• Trail Rides

    Front and Backcountry Journeys

    See the best of Idaho on a trail ride

Summer is here! Time to plan a fishing trip or trail ride in Idaho!

Riding horseback into the Idaho backcountry is a memorable experience! Courtesy Mystic Saddle Ranch

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 …

Henrys Fork rainbow 3 Rivers Ranch“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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

Deep mountain snow gets outfitters excited about Idaho whitewater season

Pipeline Rapids, Lochsa River 2016 photo by Dani Smith Three Rivers Rafting

Lochsa Falls on the Lochsa River (courtesy Three Rivers Rafting)

BOISE — (March 14, 2017) – Mother Nature blessed Idaho with deep snow in the mountains this winter, ranging from 98 percent to 180 percent of normal statewide, setting up an outstanding year for fishing and whitewater boating on Idaho’s world-class rivers.

“We’re pretty excited! Things are shaping up to have one of the best seasons in a long time,” said Erik Weiseth with Orange Torpedo river trips, which offers multi-day trips on the Salmon and Owyhee rivers in Idaho. “This is going to be a season for the record books.”

In a year with robust snow, all of Idaho’s key river basins, including the Salmon, Snake, Lochsa, Owyhee, Bruneau, Payette, Henrys Fork, St. Joe and Moyie will have a full season. Idaho is known as the “whitewater” state with hundreds of miles of fun rapids and scenic canyons.

Jon Barker, owner of Barker River Expeditions, is booking Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau trips through April and May right now. The desert canyons are spectacular, but they don’t always have enough snow for a long season. Right now, the Owyhee has 117 percent of normal snowpack and the Bruneau has 120 percent.

“I think it’s looking really great,” Barker says.

Owyhee River

Owyhee River (courtesy Barker River Expeditions)

Barker takes customers on the river, and he also offers multi-day guided canyoneering trips in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Idaho Public Television recently tagged along for program titled “Canyonlands Calling.” IPTV called the canyons “some of the wildest and most beautiful country in the West.”

This year, Barker is offering a 17-day, 206-mile trip down the full length of the Owyhee River, from top of the East Fork Owyhee River to the Middle Owyhee and the Lower Owyhee. “I’ve always wanted to offer that trip, and this year is the perfect time to do it,” he says.

Hells Canyon Adventures runs jet boat and float boat trips in Hells Canyon. They take families, reunions, business groups and tour bus groups down the mighty Snake River through big and fun rapids like Wild Sheep and Granite Creek. “I’m pretty pleased, the water looks really good and our bookings are strong,” says Mark Yates, jet boat captain.

Popular day trip rivers like the Lochsa in North Idaho, the Salmon in Stanley and Riggins, and the Payette will offer whitewater trips as the snowmelt comes off in the spring, and the deep snow will make for a very long season.

Snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin, for example, is about 112 percent of normal, just slightly above average. “We like average, average is what we want,” says Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers rafting company in Lowell. “We should have good flows into June this year. We’re hoping we’ll also have a longer season on the Selway for trips into July.”

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Fishing the Middle Fork Salmon River … (courtesy Idaho River Adventures)

The Payette River looks to have a long season, and it’s already running strong with initial snowmelt happening now. “We’ve had an awesome amount of snow,” says J.B. Lawler, owner of Idaho Whitewater Unlimited. “We should have some really fun, big whitewater, and a long summer season.”

On the fishing side of things, the guides at Three Rivers Ranch in Eastern Idaho are expecting a great year. “A good water year means it’s going to be good for bug hatches,” says B.J. Gerhart, a fishing guide for Three Rivers. Insect hatches are important for fly fishing, and the Henrys Fork, South Fork Snake River, Teton River and other streams in the area are super popular for fly fishing.

Henrys Fork

Big rainbow caught on the Henrys Fork … Wow! (Courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

The flows coming out of Island Park Reservoir are ideal for rainbow trout spawning right now, Gerhart says. Anglers can book fishing trips and stay at Three Rivers Ranch for a week to sample all of the different rivers in the area for fishing.

Spring flows on the Snake River are starting to happen in the Middle Snake region this week, as the Bureau of Reclamation releases flows from Upper Snake reservoirs for flood control. That has brought 212-foot Shoshone Falls to life, with flows ranging from 7,000-10,000 cfs, and that also means there are flows in the Murtaugh section of the Snake for whitewater rafting.

Idaho Guide Service offers trips on the Murtaugh section, the Hagerman reach of the Snake, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and on the Salmon River.

