Camping

Tents and trout: Southwest Idaho’s best camping and fishing spots

Wake up to the sight of mist rising off the water and the trill of redwing blackbirds in the morning stillness. Launch your boat or cast from shore and feel the cool morning air. You will likely have some serenity and solitude, even if you’re at a popular campground.

But hopefully, that calm, tranquil scene will soon be interrupted by a fish dancing on the end of your line.

Camping and fishing go together like graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows. Those marshmallows even make good bait. Just add a worm and you’re ready to go.

Idaho has many campgrounds that are next to prime fishing waters, and they offer a variety of different species and settings, from smallmouth bass fishing in the meandering Snake River lowlands to trout fishing in forest-shrouded mountain lakes.

Here are some places to consider:

RIVERS

Memorial Day weekend kicks off Idaho’s general stream fishing season; unfortunately, that often coincides with spring runoff that makes river flow high and cold and makes fishing tough. But there are still options.

SOUTH FORK

OF THE BOISE RIVER

The popular stretch of river between Anderson Ranch Dam and Danskin Bridge has been closed to camping since the fall of 2013 when mudslides choked the canyon.

The Forest Service will reopen some of the camping below Anderson Ranch Dam in time for the river’s opening day for fishing May 23. Campers will welcome a return to this popular spot, but some areas will remain closed to camping if hazardous trees are nearby, or a place is in the path of past slides that could slide again.

While the river canyon looked dramatically different after the slides, which also rearranged the river, it still maintains a healthy population of wild rainbow trout, bull trout and whitefish.

Details: There are no fees to camp along the dispersed sites and limited facilities, consisting of a few vault toilets. All spaces are first-come, first-served. There’s no water or trash service.

Getting there: From Mountain Home, go north on U.S. 20 to Anderson Dam Ranch Road. Cross the dam and head downstream.

SNAKE RIVER

The Snake is often overlooked as a camping and fishing spot, which is too bad because it’s good for both. Part of the reason it’s not known for camping is because there are few developed campgrounds along the river in Southwest Idaho. That changed in recent with years with one addition and the renovation of another. The river has excellent bass fishing, tons of catfish and other fish.

SWAN FALLS

Idaho Power did a major overhaul of its recreation facilities around Swan Falls Dam south of Kuna. There are dispersed campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. It’s also been cleaned up, and all the boat launches, docks, picnic areas and other facilities have been upgraded.

Details: Camping is free, and all sites are first-come, first-served. There’s no trash service or drinking water.

Getting there: From Kuna, take Swan Falls Road south to the dam. There’s camping upstream and downstream from the dam, and also dispersed sites on BLM land downstream.

MARTIN LANDING

This is a fairly new campground near Parma that’s jointly managed by Idaho Fish and Game and Canyon County Parks and Waterways. The campground area encompasses 60 acres and is split into two sections.

The main campground is accessible by vehicles and has paved sites for RVs, as well as grassy tent sites. It has a vault toilets, but no water. This section is off the river, but the river is a short walk away, and there’s a boat launch there.

The other section is walk-in only and has gravel sites for camping, picnic tables and fire rings, but not toilet facilities. Several are located next to the river. The park is near where the Boise River and Oregon’s Owyhee River flow into the Snake River.

Details: There are not fees to camp at Martin Landing, but donations are accepted, which helps maintain the facilities. All sites are first-come, first-served.

Getting there: From Parma, take South Roswell Boulevard and turn onto Hexon Road. Follow Hexon Road to Scott Pitt Road and take it past Olson Road and turn right into the park before the river.

MIDDLE FORK

OF THE BOISE RIVER

This river is like Boise’s outback. Despite its close proximity to the Treasure Valley, it has a backcountry feel because you have to take a narrow, windy and washboarded dirt road that goes all the way to Atlanta about 60 miles from Boise.

Details: There are Forest Service campgrounds along the river, including Willow, Badger Creek, Troutdale, Neinmeyer and Queens River, as well as many dispersed camping sites. All Forest Service campgrounds are free. The campgrounds are small and have vault toilets, picnic tables and fire rings.

Getting there: Take Idaho 21 past Lucky Peak and go right on Middle Fork of the Boise River Road.

LARGE LAKES

AND RESERVOIRS

These are regional destinations that have outstanding developed campgrounds, including flush toilets, showers and Wi-Fi in some cases, boating facilities and RV hookups. They’re a good option for large boats and RVs, but there’s also room for tent campers.

C.J. STRIKE RESERVOIR

This is one of Southwest Idaho’s most popular camping and fishing spots. The large reservoir has two major campgrounds: Cove Recreation Area and Cottonwood Campground. It’s a great place for RVs because you can get inside if it’s windy.

It has a long camping season, great fishing, and some nice campgrounds run by the Bureau of Land Management (Cove Recreation) and Idaho Power (Cottonwood). Both are on the south shore of the Bruneau Arm of the reservoir off Idaho 78. Both campgrounds have boat launches.

There’s more developed camping near the dam, and lots of undeveloped camping on the south side of the reservoir.

There’s also always something biting on the reservoir if you give it a little effort. You can catch bass, perch, crappie, catfish, trout and more.

Details: For Cove Recreation, do an Internet search for “Cove Recreation.” For Cottonwood go to idahopower.com/OurEnvironment/Recreation and click on “Parks.”

