Plenty of outdoors options in Idaho in 2014
Plan now to see the best of Washington’s eastern neighbor in the warmer months to come.
BOISE, Idaho — It’s fun to explore places in Idaho on a whim, but some of the best trips come with planning.
Those backcountry getaways or extended river trips may need permits or partners.
Since it’s the dead of winter, get out the maps and figure out what Idaho trips you’ve always wanted to do. Mark your calendar now and get your friends involved. You know how unlikely it will be to put an extended trip together in July when everyone is zipping like bottle rockets.
We looked back on some of our favorite trips and wanted to share them with you. This isn’t a ranking, but check out these cool trips for the coming year:
The land of the North Fork of the Clearwater River and world-renowned Kelly Creek is definitely one of those bucket-list trips.
It’s a land of cedar, hemlock and pine and pristine waters with cutthroat trout. It’s a land of roadless and proposed wilderness areas.
But, to take in all the vast area of mountains, forests and river canyons can’t be done in one trip.
You realize that the first time you drive over the Oregrande grade into the canyon of the North Fork from the small town of Pierce. There’s just too much to do in a five-day vacation.
Talk to any fly angler wading Kelly Creek and they will tell you they come back every year.
First, there’s the entire drive along the North Fork with plenty of campsites and beaches along the river. It will take several days of exploring.
Then there’s the blue ribbon trout fishing of the North Fork, Kelly Creek, Cayuse Creek and other hidden cutthroat trout waters in the area. There are too many waters to fish on one vacation.
You’ll also find hiking trails all along the way to head out into the backcountry and to fire lookouts.
Anglers float the North Fork in small rafts with fishing frames and there are rapids on the river further downstream that attract whitewater boaters.
ATV and horse-packing have a wide-open choice of trails lead in all directions.
There are various loop drives back over to U.S. 12 or to the towns of Headquarters and Pierce.
Plan now. It will take several summers to see it all.
For more information, go to fs.usda.gov/nezperceclearwater.
HARRIMAN STATE PARK
The trumpeting of swans and splashing sounds of waterfowl in the dark-blue, wintry waters of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River are only a snowballs throw from the ski and snowshoe trails in Eastern Idaho’s Harriman State Park.
But look more closely and you might get a glimpse of the silky, brown fur of an otter diving deep into the river.
The park offers some of the premier nordic skiing nd snowshoeing in the state because of the forested, meadow and mountain terrain in the area, including Island Park and Yellowstone. Couple that with watching eagles fishing and trying to figure out the tracks in the snow, and the snowy trek is one that you will long remember.
“I like being out more in the winter, it’s a whole different world,” said Kyle Babbitt, office specialist.
Getting to the park is no easy feat from western Idaho but it’s worth it. It’s an all-day drive on freeways and then U.S. 20 to the park, 22 miles north of Ashton.
Make it a long weekend trip because of the distance. The park offers dorm, bunkhouse, cabin and yurt rentals, but they book up fast in winter for weekends and holidays. Weekdays might be the best bet.
If you can’t get a room at the park, motels are available up U.S. 20 through Island Park. The park is only 28 miles south of West Yellowstone.
To get into the park, you’ll have to pay the $5 vehicle entry fee and a $4 winter access fee, which helps with grooming of the more than 20 miles of trails. You can also use your $10 annual state parks pass for vehicle entry.
It’s worth it to have groomed trails so that you can see as much of the 11,000-acre park as possible.
Go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov and click on “Harriman” for more information about lodging and reservations. You can call the park at 208-558-7368 for updates on snow and trails.
The 67-mile Grangeville-Salmon Road is the gateway to mountain ridges, forests and alpine lakes in the Gospel Hump area between Riggins and Grangeville.
The road leads to vistas where you can see the Salmon River canyon, the Seven Devils, Camas Prairie and 206,053-acre Gospel Hump Wilderness.
It’s ridge running, Idaho-style, in the comfort of your rig, whether it’s a pickup truck or SUV. What’s even better is that the road is paved for the first 35 miles south of Grangeville.
This is another area of Idaho that will take several summers to explore. Plan weekend or weeklong campouts along the road and its spurs.
It’s called Forest Road 221 and it’s easy to trace on a Nez Perce National Forest map.
The best time to do it is in July, August or September.
Basically, the road goes from Grangeville south to the Salmon River and then about 10 miles downstream to Riggins.
It’s a gateway to some of Idaho’s most remote backcountry, including hiking and ATV trails, trout-filled alpine lakes, mountain meadows and old fire lookouts.
