Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Five unsung off-the-beaten path paddling destinations for kayaks, SUPs + camping tips

The mountains are calling! Find your own Private Idaho at Upper Payette Lake.
Hi all,

It's mid-summer in Boise, and the mid-90ish temperatures definitely inspire us to head for cooler locations and our rivers and lakes in particular.

Last weekend, I floated the Cabarton stretch of the Payette River on Saturday, and it was busy as usual, but the Main Payette was absolutely slammed around Banks and the North Fork Payette also  was super busy with a lot of visiting Class 5 boaters testing their skills on the world-class river.

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending five more off-the-beaten-path paddling and Stand-Up Paddle Board (SUP) locations fairly close to home. Several of these recommendations come from my book, Paddling the Payette, a guide to 24 day trips on the Payette River system.

I also would take a moment to plug the Boise Goathead Fest happening Friday, Aug. 2 and Saturday, Aug. 3 at Cecil Andrus Park across from the Idaho Statehouse. This is an important event for bike-related nonprofits, so please try to participate in the parade (pre-register for $5 donation), drink beer, and buy food and merchandise to pump up the sales.

The Upper South Fork Payette River has a beautiful turquoise color.
Now for the unsung, off-the-beaten path paddling recommendations:

1. Upper South Fork Payette River - The upper South Fork just doesn't get very much public use. There's a nice Class 2 section between Eight Mile Creek (just upstream of Sourdough Lodge) and Helende Campground. It's running about 500 cfs right now, perfect low-flow level with some cushion. There's several Class 3 rapids below Helende and Kirkham Hot Springs, and then the river mellows again to Lowman. The Upper South Fork from Bonneville Hot Springs downstream has a number of gnarly and bony rapids at low flow (not recommended). There's a ton of self-support car-camping areas along Idaho 21 along the South Fork, and there's a hot springs in Grand Jean. Lots to do.

Middle Fork Boise River (courtesy John Keys)
2. Middle Fork Boise River - Drive up the Middle Fork road past Arrowrock to Troutdale Campground or any other spot of your choosing, and float the lower section of the Middle Fork Boise River. This is a mostly Class 2 flatwater run with rocks to dodge and small rapids. Good for kayaks, IKs, and skilled SUPs. Bring your camping gear and enjoy the setting along the Middle Fork Boise River. 

Deadwood Reservoir
3. Deadwood Reservoir - It's a long drive, but it's a scenic destination with good fishing, boating and camping in a remote location. Take Banks to Lowman Road to turnoff for Deadwood Reservoir near Little Falls. Go north to the reservoir. At least one developed campground, Cozy Cove, can be reserved through the Boise National Forest. There are lots of options for camping in the area. Deadwood Reservoir is a mile-high elevation-wise, so you can expect cool weather similar to McCall and the West Central Mountains.

North Fork Payette, south of Sheep Bridge
4. Sheep Bridge to Hartsell Bridge/Smylie Lane on the North Fork of the Payette River - The 9-mile float starts at Sheep Bridge, across Mission Street from the Forest Service Smokejumper Base. Leave a vehicle at the takeout at Smylie Bridge. It's a full day on the water, typically six hours, floating through millions of S-curves and meanders on a slow-moving river. Bring a lunch, your favorite beverages and enjoy it. Best for kayaks, canoes, IKs, and skilled SUPs. There's are a couple of log jams on the second half of the float that you'll need to portage. It can be decent fishing in there, too.

5. Upper Payette Lake - This one doesn't get much use either. It's got fishing and paddling in a beautiful setting surrounded by the Payette National Forest and granite mountains. The location is north of North Beach and Payette Lake, about 15 miles from Shore Lodge. Remember to take East Side Drive if you go during the middle of the week. Warren Wagon Road is closed during the day for construction. Upper Payette is 2 miles long and a half-mile wide, and it's got camp sites and picnic areas. Nice spot.

