Middle Fork of the Payette offers variety of activities

Drive the Middle Fork of the Payette River loop and you'll find plenty of relaxing campsites, trails and hot springs pools.

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJune 4, 2014 

The Middle Fork of the Payette River means a lot of different things to different folks.

For Gene and Carolyn Hibbard of Caldwell, it's miles and miles of trails and roads to ride in their side-by-side ATV.

For Joann Leone and Joe Novak, of Boise, it's a place to camp along the river. Their favorite campsite even has its own personal beach in low water.

"There are a lot of nice hotsprings up there," said Dylan Lammers of Boise, who takes his three youngsters up there.

"It's really nice for kids," he said about the camping and floating the Middle Fork below Tie Creek Campground.

The Middle Fork meanders more than 25 miles south along gravel and paved roads from Boiling Springs Cabin to Crouch in Garden Valley.

Along the way are trailheads for hikers, horseback riders, motorcyclists and ATVers.

Hotsprings are hidden in the nooks and crannies of granite canyons.

Campgrounds abound from undeveloped pulloffs in shady spots with beach-front amenities to full-blown developed campgrounds with paved pads and picnic shelters.

The views of forests of lodgepole and ponderosa pines, distant mountain ranges and a river canyon keep you stopping at every roadside pulloff to take them all in.

Gene Hibbard stopped his ATV at Boiling Springs Campground with a group of riders out for a morning's ride on the area's many roads and trails.

He has been exploring the Middle Fork since the early '50s and still enjoys riding the trails. He also clears trails in the area.

OK, let's take the drive on the Middle Fork Payette loop. You can do it in a long day trip with a picnic stop and soak in a hot springs.

What's better is to spend several days camping to fully appreciate the area.

HEADING OUT

• From the Treasure Valley, head north on Idaho 55 and turn east at Banks toward Garden Valley, then north to Crouch on the Middle Fork Road. It turns into National Forest Road 698. Crouch is about an hour north of the Treasure Valley.

On the Middle Fork Road, you'll go along meadows, pastures and vacation properties before getting to the national forest boundary.

Look to the west and you'll see the North Fork of the Payette River Range. Off in the distance to the east is Deadwood Ridge in the Salmon River Mountains.

• Once at the national forest boundary, you'll come to the first U.S. Forest Service campground, called Tie Creek.

National forest campgrounds in the area cost between $12 and $15 a night. Some can be reserved at reservation.gov.

You can base camp at Tie Creek and take off up the Middle Fork or just hang out. Canoeists like to run the Middle Fork from here to Crouch.

• As you continue north, you'll find several nice pulloffs that make good campsites on the river.

Keep going, even though this is one of the dustiest roads around. As you go upstream, you'll see the changing faces of the Middle Fork. It goes from a quiet stream to a torrent of roaring waterfalls.

Several developed Forest Service campgrounds are within a few miles of each other: Hardscrabble, Rattlesnake and Trail Creek.

• You'll notice the wildflowers are blooming right along the road in this area, and a short hike in the forest takes you to many more.

• At about 19 miles north of Crouch, you'll come to the junction of the Middle Fork Road and the road that goes to Silver Creek and Silver Creek Plunge.

Suggestion: Keep going north on the Middle Fork Road (Forest Service Road 698) and you can return on the Silver Creek Road (FS 671), taking a hot springs plunge near the end of your ride.

• The Middle Fork Road starts climbing and tops out several hundred feet above the Middle Fork in this section. Take a look into the canyon.

• The Middle Fork continues to tumble over boulders, creating a whitewater ribbon against the gray granite cliffs.

• About 8 miles from the junction of FS roads 698 and 671, you arrive at Boiling Springs Campground with its excellent camping, fishing and hiking opportunities. You can take a short hike to Boiling Springs, a hot springs along the Middle Fork.

At the end of the road is Boiling Springs Cabin, which is in one of the prettiest settings around. It is offered for rent by the Forest Service. Check out recreation.gov.

If you want to get away from others, hike the trail along the Middle Fork to another hot springs. The trail traverses the river, so you have to wait until lower flows.

• From Boiling Springs Campground, continue your journey across the bridge over the Middle Fork and head up toward Silver Creek Summit. The FS 678 is not maintained for passenger cars, but some sedans can easily make it over the ridge to Silver Creek. The road has ruts that will slow you down. Recently a giant boulder fell on the road, but there was enough room for a Subaru to pass through. You should always be prepared for backcountry hazards.

On FS 678, once on top, you can take side trips to Silver Creek Summit or Silver Creek Lookout.

After topping the summit, you would have climbed about 600 feet in elevation going over the ridge between the Middle Fork to Silver Creek and Peace Valley, which is a glacial valley.

• Once down the road and into the valley along Silver Creek, you'll head south with options for plenty of camping in undeveloped areas along the creek The campsites are in lush lodgepole forests and meadows along the creek.

• The area is popular for hiking and riding motorcycles, ATVs and horses. One of the first developed campgrounds is Peace Valley.

• If you want a fully developed campground, try the Forest Service's new Silver Creek campground down the road. It is set up for individual campers and groups.

It's popular because it is a short walk to Silver Creek Plunge, a hot springs resort.

Some camping and lodging also is available at Silver Creek Plunge. For prices and pool times, go to silvercreekplunge.com

• After a soak, continue south on FS 671 and the road starts to drop in elevation back to the main Middle Fork Road.

You've covered roughly 30 to 35 miles from the national forest boundary near Tie Creek Campground doing the loop and return trip. One thing about it: You can't cover all the places to explore in the loop in one trip.

You'll have to return and relax along the Middle Fork of the Payette River another day.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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