USA, ID and MT: Call of the WildAdrenaline junkie Shane Boocock whets his appetite for wild adventure driving the backroads in big-sky Montana and big-river Idaho. From fly fishing it's wild rivers and lakes, to river rafting and jet boating . . . Idaho and Montana offers up a plethora of outdoor opportunities.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
As the raft hit the first big rapid a wall of water showered everyone on board . . . with the temperatures in the 80s it was one sure way to stay cool. Forty minutes earlier I been in Boise and surprisingly that is all it takes to find some good whitewater rafting in this part of Idaho. I had set aside three hours with Cascade Rafts to experience the Payette River . . . more than a simple float trip . . . yet less than a serious white water assault on a Grade IV river system. I wasn’t to be disappointed. It was a mild to wild adventure and the perfect introduction to the rivers of Idaho.
Boise residents and visitors it seems have everything right at their fingertips. In the winter the folk who live here can sometimes experience 15c degree temperatures downtown, yet only 30km away their local 2,188m high local ski resort, Bogus Basin is all powder action.
The truth is over 4,800km of Idaho whitewater rivers supply canoeists, kayakers, rafters, fishermen, jet boaters and jet skiers with an endless supply of H2O, more than any other state in the lower 48 states. Add another 78 rivers in Montana that include the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and it’s enough to ‘Wet’ anyone’s adventurous appetite.
The perception that Idaho and Montana is too much like New Zealand can be quashed easily. This is real outdoor America where the ‘Rockies’ offer a different wilderness experience; majestic sawtooth mountains, abundant lakes and rivers, resort-style log-built lodges, great campgrounds and RV resorts, yet it’s the wildlife component that adds another dimension to its stunning scenery.
On my 10-day road trip I was out to discover what makes this region so special, to find out why this unique piece of North American landscape demands more than a cursory glance at a road map. My quest was to enjoy some outdoor activities in two states famous for their great ‘Rocky Mountain’ environment.
I spent my first night in the town of Riggins that sits alongside the Salmon River. It’s a spot with a casual small-town atmosphere including numerous river outfitters, just one main street, a few cafes, a liquor store that doubles as a fishing tackle shop and just two bars where tough loggers with long beards smoked cigarettes and told tales in gravelly voices. “I’ve been married three times,” Dave a logger declared, “and each time it was to the same woman. Do you know what I do?” he then asked. “I’m a hooker and a stripper . . . yeap I hook logs and strip them.”
The next day I arrived I was on the banks of the Snake River to begin my six-hour jetboat ride through a place known as Hells Canyon, a 50km journey upstream with a few Class 3 and two Class 4 rapids to negotiate. Killgore Adventure’s jetboat had a roofed-in canopy open over the front row of seats with three, 315 horsepower diesel engines, it sliced its way through the rapids like a torpedo. It made for a spectacular ride and a very wet soaking as we hit the impressive Bernard Rapid . . . not once but three times!
I again drove north for about 140km to spend the night alongside the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River. I was now on Highway 12, part of the 202 mile Northwest Passage Scenic Byway that follows the trails and rivers that Meriweather Lewis and William Clark’s course took through the Nez Perce Indian lands in search of a route to the Pacific over 200 years ago.
At 9am the next morning my expert fly-fishing guide, Shane Reynolds pushed off from the bank in his custom-made 5.7m Dory-style drift boat high on the Upper Selway River, which eventually joins the Clearwater River. Within 10 minutes I’d hooked and netted my first cutthroat trout . . . a nice 14-inch specimen. From a nearby forest fire the smell of burnt wood lingered in the air above the 1.2 million acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, thick with cedar and ponderosa pine.
Within an hour we had spotted a bald eagle perched on the upturned roots of a fallen tree on the riverbank, overhead an osprey circled endlessly looking for a fish snack. We drifted down these rivers for over eight hours during which time, Shane reckoned I netted upwards of 20 catch and release trout . . . now that’s the way I like to end my day.
