‘They’re just so dang cute, they’re irresistible’: Vintage camping trailers turn heads
Alpine lakes, mountain ridges, creek meadows, high-desert juniper and sage — campers have a wide choice of places to go in Idaho and neighboring states, with millions of acres to camp as close as an hour away and within an easy day’s drive.
It’s easy to add an outdoor adventure right out the tent door, whether watching bluebirds on a wilderness desert plateau, catching cutthroats in an alpine lake or riding ATVs on two-track trails through groves of mountain mahogany.
I’ve been retired for almost a year, and my number of camping nights will definitely double this season from my usual 40 or so.
With more than 50 years of exploring the West, it’s difficult to come up with my 10 favorite campgrounds. My favorite ones change anytime I look at a map and plan a weekend trip.
I love state parks in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. I love U.S. Forest Service campgrounds as jumping-off points for camping along rivers like the Salmon near Stanley and the Lochsa near Lowell. But sometimes, my favorite camping spots are those undeveloped areas along back roads, such as through Bear Valley, or across the Owyhee Byway.
I was camping on the edge of the Owyhee Wilderness a few weeks ago and watching bluebirds streak across the green/gray sage lands and antelope slowly grazing as I tried to narrow my favorite 50 campsites to a mere 10.
With so much public land in Idaho and across the West, you can practically throw down your sleeping bag, or park your RV, anywhere in the middle of nowhere.
But since I have to narrow my choices to 10, here are my favorite campsites — for this week, anyway.
What: The Owyhee National Backcountry Byway goes more than 100 miles between Idaho’s town of Grand View to Oregon’s Jordan Valley and offers miles of camping opportunities off the beaten track. There’s only one developed campground in the area, so most of the camping is not in a campground. You’ll have to be self-contained, which means bringing your own drinking water, setting up a portable potty and making sure you have enough gas and good tires.
The beauty of the drive is that it passes the edges of three sections of the recently designated Owyhee Wilderness: Little Jacks Creek, Pole Creek and the North Fork of the Owyhee. You can camp near interpretive signs marking wilderness boundary and do quick hikes into the high-desert areas.
Make it at least a two-night camping trip.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management campground at the crossing of the North Fork of the Owyhee River is the only developed camping area on the route.
My favorite way to drive the road is from Grand View along the Mud Flat Road and to camp off the road somewhere past the Mud Flat Guard Station the first night. The North Fork campground is a good spot for the second night.
Don’t forget to stop along the drive and hike off the road. You’ll see antelope, ground squirrels and a variety of songbirds.
Make this trip in May and early June before the desert’s summer heat. Parts of the byway are 6,000 feet in elevation, so the evenings get cool.
Getting there: Drive south out of Grand View on Idaho 78 and take the Mud Flat Road on the right. Head out to Jordan Valley, Ore., and return on U.S. 95 to the Treasure Valley.
Information: blm.gov/id and search Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.
What: Bear Valley Creek is a premier flatwater canoeing stream, and that’s what makes camping in Bear Valley such a great experience.
There are two developed U.S. Forest Service campgrounds — Fir Creek and Bear Valley — if you want outhouses and picnic tables. But there are so many pull-offs along the Landmark-Stanley Road that you don’t need a campground. Most of the camping areas are near beautiful meadows along Elk and Bear Valley creeks.
The other highlights of camping in Bear Valley are exploring the Landmark-Stanley Road on ATVs or mountain bikes, driving to Deadwood Reservoir for a day of fishing, or exploring the road over to Boundary Creek and Dagger Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Landmark-Stanley Road is also close to trails into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderess area for lots of hiking or horseback riding. Bear Valley Campground is along Bear Valley Creek, which is one of the major headwater streams for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
The campground has 10 campsites in a stand of lodgepole pine. There is no fee and no reservations are taken.
It’s great wildlife watching in the meadows, and you might see elk, sandhill cranes and Western tanagers at certain times.
