U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Challis National Forest


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Forest Information

The Challis National Forest, administered by the Salmon-Challis National Forest, is located in south central Idaho and is comprised of 2,464,524 acres. There are 28 developed campgrounds of which 12 meet the selection criteria.

The Challis National Forest stretches up central Idaho from the rolling plains of high desert to the peaks of Lemhi Mountain Range and then across to the rushing water of the Middle Fork of Salmon River. It is a place of vast space and awesome beauty. Unfortunately, many people bypass Challis National Forest for one of its well-known neighboring national forests. Perhaps this is fortunate. With its diversity of topography, camping locations, and recreation opportunities, Challis is a good destination for a family camping vacation and for those who want to enjoy the wonders and challenges of a national forest without the crowds often found in better known U.S. National Forests.

One of Challis National Forest's undiscovered features are its "Scenic Drives." Usually backcountry roads, these drives help visitors learn about the area's history while exploring the forest. One such route is the Custer Motorway Loop. Starting in Challis, Idaho, the Motorway follows the old Bonanza-Challis Toll Road, a route that provided supplies to the mining communities of Bonanza and Custer. Once offering tollhouse rest stops, today, Mosquito Flat campground provides basic facilities for overnight camping.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Custer Motorway Loop are the ghost towns of Bonanza and Custer in Idaho. Of the two, Custer is the more restored, giving visitors a better idea of life in a turn-of-century mining town. This narrow, one street town, founded in early 1879, would eventually boast a population of 600. Today, it may have that many visitors in a week's time. Mining was the town's primary industry. When Sunbeam Mine folded in 1911, Custer soon followed suit. As a tribute to the people of Custer and many others who passed this way in past years, Friends of Custer Museum has undertaken the task of restoration, maintaining, and interpretation for the community of Custer. But the Motorway doesn't end here.

South of Custer is another artifact of mining's presence in the Challis National Forest - the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge. As visitors drive along the waterway known as Yankee Fork, many wonder at the huge piles of river stone along the way. These piles stretch for miles along the river's edge. Many wonder, "What turned the river upside down?" The answer is now permanently anchored about midway between Custer and Pole Flat campgrounds - the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge. Guided tours of the dredge provide an interesting stop not only for people exploring the Motorway but also for those camped along the way. One campground close to the dredge is Pole Flat campground. Like Mosquito Flat, Pole Flat is nestled under towering trees, near crystal clear water, and offers weary travelers a quiet respite from the cares of traveling.

Visitors can follow Custer Motorway Loop a bit further past the Dredge to the ruins of Sunbeam Dam. Built across Salmon River in 1910 to provide electric power for Sunbeam Mine, Sunbeam Dam was abandoned in 1911. In 1934 the south side of the dam was breached so returning salmon and steelhead could reach their spawning beds on upper Salmon River. Today, visitors to the area, around mid-August, can thrill at the sight of these returning fish.

East of Custer Motorway, far from the lush forest surrounding Salmon River and its tributaries, is a section of the Challis National Forest filled with high deserts with lonely roads and lazy flowing streams leading to mountain meadows linked by winding, timber-lined roadways. This is the transition area where the rolling high desert landscape meets the timbered heights of Challis' mountain ranges. Mount Borah, the highest point in Idaho, watches over this section of Challis National Forest. Hidden in the river-carved valleys in stands of mixed conifers or next to mountain meadows, are such undiscovered campgrounds as Timber Creek, Starhope, and Wildhorse. Near the resort town of Ketchum are the better known, but equally quiet, Park Creek and Phi Kappa campgrounds.

To the west is a very different section of the Challis National Forest containing the Middle Fork of Salmon River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, and the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness. Here, rugged landscape and lush woods take visitors back to a time when the Shoshone people and mountain men roamed the forest. The route to Tin Cup campground, at the end of a 24 miles corridor into the Wilderness, provides visitors a insight into the relationship between man and forest. The roadway passes a huge open wound of an active mining operation, then up the dizzying heights of a white-knuckle, single-lane mountain road, through an area where the forest is recovering from a devastating forest fire, and then into the lush green of a healthy diverse forest surrounding the pretty camping location called Tin Cup campground.

The route to Boundary Creek campground, just above a put-in point for kayakers and rafters on the Middle Fork of Salmon River, may not be as dramatic but it is equally interesting. The drive to Boundary Creek campground isn't as exciting as the trip down the Middle Fork of Salmon River where the combination of mid-level rapids and hot springs makes a run down the river a memorable experience. A permit is required.

Between Tin Cup and Boundary Creek campgrounds are Lola Creek and Beaver Creek campgrounds. The easiest Challis campgrounds to reach next to the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness, Lola and Beaver provide a delightful semi-wilderness experience for motorhome and recreation vehicle (RV) camping with none of the inconveniences of a wilderness.

The Challis National Forest is a land of history, beauty, and diversity. This is a Forest of quiet pleasures and heart-thumping adventure. It is also a wonderful place to escape the stresses and strains of modern-day life. Camp, hike, and enjoy the Challis National Forest time and time again.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS RR2 POB 600 Salmon, Idaho 83467 208-756-5100 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Challis-Yankee Fork H/C 63, Box 1669, Hwy. 93 Challis, Idaho 83226 208-879-4100 Lost River Hwy. 93, P.O.B. 507 Mackay, Idaho 83251 208-588-3400 Middle Fork Hwy. 93, P.O.B. 750 Challis, Idaho 83226 208-879-4101

Fred and Suzi Dow