“We were just out on the Murtaugh last weekend – it was awesome,” says Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service. “Now we need some warm weather so people want to go rafting.”

IOGA Lobby Day a big success … and the Dutch Oven food was tasty too!

The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association has a long tradition of bird-dogging legislation that comes up each year at the Idaho Statehouse during the legislative session to ensure that IOGA’s interests are heard.

And then in the evening, IOGA serves up a delicious dinner called, “A Taste of Idaho Outfitting,” featuring scrumptious Dutch oven meals prepared by outfitters and guides from throughout the state of Idaho. Hunting outfitter businesses, river businesses, backcountry summer tour businesses, among others, are all represented.

This year, IOGA talked to lawmakers about supporting the effort to beef up the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s Invasive Species programs, including boat check stations throughout the state so there is full coverage 24/7 365 days a year. So far that legislation is moving ahead. Those efforts will attempt to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels from entering the state of Idaho to protect the state’s many pristine rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, municipal water supplies, Idaho Power facilities and irrigation pipes. The program may also receive a $1 million general fund increase, some of which would be used to conduct boat checks at border stations around the clock.

Outfitters with motorized and non-motorized boats have been paying into the state invasive species fund annually since 2008.

Mtg w Lt Gov

IOGA members meet with Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the Statehouse … Pictured from L-R, Chris Korell, Darl Allred, Daniel Butler, Travis Bullock, George McQuiston, Ken Helfrich, Lt. Gov. Little, Steve Burson, Bryant Dunn and Grant Simonds

Outdoor cooks

Mike Demerse, Kevin Juengel and Andy Chroninger keep watch over the Dutch ovens outside the Basque Center in downtown Boise

IOGA members also talked to legislators about a proposed resident fee increase for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and increased funding for big game depredation, and a “clean up” bill regarding the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board.

Michelle and IOGA

IOGA members meet with Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett on the Senate floor. L-R, Grant Simonds, George McQuiston, Darl Allred, Steve Burson, Rep. Stennett, Travis Bullock, Chris Korell, Daniel Butler and Ken Helfrich.

Mtg w Rep Gibbs

IOGA members meet with Rep. Marc Gibbs of Grace, a former IDFG Commissioner. L-R, Grant Simonds, Chris Korell, Ken Helfrich, Rep. Gibbs, Darl Allred, Travis Bullock, Steve Burson and George McQuiston.

Amanda Lori Rep Erpelding

Amanda Harper and Lori Thomason from the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board are pictured with Rep. Mat Erpelding of Boise during the Dutch oven feed at the Basque Center. Mat is a professional rock climbing outfitter and guide, the only licensed outfitter serving in the Idaho Legislature at this time. 

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Lynn Demerse chats with State Senator Carl Crabtree at the event.

Jane with recipe sign

Janey Bruesch of IOGA, right, with LeaAnne Beyer underscore the fabulous “A Taste of Idaho Outfitting” menu for the evening at the Basque Center.

Preparing recipes

IOGA members work hard in the kitchen … L-R, Syndee Korell, Cody Korell, Kelli Lippert, Zack Mason, and Kasey Hochmuht.

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Grant Simonds and Lynn Demerse having fun in the kitchen. We all know who’s in charge!

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Look at these yummy hors’ douvres!

For more information about IOGA, go to http://ioga.org

Now’s the time to catch a big steelhead in Idaho!

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Salmon River steelhead courtesy Mountain River Outfitters

By Steve Stuebner

It’s late fall, and steelhead season is kicking into high gear in Idaho! The fish are moving upstream into the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers as we speak. Now is the time to book a steelhead trip with an fishing outfitter to catch a big one with your friends and family.

Late fall also means the IOGA annual meeting is coming up! It’s scheduled for Dec. 13-15 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, including the super-fun fund-raiser, silent/live auction, raffles and live music on Thursday night, Dec. 15. Save the date! More about that in a moment …

The big highlight with this year’s steelhead season, according to experts, is an abundance of B-run steelhead (i.e. big fish) to catch, but not as many A-run fish (smaller fish that only went to the ocean for one year) in the river.

“The good news is that we’ve got a great run of B-run steelhead this year,” says Jess Baugh of Mountain River Outfitters in Riggins. “These are some of the best-lookin’ fish we’ve seen in years. There won’t be as many fish in the river this year, but the quality of the fish is so high they’ll be wall-mounters.”

idaho-steelhead-jetboat1-mroIndeed, the fish counts, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game, are down, compared to the five-year, average. But so far, more than 89,440 steelhead have passed Lower Granite Dam, and they’re heading to the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers for anglers to catch. The catch-and-keep season on the Clearwater started on Oct. 15 and runs through the spring.