It was almost dusk when I arrived at Lolo Hot Springs in Montana that evening, having driven about 120kms tracing the wildly curving Lochsa River before crossing into Montana via the 1,590m Lolo Pass.
The next morning I hooked up with Dan Shepherd the owner of the Grizzly Hackle fishing tackle shop in Missoula, Montana. Dan had arranged for me to drift float down the Clark Fork River for three hours with Darren, one of his river guides. It was another chance to boat one of the big rainbow trout that the river is famous for. After losing a bunch of decent fish my day’s reward was a beautiful 17-inch specimen.
At 4pm I headed east into ‘Big Sky Country,’ where the air was still hazy from the forest fires that lingered above ranch lands that extended into the wide valleys and lowland hills.
From the town of Ennis I drove over a 2,250m pass and parked up in the main street of Virginia City, a former gold rush town founded almost overnight in 1863. If ever there was a city that retained a slice of the old west then Virginia City, Montana has to be it.
The town nestles along the gold laden gulches of Alder Creek. By the mid 1860s the surrounding areas were soon populated with thousands of feverish fortune hunters. This once was the territorial capital and today remains a true historical treasure. Glimpsing into the past I wandered leisurely around the 1880s buildings before taking a short four kilometer loop of the city in an historical fire engine. My final thrill of the day was riding shotgun on an authentic stagecoach, John Wayne style.
Following a great home-cooked breakfast and a short two-hour drive across sagebrush covered prairie I pulled up at the front door of the Montana High Country Lodge that looked out over the Pioneer Mountains. It lies in the Grasshopper Valley of Western Montana, with almost 500,000 acres of pristine backcountry wilderness on its doorstep. If you like fly or tackle fishing, river float trips, trophy archery, game hunting or in winter snowmobiling then this is a region worth exploring.
With seven trout ponds on his property, Russ, the owner of the lodge drove me between each pond to fly fish for large rainbow trout that obligingly snatched his nymph twice as many times as mine – mind you he is an expert fly fishing guide!
Crossing back into Idaho over the Chief Joseph Pass on the road to Salmon, a forest fire was encroaching and log homes were in serious danger of being destroyed. A signpost in Challis advised the road to Stanley and onto Ketchum was closed due another major forest fire.
I eventually took an un-paved road through the Salmon Challis National Forest to Sun Valley . . . it was an unexpected detour and spectacular journey through sagebrush lowlands and over a steep pass that on one side dropped over a thousand metres into a valley.
Sun Valley, Idaho. Most people have heard about it, why because it was the first ski resort in America to offer a chairlift up a mountain – the year was 1936! Today Sun Valley covers nearly 3,900 square meters and is considered one of America’s best biking, hiking, fishing and skiing destinations. Add three sensational golf courses and an 18-hole putting course and it equals one amazing, adventurous, outdoor paradise.
I finally arrived back in Boise after my memorable trip. On my 10 day, 1900km trip I’d seen two beaver, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, osprey, elk, deer, big horned sheep, herds of antelope and my fair share of sizable trout. So, if the ‘Call of the Wild’ is for you, then Idaho and Montana will deliver it on demand.
With daily Air New Zealand connections from Auckland to San Francisco and then just a one hour connection from San Francisco to Boise with United Airlines, this is a serious contender for the best outdoor USA region to explore and experience.
Idaho is an RV owner's paradise with over 650 privately-owned RV Parks and public campgrounds and on top of that Montana boasts at least another 450 places to park your rolling RV.
The Idaho RV Campgrounds Association official source for information:
The Campground Owners Association of Montana official source for information:
Rafting on the Payette River, Idaho:
Jetboating and RV Park on the Snake River, Idaho:
Accommodation on the Middle Folk of the Clearwater River, Idaho:
Guided rafting and fishing trips in Idaho and worldwide:
Guided rafting on the Clark, Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers, Montana:
Virginia City, Montana:
Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Virginia City, Montana:
Montana High Country Lodge for guided fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and family vacations:
Sun Valley, Idaho accommodation, golfing, fishing, skiing, mountain biking:
Boise Tourism, Idaho for all you need to know before you go:
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