Tag Archives: waterfall

Boise National Forest

Boise National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

2,959,305 acres (2,654,004 federal/ 305,301 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/boise

Overview

Boise National Forest is famous for its gold rush ghost towns and hot springs along the South Fork of the Payette River.  The best way to explore this National Forest is by stopping along three scenic byways: Ponderosa Pine (Highway 21), Wildlife Canyon (Highway 24), and Payette River (Highway 55) Scenic Byways.  Ghost towns dating back to the 1860s include Atlanta, Banner, Brummer, Graham, Pioneerville, Quartzburg, Thunder, and the more-developed Idaho City.

Highlights

Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Payette River Scenic Byway, Big Falls, Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, Kirkham Hot Springs, Sage Hen Reservoir, Dagger Falls, Atlanta ghost town, Trinity Recreation Area, Ardeth Lake, Velvet Falls, Kirkham Ridge Trail, Idaho Centennial Trail

Must-Do Activity

Starting in Boise, Idaho, the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (Highway 21) leads 131 miles northeast through Boise National Forest.  Be sure to stop (and try some delicious huckleberry ice cream) in Idaho City, where wooden board sidewalks and unpaved streets take you back to the gold rush era.  Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway continues to Lowman where it follows the South Fork of the Payette River past the campgrounds at Kirkham and Bonneville Hot Springs (reservations recommended) and up to 7,056-foot Banner Summit at the boundary with Challis National Forest.

Best Trail

Located just three miles east of Highway 55 and Lake Cascade along paved Warm Creek Road is the Eagle Nest Trail.  Look for the parking pullout on the south side of the road across from the big rock that marks the entrance to the Eagle Nest neighborhood.  After crossing the road, the Eagle Nest Trail steadily climbs (from 4,850 to 6,050 feet in the first 2.5 miles) and occasionally opens up for views of the mountains above Cascade Lake.  Located further south, Fool Creek Trail drops 2,728 feet in 4.1 miles to the Middle Fork of the Payette River.

Watchable Wildlife

On a smoky September morning on the Eagle Nest Trail, we saw fresh turkey and mule deer prints in the dirt.  Other common large animals include elk, moose, pronghorns, coyotes, and black bears.  At higher elevations watch for mountain goats, pikas, and yellow-bellied marmots.  In addition to several trout species, chinook and sockeye salmon migrate up the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  Non-migratory Kokanee salmon are native to Warm Lake, plus introduced into Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock, Lucky Peak, and Deadwood Reservoirs.  

Instagram-worthy Photo

In Sawtooth National Recreation Area, 10,190-foot Mt. Regan stands at the south end of Sawtooth Lake marking the boundary between Challis and Boise National Forests.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is a day-use fee at parking areas near hot springs

Road Conditions

Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway is winding and full of switchbacks, so take your time.  Warm Creek Road is paved to the roadside trailhead for Eagle Nest.  The Grandjean Road back to the campground is unpaved, but open year round.

Camping

Most of the campgrounds along Highway 21 take reservations due to their popularity.  We have read good things about the 31 sites in the Grandjean Campground (first-come, first-served) on the South Fork of the Payette River (hot springs are 1.5 miles away) near the western boundary of the Sawtooth Wilderness.

Wilderness Areas

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (also in Payette, Salmon-Challis, Bitterroot, and Nez Perce National Forests)

Sawtooth Wilderness (also in Sawtooth and Challis National Forests)

Related Sites

Sawtooth National Recreation Area (Idaho)

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (Idaho)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington-Montana)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, western larch

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, black cottonwood, narrowleaf cottonwood, thinleaf alder, water birch, Rocky Mountain maple, chokecherry, sagebrush

Explore More – Boise National Forest is full of water with 15,400 acres covered by lakes and reservoirs, plus how many miles of streams and rivers?

Bitterroot National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest

Montana, Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,655,753 acres (1,587,070 federal/ 68,683 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bitterroot

Overview

First established as the 4.1-million-acre Bitter Root Forest Reserve in 1898, the smaller Bitterroot National Forest today flanks both sides of Highway 93 and the Bitterroot River Valley.  This stretch of the Idaho-Montana border is rough, mountainous country and about half this National Forest is designated Wilderness (see below).  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail follows a portion of the boundary between Bitterroot National Forest and Beaverhead National Forest, heading northeast from Lost Trail Pass where Highway 93 crosses into Idaho.

Highlights

Nez Perce Auto Trail, Lost Trail Pass, Lake Como, Magruder Massacre Site, Trapper Peak, Skalkaho Falls, Blodgett Canyon, Boulder Creek Falls, Palisade Mountain National Recreation Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are trails going west up seemingly every canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains, while Lost Horse Creek has a road that follows it nearly to the Idaho border.  Wildfire smoke obscured the views during our visit in July 2021, but the glacier-carved mountain scenery was still impressive on Blodgett Creek Trail.  We imagine on a clear day the views would rival California’s Yosemite Valley.  There are many more roads (and some trails) to explore in the Sapphire Mountains east of Highway 93.

