Thursday, May 27, 2021

10 last-minute ideas for Memorial Day getaways in Idaho

Wendy in the White Clouds

Hi all, 

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and if last year is any indication, it's going to be busy out there! 

Last week, I provided numerous trip-planning resources for deciding where to go in advance. Be sure you have a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D because the campsite you planned on snagging may be taken! 

So here are some suggestions on where to go: 

Snake River canyon singletrack

  • 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. 
  • Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area is opening this weekend. Around the Mountain trail is still snow-covered in places and is not open yet. But there are other trails to explore close to the base area, and the mountain coaster is open. And it'd be a fun place to go and hang out! Trails to Stack Rock and Eastside are open.
  • Morel mushrooms are popping in the Boise and Payette national forests. Morels are delicious and easy to identify. The tricky part is where to find them! I was finding shrooms in the 5,000-foot range in the greater Valley County area last weekend. Any fresh burn areas can be excellent. See a recent blog post on morel-picking in burn zones.  
    Genuine Idaho morels

  • Go fishing! Memorial Day is the annual kickoff to the summer fishing season. Many reservoirs, ponds and river sections have been freshly stocked. See the IDFG Fishing Planner to discover where to go fishing.
  • Go car-camping on the North Fork or Middle Fork of the Boise River. Check on road conditions with the Idaho City Ranger District. See list of campgrounds that are open in the Boise National Forest. You can look for dispersed camping sites along the Middle Fork of the Boise River, driving up along Lucky Peak and Arrowrock and continuing upstream toward Atlanta. Do the self-support camping trip and pick your own spot.
  • Go camping in the national forest. Look for low-elevation sites in the Boise, Payette or Sawtooth National Forest ... see the interactive map for more information.
  • Salmon River beaches! A great spring camping location is on the sweet white sandy beaches along the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins. Get there early! It's popular! 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! 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 in the Snake River canyon or in 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. Google any of those hikes and rides; I've blogged about all of them. Watch for snakes.
  • Head up to the Lochsa River and go rafting on the biggest whitewater weekend of the year on the Lochsa.  
    Route of the Hiawatha inside the Taft Tunnel (Courtesy Lookout Pass)

  • Ride the Route of the Hiawatha in Wallace. It's opening Friday. Highly recommend it! Family friendly!  
  • Stay home and hike/ride/run in the Boise Foothills - It's super green, the wildflowers are out, and the trails are in great shape. Boise Ridge should be clearing of snow now.
  • 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!
While you're out there, be sure to Recreate Responsibly, be a good steward, practice leave-no-trace camping principles, etc. Thank you.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

2021 camping season is kicking into gear on National Forest lands! 8 Tips on best camping practices

Camping season is upon us!

Hi all, 

It's been a great spring for camping in the Owyhee Canyonlands and BLM lands and river sites in SW Idaho. Now that the snow has melted out in the lower elevations in the Boise, Payette and Sawtooth National Forests, Forest Service officials are opening numerous campgrounds this weekend (May 21-23) and next for the traditional camping opener over the Memorial Day long weekend coming up May 28-31.  

The weather actually looks quite rainy and cold in McCall and Stanley this weekend, but the weather looks more promising for Memorial Day weekend, so perhaps you can plan your next outing and pick a fun spot for friends and family.

The Boise National Forest just released a list of campground opening dates online. The Payette National Forest also has opening dates here. The Sawtooth National Forest camping link is here with opening dates. Generally, camp sites at low to mid-elevation are open now, and higher-elevation sites in Stanley and the Sawtooth Valley will be opening soon. 

Check out this new statewide Forest Service interactive map! It's a handy resource for locating campgrounds and other national forest amenities.

Many Idaho State Park campgrounds are open now and will be soon. See this link for information on reserving a campsite an Idaho state park. Local favorites include Three Island State Park, Bruneau Dunes State Park, Lake Cascade State Park and Ponderosa State Park. See the IDPR web site for more information. 

Research BLM campsites here. There are many hidden jewels on BLM lands.

So it's time to plan a trip! Pull all the camping stuff together, tents and sleeping bags, food, water, clothes, etc. Or perhaps you have everything packed in an RV? Research a campsite that provides the kinds of amenities you want such as hiking or biking trails nearby or water hookups? Fishing? River or stream access? Grand views? There are literally hundreds of camping locations to enjoy in Idaho. 

What kind of setting do you want for your camping experience?

Tip #1 - Know where to go. Research where you're going to go camping before you go. Make a reservation online, if necessary, and you'll have your trip dialed in. If you're going to pursue a campsite in a campground where no reservations are necessary, go early to get your spot. 

Tip #2 - Make a Plan B. Your favorite campsite might be taken or the campground could be full. You'll need an alternative plan if things get busy. If last year is any indication, it's going to be a busy summer with major competition for campsites in Idaho. Going mid-week or in off-peak times will be a great way to avoid the crowds.

Tip #3 = Make a Plan C. Plan B might be taken too. 

