Idaho's Middle Fork of the Boise is fine after 2012 wildfire

rphillips@idahostatesman.comJuly 18, 2013 

It's human nature to worry about our favorite places when there's a wildfire. Last summer's Trinity Ridge Fire burned about 147,000 acres, including roughly 12 miles of the river corridor between Alexander Flat and Swanholm Road.

To cut to the chase, the area is open and ready for folks who love doing what they do on the Middle Fork, whether camping, fishing, riding, hiking or other things.

The fire burned as most wildfires do - in a mosaic pattern that scorched some areas, killed some trees, but also left other areas untouched.

Wildfires also tend to burn less intense along the riparian areas along rivers, which also recover more quickly.

Drive the 68 miles on the Middle Fork Road between Idaho 21 and Atlanta and you will see what you've seen for years. There are lots of stately ponderosa pines in a rugged canyon with a washboard road tracing the course of the river.

There are still tawny hillsides and steep bluffs, and a cool, clear river.

As you approach Barber Flat at about milepost 41, you will see a sign warning that you are entering last summer's fire area.

You will see blackened trees and dying ponderosas with orange needles.

But you will also see that grass has regrown, and the lush willows along the river's edge hide some of the signs of fire, or willows that were burned have returned and are green once again.

The Middle Fork of the Boise River drainage is no stranger to fire, and much of it has burned in recent years, or decades past.

Most of the signs of wildfires are quickly erased, while some are more long lasting.

In the section between Swanholm Road and Atlanta, massive landslides occurred years ago after past fires, which washed away sections of the road and clogged the river with debris.

So far, that hasn't happened this year.

But overall, the Middle Fork drainage has proven pretty resilient to fires, and this will hopefully be no exception.

If you're familiar with the Middle Fork, the burned area is going to look different, but far from nuked.

Be careful while traveling in the burned area because you may encounter dislodged rocks on the road. And be very careful setting up camp in the burned areas because fire-killed trees can tip over. Watch where you pitch your tent and park your vehicles.

If you haven't been up the Middle Fork, here's why it's worth checking out.

THE DRIVE

It's a beautiful drive from Idaho 21 to Atlanta, but there's no getting around the fact that there's more than 60 miles of washboard dirt and gravel road. (The first few miles are paved.)

It's passable in a passenger car, but better driven in a pickup or SUV.

People haul RV trailers up this road, but there's lots of tight and twisty road along Lucky Peak and Arrowrock, and a narrow spot at Arrowrock Dam that's single lane.

If you want to do a scenic loop drive, there are several options, including taking Long Gulch Road to Prairie, or take Swanholm Road to the North Fork of the Boise River and Rabbit Creek Road or Edna Creek Road back to Idaho 21.

Get a map before you go, either a Boise National Forest map or the Idaho Road and Recreation Atlas. Make sure your tank is full because there are no gas stations.

CAMPING

There are six designated Forest Service campgrounds between the upper end of Arrowrock Reservoir and Atlanta. They're small and have basic amenities, such as fire rings and outhouses. Most do not have water. There also are no fees to camp there.

There's no trash service, so be prepared to pack out all your trash.

There are numerous undeveloped campsites near the river. People using these sites should be self-sufficient, including a portable toilet.

Most campsites are within sight of the Middle Fork Road, so don't expect seclusion, and you may get road dust in camp.

At these undeveloped sites, you will likely see fire rings, but campfires should be avoided during summer. If you have a fire, keep it small and make sure you put it out.

There's also a good chance there will be fire restrictions this summer, which means campfires will be limited to designated campgrounds.

HOT SPRINGS

There are numerous hot springs in the area. They're marked on the Forest Service map, and the easiest ones to find are at the second bridge across the river after Twin Springs resort, and another one is just upstream from the bridge that crosses the river at Roaring River. Look for a sign and a trail on the opposite side of the river.

You also can rent a cabin at Twin Springs resort and have access to the hot springs there. Cabin rentals start at $90 per night and come fully furnished so all you have to bring are clothes and food. There's also a cabin without a kitchen that rents for $50 per night. The resort sells drinks and snacks.

There's no phone service there, so to make reservations, email tnt@twinspringsidaho.com.

The resort also does shuttles for floaters.

FISHING

The Middle Fork is well-known for its trout fishing and a chance to get away from crowds at its neighboring river, the South Fork of the Boise River.

The Middle Fork's fishing is a trade-off when compared with the South Fork. The Middle Fork is harder to get to, and the fish are smaller.

But they tend to be more gullible than the South Fork's wiley trout, and with 60 miles of road-accessible water, there's plenty of room for anglers to spread out.

It isn't complicated fishing on the Middle Fork. Fly anglers can do well with basic attractor patterns.

A small spinner or spoon will do well for spin anglers, as will bait.

General stream fishing rules apply to the Middle Fork up to its confluence with the North Fork of the Boise River at Troutdale Campground. From there upstream to Atlanta Dam, the limit changes to two fish over 14 inches. Bait is not allowed, and anglers must use barbless hooks.

The Middle Fork has bull trout, which are protected and anglers must release them unharmed. Know how to identify them, and if in doubt, release the fish unharmed.

TRAILS

There are several trailheads in the canyon that are open to motorized and nonmotorized users.

These trails tend to be steep, and during summer, they can be blazing hot.

Any trails in the fire area may have fallen trees and rocks in the path, and hazardous trees nearby.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy the trails in the area, it's just to let you know they can be challenging, and past fires may have made some of them more so.

Check the Boise National Forest map to see which trails are open to motorized vehicles.

For trail information, call the Idaho City Ranger District at 392-6681.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service