Nearly 25 years ago, the U.S. Forest Service constructed a trailhead and a handful of campgrounds at the base of Idaho’s tallest mountain, Borah Peak. Few things have changed at the site since then but the trail itself has skyrocketed in popularity, posing a problem as hikers vie for scarce parking spots, campsites and toilets.
That’s slated to change thanks to a proposal recently approved by Salmon-Challis National Forest District Ranger Allison Jackson. The plan adds 30 campsites (six times the existing number of sites), an overflow camping area, a 90-100 car parking lot with spaces for trailers and buses and three new two-hole vault toilets. (Currently there’s one two-hole vault toilet, which was upgraded in 2010 from a single-hole vault toilet.)
“On a weekend during the peak season, it’s not unusual for 100 vehicles to be at Borah,” Salmon-Challis National Forest spokeswoman Amy Baumer said in a phone interview. “So this will be a big win for the Borah climbers.”
The upgrade also includes the installation of a well for drinking water. There’s no potable water available at the trailhead now. Crews also will construct an ADA-accessible interpretive trail loop near the trailhead, a new trail to the existing rotunda and a small camping “spur” below the main trailhead.
Baumer said the upgrades will not only make the site more comfortable, they’ll also make it safer. When the trailhead parking lot is full, hikers will park in the tall grass nearby, which can be a fire hazard in the summer. There are also concerns over sanitation at a heavily used site without adequate toilet facilities.
According to Baumer, the upgrades have been in the works since at least 2010, when the last minor update was made at the trailhead. She said the Forest Service heard “very favorable” feedback on the plan from trail users.
Over the last decade, Borah Peak has seen an influx of climbers, including “peak baggers” or “high pointers” who hike to the tallest point in an area. From January 2013 to January 2014, the Forest Service used a traffic counter at the trailhead and tracked nearly 2,200 visitors. That number has only continued to grow, according to Baumer. From 2014 to 2017, the Forest Service has noted a 36% increase in paying visitors.
Still, it will take some time before the changes are complete. Baumer said the upgrades will be completed on a phase timeline rather than all at once. The first phase of construction is tentatively slated for April 2021, though it’s not yet clear which portions of the upgrade will be included in that phase. A projected cost and timeline for the project have not yet been finalized.