Before the cold hand of winter officially bitch slaps the Gem State for the next five to seven months, there is still time to get out and play like its July. Recently, I headed north with a few friends for a weekend of hot springing, boating and hiking on the Main Salmon, just east of Riggins on the National Forest road to Vinegar Creek.
Many Idahoans stash their summer recreation gear in the garage at the first sign of cooler temperatures despite the fact that we enjoy one of the best Indian summers anywhere in the Northwest. The key is finding a low-elevation spot with manageable temperatures and year-round opportunities for play.
At an elevation of 1,821 feet and just three hours from Boise, Riggins is a great spot because it maintains some of the mildest temperatures in the state. The Hells Canyon-Oxbow corridor to the southwest is also a nice area to explore when higher elevations start taking on snow.
For our trip, we set up shop on a large white sand beach adjacent to a treed flat--with a public toilet and a nice shady area to situate a kitchen and fire pan. The steelhead were running, so there were quite a few folks on the river decked out with boats and fall fishing gear. The seasonal foliage provided us with a vibrant backdrop, and the crisp, wet mornings created an ideal setting for taking in some fresh, clean Central Idaho air.
A few short hikes to epic canyon viewpoints, a quick float trip and a run out to a lesser-known remote hot springs made for a very complete and rewarding weekend. With one extra day, we probably would have ventured south into the French Creek area (weather permitting), where historic Burgdorf hot springs (elevation 6,152 feet) sits not far from McCall.
The road to Vinegar Creek was recently paved to past the 10-mile mark, so accessing this scenic playground is now easier then ever. If you didn't get enough out of your summer in 2011, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the milder side of Idaho recreation--provided that you are willing to travel a bit to get there.