Pitch camp and hit trails from there

These destinations let you hike light and camp in comfort.

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comMay 16, 2013 

Doing day hikes in Idaho's mountains from a comfortable base camp sure makes exploring the backcountry a lot easier.

You don't have to haul your camping gear, food and other essentials in a backpack. It's all at the campground in your RV or tent, which means you can travel light into those mountain lakes, or other secluded spots.

I'm not bad-mouthing backpacking, but for some people, carrying a light daypack rather than a backpack and seeing the same country, makes a lot of sense.

There are lots of campgrounds at trailheads that that offer great hiking:

SEVEN DEVILS

What: Seven Devils and Windy Saddle campgrounds are located at trailheads into the Seven Devils Mountains southwest of Riggins.

You can hike to a mountain lake to catch trout, or head out to a meadow to get gorgeous photos of wildflowers. Who knows, you might even bump into a mountain goat.

The area is known for its ruggedness, but hiking the trails without a backpack makes it more accessible.

There are several different trails that lead to great mountain views and lots of lakes, or you can go all the way to the rim of Hells Canyon.

The neat thing about camping here is that you gain 5,800 feet in elevation from the town of Riggins by driving the road up into alpine country.

Fees: None.

Getting there: Head to Riggins on U.S. 95. Just south of Riggins, take U.S. Forest Service Road 517 to the west. It's 17 miles to the top and the campgrounds. Large camp trailers and motorhomes are not advised on the steep road up to Seven Devils, but people tow tent trailers and horse trailers to the campground.

Information: 628-3916; fs.fed.us/hellscanyon.

WILDERNESS GATEWAY

What: Wilderness Gateway Campground is right on the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River along U.S. 12 in northern Idaho.

Besides access to whitewater rafting and kayaking and trout fishing, the campground is at the base of hiking and horseback-riding trails in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

The campground is large enough for RVs, but comfortable for tent camping. It's also not far from food, gas and supplies in Lowell. There are no hookups.

Fees: Starting at $9.

Getting there: From Lowell on U.S. 12, drive east for 25 miles.

Information: 926-4274; reserveamerica.com and search for Wilderness Gateway.

REDFISH LAKE

What: Campgrounds at Redfish Lake offer a short drive to main trailheads into the Sawtooth Wilderness. It's a great way to see the Sawtooths on day hikes.

One of the best ways to cut 5 miles off a hike is to take the boat shuttle offered by Redfish Lake Lodge. It goes up the lake to a main trailhead. Check at redfishlake.com for details.

Reservations are a must for campgrounds near Redfish Lake because they are so popular.

Fees: $15 to $30.

Getting there: From Stanley, head about 7 miles south on Idaho 75 to the turnoff to Redfish Lake. It's about 3 miles to campgrounds.

Information: Go to reserveamerica.com and search for Outlet Campground near Stanley.

NORTH FORK

What: North Fork Campground is on the Big Wood River north of Ketchum and ideal for exploring the 20-mile Harriman Trail on a mountain bike or hiking.

There are also numerous side roads and trails branching off the Harriman Trail.

You'll be able to wade and fish or swim in the river, if it's not too cold for you.

You'll also find other trailheads nearby. Several of the trails go to mountain peaks in the Smoky and Boulder mountains.

Fees: $12 to $23.

Getting there: From Ketchum, drive about 8 miles north on Idaho 75. The campground is on the west side of the highway.

Information: 774-3000; reserveamerica.com and search for North Fork Campground near Ketchum.

COPPER BASIN

What: Copper Basin, at the base of the Pioneer and White Knob mountains east of Sun Valley between Idaho 75 and U.S. 93, encompasses hundreds of square miles of mountain streams, peaks, sagebrush and forest. It's cherished by backcountry wanderers.

The main access to the basin is the Copper Basin Loop Road that circles an area called the Potholes. The road is a jumping-off point for equestrians, hikers, anglers, ATVers, motorcyclists, mountain bikers.

The 20- to 25-mile loop (depending on side trips) takes travelers to trailheads such as Bellas, Broad and Muldoon canyons and the Lake Creek Trailhead.

Along the way is Star Hope Campground, which was recently renovated and has new camping and equestrian features.

The road around Copper Basin also has plenty of undeveloped camping spots.

Fees: There are no fees for undeveloped campsites. Star Hope Campground costs $10 a night.

Getting there: In Sun Valley, take Idaho 75 (Main Street) to Sun Valley Road. Turn northeast onto Sun Valley Road. This road turns into the Trail Creek Road. Follow it to the Copper Basin Road. Turn right onto the Copper Basin Road. Follow it 13 miles to the Copper Basin Loop Road.

Information: fs.usda.gov/scnf and search for campgrounds.

TRINITY LAKES

What: Alpine lakes in the Trinity Lakes Recreation Area are accessible by day hikes, which makes the campgrounds good for base-camp trekking.

The campground at Big Trinity Lake has 17 campsites, and there are more than a dozen alpine lakes nearby.

The area is at 7,700 to 9,000 feet elevation, and it was hit by a 123,000-acre wildfire last summer. The campgrounds were spared, but you're going to see evidence of fire.

The campgrounds will open after the Forest Service makes safety checks and repairs, which is expected to be July 15, Forest officials said.

Roads into the Trinity Lakes area are currently closed, but they will reopen in time for the camping season.

Fees: $10

Getting there: Drive north of Mountain Home on U.S. 20 to the turnoff to Anderson Dam. Go pass the dam and continue on the road to Fall Creek. Continue up the forest roads to the Trinity Lake Recreation Area.

Information: 587-7961; go to fs.usda.gov/boise and search cabins and campgrounds.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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