Fir Creek Campground is located along Forest Service Road 579 before you break into Bear Valley and also before Bear Valley campground. It has eight sites right along Bear Valley Creek. Drinking water is not available at either campground. Bring your own or have a way to filter or purify creek water.
If you are canoeing the creek from Elk Creek downstream, Fir Creek Campground is where you want to pull out. Going any farther to the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River requires whitewater experience and a long day and shuttle from Dagger Falls.
You can do Bear Valley Creek upstream of the campground with a mountain bike shuttle.
Getting there: From Lowman, head northeast on Idaho 21 toward Stanley. Go past Banner Summit and the turnoff for Bull Trout Lake. Turn left on Forest Service Road 579 toward Bear Valley. Fir Creek Campground is about 7 miles in.
What: This is an excellent campground along the Salmon River downriver from Stanley, especially if you want to fish and float the river for trout fishing or just float for fun.
It’s also on the trailhead for the White Clouds for hiking and mountain biking. You’ll find 10 campsites in this campground, which is across the river from busy Idaho 75. There are three campsites set aside for equestrians. Another plus is that the river is a buffer between campsites and the highway noise.
There are other nearby campgrounds along the river if this one is full. The campgrounds downriver from Stanley are usually less crowded than popular campgrounds, such as those at Redfish Lake and Alturas Lake, but you have the same advantages if you want to head into Stanley to get a latte, or shop at the stores.
The campground has fire pits, tables, outhouses and other amenities, such as garbage collection. The fee is $13 for a single campsite and $26 for a double site. Get reservations through reserveamerica.com
Getting there: Drive about 4 miles northeast of Stanley on Idaho 75.
What: Edna Creek Campground is a quick drive from Boise along Idaho 21 and is especially good for an overnighter or weekend campout. It’s a good campground for kids because they can ride their bikes, play in nearby creeks or take short hikes around the area. The nearby network of back roads that serve as cross-country ski trails in the winter make good mountain bike rides in summer. Crooked River is about a mile away and is stocked with trout by Idaho Fish and Game. It’s a little brushy and fishing with kids can be a tangled mess. When the creek is low, it’s easier to fish by wading from hole to hole.
The campground is within distance of Idaho City in case you forgot marshmallows, or want to get breakfast or dinner in a restaurant instead of cooking at camp. The camping fee is $15 a night. Reservations through reserveamerica.com.
Getting there: It’s located 56 miles northeast of Boise on Idaho 21.
Upper Payette Lake
What: Upper Payette Lake Campground is one of the best places for flatwater canoeing on a mountain lake. The lake is situated at the foot of Grassy Mountains in the Payette National Forest with lots of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and ATV riding. Burgdorf Hot Springs is nearby for a hot soak after several days of camping. The meadows throughout the area are abundant with wildflowers, too, so don’t forget the camera.
The campground offers two group sites that can accommodate up to 30 and 50 guests. Several additional single- and double-family sites are available as well. All sites are handicap accessible, some have lake views and some have lake access.
Vault toilets and drinking water are available. A boat ramp, day-use site and several paved pathways are located in the campground. Fees range from $10 to $15 for single campsites. Get reservations through reserveamerica.com.
Getting there: Drive 19 miles north of McCall on the Warren Wagon Road.
What: Here’s a place where you can drive to an alpine lake and the edge of one of Idaho’s spectacular mountain ranges. The campsite is located on a ridge in Seven Devils Mountains and offers amazing views of the mountains and surrounding area. It’s also a jumping-off point for hikers, backpackers and horseback riders exploring the nearby wilderness and national recreation area.
There are no fees or reservations. Six tent sites are available. I’ve towed a tent trailer up there and also visited in my pickup camper, but be ready for a long, steep and often rough gravel road. Seven Devils Campground is nearby with 10 campsites and no fees. No reservations.
Getting there: The road to Windy Saddle is one mile south of Riggins off U.S. 95. Turn west on the Seven Devils Road (Road 517) and go about 17 miles to the top. Large trailers are not recommended, but people take horse trailers up there.
