Idahoans heading into the woods, mountains and campgrounds over Memorial Day weekend may encounter unexpected snow and delayed campground openings as they seek to kickstart their outdoor recreation season.
Typically, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend is filled with campers, boaters, hikers, and all sorts of recreational seekers enjoying summertime activities on public lands throughout Idaho. But due to freak snowstorms in May that bombarded the mountains and even blanketed the valley floors earlier this month, US Forest Service officials are urging Idahoans and visitors to prepare for unpredictable weather and persistent snow at higher elevations in the area’s public areas.
Plus the US National Weather Service in Boise forecasts a cold, wet bank holiday weekendwith chances for snow in the mountains and high altitudes.
“This year you want to plan your trip in advance and have a plan A, plan B and plan C,” says outdoor expert and Rebuild Idaho responsibly Coordinator Steve Stubner.
Logging roads are unploughed, can be snowy at higher elevations, and cell phone reception is unavailable in most forests. Some campgrounds and higher-elevation areas of Boise National Forest are not scheduled to open until June or July due to snow cover, including Bull Trout Campground, Deadwood Reservoir and Trinity Mountain Recreation Area, Forest Service officials said.
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“One thing to note is that we are trying to open our campgrounds as soon as possible, but any campground that is developed needs to be public safety checked and just cleaned up.” said Venetia Gempler, a public affairs officer for Boise National Forest. “Right now most of our lower elevation campgrounds would be open but higher elevation campgrounds are not open and that is mainly due to snow.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of ways to enjoy Idaho’s hiking trails, forests, and campgrounds this holiday weekend. Most of the 80 campgrounds in Boise National Forest opened May 21, including Riverside, Edna Creek, and Hayfork campgrounds in the Idaho City Ranger District and Pine Flats, Helende, and Bonneville campgrounds in the Lowman Ranger District. (Some campgrounds can be reserved in advance and are likely already booked. Others, including Riverside and Whoop Um Up campgrounds in the Idaho City Ranger District, opened May 21 and are first-come, first-served. Visit www.recreation.gov for reservations and further information.)
Most campgrounds at lower elevations are also open and accessible in Payette National Forest.
Idaho outdoor experts anticipate continued growth in usage and reservations
Despite the recent cold, wet weather, officials are preparing for a further increase in the use of public spaces and campgrounds.
“Since 2020, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in visitor use in the forest, and I think that’s across the country, in all honesty, in the national forests, and the Boise National Forest is no different,” Gempler said. “We’re very close to a major population center in Idaho, so it’s kind of like a gateway forest to nature. And so we expect many visitors. People who live in Idaho love their public lands and love being outside.”
The Payette National Forest McCall Ranger District Office is located on West Lake Street. The forest is located in west-central Idaho, in parts of Valley, Idaho, Adams and Washington counties. (Christina Lords/Idaho Capital Sun)
That’s not to say you can’t find peace and solitude in Idaho’s woods and public lands.
“Our most accessible and popular areas have seen a huge increase in use, but there are still wooded areas where you can find your own little space,” he said Payette National Forest Recreation Specialist Emily Simpson.
At this point, word has gotten around about Idaho’s beautiful public lands and recreational opportunities, and Stübner expects it to stay that way unless gas prices discourage summer travel plans.
The increase in public land use over the past two summers has resulted in some devastated campgrounds and hot springs, damage to trails, conflicts between recreational user groups, lots of feces (human and dog) near trails and campgrounds, and overcrowded trailheads, some experts are wondering , whether it is us Loving Idaho’s wild places to death.
Part of the focus of the Recreate Responsibly Idaho campaign is to educate outdoor users about leaving no trace and rebuilding responsibly, Stübner said. The three-year-old initiative is a partnership between the US Forest Service, the Idaho Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission, and others. The campaign maintains a website with tips for staying safe and responsible outdoors.
“We hope people do a better job this summer, but we know that tens of thousands of new people are moving to Idaho, and we also have a lot of tourists and visitors coming to Idaho,” Stübner said.
Devastated campgrounds, forests, and public lands have become more common as use of Idaho’s public lands increases. (Courtesy of Steve Stuebner/Recreate Responsibly Idaho)
Stuebner said anyone who goes outdoors can use the Recreate Responsibly Idaho website to find tips on putting out campfires and trail and camp etiquette.
A personal tip he would add to anyone going outside this Memorial Day is to bring a good tarp with all the rain forecasts for popular areas like McCall and Stanley.
Payette National Forest reduces the camping limit to 14 days
Payette National Forest ranger Linda Jackson has given an order Reduction of the camp stay limit from 18 days to 14 days. The 14-day limit is consistent with many other public lands across the state and in neighboring Idaho forests, including the Boise National Forest, Forest Service officials said.
“Fortnite is consistent not only with most neighboring states, but also across the country and it gives people that consistency,” said Simpson, the Payette National Forest’s recreation specialist. “We’re also trying to avoid complaints about long-term site occupancy and making sure people get a site when they come into the forest.”
In terms of tips for getting outside this weekend, Simpson would encourage everyone to start getting outside for the bank holiday weekend as early as possible and plan for multiple backup options.
“The sooner you get here the better, and if you leave early enough you can change your plans from Plan A to Plan B and even Plan C,” Simpson said.
Tips for responsible recreation in forests and on public lands this summer
- Plan your trip in advance, explore the area, bring a physical map and compass, and have backup plans in case the place you plan to visit becomes crowded or inaccessible due to snow. Maps are available during normal business hours from Forest Service ranger districts and visitor centers, as well as Boise National Forest motor vehicle maps are available online.
- Let a family member or friend back home know where you are going and when you plan to return.
- Pack everything you need for your trip including extra food and water, a tarp, warm clothes, rain gear, flashlights, sunscreen, hat and sunscreen.
- Bring garbage bags and unpack anything you bring with you, including rubbish and dog poop. Dig a cat hole to dispose of human waste. Leave No Trace policies are Available online.
- Be aware of all fire restrictions and drown your campfire to ensure it’s extinguished each time before leaving unattended.
- If you use an ATV or UTV, find out which roads you are allowed to use and which roads are closed. All persons under the age of 18 operating an ATV in Idaho must wear a helmet.
- Be polite and practice good etiquette on trails, near hot springs, in parking lots, and at boat ramps.
- Visit recreate.idaho.gov for more tips for a safe and responsible outdoor experience.