There you have it! Enjoy these unsung destinations and stay cool!
- SS 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Stanley Lake has everything for an easy-going, scenic mountain experience

Stanley Lake with McGowan Peak looming in the background.
Hi all,

We went up to Stanley Lake in Stanley last weekend to do a little camping, hiking, swimming and R&R, and we really enjoyed the trip.

I thought I'd share a few tidbits about our trip in case you might want to visit that popular spot in the future.

Stanley Lake is a gorgeous setting on the northwest corner of the Sawtooth Mountains. But there's a paved road to the campground and day use area, so it does get more traffic than a more off-the-beaten-track destination in the Sawtooths. That said, it's not nearly as busy as the Redfish Lake area.

Drew is a trouper ... did the hike to Bridal Veil Falls no problem.
I took Wendy and my son Drew to Stanley Lake as a cool place to swim on a hot weekend, and a convenient jump-off spot to hike up to Bridal Veil Falls on the Stanley Lake Creek Trail. We also planned to camp in a primitive spot on the way to the lake. I had initially planned an ambitious hike to Observation Peak, but decided that a lower-key trip on the well-maintained trail to Lady Face Falls and Bridal Veil Falls would work best for Wendy and Drew.

As things turned out, the hike was great ... it's a 9-mile jaunt round-trip to Bridal Veil Falls, so it's still a substantial hike. It took us several hours to get up there, including a substantial creek-crossing, and about 1.5 hours back. Drew was right on my heels or walking ahead of me the whole way ... it was a good distance for him. Vertical gain is about 500 feet. The trail gradient is very easy until the last mile or so to the falls.

Very well-maintained trail going up Stanley Lake Creek.
Be sure to take the side trip to Lady Face Falls on the way. You can get quite close to that rushing steep rapids, much closer than you can get to Bridal Veil Falls. There is no trail to Bridal Veil, BTW, so it's best to view that from a distance. I hadn't been up to Bridal Veil in more than 20 years, so it was fun to see that water rushing down the mountain from the Hansen Lakes and the peaks above, roaring over the rocks in the image of an arched, white bridal veil.

Last Saturday afternoon, even though we were at 6,500-foot elevation, it was pretty hot in the afternoon. Stanley Lake was a welcome sight after our hike. Time to set up the lawn chairs, go swimming and hang out at the lake! We did that on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, and really enjoyed hanging out by the water. The water temperature was still quite cold, so Wendy couldn't exactly swim across the bay, like she often might do.

Large beach area for swimming, SUP'ing, hanging out ...
We saw people Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the lake, kayaking, fishing and canoeing. There were maybe one or two power boats on the water ... There are ample areas where you can hang out by the lake on the beach. The Forest Service has moved the campground to the south end of the lake, and converted the north side to day use. There are parking areas and rest rooms for both the Stanley Lake Creek Trailhead and for the Stanley Lake day use area. Both parking lots were full and overflowing last weekend, but there was still plenty of elbow room on the beach.     

Drew and Steve
Watch out for bugs! We had plenty of bug dope, but the no see 'ems seem to have gotten the better of us we noticed after the trip. Little tiny red welts everywhere, and they itch like crazy for a couple of days! Forest Service officials at the Stanley Ranger Station report that bugs have been pretty major by all of the Sawtooth major lakes. Mosquitoes and horseflies are out in force as well. Wearing long sleeves and pants can help! Bring plenty of your favorite insect repellent.

Camping at Stanley Lake - There are several places where you can car camp in self-supportive primitive spots on the way into Stanley Lake. We prefer to do that since we are still tent-campers, and we have all of the self-support camping stuff handy from our river trip gear. These areas are all marked as such by the Forest Service. For camping at the official Stanley Lake Campground, contact to check on availability and make reservations. Grabbing a camp spot directly on the lake would be premium and worth the extra bucks! Camping fees are $18-$36/night.