What: If you like cutthroat trout fishing in the Lochsa River, this is the campground for you. It is situated on a stretch of land along the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River off U.S. 12. It’s got everything from shade in moss-covered pines, a nearby small stream and the beauty of the trout river.
Hosts are available when the campground is in full operation. Fees are $14. There are 27 campsites, and while that may seem like a lot, the place fills up on weekends when the Lochsa is prime fishing. No reservations.
The campground is close to cafes downstream where you can get huckleberry pie in season. Another advantage of traveling U.S. 12 is there is an assortment of other campgrounds along the route. You can also pull off in undeveloped spots to get away from it all.
Late May and June are prime months for rafting the Lochsa and also the Lower Selway River. Several pack trails lead from the highway into the Selway Wilderness for hiking or horsepacking.
Getting there: Drive to Lowell on U.S. 12 and head northeast to Mile Post 158.2.
What: This is a remote campground on the east side of the Gospel Hump Wilderness and requires lots of driving on tire-eating gravel roads. Make sure your vehicle is capable, but don’t be discouraged. It’s a must trip to see the Gospel Hump.
Cutthroat trout fishing in the lake is a big draw. Mosquitoes can be bad so be prepared. There are six campsites on Wildhorse Lake near a meadow.
A trail from the campground leads into the wilderness to Tenmile Meadows. Another trail head is south of the campground and leads deep into the wilderness, all the way to Sugarloaf Butte. Stock facilities are available. Plan several days here to soak in all the hiking and fishing opportunities. No campground fee or reservations.
Getting there: From Grangeville, head east on Idaho 14 toward Elk City. Before Elk City, turn south on Crooked River Road No. 233. Go through the old Orogrande town site, past the junction with Big Creek Meadows Road No. 311 to Orogrande Summit and the junction with Road No. 233I. Turn right on Road No. 233I and go 2.5 miles. It’s about 25 miles southwest of Elk City.
Minam State Recreation Area
What: This campground in the Oregon state parks system is an ideal place to get away from the cities, yet be close enough to touristy places like Joseph, Ore., the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Lostine River corridor.
The campground is on the Wallowa River, and you can do short float trips from Oregon 82 and the Minam Motel and Store, which rents rafts and does shuttles.
The Wallowa is also known for its good trout fishing. There’s a river trail nearby for anglers.
The campground is used by rafters doing multiday float trips on the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers, so Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays can be busy.
There are about 20 primitive camping sites with tables and fire rings. Drinking water is available along with a vault toilet. The camping fee is $10. No reservations.
Getting there: Drive northeast on Oregon 82 for about 33 miles.
What: Priest Lake in North Idaho offers a lot of opportunities for powerboating and flatwater paddling, plus hiking and mountain biking on Idaho’s Centennial Trail.
Campers have a choice of several Forest Service campgrounds and also parts of Priest Lake State Park.
There are several undeveloped campsites on forest roads leading off the west side of the lake, such as the road trip to Granite Falls or the Roosevelt Grove of cedar trees. A premier flatwater kayaking or canoeing trip is the 2- to 3-mile paddle from Priest Lake to Upper Priest Lake.
If you had to pick one campground on the lake, try Beaver Creek, located on the west shore of Priest Lake about 50 miles north of Priest River. It is one of the most coveted campgrounds on the lake. It has 41 campsites, including two host sites and a group campsite. Campground roads and campsite parking spurs are paved.
Beaver Creek Campground has accessible facilities, water, vault toilets and a swimming beach. The campground opens Memorial Day weekend and is $20 a night.
For information on it and other campgrounds go to reserveamerica.com. For state parks in the area go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov
Getting there: For Beaver Creek Campground, go north from the town of Priest River on Idaho 57 to Nordman and then 12 miles north on paved Reeder Bay Road. Other campgrounds are found on both sides of the lake.