|Stanley Overlook map ... Click to enlarge|
|Steve on Railroad Ridge|
|Wendy on Railroad Ridge|
|Railroad Ridge camp set up|
|Sunset off to the west|
|Mark Anderson looks off into French Creek from the Bear Pete Trail|
|Steve loves to ride Bear Pete!|
|Aerial view of Bear Valley Creek, the headwaters of the Middle Fork.|
|Floating Bear Valley Creek (Courtesy Idaho Rivers United)|
|Having fun on the Salmon River beach scene|
A friend, Ted Kielley, was surveying the Facebook landscape for people's favorite primitive camp sites, in hopes of going somewhere new and different for his next adventure. And that got me thinking about sharing my favorite car-camping spots in SW Idaho in my outdoor tip of the week.
Some of my favorites are dry, high-elevation camps where you need to bring plenty of drinking and cooking water and everything else you need for a self-support camping trip. A full-on, high-clearance 4-wheel-drive is necessary for some of these, too. But it's super cool to be perched high on a mountaintop or ridgetop, with beautiful mountains and meadows as far as the eye can see. One of Ted's requirements was to find a place with almost no lights -- good for dark sky and stars. All of these spots pass that test in spades.
Here we go, my top five:
1. Railroad Ridge, White Cloud Mountains, near Clayton, Idaho. Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Stanley, and Idaho 75 past Yankee Fork and Clayton to the turnoff for the East Fork of the Salmon River Road. Head up the paved East Fork Road about 10 miles to Big Boulder Road #667. Go right on #667 and proceed to the Livingston Mill. A Forest Service sign indicates the turnoff for the primitive single-lane 4WD road to Railroad Ridge. You, no, the truck, must climb from 7,200 feet to elevation 10,600 feet, 3,400 feet of gain over just a few miles of steep road. It's WAY COOL!
It took us, no, the truck, less than an hour of climbing and we were cruising up the backbone of Railroad Ridge, which was absolutely smothered with multiple layers and colors of wildflowers. We hit it at the peak! Sweet! Perched at 10,600 feet, it was so cool to look at eye level with 10,000-foot peaks in theSawtooths to the west, and the Frank Church Wilderness to the north, while the higher Lost River Range and Lemhi Mountains lorded over the eastern side of the state. We were on the rooftop of Central Idaho! I hiked down to Crater Lake to fly fish, just in time for a thunderstorm to hit and lightning bolts to land around the edges of the lake. We had a great evening watching a storm hammer the Lemhi's and the Borah Peak area. The only downside with the spot, is that there's no cover anywhere, no trees for shelter, no rocks, nothing. You are totally exposed. Bring a good tent!
2. Stanley Overlook - South foothills overlooking Stanley, with the Sawtooth Wilderness smack dab right in your face! Getting there: Go to Lower Stanley and take the Nip and Tuck Road (the turnoff is off to the north, kind of hidden), a public dirt road that climbs over to Stanley Creek. There are spur roads that peel off to the left, climbing up to the hilltop overlooking Stanley. 4WD is necessary.
I've sipped cocktails with friends on that knoll, sitting in a lawnchair on a gorgeous summer evening, taking in the spectacular views, feeling lucky to live in Idaho! In the morning, sandhill cranes echoed from the Valley Creek meadows below.
The camp is a great jump-off point for day trips around Stanley -- biking the Potato Mountain Loop, Fisher-Williams, riding up to the Basin Butte Lookout, or hiking in the Sawtooths and White Clouds. Be sure to leave some stuff there while you're gone for the day so someone doesn't take your spot.
3. Cloochman Summit - Great overlook campsite north of McCall, next to the trailhead for Bear Pete Trail. You're also in the vicinity of Burgdorf Hot Springs, Loon Lake Loop, etc. Getting there: Take Warren Wagon Road north of McCall, past Upper Payette Lake, to a signed turnoff for Bear Pete Trail and Cloochman Summit, Forest Road #492. It's only about three miles to the summit. 4WD rig is recommended. Chainsaw recommended. There's a couple of pullouts that make for a great car-camping spot right at the summit. One of them looks south over Squaw Meadows, 20-mile lakes, the Payette National Forest peaks, and lots of burned timber from a big forest fire in the early 1990s. Go hiking or biking on Bear Pete Trail ... it's an ass-kicker of a climb uphill from the trailhead, but once you're on top of the ridge, it's a promo skyline trail.
4. Salmon River Beaches - Love those white sandy beaches along the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins. Getting there: Turn right on the Salmon River Road as you drive into Riggins. The river road goes for 25 miles past French Creek to the Vinegar and Carey Creek boat ramps. There are oodles of places to camp along the road, particularly on some mansion-like beaches. Go early on a Thursday or Friday to snag a primo spot for the weekend. Potential nearby activities include rafting, kayaking or SUPing on the Salmon River. Launch from your campsite and position a shuttle vehicle downstream. Or go hiking on the Wind River Pack Bridge next to the Carey Creek boat ramp and climb a nice Forest Service trail to the Bullion Mine or beyond.
5. Bear Valley Campground - Great spot for folks who like to paddle a canoe or flatwater kayak. The Campground is located at the junction of Elk Creek and Bear Valley Creek, both of which are excellent for canoeing. Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Banner Summit, between Lowman and Stanley, and then watch for a left-hand turn on the Boundary Creek Road. Follow the road to Bear Valley Campground. This is an area where you might see elk in the early morning or late evening, and you might hear a wolf howling. The meadows around Bear Valley can be spectacular when the flowers are blooming. You could also go mountain biking on the Wyoming Creek Trail and return via the Fir Creek Trail and Boundary Creek Road. You could fish the streams in the area, or drive over to Dagger Falls and hike the Marsh Creek or Middle Fork trails.
There you have it! Have fun! I'll be at the Roseberry Music Festival this weekend!