The Payette National Forest is located in central Idaho and is
comprised of 2,323,226 acres. There are 27 developed campgrounds
of which 14 meet the selection criteria.
The Payette National Forest is a land of mountains, mountains, and more mountains. The Forest is surrounded and sometimes overshadowed by the Nez Perce, Boise, Challis, Salmon, and Bitterroot National Forests of Idaho and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in eastern Oregon. However, the Payette National Forest can boast of its outstanding camping locations, varied recreation opportunities found in magnificent glacier-carved timber covered land and two of the deepest canyons in North America - the Salmon River Canyon and Hells Canyon on the Snake River. These Canyons carve their way through the rugged mountains which hide meadows, crystal blue lakes, and other wonders waiting discovery. This is the Payette National Forest, not a copy of its neighbors but a wonderfully different place to explore the delights of western Idaho.
Hiking is probably the best way to "see" any national forest. And you can "see" a lot of the Payette National Forest along its 200 miles of trails in "developed" areas, plus1,200 miles in "undeveloped" backcountry, and 700 miles within the Payette's portion of Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The destination of many Payette National Forest's trails is often a pristine alpine meadow, a crystal clear lake, some breathtaking views, or just a little solitude. A few such trails are: Upper Hazard Lake (#169), Secesh River (#80) and Shoreline Path. Out of Hazard Lake campground, the 5-mile Upper Hazard trail invites hikers, equestrians, and mountain bike enthusiasts to explore the Salmon River Mountains. Another view of the Payette is found along the Secesh River trail. This 15-mile trail follows the Secesh River and links Ponderosa and Chinook campgrounds. For an after dinner stroll featuring outstanding views, few trails can beat the paved Shoreline Path found at Upper Payette Lake campground.
If visitors prefer to do their exploring in the comfort of an automobile the Payette National Forest has several options. One is the Warren Auto Tour, followed by a walking tour of historic Warren. The adventure is an excellent day trip from Upper Payette Lake campground. The result of James Warren's discovery of gold, Warren was established in 1862. Boasting a population of 660 rugged individuals by the next year, many of the structures seen today in Warren were built by those hardy folks. Stop by the McCall Ranger District Office in McCall, Idaho for an Auto and Walking Tour's guide.
Another auto tour adventure explores the west side of the Payette National Forest. The Working Forest Auto Tour begins and ends in New Meadows, Idaho and illustrates the dynamic diversity of this little Forest. Printed tour guides are available at the New Meadows Ranger District office.
If a visitor prefers a less structured approach to exploring the Payette, there are a number of "Scenic Drives" available. One is the 30-mile drive from Warm Lake, with its developed campgrounds nearby, to the hamlet of Yellow Pine, Idaho whose major annual, August social event is Idaho's Yellow Pine Harmonica Fest. For the more adventurous 4X4 vehicle drivers, the Lick Creek to Summit Lake drive might be just the thing. The variety of length, road conditions, and scenery found on the Payette's Scenic Drives means there is one for every taste.
Rainbow trout is the most common fish but robust populations of Brook and Lake trout, Arctic grayling and whitefish can be found in several of Payette's lakes and streams. A pretty little campground with good trout fishing is Hazard Lake. However, Kennally Creek and Upper Payette Lake campgrounds are a little easier to reach and also have enough trout to keep any angler happy. Cutthroat, Bull trout, and Chinook salmon also call this National Forest home but the State Fish and Game have identified them as protected. Buckhorn Bar campground, beside the South Fork of the Salmon River, and Ponderosa campground, on the Secesh River, have fairly good populations of these "catch and release" fish for those who want the challenge.
Although Hazard Lake. campground is nestled in an area of healthy trees, across the Lake is a moonscape of fire's destructive power. It is not a pleasant sight and reminds us, as Smokey says, to be careful with fire. Although fire is a natural part of a forest's environment, the Forest Service tries to keep fires at a manageable level. One group dedicated to this mission is the fearless Smokejumpers. In the town of McCall, Idaho, the Smokejumpers have a base camp. A tour of the facility is an interesting day trip for those who want to learn more about these brave men and women. After this tour, a visit to McCall is a pleasant way to spend the remainder of the day. It is a bustling community with a variety of eateries and shops. The small Farmers Market features local produce and a chance to meet some of the area's residents.
To often people pass right through the Payette National Forest on their way to one of the neighboring Forests without realizing the opportunity missed. In many ways, Payette is like that little locomotive that could. Larger, better known Forests may overshadow this little Forest but those who have discovered its many wonders know the Payette National Forest is a really big forest in a small package. With camping locations for car, tent, recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping enthusiasts, outstanding scenic beauty, and diverse recreation opportunities, the Payette National Forest encourages visitors to return time and time again.
McCall, ID 83638
RANGER DISTRICT OFFICES
P.O. Box 567
2092 Highway 95
Council, Idaho 83612
500 N. Mission St.
McCall, Idaho 83638
102 W. Lake St.
McCall, Idaho 83638
P.O. Box J
3674 Highway 95
New Meadows, Idaho 83654
851 East 9th Street
Weiser, Idaho 83672