Visitor to Idaho: “Excuse me, is there somewhere to camp here?”
Idaho resident: “That’s like asking if there’s somewhere to breathe here.”
Camping in Idaho is what my children call a no-brainer. In other words, pretty much anywhere that’s not inhabited already is probably open to camping. We have so many wilderness areas, national forests, and state parks that your camping options are limited only by your own adventurous spirit.
My two main goals when I go camping are to get as far away from other people as possible and to be next to a river. Since Idaho is known for wild rivers, that’s a pretty easy assignment. I have found that getting away from the bulk of humanity usually requires a forest service campground. This means very limited amenities, if you can call them that. I’m talking pit toilets (as in no flushing required) and a water pump for fresh, drinkable water. (In case you haven’t heard, don’t ever drink water straight out of a river or lake without purifying it first.) It also means that you often cannot drive a huge RV on the rutty, narrow road to get to the campsite, and you don’t have the option to reserve a spot. This is the kind of camping for the purist outdoorsy person. For more on forest service campgrounds, click here. We like to go out into the mountains to places like Black Rock, Trinity Lakes, Fourth of July Lake (backpack only), and Grand Jean, which is part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Now, for those who need a few more amenities, like flushing toilets and running water and maybe spaces for RVs and dump sites, then state parks are the way to go. Unless you prefer private campgrounds like KOA. I prefer state parks. They are usually set somewhere lovely, like along a river or lake, and the fees are usually cheaper than private places. Often state park campgrounds can be reserved, although in Idaho that means sometimes six or more months in advance. Idahoans camp like it’s a religion. State parks also usually have interpretive programs like campfire talks, maybe a small store with supplies, and frequently a campground host who can offer information. It’s more than likely you’ll be camping pretty close to your neighbors, so hopefully you’ll like their choice of music, food, and the sound of their children.
Ponderosa State Park is one of the most popular campgrounds, so be prepared for the rush of humanity. One of our favorite state parks is Bruneau Sand Dunes, because it is unique and has an observatory. For complete information on state parks, click here.
One fun way to camp without the drudgery of taking your own tent/RV and supplies is to rent a yurt, tepee, or cabin. The list of cabins to rent is endless, as some are privately owned, but there are some operated by the parks and recreation department and the forest service. Three Island Crossing State Park has tepees which are great for a group of scouts or a large family. Yurts are available from both private and public land holders. They can be accessed in winter or summer, meaning you can go winter camping in the Idaho mountains and be as toasty as a marshmallow.