Best Trail

Blodgett Creek Trail leads 12.6 miles one-way to Blodgett Lake, but you do not have to go that far to appreciate its incredible beauty.  The trail climbs steadily as it follows the creek, passing the memorial to smokejumper Don Mackey on its way to two waterfalls: the first at 4.5 miles hidden in a slot canyon and the second a wide cascade only a half-mile further (for a cumulative elevation gain of 1,637 feet).  Leaving from a nearby trailhead, Blodgett Overlook Trail is a steep 2.8 miles out-and-back.  A similar trek with outstanding views, Bear Creek Overlook Trail climbs about 1,000 feet as it switchbacks 2.6 miles one-way.

Watchable Wildlife

On our backpacking trip into Blodgett Canyon we saw bats, many trout and a beaver dam in the creek, plus a variety of bird life, including a dipper (or ouzel) and a hairy woodpecker.  We also heard hermit thrushes and pikas calling in the rocky scree slopes.  The Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains are home to elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose, as well as mountain lions, black bears, and grizzly bears (which were reintroduced starting in 2003).  Wildlife watchers should drive the U.S. Forest Service’s Sula Deer, Elk, and Bighorn Driving Tour.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you hike the Blodgett Creek Trail keep an eye on the ridgeline to the south for a massive natural arch that punches a hole in the skyline.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last three miles to Blodgett Trailhead were well-groomed dirt road and the route from Hamilton, Montana had signs at every turn.

Camping

Located on a creek, Blodgett Campground (fee) seemed like a nice spot, though it was a bit noisy and smoky on a weekend in mid-July.  We also read that Deep Creek Campground is nice and is located near the ruins of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest)

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (also in Payette, Salmon-Challis, Boise, and Nez Perce National Forests)

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (also in Nez Perce, Clearwater, and Lolo National Forests)

[Allan Mountain Roadless Area]

Related Sites

Beaverhead National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Glacier (Montana)

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, whitebark pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, western redcedar, subalpine larch, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, grand fir, western yew

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, black cottonwood, bog birch, Rocky Mountain maple, red alder, red-osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Trapper Peak, the highest point in Bitterroot National Forest?

Bighorn National Forest

Bighorn National Forest

Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region

1,115,160 acres (1,107,571 federal/ 7,589 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn

Overview

In northern Wyoming, the Bighorn Mountains are crisscrossed by three scenic byways: Cloud Peak Skyway, Bighorn Scenic Byway, and Medicine Wheel Passage.  Bighorn National Forest has such amazing views you can even enjoy them without stepping foot on the ground.  While you could enjoy the National Forest strictly through your windshield, you should lace up your hiking boots and explore some of the 150 miles of trails within the spectacular 189,039-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Highlights

Shell Falls, Fallen City, Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, Bucking Mule Falls, Coney Lake, Porcupine Falls, Crazy Woman Creek, Ten Sleep Canyon, Mistymoon Trail

Must-Do Activity

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark is an 80-foot-diameter circle of rocks divided into 28 spokes to match the lunar cycle.  This breathtaking archaeological site lies at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation with stunning panoramas in all directions.  It is possible to drive all the way to the site with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but most visitors park in the lot located three miles up the road that climbs steeply from the turnoff on Highway 14A.  From the parking area, it is a 1.5-mile walk down the undulating road, which can be cold and windy even in the middle of the summer.

Best Trail

Mistymoon Trail is one of the most famous backpacking areas in the state of Wyoming, a six-mile jaunt into scenic Cloud Peak Wilderness with only about 1,000 feet elevation gain to Mistymoon Lake.  Leaving from the same trailhead at West Tensleep Lake, another trail leads to Mirror Lake and Lost Twin Lakes after multiple stream crossings.

Watchable Wildlife

As you might guess from its name, the National Forest is home to bighorn sheep, although they had to be reintroduced after being eradicated by diseases and hunting.  Given its location at the edge of the Great Plains, both white-tailed deer and mule deer overlap here, usually to the detriment of less-aggressive mule deer.  The North Tongue River is one of several clear waterways that attract trout fishermen, and elk hunters crowd this area in the fall.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You will definitely want to get out of the car to see 120-foot tall Shell Falls, which is located right off Highway 14. 

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Snow can close Cloud Peak Skyway (Highway 16) and Bighorn Scenic Byway (Highway 14) temporarily in the winter, and Medicine Wheel Passage (Highway 14A) until late spring.  Forest Road 27 is a wide gravel road that leads seven miles north from Highway 16 to West Tensleep Lake Campground and trailhead.  Accessing the short trail to 600-foot tall Bucking Mule Falls involves driving about ten miles of dirt roads.

Camping

There are many campgrounds, including popular ones at Meadowlark Lake and West Tensleep Lake.  For a more-developed experience, try Medicine Lake Lodge or Meadowlark Lake Resort.  We have driven through this area multiple times and found a couple good dispersed campsites on dirt roads.

Wilderness Areas

Cloud Peak Wilderness

Related Sites

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Montana-Wyoming)

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Black Hills National Forest (South Dakota-Wyoming)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain juniper, subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, white spruce, limber pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Cloud Peak, namesake for the 189,039-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness?

