Riding horseback into the Idaho backcountry is a memorable experience! Courtesy Mystic Saddle Ranch
By Steve Stuebner
As we’ve turned the corner from spring to summer in June, the weather is warming up into the 80s, the wildflowers are popping in the mountains, and the fish are biting on lakes and rivers in the great state of Idaho.
Now is a great time to reserve dates for an unforgettable horseback ride into the Idaho wilderness. Ride in a small group with family or friends on national forest trails into high mountain lakes to go camping, fishing and relaxing off the grid. Some outfitters offer the high-touch glamping experience as well. More about that in a moment …
“The Henrys Fork has been fishing real well right now,” says Matt Heck, a guide with Three Rivers Ranch in Warm River. “And it’s really popular, too … we’re expecting the green drakes to hatch in the next couple of weeks.”
Because of deep snowpack and high water on the South Fork Snake River, the world-renowned Henrys Fork is a great choice right now. Anglers can go out on day trips with a guide from Three Rivers Ranch for $590, and the guides will show them where to catch fish and what flies to use. Anglers also can stay at Three Rivers Ranch and fish multiple rivers over a period of several days.
“We’ll customize a trip to whatever the guests want to do,” Heck says.
Lake Charters knows where to find the big fish for their customers on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Courtesy Lake Charters
In North Idaho, Lake Charters is taking people fishing for northern pike, small-mouth bass and crappie right now on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Later in the year, the chinook salmon season heats up. Don Houk has been guiding fishing trips on the big lake for 40+ years. They take up to six people on half-day trips ($440 for up to 4 people) and full-day trips ($675 for up to 4 people), including lunch.
“We get customers from everywhere,” says Susan Houk of Lake Charters. “They come to town for vacation or a conference, and they go fishing with us for entertainment.”
Northern pike can run from 20-45 pounds in Lake Coeur d’Alene. You’ll know when you hook into one of those monsters. Lake Charters also pushes Frisky Jenny streamer flies for catching fish. The flies are so popular, they’ve branded them as a product and sell them in the open market.
Lake Charters can pick you up where you’re staying on Lake Coeur d’Alene or meet them at their boat dock. “Beautiful scenery, calm clear waters, wildlife, friendly people will assure you a wonderful and memorable trip,” Houk says.
Summer pack trips
Pretend you’re famed mountain man Jim Bridger and saddle up on horseback to go for a trail ride into the Idaho wilderness. Many outfitters in Idaho offer this experience in the St. Joe River country, the Lochsa River country, Sun Valley, the Sawtooth Wilderness, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
Rawhide Outfitters takes people on trail rides on the Lewis & Clark trail … they also do a combo trail ride/raft trip … Courtesy Rawhide Outfitters
You could even pretend you’re Lewis & Clark with Rawhide Outfitters based in Salmon, Idaho. They offer half-day and full-day trips on the Lewis & Clark Trail going up to the actual route traveled by the Corps of Discovery along the Continental Divide. They provide an interpreter on those trips to explain the history. They also do these trips by van. A half day ride (three hours in the saddle) on the Lewis & Clark Trail costs $85 per person, and a full-day ride costs $160 (five hours in the saddle), including lunch.
Rawhide Outfitters also does a “Saddle to Paddle,” trip, featuring a half-day ride on horseback, and a half-day paddle-rafting trip on the Salmon River, which costs $160 per person.
Idaho horseback outfitters are getting more creative all the time with their trip offerings. Storm Creek Outfitters in Hamilton, Montana, for example, offers “glamping” trips – short for glamour-camping trips – to folks who want more high-touch service and comfortable camping accommodations.
Storm Creek Outfitters offers “glamping” trips for guests who want more high-touch service and comfy accommodations. Courtesy Storm Creek Outfitters.
Folks stay at Storm Creek’s base camp near Paradise, the trailhead for the Selway River, in tent cabins with wood floors, real beds, carpeting and more. Food is prepared by an actual chef. During the day, the guests go out for trail rides on horseback or go walk-and-wade fly fishing on the Selway, and then return to the comfy camp for a scrumptious feast with fine wine in the evening.
“We’ve been offering those glamping trips for about eight years,” says Mike Burson, a guide with Storm Creek. “They’re turning out to be pretty popular … people come from all over the country to do these trips.”
In the Sawtooth Wilderness, Mystic Saddle Ranch offers a wide variety of trips in terms of half-day trail rides and full-day trail rides, but they also will pack in float tubes for anglers who are serious about catching fish in the high lakes, and they’ll even pack in sit-on-top kayaks for guests. They also will carry gear for hikers who’d rather not carry their camping gear on their backs.
