Cool (maybe chilly) October camping in Idaho

Plenty of campgrounds stay open through autumn and even year-round.

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comOctober 10, 2013 

  • FALL CAMPING TIPS

    • Take plenty of drinking water. As temperatures drop below freezing, pumps at campgrounds are typically shut off.

    • Be prepared for cold weather. Temperatures in the mountains commonly range from 30 degrees at night to the 60s during the day. That means having a sleeping bag rated to the 20s.

    • It’s a good idea to have a thick sleeping mattress or pad for insulation, even on RV beds.

    • A wool hat, rain jacket and gloves are a good idea. You’ll probably sleep with the hat on.

    • Make sure your tent has a rain fly. It adds insulation and prevents you from getting wet from dew.

    • Make sure your cook stove is working properly. Take plenty of fuel because it takes longer to cook in cooler weather.

    • Have plenty of hot tea, hot chocolate and snacks. The weather’s colder and you’ll burn more energy to keep warm.

    • Have a good supply of matches and lighters stashed in your gear for lighting the stove or campfire in rainy or snowy weather.

    • Tell relatives or friends where you will be camping and when you expect to return home. Stick with your itinerary.

    •Æ Call ahead for weather updates. You’ll find a list of phone numbers for state parks at parksandrecreation.idaho.gov.

    For national forest information: Stanley area, 774-3000; Lowman area, 259-3361; Cascade area, 373-4270; McCall area, 634-0700.

Sparks flew from a warm campfire as Marc Clark stirred the ashes on a crisp, fall day in Idaho’s mountains.

Clark, of Boise, was the only one camped at Grayback Gulch Campground near Idaho City in late September.

Talk about quiet — just a crackling fire, aspen leaves whispered in a mountain breeze and the welcomed chilly weather after summer’s brutal heat.

The biggest advantage of fall camping is that the crowds are gone and fees are waived or reduced at many campgrounds.

It’s even easier to get a campsite in Idaho’s state parks, which are often booked during summer.

“I would say that fall camping is spectacular in Idaho’s state parks, and with school back in session, it’s often easier to find open sites,” said Jennifer Okerlund, communications manager for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

“State parks within Idaho’s Banana Belt are open and accessible year-round for serviced camping — Bruneau Dunes, Three Island Crossing and Hells Gate,” she said.

October is the last comfortable month for camping across most of Idaho, before winter sets in.

It can be mild even in the high country after those frosty mornings.

It can also be downright balmy at campsites across Idaho’s deserts and low-elevation river canyons.

Relish fall camping. As evening approaches, there’s no better feeling than putting on the woolies and a ski cap and jumping in a soft, warm sleeping bag.

Here is a list of campgrounds that remain open through October, according to federal and state officials:

STATE PARKS

Most state parks remain open for camping in October, and rates are reduced after the water is turned off, which varies by campground based on when a state park expects freezing temperatures.

Here are some suggestions for camping, and remember there’s an extra $5 charge per night if you don’t have a state parks passport.

• Bruneau Dunes Located south of Mountain Home, this campground offers lots of wildlife watching and hiking on the dunes in fall. The park will shut off water to individual campsites on Oct. 15, but there will still be central water available and vault toilets.

RV sites go for $22 and standard sites $16.

• Three Island Crossing This year-round park located in Glenns Ferry is ideal for fall bird-watching and exploring the Oregon Trail.

Water will be turned off in mid-October, but one restroom will remain open with water.

RV sites are $19.08.

• Castle Rocks Located next to City of Rocks National Reserve southeast of Burley, this area is open year-round with hiking, climbing and photography opportunities.

RV sites with power are available, but water is turned off when it freezes. Prices are $23.32 with water, $19.03 when it’s turned off.

• Lake Cascade Located in Cascade, the state park offers late-season fishing and is a jumping-off point for a lot of outdoor activities in the area.

Most of park’s campgrounds will stay open until they are closed by snow.

Fees vary from $12 to $25, depending on amenities.

Full-service campgrounds will have water until the end of the month.

• Ponderosa Located in McCall, the park is a good bet for fall hikes and colors.

The RV campground remains open until weather forces a shut-down.

• Hells Gate Located in Lewiston on the Snake River and very popular with steelhead anglers, the park is open year-round.

An RV campsite is $22 per night, and a standard campsite $14.

HELLS CANYON

Idaho Power’s parks in Hells Canyon are ideal in October, thanks to its mild climate, and they still have full services.

The area offers fishing, hiking and sightseeing in fall and winter because weather is usually warmer than in the Treasure Valley.

Woodhead on Brownlee Reservoir, McCormick on Oxbow Reservoir and Copperfield and Hells Canyon on Hells Canyon Reservoir are open year-round for camping.

The water is turned off in winter, but restrooms, showers and central water remains available.

RV sites are $16 and tent sites $10. Reduced rates go in effect November-March and are $8 and $5, respectively.