Getting there: From Mountain Home, take Idaho 51 to Bruneau and then west on Idaho 78, or from Mountain Home go southwest on Idaho 67 to C.J. Strike Dam Road.

LAKE CASCADE

There are so many campgrounds around the lake you can almost always find a campsite. With a little planning, there’s a decent chance to get one on the water. Idaho Parks and Recreation manages most facilities on the lake, but some are operated by the Forest Service. Some state park campsites have full services, such as RV hookups, flush toilets and showers.

Lake Cascade is among the largest bodies of water in Idaho, which makes it a favorite for boaters. There’s also diverse shoreline with everything from developed homesites and a golf course to preserved natural areas.

The lake has good fishing, as well as water skiing, sailing and other water sports. Nearby national forests offer hiking, exploring, motorcycle and ATV riding, and more.

The lake is at 4,828 feet elevation, and although it’s in the mountains, it has a long camping season. Depending on where you camp, you can also be close to the towns of Cascade and Donnelly.

Details: For campsite reservations go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov or call 382-6544.

Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north about 75 miles north from the Treasure Valley.

BROWNLEE RESERVOIR

Brownlee Reservoir encompasses about 15,000 acres between Idaho and Oregon and is nearly 50 miles long. Idaho Power owns and operates Woodhead Park, which is a first-rate park on par with Idaho State Parks for its facilities and amenities.

The park has 124 RV sites with water, electricity, fire pits and picnic tables. It also has 15 designated campsites.

The park also has two boat ramps, an RV dump station, restrooms with flush toilets and showers, and picnic areas. Wi-Fi is available.

Details: Camping fees are reasonable at $16 per night for RV spaces that include water and electrical hookups. All sites are first-come, first-served.

Getting there: From Cambridge, take Idaho 71 to Hells Canyon and the park.

SMALLER LAKES

AND RESERVOIRS

LOST VALLEY RESERVOIR

This midsized reservoir is in the mountains a few miles off U.S. 95 between Council and New Meadows and is easily accessible for motorhomes and people pulling RVs.

There are two developed Forest Service campgrounds near the reservoir, Slaughter Gulch and Cold Springs, and also undeveloped camping along the shore.

The reservoir is nestled in the timber and provides access to lots of backroads in the area, which makes it popular with ATV and motorcycle riders.

The reservoir is stocked with trout and a comfortable size for float tubes, kayaks, canoes or small motorboats.

This reservoir is often snowbound until mid-June, but this year it will be open by Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Go to fs.usda.gov/payette, click on recreation and “Camping and Cabins” for more information about each campground.

Getting there: Go to the small community of Pine Ridge off U.S. 95 about 8 miles southwest of New Meadows. Take Forest Road 089 about 3 miles to the reservoir.

HORSETHIEF RESERVOIR

Horsethief is a developed campground with minimal services and a rarity these days — no fees, which also means no reservations.

Idaho Fish and Game owns and manages this 275-acre reservoir and campground. Competition for prime waterfront campsites is fierce, so don’t show up on a Saturday afternoon and expect to get one.

Details: This is a busy area, and the YMCA operates a private camp on the reservoir. Don’t expect a wilderness experience here, but it’s a fun place to spend a summer weekend or vacation, and Fish and Game keeps the reservoir well-stocked with trout.

There are also lots of backroads and trails in the area to explore.

Getting there: From the Treasure Valley, take Idaho 55 north to Cascade and Warm Lake Road about 6 miles to the marked turnoff to the reservoir.

BRUNEAU DUNES

This popular state park is at 2,470 feet in elevation, and May and June are some of the best months to enjoy this 4,800-acre state park south of Mountain Home. Many people go there to hike on the 470-foot sand dunes or visit the observatory for star gazing.

But the park also has several lakes with bass and bluegill, and it’s a good place for small craft such as float tubes, canoes and kayaks.

The park has two cabins for rent and 82 campsites with water and electricity, and 31 standard sites.

Details: Camping fees are $16 to $22 per night depending on whether they have RV hookups or tent sites. Cabins rent for $50 a night. Wi-Fi is available. Reservations are recommended; go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov or call (888) 922-6743.

Getting there: Take Interstate 84 from Boise to the first Mountain Home exit and head south on Idaho 51 to the Snake River. Turn east on Idaho 78 and go 2 miles to the park entrance.

DUCK VALLEY RESERVOIRS

The Shoshone-Paiute Tribe owns and operates three reservoirs: Mountain View, Sheep Creek and Billy Shaw. They are medium-sized reservoirs.

Mountain View is a popular fishing spot. There are campgrounds with RV hookups and tent sites with shelters and picnic tables.

The reservoir is on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, which is an explosion of green on the high desert with a scenic backdrop of snow-capped mountains in the distance.

With only a short section of unpaved road, Mountain View is easily accessible for RVs. It’s close to services, such as a grocery store and gas station on the reservation.

If you want more isolated camping, you can find it at nearby Sheep Creek or Billy Shaw reservoirs.

Details: Tent camping is $6 or $12.50 for RV spaces with electric hookups. If you want to fish, a tribal license is required. For details go to shopaitribes.org.

Getting there: Take Idaho 51 south from Mountain Home to the Duck Valley Indian Reservation near the Nevada state line. The reservoirs are off the highway, but well marked. Look for the signs.

  Comments