Fly fishing is part of the experience with Mystic Saddle Ranch in the Sawtooth Wilderness … courtesy Mystic Saddle Ranch
“We had a group that hiked the whole length of the Sawtooths from north to south over 13 days, and we carried their camping gear for them between each camp,” says Rebekah Cain, co-owner of Mystic Saddle Ranch.
Mystic Saddle also does fully catered deluxe backcountry trips with fine food and table linens in a wilderness setting. Folks ride to a high mountain lake and stay there for several days, enjoying the peace and quiet of the wilderness while fly fishing for trout in the lakes, day hiking or peak-bagging, depending on personal preference.
“We’ll do pretty much whatever our customers would like to do,” Cain says. “We have a large staff and over 50 head of horses, so we’re able to serve a lot of different groups at the same time.”
Day rides range from $134 to $205 per person, and multi-day trips range from $277 to $555 per person per day.
The higher parts of the Sawtooths won’t be accessible this year until mid-July, but Mystic Saddle is offering half-day and full-day rides in the front country of the Sawtooths right now.
On the south side of Galena Summit, Sun Valley Outfitters offers trail rides on mountain trails throughout the Wood River Valley. Half-day to full-day trips are available as well as overnight trips. Fees range from $125/person for the half day rides (most popular) and $475/person/night for overnight rides.
Trail ride with Sun Valley Outfitters … many options for trails and experiences! Courtesy Sun Valley Outfitters
Like many of the outfitters, Sun Valley specializes in smaller groups so families and friends can stay together on the same trip. “We specialize in smaller groups,” says Kyle Kimball. “People like the smaller-group setting, and the guides can give each guest more personal attention.”
For high lakes fishing, they take people to Norton Lakes on an overnight journey. They also take people to Pioneer Cabin, which is two hours by horseback each way, riding 3,000 vertical feet to an unforgettable view of the Pioneer Mountains and the surrounding countryside.
Anglers should know that Sun Valley Outfitters recently purchased the fishing outfitting license from Sturtevants in Sun Valley, so they also will be offering fishing trips on the Salmon River and on the upper Big Lost River in Copper Basin.
Fishing for native cutthroat trout is one of the fun activities at the St. Joe Lodge … courtesy St. Joe Outfitters
It’s always a rare treat to ride into a backcountry lodge and stay multiple days. In North Idaho, St. Joe Outfitters takes guests to the St. Joe Lodge in the stately Bitterroot Mountains. Trips range from four to eight days, with a maximum of eight guests. Trip fees range from $1,548 to $2,850 for everything. Fishing is a mainstay for these trips on the famed St. Joe River, which is known for quality native cutthroat trout fishing.
People ride about six miles to St. Joe Lodge, and then the guests can do whatever they want from there. “We get people coming here from all over the world,” says Barbara Judge. “We have a couple of openings in July and August, but we’re wide open in September, which can be the best time of the year. Beautiful blue sky, Indian summer days and chilly nights.”
In the Lochsa River country, Lochsa River Outfitters takes people on multi-day pack trips to a cabin or base camp in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. They’ll take groups up to eight people maximum. The minimum stay is three days. Openings are available.
They cater to groups of guys who are serious about fishing, and families who just want to get away. “It’s beautiful country – off the grid – perfect for rest and relaxation,” says Sherry Nygaard.
Back to fishing
Mountain River Outfitters out of Riggins offers a wide variety of fishing trips on the Salmon and Snake rivers during the summer. Guests have the option of multi-day trips by staying at the China Bar Lodge on the Main Salmon – River of No Return or the Ram House at Mackay Bar, also on the River of No Return.
Small-mouth bass in Hells Canyon are super fun to catch, and you can catch them all day long! Courtesy Mountain River Outfitters.
Anglers catch sturgeon, bass and trout in Hells Canyon, and small-mouth bass on the Salmon River.
“To stay in a lodge in the middle of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is pretty amazing,” says Brenda Baugh with Mountain River Outfitters. “It’s a trip that you won’t soon forget.”
Mountain River Outfitters has rafts and jet boats for taking anglers out on the rivers. High water conditions will be receding in June, and July and August will be the heart of the fishing season. See their web site for pricing information.
Have fun on your summer adventure! For more information about Idaho outfitters who offer fishing and summer pack trips, see ioga.org.