Boise River Watershed

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:

This entry is partly a follow-up to a post I did back in April on Atlanta, Idaho. On that trip, I was fighting a serious snow pack and much cooler temperatures. All alternate routes were closed at the time, so I wanted to make another trip to explore some of the peripheral territory that I wasn’t able to access in the spring.

This time around, I met up with some friends on the Rocky Bar side of Atlanta near Featherville and worked my way west toward Mores Creek (a tributary of the Boise River) before riding to McCall. This route covers a good portion of the Boise River Watershed, a 4,000-plus-square-mile drainage for Central Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains—comprised of the North, Middle and South forks of the Boise River. From Mores Creek Summit, the route transitions into the Payette River drainage. The temperature outside was hot and almost all of the snow that was a hindrance in April had melted, filling area rivers and streams to capacity.


Getting There:
Leaving Boise around 6 p.m., the trip out Highway 21 to Middle Fork Road north of Arrowrock Dam was swift, albeit occasionally congested with summer recreation traffic. About 50 miles northeast of the dam, I headed east toward Rocky Bar on Road No. 255. A rolling ascent adjacent to Roaring River eventually led me to an excellent camping spot not far from several hot springs, where my friends soon joined me. An evening hike, some campfire philosophy, a salubrious night’s sleep under crisp Central Idaho skies and I was on my way further into the wilderness the next morning. I pushed into Atlanta for lunch at the Hub restaurant and bar, before doubling back on Middle Fork Road to Swanholm Road westbound. Swanholm Road meanders through some nice scenery before dropping down to the North Fork of the Boise River. Clear, clean waters run from just north of there back down to the Middle Fork, which then mingles with the South Fork from the Anderson Ranch Dam side, ultimately forming the Boise River that runs through Boise.

An excellent alternate route exists originating from I-84 eastbound. Getting off at the Blacks Creek exit just a few miles from town can take you through Prairie on the back route to Featherville. This is a fun area to explore, and offers better access to the South Fork of the Boise River. Slide Gulch Road also intersects Middle Fork Road about 16 miles from Arrowrock Dam, which goes to Prairie as well—although it does not provide direct access to the South Fork.

There are many open, shaded camping spots along the North Fork, and rumor has it the fishing along this stretch may be excellent during more moderate flows later this summer. Only the central portion of the North Fork is accessible by automobile from Swanholm/North Fork Road, but there is a public trail system in place for those looking to access the river by foot.

From the North Fork, I traversed over to Highway 21 near Mores Creek Summit on Little Owl Creek Road—just north of Idaho City. A quick descent to Lowman and I was on my way to Garden Valley via Banks-Lowman Road. I was tempted to take the sweet route north to McCall through Deadwood Reservoir, but fuel was getting low and I plan to do that ride later this summer en route to Warren, Elk City and the Magruder Corridor. The ride to McCall on Highway 55 was predictable, as was the ride back to Boise two days later. The more common route would be to come back to Boise through *Idaho City, which would make for a much shorter drive/ride, all said and done.

Total distance: 377 miles, 134 on dirt
*204, excluding McCall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s