People are catching fish in Riggins and in Central Idaho on the Salmon River as well right now. “The whole river system is full of fish now,” Baugh says.

Anglers can choose from booking day trips with guides on float boats or jet boats, or they can choose a more deluxe option and book a multiday trip and stay in river-side lodging accommodations. That’s what we did with Idaho Adventures on the Salmon River, staying in a different lodge every night, where you can look forward to a hearty hot meal and a warm place to sleep. That’s a welcome treat after a full day of fishing on the river in cold-weather conditions.

Mountain River Outfitters has a fishing lodge at China Bar on the Salmon River and at Mackay Bar. At the  Flying B Ranch near Kamiah, take the top-shelf experience and drift-fish for steelhead, and then go bird-hunting or deer hunting on their vast private hunting preserve. That’s quite a full-meal deal for the fishing and hunting enthusiast!

For the most fun, gather up some friends or family members for a memorable steelhead fishing adventure. Day trips typically range from $195 to $250 per person (minimum two people) for drift boats or jet boats, and trips with overnight lodging (including meals) range from $450/night to $1,800 to $2,500 for a 5-day trip with lodging.

bob-and-mary

The IOGA fund-raiser is always a great time. The event is open to the public.

Now, back to the IOGA meeting. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the fund-raiser, silent/live auction, raffles and live music on Thursday night, Dec. 15, at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. The fun kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 10 p.m.

The IOGA annual meeting is well attended by Idaho outfitters, guides and agency personnel including the Forest Service, BLM, Idaho Fish & Game and the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, about 28 outdoor equipment manufacturers will be displaying their goods from 2-5 p.m. that afternoon at the Riverside.

Highlights from meeting presentations include the opening general session with comments about the state of the Idaho outfitting and guiding industry from Steve Burson, IOGA president, Grant Simonds, IOGA Government Affairs Liaison, and Janey Bruesch, IOGA office manager.

David Brown, executive director of the America Outdoors Association, will give an update on the state of the national outfitting and guiding industry, overall recreation trends and regulatory issues that may affect outfitting businesses across America. This presentation is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.

gun

The live auction always has some excellent values for sale including firearms, outdoor gear and outfitted trips!

On Wednesday, Dec. 14 at lunchtime, Bruce Reichert, executive producer of the award-winning program, “Outdoor Idaho,” will present “The Outfitters,” which prominently features long-time IOGA member and Salmon-based outfitter Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips, among outfitters profiled.

On Thursday morning, Dec. 15, experts will talk about key topics of interest for the operations side of running an outfitting business – technology, what the meaning of “may” mean in the Wilderness Act relative to wilderness outfitter operations, guiding philosophies, relationships between guides and outfitters, and wilderness regulations.

Following that presentation, outfitting experts will present “Guide Tracks” — educational discussions on a new state law that allows outfitters and guides to administer epinephrine to guests in the field (training required), how to handle tips, and minimum wage and overtime law.

For more information about the IOGA meeting, go to http://ioga.org/meetings-events.

Outdoor writer and author Steve Stuebner is a regular contributor to the IOGA blog.  

Hunters may break records for elk, deer harvest in Idaho

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Happy elk hunter (courtesy Flying B Ranch)

By Steve Stuebner

Idaho’s outfitters are busy packing gear into the backcountry to get ready for a busy season of deer and elk hunting this fall, one of the busiest seasons in years.

Big game hunting in Idaho is coming back with a vengeance this year on the heels of a very good year in 2015, when elk hunters harvested 4,000 more animals than the year before and nearly reached an overall harvest level of 25,000 elk, a milestone that’s only been reached three times in the last 40 years.

Part of the reason for the increasing elk harvest is that more hunting tags are available to hunt elk on private lands, where ranchers are seeing an increase in the number of animals causing damage to crops and pasture fields, and the elk are getting wiser in dealing with wolves.

BullElk-600x400If outfitters have permits, leases or access agreements with private landowners, the hunting can be very productive. Matt Craig with Boulder Creek Outfitters said they hunt on 60,000 acres of private ranch land in the Joseph Plains area, in the high reaches of the Lower Salmon River canyon near the Hells Canyon confluence.

“We’ve been taking lots of deer and elk out of there,” Craig said. “The bulls aren’t huge in terms of trophy scores but we’ve been taking a lot of nice six-point bulls.”

