Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sniffing out the best-kept secrets for adventure exploration around the great state of Idaho. I’ve done so atop my old trusted friend, the War Pig: a Honda Transalp dual sport motorcycle. As the weather clears, I’ll be covering everything between the Canadian border and Nevada, and so far, I’ve hit Pearl, the Boise Ridge Road, and last weekend, added Atlanta to the list.
Central Idaho boasts some of the most remote accessible terrain in the continental United States. From the Frank Church Wilderness to the White Cloud Mountains, it’s hard to beat the peace and quiet that greets visitors to these magnificent playgrounds.
Arguably the preeminent “off-the-beaten-path” destination of the Gem State’s habitable wilderness, the inconspicuous mining town of Atlanta has much more to offer than people might think. Located on the Middle Fork of the Boise River, about a four-hour drive northeast of Arrowrock Reservoir, this sleepy but industrious hub is home to both exploratory mining and some of Idaho’s best recreation and tourism. Geographically remote and consequently subject to very little change since its founding in 1864, Atlanta has a frozen-in-time ambiance that sets it apart from other historic towns in Idaho.
The area surrounding Atlanta is an outdoorsman’s paradise. The laundry list of fun to be had is impressive for such a small and remote spot: summer fishing on the crystal blue waters of the Middle Fork, countless hiking trails, 10-plus hot springs nearby, hundreds of camp sites and plentiful backcountry recreation opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg.
That said, you’ll have to work a little to get there.
The road to Atlanta is daunting. While relatively well-groomed most of the year, the 62-mile, two-county dirt trek from Arrowrock Dam makes for a long afternoon’s drive. One-lane bridges and rockfalls are common on this stretch, so be mindful of potential hazards if you choose to make a pilgrimage to Atlanta.
Getting there: Leaving at around 2 p.m. on our dual sport motorcycles, my friend Rustin and I were hopeful that we’d make it to Atlanta in under three hours. We took the hot route over Aldape Summit to Robie Creek/Highway 21 before doubling back to Arrow Rock Road. About 4 miles past the marina, the road turns to dirt and takes you around the reservoir to the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Boise River.
The further you travel out Middle Fork Road, the more palpable the feeling of seclusion gets. The changes in landscape coincide nearly perfectly with the receding population and dramatic sense of being truly off the radar. The scenery quickly transitions from bare rolling hills to steep rocky canyons and vibrant forestland. Being one of the first rides of the year, catching that inaugural whiff of sun-baked pine brought about a spiritual awakening comparable to finding religion. Grinning from ear to ear, Rustin and I took our time navigating the river valley up to Atlanta.
Keep in mind that the ride/drive up can be a bit treacherous given the scenery. More than once, I found myself gazing carelessly toward a captivating rock formation, river bend or piece of the indigenous Central Idaho flora/fauna. At 35 mph to 45 mph, one absent-minded mistake can result in an expensive helicopter ride to the hospital.
There are endless campgrounds, a handful of cabins for rent and a two distinct alternate routes to Atlanta. We were hoping to take the 22-mile road from Atlanta south to Featherville, but it was still snowed in. This entire area should be accessible In a few short weeks by way of Idaho City, Featherville or Arrow Rock Road. Distances range from 86 to 128 miles each way from Boise.
Arriving in Atlanta around 5 p.m., Rustin and I treated ourselves to a beer and dinner at the Beaver Lodge on Main Street. The food was good, the people were friendly and the saloon’s wood fire was a welcome amenity after a brisk afternoon ride to an elevation of more than 5,000 feet. Losing daylight, we laid into the throttle on the way back and arrived in Boise a few hours later.
According to the locals, the best time for traditional tourist activities is during Labor Day Weekend for Atlanta Days; however, camping and recreation in the area are excellent all summer long.
Total Mileage: 181 miles (139 on dirt).