6 ideas for spring-break adventures in Idaho
Ski, hike, fish and more for your first foray of the season.
BOISE, Idaho — Spring break is usually the first big outdoorsy adventure of the year for parents and kids, and Idaho has plenty of places to satisfy a family’s wanderlust.
During spring break, it’s winterlike or springlike somewhere in the state because of Idaho’s cold mountains and mild canyons.
Basically, it’s a good time for a shakedown outing for the kids.
For Julie Rau, a mom and teacher from Meridian, having 22-month-old daughter Kaylee doesn’t stop her and her husband, Tim, from enjoying the outdoors. Spring break will be an opportunity for them to get out and explore.
“We are a very outdoorsy family,” said Rau. “Kaylee never slowed us down. We just modified our outdoorsy ways to include her.”
No matter how old your kids are, if you’re looking for a place to head out over spring break, look no further than these areas:
This 50-mile-long reservoir is one of three on the Snake River in Hells Canyon where the fish start stirring by March or earlier.
Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon reservoirs offer a variety of fish from crappie to bass and catfish to trout.
The reservoirs, from 1,700 to 2,100 feet in elevation, are some of the earliest places where you can combine fishing, boating and camping because of the low-elevation milder weather. Sometimes it’s 10 degrees warmer than Boise.
You have a choice of camping at Woodhead Park on Brownlee Reservoir, McCormick on Oxbow Reservoir, and Copperfield and Hells Canyon Park on Hells Canyon Reservoir. The camping is easy, because these campgrounds have full services like hot showers and plug-ins.
And the camping’s cheap, with winter rates ($8 for RV spots and $5 for tent spaces) still in effect until April.
Get there by driving 28 miles northwest of Cambridge on Idaho 71 to Woodhead Park.
Options:?Drive north on the highway along the reservoirs to Hells Canyon Dam. Look for bighorn sheep, deer and eagles. This can be more fun than fishing.
There are a few hiking trailheads midway down Hells Canyon Reservoir on the Idaho side.
For current conditions, call 541-540-7209.
The canyon, located on the Idaho-Oregon border, is one of the earliest places accessible for hiking and offers a chance to hike in a sweater and maybe shorts, and see and photograph wildlife and wildflowers.
There are two main trails for hiking in Hells Canyon in late winter and early spring.
If you’re a casual day hiker and want to get a taste of the canyon, which is claimed to be the deepest river gorge in North America, take the trail from the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area visitor center below Hells Canyon Dam. It is located on the Oregon side of the Snake River and goes a little over a mile down the river.
The trail, which is carved into the steep canyon walls, offers magnificent views of the canyon from the snow-topped Seven Devils thousands of feet down to the Snake River.
You can fish for large trout along the way if you have an Oregon fishing license.
Pack a picnic lunch and hike to the end of the trail. It’s 2.4 miles round trip. Warning: It’s steep with drop-offs and there are no railings along the trail. Hang on to your kids and dogs.
Get there by continuing north from Brownlee Reservoir until you come to Hells Canyon Dam. A good camping spot would be Hells Canyon Park, which is about 16 miles before you get to the dam.
For backpackers, the trail in Hells Canyon from Pittsburg Landing to the U.S. Forest Service’s Kirkwood Ranch is ideal this time of the year.
It’s a 6-mile hike one way and a good warm-up for the backpacking season. A bonus is that the weather in the canyon can be mild this time of the year (60s during the day and high 30s at night).
Tent spots and an outhouse are available at the ranch.
You’ll also learn about the history of the canyon because the ranch has been preserved as a museum.
Get there by driving 27 miles north of Riggins on U.S. 95 (near White Bird) and taking the Deer Creek Road west over the Pittsburg Saddle to Hells Canyon.
The state park, located south of Mountain Home, is a good jumping off point this time of the year for a variety of outdoor activities.
You can fish desert potholes, hike the dunes, go bird watching along the Snake River, canoe the park’s lakes, head out to desert viewpoints south of Bruneau, or just enjoy an easy going camp-out at the park.
It’s also a good place for a shakedown camping trip because it has plug-ins and hot showers.
The park’s lakes offer fishing for bass and bluegills, but you can also paddle around in a canoe or kayak. It’s a good place for beginner paddling.
If fishing isn’t good in the park, take a side trip to nearby Crane Falls Reservoir, which is stocked with trout.
Cove Arm Reservoir is another fishing hole right next to Crane Falls Reservoir.
From Bruneau Dunes State Park go back west to Idaho 51 and turn south toward Bruneau.
Go 3.5 miles and turn north at the Cove Arm, Crane Falls sign. Follow the signs, down the hill and to the north for 6.5 miles (caution — the last 1.5 miles is an extremely rough gravel road).
The Bruneau Canyon overlook makes an easy day trip from the Treasure Valley and is a “wow” experience for those seeing it for the first time. Well, make that every time.
This is a good trip if you are camped at Bruneau Dunes State Park or nearby campgrounds at C.J. Strike Reservoir.
The overlook gives you a birds-eye view of the 800-foot-deep canyon.
By the way, that’s the Bruneau River way, way, way down in the canyon.
Photographers love this spot for great shots of the deep canyon and desert landscape.
Get there from Bruneau by taking the Hot Springs Road for 15.6 miles. Turn right and go about 3 miles.
It’s an easy walk from the parking area to the canyon rim but hang on to your kids and dogs.
LUCKY PEAK RESERVOIR
It’s close to Boise. It has trout. And, there’s plenty of sandy shoreline for the kids to play if the fishing is slow.
The reservoir is easily reached at the dam by going to the Turner Gulch boat ramp and walking down to the shoreline.
You can drive farther up Idaho 21 to Spring Shores Marina along the Middle Fork Boise River Road and fish off wide-open beaches.
Early spring fishing from the bank can be good because the reservoir is stocked with trout.
A worm and marshmallow fished off the bottom is a sure bet. Trout are usually cruising the bank this time of the year as the water level rises.
Don’t forget the hot dogs. There are grills at the picnic shelters.
PARK ‘N’ SKI AREAS
There will surely be enough snow for a late-season Nordic ski or snowshoe adventure on the trails in the state’s Park N’ Ski trail systems, northeast of Idaho City.
Pick a sunny day and the adventure will turn into a snow picnic with some sledding for the kids.
The Gold Fork Park N’ Ski area has a kid-friendly parking lot off the main highway. It also has an outhouse.
Set up a portable grill and roast hot dogs. Who cares how many miles you ski or snowshoe.
Get there by driving northeast from Idaho City on Idaho 21. It’s roughly about 60 miles to the various Park N’ Ski parking lots.
A $7.50 (three-day) parking permit is needed if you don’t have an annual Idaho Park N’ Ski Permit. There isn’t a one-day permit.
Get a permit on the way out of town at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters, 5657 Warm Springs Ave. or at businesses in Idaho City.
Have a good spring break.