Depending on what route you take to get to the Grangeville-Salmon Road, you’ll be driving in a mountainous region with elevations ranging from about 1,800 feet on the Salmon River to 8,940 feet at the summit of Buffalo Hump.
The road and spur roads will take you through the heart of the 2.2 million-acre Nez Perce National Forest with a diversity of terrain from rugged dry canyons to moist cedar forests.
You can drive all the way to Grangeville and take off out of town toward Snow Haven Ski Area and Fish Creek Campground. They are located along the Grangeville-Salmon Road. From there, you continue on Forest Road 221 all the way to the Salmon River.
You can go north out of Riggins to the Slate Creek Ranger Station and take Slate Creek Road 354 to connect with Road 221 and then head south. The U.S. Forest Service says this road gets really rough near the top and you don’t want to pull a trailer.
You can head out of White Bird and take Free Use Road 243 and connect with the Grangeville-Salmon Road.
(With the Slate Creek and White Bird routes, you miss more than 15 miles of the Grangeville-Salmon Road from Grangeville south, but they are shorter loops for a two-day weekend.)
You can do the road south to north by driving to Riggins and heading east on the Salmon River Road to Allison Creek and head north on the Allison Creek Road, which turns into Road 221. Then head north to Grangeville.
This mountain range near Riggins is a great summer getaway into some truly wild and spectacular country.
Seven Devils peaks loom between the Salmon River and Hells Canyon, and they’re what make the canyon so deep. The tallest in the range, He Devil, tops out at 9,393 feet, and from there the landscape plunges about 7,700 vertical feet into Hells Canyon and to the Snake River.
You’re going to pay a price with your legs and lungs to get into these scenic mountains.
Because of its high elevation (the trail hits 8,000 feet in several places) and proximity to the scorching Hells Canyon, there’s a fairly narrow window of prime hiking conditions for Seven Devils. That’s not to scare you off, but to give you fair warning.
Get there too early in June (or even early July) and you may be wading through snow drifts.
Show up in mid-to-late summer and you may be hiking steep, open slopes in 90-degree heat, or breathing smoke from wildfires that seem magnetically attracted the area.
Depending on the snow pack, mid-June through mid-July is probably your best option, but be flexible.
The 30-plus mile loop around Seven Devils is a spectacular and challenging hike. Most people take three to five days to do it.
There are also options for out-and-back hikes into the many mountain lakes in the range, so you can choose your own adventure.
To reach the trailhead, you turn on off Idaho 95 just south of Riggins and head up into the Seven Devils Mountains and the Windy Ridge Trailhead.
If you’re not into long hikes, there’s a campground near the trailhead and a small mountain lake within walking distance of the road.
There are several guidebooks for the area, including Gary D. Jones’ “Hiking Idaho’s Seven Devils,” which is available through REI.
DUCK VALLEY FISHING
There are few sure bets in life, and even fewer in the fishing world, but I’ve never been disappointed with fishing at the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in May or early June.
Some people make the three-hour drive from Boise’s Treasure Valley as a day trip, but they’re missing some great camping and those beautiful mornings and evenings.
You have the option of developed camping at Mountain View Reservoir with picnic tables and shelters, and some campsites also have water and electric hookups.
Or you can go to more rustic campsites at Lake Billy Shaw or Sheep Creek Reservoirs.
Mountain View is open for fishing year-round, and Billy Shaw and Sheep Creek open on April 1.
Because the reservoirs are located at about 5,000-feet elevation in the high desert, the fishing usually improves when snow runoff resides and the reservoirs start to warm.
When it happens, the trout fishing can be lights out with anglers landing dozens of hard-fighting rainbow trout that typically average about 14 to 16 inches.
Sheep Creek also has trophy smallmouth bass.
Float tubes and other small, nonmotorized craft are typically most popular for anglers, but boat launches are available at Mountain View for larger boats.
While the fishing is a marquee activity, you’re typically serenaded by a variety of songbirds and shorebirds, as well as waterfowl nesting in the area or passing through on its migration.
Gas and food are both available on the reservation, and you can get your tribal fishing license and pay camping fees at Tammen Temeeh Kahni — which means “Our Grocery Store” — on Highway 225 in Owyhee, Nev.
For details on fishing, go to shopaitribes.org.
SUN VALLEY MOUNTAIN BIKING
Why start thinking about mountain biking in Sun Valley now?