Elk numbers seem to be on the rebound in the Sawtooth unit in Central Idaho and in the Salmon area as well. Darl Allred with Sawtooth Wilderness Outfitters noted that Idaho residents bought up all the resident elk tags in 55 minutes when the Sawtooth tags went on sale. “Non-resident tags sold out in six hours,” Allred said.

Elk populations are increasing in the Sawtooth zone because of less wolves, caps on the number of hunters, and improved habitat from recent wildfires. “It should be a good season,” he said.

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Deer numbers are nearing all-time highs in Idaho … both whitetail and mule deer

Joseph Peterson with Flying B Ranch in the Clearwater River Country, based in Kamiah in northcentral Idaho, is looking forward to taking elk hunters on a week-long backcountry hunt. He thinks the wolves in that area are preying more on deer, allowing elk numbers to come back.

“It’s still not like it used to be but the wolves don’t seem to be bothering the elk as much,” Peterson says. “The elk are definitely getting smarter, too. They don’t use the mountain meadows as much as they used to. They’re hiding in the steeper, middle country, and the wolves can’t find them as easily.”

Like many Idaho elk outfitters, the Flying B packs their hunters into the backcountry for a week, and they stalk and hunt by foot. “If you want to experience the Idaho backcountry at its finest, enjoy great eating and comfortable quarters, this is the hunt for you,” he said. “Plus, you’ll have a chance to harvest a decent bull.”

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Darl Allred packs out an elk in the Sawtooth Wilderness (courtesy Sawtooth Wilderness Outfitters)

At the Flying B Ranch, hunters never run out of things to do. People who come to go deer hunting at the ranch can also go bird hunting or steelhead fishing after they harvest a nice buck.

“We have a 5,000-acre private ranch where we can spot and stalk deer all day long,” he says. “You’re going to see 10-20 four-point or better white tails or mule deer bucks every day. It can be ridiculously easy or extremely hard, depending on the circumstances. We do a lot of walking and glassing to find the right bucks for people.”

After bagging a buck, folks can bird hunt for pheasants, chukars, Hungarian partridge, quail, ruffed grouse and blue grouse. The Flying B is busy with bird hunters in the fall so be sure to make your reservations soon. Steelhead season starts in late September and runs through the winter and spring.

Dave Melton of Bighorn Outfitters loaded his pack string of horses and mules to take a big load into the Bighorn Crags recently to get ready for elk hunting in one of Idaho’s most scenic wilderness areas. Wolves have had an impact on the elk numbers in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, but Melton is optimistic.

“It should be good,” he says. “We know we can show elk hunters a great time in the backcountry with excellent guides and great food.”

Elk medowLike most outfitters, Bighorn Outfitters provides 1-on-1 guiding on elk hunters or 1 guide for every 2 hunters. They’ve even got a hot springs at one of their base camps. “That’s pretty nice after a rough day,” Melton says.

Elk hunters who go on backcountry hunts are encouraged to purchase deer tags in case they run into a mule deer or whitetail deer, plus the deer tag can be used to harvest a black bear, mountain lion or a wolf while they’re out in the woods.

To have that many options when you’re out big game hunting is a real bonus! If you haven’t booked a big game hunting trip with an Idaho outfitter yet, see the “Hunt Idaho” web site to look for outfitters in the hunting zone where you’d like to hunt.

The Idaho Fish and Game hunt planner is another excellent resource for researching where you’d like to hunt, the success rate for different big game units in Idaho, how many hunters like to hunt in that unit, and more.

For more information, go to http://huntingidaho.org

 

Expect a stellar floating, fishing season in Idaho this summer

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Heather hooks a nice Chinook salmon on the Salmon River (courtesy Mountain River Outfitters)

By Steve Stuebner

Fishing and floating outfitters are hard to catch right now because they’re really busy showing their guests a great time fishing for Chinook salmon on the Clearwater and Salmon rivers, or floating rivers all over the state of Idaho.

Following a robust winter that brought bountiful powder snow for skiing and snowmobiling, all of that snow is running down the mountains into Idaho’s world-class rivers now, translating to a long summer of whitewater rafting, jet boating and ideal water levels for fishing and floating.

Some might say we live in the land of “milk and honey.” For adventure seekers, it’s going to be an endless summer of fun rapids, camping under the stars and catching lots of fish!

Get the whole family involved in a fishing trip!

Get the whole family involved in a fishing trip!

