Mountain goats, the Milky Way and mountain biking: That’s Anthony Lakes Recreation Area in Oregon’s Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The campground is 170 miles from Boise, about 2 hours and 45 minutes away, and sits in the Elkhorn Mountains at 7,200 feet.
The area features hiking, running, canoeing, fishing, camping, swimming, photography, picnicking, dogs on leash and wonderful mountain biking at nearby Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort.
From the campground, you can hike around Anthony Lake in about 45 minutes, or take a more challenging, 1,300-foot elevation gain, 8.2-mile loop around Gunsight Mountain.
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The Hoffer Lakes hike is an easy, 1.2-mile round trip jaunt that gets you to the twin lakes. Walk through a beautiful meadow, and a small waterfall greets you. From this point there are easily climbable granite rocks that give you a great view of the lakes.
Being so far from a major population area, the star-gazing at night is incredible. Expect to see the Milky Way easily visible to the naked eye framed against the backdrop of pine trees if you happen to leave your tent and brave the cold night temperatures.
For the mountain bike enthusiast, the area features many single-track beginner, intermediate and advanced trails.
Where to stay: Anthony Lake campground has 37 sites and includes drive-in and hike-in campsites. The campground is open late June though mid-September. Anthony Lakes Guard Station is also available to rent. The guard station is a rustic, two-story cabin with a kitchen, bathroom, shower and three bedrooms.
Nearby: Sumpter is a former mining town where you can pan for gold and take a train ride that will be robbed by “bandit” actors on horseback. Pro tip: Don’t tell your kids about the robbery beforehand and it’ll be a hit. The Elkhorn Crest Scenic Byway is a 106-mile loop that starts and ends in Baker City, Ore. It’s a wonderful drive with a constant backdrop of the Elkhorn mountains.
SOUTH FORK BOISE RIVER
Camping doesn’t always have to be a complicated adventure, with days of planning or stressful hours leading up to departure. Sometimes on a Friday afternoon, at the last second, you want to grab the organized blue camping crate, jump in the SUV and find a weekend getaway before nightfall.
The South Fork of the Boise River is your place.
And it comes with a wow factor.
There’s nothing fancy or complicated about camping along the 12-mile stretch between Anderson Ranch Dam and the Danskin access point. From driveway to campground, you can arrive in less than two hours. No-fee camping is first-come, first-served and spots are primitive, though a few restroom facilities are scattered along the dirt road that parallels the South Fork.
The reward for finding this tent-camping paradise is a riverbank spot alongside one of the most beautiful rivers in Idaho, known mostly for its slow stream of driftboats and trophy rainbows. If you’re the adventurous type, this probably isn’t the place for you, though you will encounter the occasional four-wheeler or rattlesnake. Mostly, you wander through the cottonwoods, take a quick hike, shoot some pictures, take a nap, read a book, dangle your toes in the cold water and warm up at night next to a fire.
Now about that wow factor.
The South Fork below Anderson Dam flows through a desert canyon, which becomes something much more if you return home via Prairie and Blacks Creek Road. The desert canyon of green trees and brown vegetation suddenly morphs into a black basalt beauty, with massive drop-offs, jagged ridges and a giant meandering river that appears to be miles away.
More than a half-million people live just over the mountaintops to the west. The rugged terrain and breathtaking scenery so close to the city just doesn’t seem possible.
But that’s the beauty of the South Fork of the Boise River.
Getting there: From Mountain Home, take U.S. 20 to Anderson Ranch Dam Road, and turn left onto the dam. Turn left after the dam, head into the canyon and look for marked camping spots on the left.
Middle Fork Boise River
Only 50-some miles from Boise, the campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Boise River feel like another world away. If you’re willing to drive the windy, bumpy, sometimes-sketchy road between Arrowrock Dam and Atlanta, you’re rewarded with more than a dozen public hot springs (plus the private Twin Springs Resort), fishing, mountain biking and hiking.
Many of the hot springs are submerged by high river flows this time of year but emerge late summer and early fall. A handful of exceptions include Loftus Hot Spring, a bowl of hot water beneath a rocky outcropping at mile marker 34.
With its easy access and space for camping, it’s a popular soak.
Another favorite requires a river crossing in mid-summer or fall, depending on flows. Ninemeyer Hot Spring at mile marker 38 is directly across from Ninemeyer Campground. When water levels are just right, the spring is like a heated swimming hole in the middle of the Boise River; wait too long and it’s a thermal wading pool.
A few basic Forest Service campgrounds dot the way, as well as some primitive sites. Troutdale Campground has five sites on a first-come, first-served basis, picnic tables and a toilet.
Upstream, Ninemeyer Campground is an eight-site, no-fee campground with no amenities — unless you count its proximity to great hot-springing.