C.J. STRIKE RESERVOIR

Idaho Power campgrounds near C.J. Strike Reservoir remain open year-round.

They include North, Scout, Locust and Cottonwood parks.

Fees vary from $8 to $10 depending on the park and amenities. In November, winter rates go into effect and camping costs $4 to $5.

C.J. Strike Reservoir is located south of Mountain Home on the Snake River.

SNAKE RIVER

• Martin Landing Access This new Idaho Fish and Game and Canyon County campground, located near the confluence of the Snake and Boise rivers near Parma, will be open through October.

It’s good for bird-watching, fishing and hunting.

Water will be available until freezing weather. There is a bathroom, and camping is free.

It’s reached from Parma by taking South Roswell Boulevard. Turn onto Hexon Road and follow Hexon to Scott Pitt Road. Take Scott Pitt past Olson Road and take a right into the park.

• Farewell Bend State Park (Ore.) The state park, located on the Snake River at the headwaters of Brownlee Reservoir in Oregon, is good for fall fishing and wildlife watching. It is also a jumping-off point for waterfowl and chukar hunters.

It’s open year-round with water hookups and electricity. Restrooms with showers are open in winter.

RV sites with electricity cost $17, and tent sites are $14.

FEDERAL CAMPSITES

Some U.S. Forest Service campgrounds typically stay open through October, but this year because of the federal government shutdown, all campgrounds are technically closed.

Traditionally, even when the Forest Service shuts down water systems and other services at its campgrounds, if the gates remain open, campers can still use the campsites.

Because of the shutdown, that’s a gray area.

Here is information the Idaho Statesman received before the shutdown from the Forest Service about which campgrounds were going to remain open into, and through, October.

BOISE NATIONAL FOREST

• Hot Springs, Tie Creek, Trail Creek and Boiling Springs campgrounds, north of Crouch and Garden Valley, and Sagehen Campground (except for the Hollywood unit) remain open through the weekend (Oct. 12-13), with fees in effect and drinking water available.

• Silver Creek Campground (north of Crouch) will remain open through October or later. Water will be turned off by the end of October, but campers can still get water from Silver Creek Plunge.

• In the Idaho City area, regular campground service ended on Sept. 27 for all campgrounds. Some may not be gated.

• In the Cascade area, campground service ended Sept. 27, but some campgrounds remain open with restrooms available. Fees will be reduced, and there will be no trash or water service.

Warm Lake Campground is closed due to construction.

• There is still access to Deadwood Reservoir campgrounds, north of Lowman, and Bull Trout Lake Campground, east of Lowman, but services and fees ended Oct. 1.

• Bonneville, Helende, Kirkham, Mountain View, Little Deadwood and Pine Flats campgrounds will have fees and services through Oct. 15. These dates could change depending on the weather conditions and status of the government shutdown.

• North of Mountain Home, all campground water systems were shut down on Oct. 2.

There is no fee collection at Pine, Elk Flats, Curlew, Big Trinity and Big Roaring campgrounds, north of Mountain Home. Restrooms will remain unlocked unless there is a maintenance issue.

• The South Fork of the Boise River below Anderson Ranch Dam is closed due to fires and mudslides, which affect Tailwaters Campground, Elk Creek Boat Ramp, Wilson Trailhead, and Evans Creek Campground.

PAYETTE NATIONAL FOREST

• All campgrounds along the South Fork of the Salmon River, the East Fork of the Salmon River and the southern end of the Secesh River remain open year-round. Full fees are charged year-round with no reservations allowed at any of the sites.

Campers are advised to check on the snow levels before heading for the area in case of winter weather.

Access is from Warm Lake Road, just north of Cascade, and through mountains, so be prepared for winter travel getting to the campgrounds.

The South Fork/East Fork of South Fork Road is plowed by the county throughout winter.

Lick Creek Road east of McCall is not maintained or plowed, so check weather conditions before you try that route.

SAWTOOTHS

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area has 16 out of 34 campgrounds open through Nov. 15, with reduced service and fees.

They include:

• Murdock, Wood River and North Fork campgrounds, all close to the SNRA headquarters, off Idaho 75 north of Ketchum.

• Holman, Whiskey Flat, Casino Creek and Mormon Bend, northeast of Stanley off Idaho 75.

• Stanley Lake Inlet at Stanley Lake, northwest of Stanley.

• Sheep Trail, located along Idaho 21, just northwest of Stanley.

• Iron Creek, located at the trailhead for hikes to Sawtooth Lake, just northwest of Stanley.

• Sockeye, located at Redfish Lake near Stanley.

• Smoky Bear on Alturas Lake, south of Stanley.

UNDEVELOPED CAMPSITES

Just because the Forest Service closed campgrounds doesn’t mean you can’t camp at undeveloped campsites all throughout the forest.

You just have to be self-sufficient and bring water and a portable toilet.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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