“It’s definitely looking like a great summer season,” says Jared Hopkinson, owner of Sawtooth Adventure Company in Stanley, a Middle Fork and Salmon River outfitter. “A lot of our Middle Fork trips are filling up for the summer, and we’re got a ton of bookings for day trips on the Salmon River.”

“We’re having a great season!” adds Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service in Hagerman. Gardner has been leading raft trips in the Hagerman reach, SUP trips on the mid-Snake, birds of prey tours on the Snake River, and early-season Salmon River trips.

The Salmon and Clearwater rivers have been dropping from peak flows just in time for the relatively short Chinook salmon season that’s under way right now. “The river is coming down super fast, so the fishing is going to be good while it lasts,” says Jess Baugh, owner of Mountain River Outfitters and Salmon River Tours.

The rapids on the Salmon River should be big fun and playful this summer. (Courtesy Sawtooth Adventure Co.)

The rapids on the Salmon River should be big fun and playful this summer. (Courtesy Sawtooth Adventure Co.)

The salmon fishing hasn’t been a “barn-burner,” fishing guides say, but anglers are catching up to 2-4 fish per day, sometimes just one a day. But even one Chinook salmon is, undoubtedly, a beautiful prize! The fish run over 10 pounds, and once they’re filleted, they provide a tasty feast.

“There’s nothing better than fresh-caught salmon,” Baugh says.

In North Idaho, the classic Memorial Day rendezvous occurred on the Lochsa River with flows in the 5-foot range, a perfect level for big fun and big wave action, especially in Lochsa Falls, a Class 4 rapids, where people cheer on the river bank next to U.S. 12.

Whitewater trips on the Lochsa River are always a blast! (Courtesy ROW Adventures)

Whitewater trips on the Lochsa River are always a blast! (Courtesy ROW Adventures)

ROW Adventures will continue to run trips on the Lochsa into June, and trips on the St. Joe River start the first week of June, according to Candy Bening, sales manager for ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene.

“We’re so excited about our river trips this year,” Bening says. “People are pumped about the bigger water. It’s going to be an awesome season.”

A number of Idaho outfitters have been busy running rare trips on the Owyhee River and Jarbidge/Bruneau rivers this year because of deep snow. ROW Adventures notched three Bruneau trips in a row and one Owyhee, while Wilderness River Outfitters ran an East Fork Owyhee, Middle Owyhee and three trips on the Jarbidge and Bruneau rivers, a week-long adventure in a narrow, spectacular box canyon. Inquire with ROW and WRO about catching those trips next year.

The Owyhee River is a spectacular place ... (courtesy ROW Adventures)

The Owyhee River is a spectacular place … (courtesy ROW Adventures)

“To have a run on the Owyhee and Bruneau river systems like that was just incredible. We haven’t had a spring like that in a long time,” said Seth Tonsmeire, WRO operations manager and guide. “Even people who have gone on Middle Fork Salmon trips with us said they thought the scenery in the Bruneau Canyon was even more spectacular. To visit that canyon multiple weeks in a row was a real treat.”

Because of the solid river flows expected, fishing outfitters in Eastern Idaho are gearing up for a long productive season on the Henrys Fork and South Fork Snake River. The same is true of outfitters who offer fishing trips on the Salmon and Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Guest cabins at China Bar allow guests to sleep in a real bed and enjoy the Frank Church Wilderness.

Guest cabins at China Bar allow guests to sleep in a real bed, enjoy home-cooked meals and enjoy the Frank Church Wilderness.

Mountain River Outfitters/Salmon River Tours has a lodge at China Bar in the wilderness section of the River of No Return, allowing people to book multi-day trips. “We’re calling it a 2- to 3-day wilderness retreat,” Baugh says. “People can fish, go sight-seeing or hang out in the wilderness. If you’re a corporate person, this is a great place to get away and de-stress in the Frank Church Wilderness.”

Guests can hop in the jet boat to fish the mouth of a productive creek, or visit the Jim Moore homestead and hike around a century-old orchard. Or, they can head downriver to visit Buckskin Bill’s place, home of a quirky mountain man, buy souvenirs and an ice cream bar, or visit the Polly Bemis ranch. Inquire with Mountain River Outfitters about pricing.

Jim Moore PlaceIn Hells Canyon, the nation’s deepest gorge, Idaho outfitters offer scenic tours, fishing trips on jet boats, and multi-day whitewater rafting trips on the biggest river in Idaho. You can fish for sturgeon, bass and trout during the summer and fall Chinook and steelhead in the fall.

“The fishing in Hells Canyon should be consistently good,” Baugh says. “The small-mouth are constantly on the bite. And the fall Chinook fishery is getting better and better every year.”

