Outdoors

Zimo: Cushy winter camping in Hells Canyon

Yip. Yip. Yip. Howl. It's nice to be serenaded to sleep by coyotes.

My dogs were a little concerned but finally figured out that the wild "barking dogs," as they are called, weren't going to venture off the hills surrounding Brownlee Reservoir and come into our camp at Woodhead Park.

I had my doubts about spending the night in the canyon on the border of Idaho and Oregon in February because of the cold weather but decided to go for it.

After all, the campgrounds along Hells Canyon, and Oxbow and Brownlee reservoirs in the canyon are maintained by Idaho Power. They have heated restrooms, hot showers and potable water in their comfort stations.

Hot showers in February? Why not go for it?

What really blew me away was that Brownlee Reservoir was still frozen. It was strange camping next to an iceberg, but with the furnace in the camper going strong and a good sleeping bag, I was perfectly comfortable.

I know, I'm bragging about having an RV, even though it's the smallest pop-up camper you can buy for a pickup truck.

But hey, it gets you out in the off season, and it lets you experience the sights and sounds that you might not see or hear if you're holed up in your house all winter.

Another cool thing about relaxing in the camper just before bed and sipping tea (or something stronger) is listening to a last-minute news reports on the radio before going bed.

It's interesting getting the signal skips on a portable AM radio. I was listening to stations in Sacramento, Calif., Kalispell, Mont., Salt Lake City and other cities many miles away.

Soon the radio was off, the songs of the coyotes disappeared, and I was snoozing. That was, until a canyon wind whipped through the upper part of Hells Canyon and shook the camper.

That was the surge with the storm's front. Then came the rain and sleet pelting the roof and sides of the camper.

I popped out of bed to make sure the camper wasn't going to fly off into the night.

It wasn't a bad night, despite the howling winter weather. Camping in the winter isn't really that bad when you have plug-ins. Electrical hookups and RV campers go together like bees and honey.

With enough power to run your furnace fairly constantly, you're pretty toasty.

Most of us RV owners have the water systems drained for the winter. You don't want to freeze all your plumbing.

That's why in the winter, your camper water system becomes a water jug.

When you camp at an RV park with a heated comfort station, as Idaho Power calls its restroom and shower facilities, you have access to water.

The other cool thing is that because the buildings are heated, your feet don't hit a cold floor when you get out of the shower.

The RV dumps also are working at all four parks in winter. Talk about cushy camping.

Other than dealing with water, winter camping in an RV is a snap. Just make sure your propane tank is full.

After the sleet hit, I looked out the window to see what was going on. The thermometer outside said low 30s.

I soon jumped back into bed, snuggled between two sleeping bags and zoned out the rest of the night.

If you're thinking about it, you can check out Idaho Power's parks in Hells Canyon:

To get there, drive about 51 miles west of Boise on I-84 to the Hells Canyon Exit (Exit 3). Turn north and take U.S.95 to Cambridge.

Then take Idaho 71 west to Woodhead Park along Brownlee Reservoir.

Another campground, McCormick Park, is on the Idaho side of Oxbow Reservoir, just below Brownlee Dam.

If you continue to Oxbow, you'll find Copperfield Park on the Oregon side of the Snake River.

One of my favorites is Hells Canyon Park, which is along the road on the Idaho side of Hells Canyon Reservoir.

RV fees at these parks in the winter are $8 a night. For information, go to www.idahopower.com.

I was in the canyon last week to do a wildlife photo shoot for Thursday's Idaho Outdoors magazine. The road along Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon reservoirs is a magnet for critters. Check out the Statesman for the story and IdahoStatesman.com for video on Thursday.

Happy camping.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Pete Zimowsky at pzimowsky@idahostatesman.com or 377-6445. Read past columns at IdahoStatesman.com/Zimo.

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