Granite Mountain, but since Mark and I had done that a number of times, we went for the Grassy Mountain Lakes.

Driving up the Goose Lake Road, it's pretty obvious that Goose Lake itself is well-known and popular with campers, paddlers, anglers, SUPs, etc.

It took a little over 30 minutes from McCall to the well-marked trailhead for Grassy Mountain. It's only two miles to the lakes. We hiked to the top of Grassy Mountain for a bigger view of the whole countryside, and my oh my, what a view! The Wallowas way off to the west. Cuddy Mountain. Seven Devils. Bruin Mountain. Hard Butte. Patrick Butte. The Little Salmon River canyon. The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. And then looking back to McCall, you can see a whole series of peaks and ridge-tops that comprise the Payette Crest. In other words, it's God's Country!

All of that is really inspiring to me, refreshes my soul.

We even found some snow on top of the mountain for Huck to check into for a fresh drink.

Looking west, we also could see Coffee Pot Lake, Disappointment Lake and Lake Serene. We'd leave those for another day, since we were day hiking.

On our way back, we took a dive in upper Grassy Mountain Lake, and that was super refreshing ...

Farther up the Goose Lake Road, you'll also should check out:
    - Hazard Lake and Upper Hazard Lake - car-camping, hiking and fishing at the main lake, with an option to hike to Upper Hazard on an easy trail. 
    - Twin Lakes, Hard Butte Lakes, Rainbow Lake - Much longer drive to the end of the Goose Lake Road to reach those lakes. Park and hike from there. I've biked to Twin Lakes and Rainbow Lake.
    - Climb Hard Butte if you're in the 'hood.

Pick up a McCall Adventure Map or a Payette National Forest map for driving directions and general reference. I also like to create a more detailed topo map for my hikes for easier route-finding.

Have fun!
- SS