For more information, go to Fish Idaho, Raft Idaho or the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site.

Deep mountain snow translates to favorable 2015 whitewater season

Snowpack in the Main Salmon drainage was 94% of normal on Feb. 20 – great news for the 2015 rafting season!

IOGA press release Feb. 20, 2015
BOISE, Idaho — While parts of the American West are suffering from a lack of snow, Idaho mountain snowpack levels are ranging from 75 to 94 percent of normal in Central Idaho, home of the nationally popular Salmon, Lochsa and Payette rivers.

“We look to our neighbors, and we look pretty good,” says Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“It looks to me that we have solid snowpack where it counts,” adds John May, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association (IOGA). “We’re already seeing some national media coverage of the drought in California, and we just want folks to know that our world-renowned whitewater rivers are going to have a great season.”

IOGA recently launched the newly branded web site Raft Idaho (raftidaho.org) to make it easier for customers to select river trips and outfitters for a trip-of-a-lifetime rafting experience. Idaho is nationally known for its whitewater, with more than 3,000 miles of white-knuckle rapids, the most in the lower 48 states.

Snowpack map dated today, Friday, Feb. 20 Source: NRCS

Snowpack levels for the Selway River are 106 percent of normal, the Lochsa 93 percent of normal, the Middle Fork Salmon River 94 percent of normal, the Main Salmon 94 percent of normal, and the upper Snake River 108 percent of normal, according to NRCS snowtel data.

“The water levels look great like always for the Lochsa and Selway,” Abramovich said. “Kayakers are out there boating right now.”

All of the key reservoirs on the Payette and Snake rivers should fill to 100 percent of capacity, storing water for irrigation and recreation, Abramovich said.

“So far, we’re in really good shape,” says Chris Swersey, owner of Silver Cloud Expeditions, an outfitter in Salmon that runs fishing and rafting trips on the famed Salmon River – River of No Return. “We’re really excited about the summer season. We’re feeling really good about it.”

“I’ve been talking to a lot of people in California who think we’re in the same situation that they are, and I’ve assured we’re looking good,” adds Jerry Hughes, owner of Hughes River Expeditions. “I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to have a great season.”

Rafting on the Lochsa River. Lots of teamwork and fun!

National Weather Service officials said a weather front moving into Idaho on Friday should bring temperatures down to normal levels next week after several weeks of above-average temperatures. The 30-day and 90-day weather forecasts call for “equal chances” of precipitation in the long term.

Deep snow in the Upper Snake region usually translates to a fun-filled summer in the Middle Snake River region near Twin Falls, says Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service.  They’ve seen a big increase in Stand-up Paddle Board use on their flatwater trips to the base of Shoshone Falls, and on the Hagerman whitewater section of the Snake River.

“2015 is looking to be an epic  season for us,” said Gardner said.

Americans love to visit Idaho for outdoorsy activities

Playing in the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho (Courtesy Idaho Statesman)

By Steve Stuebner

American travel and tourism trends show that Idaho is growing in popularity as a primo destination for outdoorsy visitors, and contrary to national trends, people are staying longer on overnight trips to enjoy quality outdoor-adventure activities.

Visitors are twice as likely to come to Idaho to engage in outdoor activities, compared to national norms, where folks may travel to go shopping or visit friends and relatives.

And when people come to Idaho, they like to go hiking, whitewater rafting, camping, fishing, swimming, hunting, birding, and relax on the beach or in a comfy cabin, according to a recent study by Longwoods International.

The Lochsa River provides oodles of fun. (Courtesy Bear Paw Outfitters)

This makes sense for a state that’s known as the “whitewater capital” of the United States with popular kayaking and rafting destinations such as the Salmon River, Hells Canyon, Payette and Lochsa, and nationally known fishing destinations such as Silver Creek, the Henrys Fork and South Fork of the Snake River. Plus, nearly two-thirds of Idaho is comprised of national forest and public lands where people can go skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, rock climbing and more.

Idaho outfitters provide guided trips to all of these activities for people who don’t have the equipment, know-how or experience to do it on their own. See ioga.org and raftidaho.org for a menu of outfitters to contact about outdoorsy trips.

Hanging out around the campfire is one of the bonuses of going on a multi-day outdoor adventure …

Diane Norton, Manager of the Idaho Tourism Division for the Idaho Department of Commerce, said she’s not surprised by the findings of the Longwoods study. “We’re above the national norm on all of the outdoor activities,” Norton said. “It’s what we’re known for.”