Beaverhead National Forest

Beaverhead National Forest

Montana

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

2,199,013 acres (2,130,671 federal/ 68,342 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bdnf

Overview

Co-managed since 1996, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is spread across multiple mountain ranges in the southwest corner of Montana.  The dividing boundaries between the two forests are unclear, though Beaverhead National Forest tends to be more southeast than Deerlodge National Forest and includes portions of the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Centennial, Gravelly, Madison, Pioneer, Tendoy, and Tobacco Root Mountains.  Bordering Idaho’s Salmon National Forest, 7,323-foot Lemhi Pass is located on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  This is where the Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide in 1805 and is why the Sacajawea Memorial Area was established here in 1932.

Highlights

Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, Lemhi Pass, Sacajawea Memorial, Chief Joseph Pass, Pintler Falls, Upper Potosi Hot Springs, Charcoal Kilns, Gravelly Range Auto Tour, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

It is about a 17-mile drive from Harrison, Montana back to the free Potosi Campground, but it is well signed and worth the effort.  From here a 0.8-mile trail leads to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, a clear 100°F pool with room for about six adults.  Further west, about ten miles north of Highway 278, is the privately owned Elkhorn Hot Springs (fee), a great place to relax after hiking around Big Hole National Battlefield (managed by the National Park Service).  If you keep driving north on Wise River Polaris Road (FR 484), there are plenty of dispersed campsites and trailheads for several long hikes into the Pioneer Mountains.

Best Trail

We only hiked less than a mile trail to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, but that trail keeps climbing three miles to the top of the ridge.  We read good reviews for Louise Lake National Recreation Trail (see note on Road Conditions below), Pioneer Lake National Recreation Trail, Browns Lake Trail, Blue Creek Trail, Sand Lake/Lily Lake Trail, and Gold Butte Trail.  Hopefully we will make it back here to go backpacking someday.

Watchable Wildlife

Beaverhead National Forest still has most of its pre-settlement carnivores: grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, Canadian lynx, coyotes, and gray wolves.  Grazing ungulate species include moose, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and pronghorns.  We saw bald eagles and ospreys on our drive out from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Mountain whitefish, golden trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, lake trout, arctic grayling, and burbot are some of the gamefish sought by fishermen.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The ruins of a developed hot springs resort (located on private land) are visible from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Watch for moose downhill in South Willow Creek and a cute little garter snake that hangs out in the rocks by the pool (possibly year round if it stays warm enough not to hibernate).

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The dirt roads to Potosi Campground and over Lemhi Pass are both in very good condition, but we do not know about all the other dirt roads that cross the Continental Divide.  We read the access road to Louise Lake National Recreation Trail is pretty rough, requiring four-wheel drive the last two miles.

Camping

There are more than 20 spots to set up at Potosi Campground, which is free and located near the trailhead for Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  You will want a high-clearance vehicle to drive across South Willow Creek to the official trailhead, but there are also pedestrian bridges.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Deerlodge and Bitterroot National Forests)

Lee Metcalf Wilderness (also in Gallatin National Forest)

Related Sites

Deerlodge National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, subalpine larch

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, balsam poplar, Bebb willow, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Hilgard Peak, the highest point in Beaverhead National Forest?

Arapaho National Recreation Area

Arapaho National Recreation Area

Colorado

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Arapaho National Forest

30,690 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/arp/specialplaces

Overview

On the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park are the first of many dams across the Colorado River forming several lakes around Granby, Colorado.  Arapaho National Recreation Area contains five reservoirs, the largest of which is Lake Granby (but not including Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake).  Also nearby, Monarch Lake is the starting point for multiple trails into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  Despite its proximity to the Denver metropolitan area, this untamed country is home to a variety of wildlife including moose, martens, and mountain lions, as well as the river otter and ouzel (or dipper) we saw during our January visit. 

Highlights

Lake Granby, Monarch Lake, Meadow Creek Reservoir, Roaring Fork Falls, Willow Creek Reservoir, High Lonesome Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

The largest reservoir in Arapaho National Recreation Area is Lake Granby, an area popular with snowmobilers and ice fisherman in the winter.  Summer is also a good time to visit when the lakes are unfrozen and available for boating, swimming, and other water sports.  That’s when backpackers on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail prefer to come through here.

Best Trail

Snowshoers looking for some quiet can drive to the eastern end of Lake Granby and hike a mile to Monarch Lake on a road that is closed during the winter months.  Throughout the year, Monarch Lake is the starting point for multiple trails that climb into the high elevations of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, plus the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Under a blanket of snow, there is a majestic view from Monarch Lake looking at the Arapaho Creek Valley.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

During the summer, day-use fees apply at portions of Arapaho National Recreation Area, like Monarch Lake and boat launches.

Road Conditions

The road back to Monarch Lake and many others are closed seasonally due to heavy snow accumulations.

Camping

Campgrounds on the lakes fill up in the summer and even the dirt roads around the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park can be jam-packed with dispersed campers.

Related Sites

Curecanti National Recreation Area (Colorado)

Colorado National Monument (Colorado)

Dinosaur National Monument (Utah-Colorado)

Nearest National Park

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Lake Granby in summer

Explore More – When was Arapaho National Recreation Area established?