Because the resort throws the biggest, baddest biking party in Idaho, and you may have to make reservations now to get a room.
The Sun Valley Bike Fest runs June 19-22 in 2014. It’s not only the state’s biggest event, it’s on the national and international calendar for world-class bikers.
If you’re not one of them, don’t feel left out. The festival is geared toward all levels of riders, and when you’re not riding, you can attend the parties, concerts, and other events and also watch pro races.
But don’t feel like Sun Valley’s bike festival is an all-or-nothing deal.
The area is a mountain biking destination for more reasons than the festival. There are miles of trails ranging from backcountry epics to local cruisers, and there’s a surprisingly long riding season there.
Sun Valley will be also be unveiling new flow trails on Bald Mountain, which were built late last summer, and early reports are raving.
Trails were built and designed by pros so the hardcore downhillers can rip and the rest of us can roll and feel the thrill of railing berms and flying down a trail specifically designed for mountain bikes.
It’s also handy to have lift-served biking so if you fry your legs on a big ride one day, you can buy a lift ticket and keep rolling.
During summer, there’s also the option of camping on nearby Forest Service land so you can enjoy the trails without paying for the frills of Sun Valley.
OWYHEE SCENIC DRIVE
It you want to get away from it all and see wide horizons, head out on the Owyhee Uplands National Backcountry Byway.
This gravel road runs more than 100 miles from Grand View, Idaho, to Jordan Valley, Ore., and offers a lifetime of exploring.
It offers many places to stop and head out across the desert and uplands and into wild canyons.
The road goes through the Little Jacks Creek Wilderness and is adjacent to the Pole Creek and North Fork Owyhee wilderness areas.
You can camp in undeveloped spots along the way and take short hikes into wilderness areas.
Make this at least a two-day or weeklong trip and explore different areas.
The North Fork of the Owyhee River Campground, which is along the way, is a good place to camp and hike if you want to stick with a developed campground.
Plan your trip and map it out. Then drive out of Grand View on Idaho 78 and take the Mud Flat Road on the right. Head out to Jordan Valley, Ore., and return on U.S. 95 to the Treasure Valley.
HEYBURN STATE PARK
This park on the shores of Lake Chatcolet in North Idaho is a jumping off point from everything from boating to bicycling.
The park, which is actually located at the southern part of Lake Coeur d’Alene, is one of the gateways for the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a 72-mile paved bicycling, hiking and in-line skating trail. The trail follows the Union Pacific Railroad right of way from Plummer near the Washington border to Mullan, near the Montana border. To say the least, you could spend your whole summer vacation exploring the trail.
But there are other things to do. The waters along the shore of the state park are ideal for canoeing and tour kayaking. Squeeze a fishing rod in the car, too. There’s northern pike, bass and panfish in the lake and world-famous fly-fishing for cutthroat trout in nearby the St. Joe River.
Hiking trails through the lush ponderosa pine and cedar groves in the park can keep you busy on those days you don’t want to drive off somewhere. They lead to vistas overlooking the lake.
But don’t forget to plan side trips. A premier trip is the Route of the Hiawatha, a 13-mile historic railroad bed that goes through train tunnels and over trestles in the mountains north of Avery.
The bicycle trail is a downhill ride on a gentle 2 percent grade.
Heyburn State Park is also known for its bird-watching. Tundra swans show up in March.
It’s an all-day drive from the Treasure Valley going north on Idaho 55/U.S. 95 to Plummer. It’s another 6 miles east from Plummer on Idaho 5.
UPPER SALMON STEELHEAD
Spring steelhead season on the Upper Salmon River is an interesting opportunity because you may land your biggest fish of 2014 on one of your first trips.
Steelhead season doesn’t close during winter, but rivers freeze and fishing can be tough until things start to thaw.
When they do, it can be a fun time to fish. The area around the Little Salmon in Riggins can start fishing well in February, which also coincides with the annual Women with Bait tournament.
But a lot of steelheaders make the drive to Stanley, Challis and Salmon from late February through early April, when the fish make their final push to the headwaters. It’s a good time of year for a fishing road trip.
The country is beautiful, and the fishing can be excellent. You also have roughly 100 miles of road-accessible river, so there are lots of places to fish.
As a bonus, the drive down the Salmon River between Stanley and Salmon can be like a wildlife safari with deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, wild turkeys and various others.
Beware, this is a popular area in the spring, especially in late March, so motels rooms can be booked and campgrounds full. Plan accordingly.