An America Outdoors report on national outfitted travel trends shows that the top activities in outdoor travel in 2013 were lodging and cabin rentals, Standup Paddle (SUP) boarding, and canoe and kayak rentals. Guided trips of shorter duration were more popular on a national basis, than longer trips, said David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors.

Stand up paddle boarding, SUP for short, is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities nationwide. In Idaho, you can SUP on lakes and rivers. (Courtesy Gregg Mizuta)

“Lower risk trips close to metro areas are growing dramatically,” Brown says.

But in Idaho, the length of stay is increasing. “Our trips of 4-7 days are going up, which shows that people are buying a pre-packaged trip,” Norton says. “And our day trips are increasing, too.”

Plus, Idaho’s many river outfitters provide SUP experiences as part of day trips and multi-day trips.

On a national level, approximately 70 percent of outfitters saw their profit margins increase in 2014, a good sign indicating that the grip of the recession is ending when it comes to leisure and adventure travel, officials said.

Elk hunting trips are seeing a resurgence in growth in Idaho.

John May, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, said he’s hearing the same thing from Idaho outfitters. “The general trend is that Idaho is doing better than the national average,” May said. “We had a good whitewater season, fishing trips were up, our hunting trips were up with bookings increasing for next year, and our lodging trips were up.”

Idaho trips are increasing because the state didn’t suffer the effects of the recession as badly as some other states, tourism officials said. People coming to Idaho tend to come from adjoining states like Washington, Utah, California and Oregon. Visitors also came from Texas, Florida, Arizona, New York and Montana, the study showed.

Just from casual conversation with the owners of lodging businesses, people enjoy coming to stay in a lodge or a private cabin while they can go horseback riding, hiking and biking, May said. They like to do a mix of leisure activities and come back to a comfy bed in a heated quarters.

“They want to experience the West, but not necessarily in a hard-core way,” he says.

“Glamping” on the Salmon River. Looks pretty comfy! (Courtesy glampinghub.com)

Glamping” is another activity that outfitted guests enjoy, where the women are pampered with yoga and massage activities, gourmet food is served on fine china with cloth tablecloths and fine wine, and sleeping quarters are very comfortable with nice sheets and blankets on raised beds or cots in Safari-quality wall tents.

“This kind of activity is now on the urban dweller’s bucket list,” May said. “They now realize that they can go “rough it” outdoors and enjoy a surprising list of amenities.”

Another reason people come to Idaho, Norton says, is that “we’re a bargain” compared to many other destinations in terms of lodging and trip costs. Plus, many people know that they can enjoy outdoor activities in Idaho without feeling pinched by thousands of other tourists doing the same thing.

We call that the “Private Idaho” experience. Come visit and find out what that’s all about!

For more information, go to ioga.org, raftidaho.org or visitidaho.org.

Idaho snowpack levels look “stellar” for 2014 whitewater season

Whitewater rafting on the Payette River. Photo courtesy Cascade Raft.

Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BOISE, Idaho — (March 6, 2014) — Idaho mountain snowpack levels and anticipated streamflows in the popular Salmon, Snake, Lochsa and Payette river basins are ranging from 90-120 percent of normal, which should provide for a stellar, fun-filled whitewater river season in the summer of 2014, officials said Thursday.

“Our bookings are very strong this year and we feel lucky to have such a fabulous snowpack, especially compared to much of the West,” said Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene. “Folks planning to raft in Idaho this season shouldn’t wait much longer before signing up.”

Idaho’s snowpack levels are much stronger than levels well below 50 percent in California and Nevada, Grubb notes.

Idaho is known nationally as the “whitewater state” with more than 3,000 miles of thrilling whitewater rapids, the most of any state in the lower 48. Thousands will take week-long wilderness river vacations on the Salmon River, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Selway River or Hells Canyon of the Snake with Idaho outfitters. Whitewater enthusiasts also will book day trips on the Payette, Snake, Salmon, Lochsa, St. Joe and Moyie rivers with Idaho outfitters. Great water conditions will benefit jet boat trips as well on the Salmon River and in Hells Canyon. Now is a great time to reserve your spot for a unique and unforgettable vacation, outfitters say.

Rafting the Salmon River in the River of No Return section is one of the best family vacations available in North America. Photo courtesy Silver Cloud Expeditions.

A wet month in February featuring precipitation levels exceeding 200 percent of normal in the Boise and Snake river basins and 150 percent of normal in the Salmon and Payette River Basin is what boosted snowpack levels to what they are now, experts say.

