Outdoors Blog

You still can get some prime camping spots this summer. But you better hurry.

Redfish Lake at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains is one of Idaho's most popular camping destinations.
Redfish Lake at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains is one of Idaho's most popular camping destinations. ccripe@idahostatesman.com

If you're trying to go camping on a weekend in one of Idaho's most popular areas this summer, you're probably too late to get the reservation you want.

Most of Idaho's high-profile camping destinations become available six months (Forest Service properties offered through recreation.gov) or nine months (Idaho State Parks and Recreation) in advance.

Here are some campgrounds that book up fast, some that usually have in-season availability and what we were able to find available this week.

STATE PARKS

Most popular: Priest Lake in Coolin, Idaho, which is 517 miles north of Boise and 30 miles south of Canada. Closer to home, Ponderosa State Park in McCall fills up fast.

Alternative gem: If you're not a planner, try Lake Cascade. One of its many campgrounds likely will have a spot.

What we found: Priest Lake has sites available for the June 1-3 and June 8-10 weekends. Lake Cascade still has many options for the summer.

Priest beach
White-sand beaches are one of the key perks at Priest Lake. Courtesy of Idaho State Parks and Recreation

SAWTOOTH NATIONAL FOREST

Most popular: The three campgrounds that accept reservations at Redfish Lake south of Stanley: Point, Glacier View and Outlet. The entire Sawtooth Valley is a reservation challenge but particularly the ones with easy access to scenic Redfish and its namesake lodge.

Alternative gem: Alturas Lake Inlet Campground is about 25 miles south of Stanley. It's a quieter, less-commercial setting than Redfish but trail access isn't as convenient.

What we found: Point, Glacier View and Outlet are fully booked for July and August except for a few midweek vacancies (Heyburn and Sockeye are the walk-up campgrounds). Alturas Lake Inlet has some decent midweek options and almost half the sites are held open for walk-up campers.

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.

PAYETTE NATIONAL FOREST

Most popular: Upper Payette Lake. Fishing, canoeing, hiking and biking (there's a 1-mile paved trail) are among the popular activities at this gorgeous spot in the mountains 19 miles north of McCall. It's a no-wake lake. Half of the campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Alternative gem: Cold Springs Campground is less than a mile from Lost Valley Reservoir, which offers quality fishing and a chance to see the rare Northern Idaho ground squirrel. It's 10 miles west of New Meadows.

What we found: Upper Payette's reservable spots are mostly booked into early August but there are some midweek stretches available in mid-August. Grouse Campground on Goose Lake north of Brundage Mountain has weekend availability remaining. Cold Springs has many weekend reservations open.

upper payette lake
Upper Payette Lake north of McCall is the Payette National Forest’s version of Redfish — because of its popularity, you better plan six months in advance. Roger Phillips Statesman file

BOISE NATIONAL FOREST

Most popular: Contenders include Shoreline at Warm Lake (near Cascade), Big Trinity Lake (highest drivable area in Idaho) and Sagehen Creek (near Smiths Ferry).

Alternative gem: Boise National Forest cabins provide a "unique experience in restored Forest Service guard stations and one lookout (Deadwood)," public affairs officer Venetia Gempler said.

What we found: Summer weekends are pretty much booked up at Shoreline, but it has walk-up sites. Sagehen Creek has weekend availability in late August and openings for Labor Day weekend. Big Trinity Lake is walk-up.

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