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