Like to camp but don’t like crowds? Consider the “Gem State” of Idaho. There are fewer people in all the state than you’ll find on the freeway during an average LA commute.
If you’re looking for incredible scenery, wilderness and outdoor adventure more or less all to yourself – Idaho camping is for you. Fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, rock-hounding, mountain-biking, kayaking, it has it all in abundance. Here’s a run-down on some of the most famous possibilities.
The River of No Return
The name fits. Nowhere outside of Alaska can you find a wilderness experience to match the Frank Church-River of No Return, the largest contiguous unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48.
Not for the faint of heart, this is a land of deep canyons, clear rivers, and awe-inspiring mountains. White-water rivers course through the wilderness. The Main Salmon River –dubbed “the river of no return” — runs west near the northern boundary while the Middle Fork runs north for about 104 miles until it joins the Main.
A network of 296 maintained trails, covering 2,616 miles and featuring 114 bridges, provides access to this seemingly endless area. While there are 32 Forest Service Roads leading to 66 trailheads, an amazing 1.5 million acres remains trail-free.
Photo credit: US Forest Service
Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge – that’s right, deeper than the Grand Canyon. It plunges more than a mile down from its rim, and every day a roaring Snake River carves it a bit deeper.
Located on the border of eastern Oregon, Washington and western Idaho, there are no roads crossing Hell Canyon’s 10-mile wide expanse. Only a handful provide access to the river itself.
Hells Canyon is not for the faint of heart — big water, wild country, and no civilization. The isolation and surging rapids make it a favorite for rafting trips, and fishing guides ply the surging river in jet boats – primarily after huge sturgeon and world-class smallmouth bass fishing.
Hells Canyon straddles the Oregon-Idaho border for more than 100 miles, and it’s rough country. You can raft-camp in luxury, or be a real adventurer and hike it. Not many do. The river canyon is so pristine that the tent pole holes of Native Americans can still be seen, along with petroglyphs and other evidence.
Photo credit: US Forest Service
The Owyhee Desert
Owyhee County is twice the size of Connecticut – 8,000 square miles — and has a total population of 11,000 people. That’s some elbow room. The Owyhee desert encompasses the vast, high desert southwestern corner of Idaho, and extends into Nevada and Oregon. One of the last regions of the continental United States to be explored, it is a lonely but beautiful land of deep canyons, tall mountains and sparse deserts. Most is unchanged since it was a sanctuary known only to Native Americans.
This is serious isolation for the adventurous, but take plenty of food, gas and water. As a matter of fact, take plenty of anything that you might want, because there are no paved roads at all. No stores, gas stations, hotels, nada. Forget the KOA campgrounds. But if you’re comfortable being hundreds of dirt road miles from the nearest sign of civilization, this is the place for you.
Three camping gems – ideal for the adventurous seeker of isolation and desolate beauty – but clearly not for the faint-hearted.