Thursday, February 11, 2010

Take a wildlife-watching hot springs tour along the South Fork Payette River

Wendy and Steve after our hot springs soak

Pine Flats Hot Springs

The South Fork Payette River is turquoise-green right now

The best pool at Pine Flats

Lots of deer hang out at Pine Flats

Small group of elk

Big group of elk (click on photo to enlarge)

Hi all,

This is a great time of year to take a drive along Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, a.k.a. the Banks to Lowman Highway, view wildlife, maybe go for a walk, take a nice soothing hot springs soak and then cap it off with a hearty meal in Crouch (Wild Bill's Bistro or the Longhorn Saloon are my favorites). All of these things are doable in a six- to eight-hour day trip from Boise.

We had hoped to go skate skiing at Terrace Lakes, but the snow is too thin ... they haven't been able to groom.

Large groups of elk and deer are readily visible along the two-lane seldom-traveled road, east of Garden Valley. Be sure to give the animals a wide berth, and don't spook them or cause them to burn extra energy. It's a vulnerable time of year for them. Deer and elk are drawn to the big, open south-facing slopes because they are snow-free. Tiny shoots of green grass are beginning to sprout.

Wendy and I saw groups of 50+ elk and smaller numbers of deer between Garden Valley and the Danskin takeout/put-in, a distance of about 10 miles. We pulled over and got out of the car to view the elk with our binoculars -- again, being sure that we weren't spooking the critters -- and then we saw golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and some bald eagles flying around as well. In one group of elk, a coyote was hanging out as part of the gang.

We saw quite a few cars at Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, so we decided to soak at Pine Flats Hot Springs, a beautiful spot along the South Fork of the Payette River that serves as a Forest Service campground in the summertime. There was one other soaker who was leaving as we arrived, so we had the place to ourselves. The South Fork is running low and bright turquoise right now.

The weather was a little mushy for a hike, but when things dry out a little more, the Station Creek Trail is a good early-season hike in the neighborhood, and there are several Forest Service primitive two-tracks next to the road that one could explore. The road to Julie Creek is another potential hiking spot near Deadwood Campground. Tall boots are advised.

Other hot springs that one could visit along the way would be at Hot Springs Campground, Kirkham Hot Springs or Bonneville Hot Springs.

Be sure to bring your camera and bino's, water, favorite beverages and maybe your own picnic lunch.

- SS