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Growth affecting your favorite spot? Explore our wilderness areas if popular campsites are taken

Hiking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley

There was no sign of smoke this week on two popular hiking trails accessed from the Sawtooth Valley: Redfish Inlet and Fourth of July Lake.
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There was no sign of smoke this week on two popular hiking trails accessed from the Sawtooth Valley: Redfish Inlet and Fourth of July Lake.

My wife and I had just moved to San Francisco in 1996. San Francisco was experiencing a population surge, and we were a part of it.

One morning, we were reading in the paper about Muir Woods National Monument, which was less than an hour away from our apartment. We got dressed, hopped in the car and headed out.

When we got to the main parking lot, it was full. We saw that cars were parking alongside the road leading into the main lot, so we decided to head down the road and find the nearest spot.

We drove for more than a mile, and cars were still lined up on the road. “This is ridiculous,” I kept saying as we passed car after car, knowing that the farther we drove, the farther we’d have to walk just to get back to the parking lot, only then to begin our hike into the woods. Needless to say, we turned around and went back home. I was frustrated and disappointed.

As we drove back into the city, though, I had an epiphany: We are part of the problem. We had just moved to San Francisco, and we were (unjustifiably) expecting an empty parking lot and a hike all to ourselves? About a year prior, before our arrival in San Francisco, there would have been two fewer people, one less car on the road, two fewer visitors to the park.

Such is the case with campsites at Redfish Lake, as reported this week by Nicole Blanchard in the Statesman’s Outdoors section. Reservations for the popular campground fill up within seconds as many as six months in advance. Nicole talked to some people who have simply given up trying to reserve a site.

When my wife and I first moved to Idaho in 2006, we asked our neighbors where they liked to go camping. We could tell they were reluctant to tell us. It’s a small (nine sites), cozy, wooded U.S. Forest Service campground on Cascade Lake tucked away and separated from the throngs at those open-field state campgrounds.

When we first signed up for a site there, we had no problem, even with just a couple of months’ notice. There were several weekends that were unavailable, but we were able to find a weekend that had an open site. In subsequent years, we were able to reserve our favorite site without too much difficulty.

Then we noticed, as the years went by, that there were fewer and fewer weekends with any open sites. Alas, now it’s necessary to log in to the online reservation site in January to ensure that you get an open weekend.

It’s another example of the growing pains we’re experiencing as a state, and I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but it’s only going to get worse. More people are moving here, and they’re looking to enjoy our great outdoors. Whenever I head out toward McCall or Sun Valley, I can’t help but think how much more traffic there will be five or 10 years from now, how much harder it’s going to be to secure a campsite.

Fortunately, I’ve taken to backpacking in the wilderness areas of Idaho, which are markedly more secluded. But even then, trailhead parking lots are getting to be full, and alpine lakes that we had to ourselves just a couple of years ago have been “discovered” by others, as well.

I guess if there’s a positive message here, it’s that there are still lots of open spaces in Idaho, whether it’s a little-known riverside campsite along Banks-Lowman Highway or Highway 21 to Stanley or a lesser-known alpine lake or less-traveled trail near Riggins, Idaho is still rich with places where you can get away for the weekend. And with places like Hells Canyon, the Boise National Forest, Sun Valley, the Sawtooths, the Pioneers, and the Boulder-White Clouds, Idaho has no shortage of new — and secluded — places to discover.

It might take a little more time and a little more effort, but Idaho is the best place in the country to find your new favorite home in the woods.

Scott McIntosh is the Opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.

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This column shares the personal opinions of Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh on current topics and issues in the Treasure Valley, in Idaho and nationally. It represents one person’s opinion and is intended to spur a conversation and solicit others’ opinions on the subject. It is intended to be part of an ongoing civil discussion with the ultimate goal of providing solutions to community problems and making this a better place to live, work and play. Readers are encouraged to express their thoughts by submitting a letter to the editor. Click on “Submit a letter or opinion” at idahostatesman.com/opinion.

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Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.
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