Photo courtesy IWA High-siding at Howard's Plunge
everal related articles I've seen this week:

The Idaho Whitewater Association is hosting "Safety Saturday" this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Main Payette River. Sign up at Banks at 10 a.m. on Saturday. See Facebook event page for details ... I highly recommend participating if you need to sharpen up your river safety skills -- always a good thing to stay sharp!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The high country beckons! Three kid-friendly mountain hikes near McCall

Bear Pete Trail at the Josephine Lake overlook.
We ski-daddled along the snowy Bear Pete ridge in our hiking boots.
Hi all,

Summer is kicking into high gear, with temperatures now in the 90s in the Boise Valley. And the snow is melting fast in the mountains, so it's time to head into the high country for hiking and summer fun.

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending three hikes in the greater McCall area (elevation 5,000 feet). All of these hikes would be suitable for kids and families.

Be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks/lunch, rain coat and bug spray. Also, it's a good idea to bring a Payette National Forest or McCall area Adventure map to stay on track. Most of these areas are out of cell range except Boulder Lake.

Jim Pace takes a gander at Buckhorn Mountain off in the distance at Boulder Lake.
1. Hike to Boulder Lake - Rated easy to moderate. Distance: 4 miles - 2 miles out, 2 miles back. Vertical: 700 feet of gain. This is a scenic hike that offers a little more mountain "wow" factor than the trails in Ponderosa Park and Bear Basin. Nice place to swim, go fishing or have a picnic. Trailhead is off Elo Road by Boulder Mountain Reservoir. See details on Payette National Forest web site. Bring a lunch and enjoy the setting! 

You walk by multiple meadows on the 20 Mile Trail ... old burn areas and some mature forest that didn't burn.
2. 20 Mile Trail - This is more of a forested hike into a beautiful glacial-sculpted canyon. Much of this area burned years ago, but the lodgepole pines are growing back as thick as dog hair. Rated easy. Distance 5.5 miles to 20 Mile Lakes junction and back. Vertical: 260 feet of gain. The 20 Mile trail is in great shape. No downfall. That makes things super pleasant. If you want to go farther, go uphill on the trail to 20 Mile Lakes for a bigger view of the surrounding mountains. Getting to the trailhead: Take Warren Wagon Road north past Upper Payette Lake and watch for 20 Mile Trailhead on the right side of the road.

Looking up the canyon toward Lick Creek Summit.
For an even bigger adventure, leave a shuttle vehicle at the 20 Mile trailhead and get a ride to the Duck Lake Trailhead by Lick Creek Summit. You can do a through-hike from Duck Lake down the full length of 20 Mile Trail ... it's only 10.5 miles! 710 feet of gain and 1,640 feet of descent. Plan for a full-day to do the shuttle and hike.  

Wendy walks through a gallery of dead whitebark pines on the way up the mountain.
3. Bear Pete Trail to Josephine Lake overlook - Hiking this route is a quick way to get into the alpine zone from the trailhead at Cloochman Summit, not far from Secesh Summit. Rated moderate. Short strenuous climbs in a few spots. Distance: 5.5 miles out and back. Vertical: 1,400 feet of gain. Drive north of McCall on Eastside Drive to North Beach area, then continue north on Warren Wagon Road past Upper Payette Lake to a signed left-hand turn to Cloochman Saddle. High-clearance vehicle recommended. Park at the trailhead by the saddle. Hike uphill on Bear Pete Trail and enjoy the rainbow of wildflowers as you climb through alpine meadows to an overlook of Josephine Lake at just over 8,000 feet. Big views looking into French Creek, Bear Pete Mountain, and the Payette Crest. The full length of Bear Pete Trail is 17.5 miles ... I have mountain biked it both directions. Hard-core trail runners would love doing the whole thing. 3,125 vertical!

Bear grass coming on!

The Grand Opening for the new Payette Lake singletrack trail is on Saturday, from 2-8 p.m., sponsored by the Central Idaho Mountain Biking Association (CIMBA). Burgers, dogs, and Salmon River Brewery will be pouring beer. This is a fund-raising event. CIMBA does a ton of great things for trails in the greater McCall area, including overseeing the development of the new trail on the west side of Payette Lake. Here's a link to the new trail on MTB Project.

- SS