Tip #4 - Remember to Pack-it-in/Pack-it-out. Bring your own garbage bags and pack out your garbage. Many public lands camping areas have no dumpsters or trash service. 

Tip #5 - Leave no Trace. Leave a clean campground when you leave. Pack out all of your things and garbage and make sure you haven't left any micro-trash on site ... things like small wrappers or twist-ties or what not. 

Tip #6 - Snuff out your campfire completely before you leave. Pour water on the fire and make sure you don't leave hot coals behind. More than 80% of the wildfires in Idaho are typically caused by humans. 

Tip #7 - When nature calls, dispose of human waste properly. Use the outhouse or dig a cat-hole and bury your waste. Bring a little shovel for digging a proper hole. Walk 200 feet away from any water sources. See video for more detail.

Tip #8 - Bring your own firewood. There might not be much firewood available at your camping spot, depending on location. 

Thanks to Tread Lightly and the Boise National Forest for the videos!

Have fun out there!
- SS

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Station Creek, Cottonwood Creek National Forest hikes are tailor-made for a warm weekend in Boise

Wendy and Huck enjoy the view on top of the first ridge on the Station Creek Trail.

Hi all, 

It appears we're in for a bit of a heat wave this weekend, comparably speaking, with high temperatures in the low to mid-80s Friday-Sunday in the Boise Valley. It'll be in the 60s and 70s in the mountains around McCall, Stanley and Sun Valley.

Getting out early on Boise Foothills trails will be the charm this weekend, or heading to slightly higher elevations would be a good idea, too! 

To that point, I'm recommending two hikes in the Boise National Forest -- Station Creek and Cottonwood Creek -- for my outdoor tip of the week, plus I'll recommend a few other destinations that'd be perfect right now (below). 

Station Creek Hike

Station Creek Trail is a beauty, coarsing through a continuous layer of green on the forest floor, while stately ponderosa pine trees provide shade in the canopy overhead as you're climbing the mountain. Arrowleaf balsamroot is blooming in bright yellow along the way. It's a 7-mile out-and-back hike to the top of Bald Mountain, or roughly 5 miles out and back if you hike to the first ridge overlook. Hiking time: 3-5 hours round-trip. Rated: Moderate (strenuous in a few places)

If you go to the top of 5,122-foot Bald Mountain, you'll climb 2,000 vertical feet along the way. That's a very reasonable climb for most people who are in decent shape. Just take your time, breathe, and enjoy the scenery!

The trailhead is located directly across the Banks-Lowman Highway from the Garden Valley Ranger Station - hence the name, Station Creek! 

The well-maintained trail will take you to the top of the first ridge, and then there is a more faint elk trail that follows the lay of the land to the top of Bald Mountain. It's easy to find your way. 

Be sure to pack plenty of water and bring a lunch/snacks for the summit!

Steve and Huck on top of Bald Mountain with its trademark weird thingy on top.

Wendy enjoys the walk on a classic ponderosa pine ridge.

Bald Mountain, just shy of a mile-high ... good early-season hike

Cottonwood Creek 

Prior to some wildfires that swept through the Cottonwood Creek drainage, the Cottonwood Creek trail used to be quite the gem. It had a million creek crossings, but in between, it was much like Station Creek. Since the fires, the trail has gotten more brushy and falling into disrepair. Nevertheless, the first several miles are doable. But the full enchilada, which is more like 10 miles to the top of Thorn Butte, is not recommended. 

Still, if you haven't been up along Arrowrock Reservoir to the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, it's worth the trip just to check out the countryside. 

Directions: Take Idaho 21 to the high bridge over Lucky Peak and turn right. Go about 15 miles along Lucky Peak and Arrowrock reservoirs to a junction with USFS Road #377. Go left and follow the road 3 miles to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead. There's a small parking area there. 

Possible side trip: In this area, you're close to the Mount Heinen trailhead, if you're feeling more ambitious and want to tackle a challenging 10-mile climb to the Heinen summit. See my post about this hike, it's one of the four Boise Grand Slam Peaks

Cottonwood Creek guard station

Beaver pond on Cottonwood Creek

Some other recommendations ... 

  • Any of the Boise Grand Slam peaks would be great right now. 
  • 80 degrees means it's time to get tuned up on the river! Middle Fork Payette, South Fork Payette and Main Payette would be great right now. I noticed that Cabarton is only running about 650 cfs. Mid-summer flows are usually 1500-1800 cfs. 
  • Salmon River is running 20,000 cfs at Whitebird ... if it's going to come up any higher, that might happen this weekend with the warmer temps. But not much of a peak!
  • Go past the Cottonwood Creek turnoff on the Arrowrock/Middle Fork Road and continue up to the Sheep Creek trail. That's a great hike, just quite the drive to get there. 

FYI - Steve and Mike Cooley, recently retired from George's Cycles, will appear on the KTVB-TV Viewpoint program on Sunday, talking about road biking and mountain biking in the early days of Boise becoming a bike town. 

Have fun!
- SS