“It’s all good news! It just keeps getting better every day,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “We need the cool temperatures to continue in the mountains and normal precipitation levels to continue in the spring to maintain these forecasts.”

It’s always interesting to stop and check out Native American pictographs on Idaho river trips. Photo courtesy Silver Cloud Expeditions.

Main Salmon and Payette River outfitters are excited about the snowpack levels, too.  “The Main Salmon River has an amazing snow pack this year so rafting season is going to be great: big water, beautiful sandy beaches and exciting rapids,” said Mary Wright of Silver Cloud Expeditions. “The word is out. We have several full trips already and are looking forward to a fantastic summer. Now is the time to plan your family vacation.”

“The water outlook on the Payette River system looks solid at over 92 percent of normal,” said Kenneth Long of Cascade Raft and Kayak. “There is still plenty of time to collect a bit more precipitation, which will put the icing on the cake. Both rafting and kayaking look great for the entire summer, with super whitewater levels on the South Fork through Labor Day and on the Main Payette through mid-September.”

Deep snowpacks in the Upper Snake Basin should provide enough flows for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide boatable flows through the white-knuckle Murtaugh section near Twin Falls this spring. That’s always a bonus for whitewater boaters.

Rafting on the Lochsa should be awesome this year, with tons of runoff and all of the thrills and adrenaline of a big-water experience. Photo courtesy Bear Paw Expeditions.

The only downside this year are below-normal snowpacks in the Owyhee and Bruneau river basins, which are 52 and 68 percent of normal right now. Those rivers may not get high enough for rafting this year, but should be doable by kayak.

For more information about booking an Idaho whitewater river trip, go to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site, http://ioga.org/rafting or call 208-342-1438.

Bronco blue turf, Idaho potatoes could help boost Idaho tourism

Commerce Director Jeff Sayer with his wife, Laurel, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

By Steve Stuebner

Jeff Sayer, Director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, had a life-changing experience on a Middle Fork Salmon River trip, and he said that helps him understand the intrinsic value of outfitted trips in a speech to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association at the annual meeting.

The Middle Fork trip was a U.S. Forest Service trip that involved several Idaho outfitters and guides, Sayer said. He rode with Dirk Gibson, owner of Adventure Guides, a Middle Fork outfitter, and Gibson proceeded to grill him about his life and priorities as they floated down the beautiful canyon.

“It was a time when I was ready to change and start something different,” Sayer said. “That trip literally changed my life.”

As director of Commerce, an agency that oversees the $3.4 billion travel and tourism industry in the state, Sayer said he hopes to help Idaho get more national recognition for its travel and tourism assets. “Idaho has so much to offer, but it seems that we’re just scratching the surface,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things happening in Idaho. We’ve got a great story to tell.”

The Boise State Broncos and the blue turf are a nationally recognized icon that Idaho tourism could benefit from, Sayer said.

Two things that get a lot of national recognition are the Boise State Broncos’ blue AstroTurf and Idaho potatoes, Sayer said. “Those are two things that I’d like to piggy-back on to give us more recognition,” he said.

Technology is changing rapidly in American society, he noted, and it behooves tourism officials, as well as outfitters, to stay on top of those trends to capture more customers. Smart phones are one area that’s seeing big growth. Web sites should be retooled to ensure that they’re friendly for smart phone users, he said. He mentioned a web platform called Responsive Design that readily adapts to the devices using the web site.

“The latest  information I have is that one-half of all travel trips will be booked with smart phones in the near future,” he said. “This is one change we should be ready for.”

In a vacation in the Black Hills, Sayer and his wife, used their smart phones to access a guided tour of the area on their smart phones. They clicked on a QR code, and “the whole Black Hills experience was opened up to us on our phones,” he said. A narrator explained the sights and sounds of the area, greatly enhancing the drive.

IOGA Executive Director John May with Director Sayer at the IOGA annual meeting.

Another idea Sayer shared was about marketing the activities in Idaho that are special, and not necessarily just  the Idaho brand. For example, web sites could focus on the activity, such as hunting, whitewater rafting or recreation. “Why not choose the activity and make that the destination?” he said.

Along those lines, Idaho Outfitters and Guides have been working on creating a brand and web site called “Raft Idaho.” More on that topic to come.

“You guys represent the best of what Idaho’s backcountry has to offer,” Sayer said. “We’ve got to get creative and work on this together. Why not call Idaho “America’s Backcountry?” I’m excited to work with your new director, John May, on lots of these new ideas.”