For most people, spring and summer are the best seasons for camping. But if you’re like me, fall can’t be beat. No crowds, beautiful leaves changing, chilly nights perfect for campfires, and – of course – plenty of blankets to cozy up in. What could be better? But for the ultimate camping experience, forget
glamping and RVs… a simple, rustic setting is the way to go! Those who find pleasure in “roughing it” are the ones who truly get to immerse themselves in nature. But natural, remote camping spots in Idaho are abundant and it can be a challenge to narrow it down to the “best.” If you’re having trouble figuring out where to go to get away from it all (fellow campers included), here are just a few places that will make you want to pitch a tent and spend the night checking out the stars.
1. Upper Payette Lake Campground
Situated at the edge of the mountains and the Payette National Forest, Upper Payette Lake offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and ATV riding with many of the campsites offering lake views or access and basics like potable water. Plus, with Burgdorf Hot Springs nearby you'll never have an excuse to not feel relaxed and at peace with nature. Fees apply.
Getting here: Drive 19 miles north of McCall on Warren Wagon Road.
2. Windy Saddle
Sleeping by an alpine lake on the edge of one of Idaho’s stunning mountain ranges? You got it. Tucked on the edge of the Seven Devils Mountains and offering perfect views, this tents-only campground is also a jumping-off point for the nearby wilderness area, sans camping fees. The long, steep gravel road can be rough which helps to deter crowds, but the nearby Seven Devils Campground is nearby just in case spots fill up.
Getting here: The road to Windy Saddle is just south of Riggins on 95. Turn west on Road 517 and follow it 17 miles to the top.
3. Trapper Creek Campground
Trapper Creek Campground is nestled away on the northeast shore of Upper Priest Lake with stunning views of Plowboy Mountain to go along with all that lakefront beauty. Each rustic campsite comes with a fire ring, picnic table, and a bear-proof storage box, but all garbage is pack-in-pack-out and no water is onsite. Since this campground is on the outskirts of the major lake recreation area, you'll find yourself able to catch those picturesque lake sunsets in perfect peace and quiet.
Getting there: Easy access by boat or by trail at 48.79778, -116.89069.
4. Wildhorse Lake
This remote campground on the east edge off the Gospel Hump Wilderness will take some rough driving to get to, but don't be discouraged! Multiple trails from the campground lead into the wilderness to Tenmile Meadows, another to Sugarloaf Butte - both of which are spectacular! No fees or reservations required.
Getting here; Turn right on Road No. 233I and go 2.5 miles. The campground is about 25 miles southwest of Elk City.
5. Bear Valley
Bear Valley Campground is meanders Bear Valley Creek, which is an often overlooked headwater stream for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. While this particular campground is developed with outhouses and picnic tables, there are plenty of places to pull over and camp the way nature intended. Lodgepole pines provide privacy while creeks, streams, and trails provide endless places to explore and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Getting here: From Lowman, head northeast on Idaho 21 toward Stanley. Take the turnoff for Bull Trout Lake and turn left on Forest Service Road 579 toward Bear Valley.
6. Casino Creek
This little campground is on the trailhead for the White Clouds. Since it is across the river from busy Idaho 75, you're not as far out of town as you might like, so you can always head further away from Stanley to another primitive site if you'd like to get more distance. That being said, the river acts as a buffer between campsites and the highway noise, so the rustic ambiance is still there.
Getting here: Drive about 4 miles northeast of Stanley on Idaho 75.
7. Owyhee Byway
We've touted the wonders of the Owyhee Scenic Byway before, but they're worth repeating! When it comes to rustic, primitive camping the way nature intended, there's absolutely no better place than this over 100-mile stretch in southwest Idaho. hours away from civilization, food, and water, this rocky canyonesque landscape is perfect for stargazing and truly getting away from it all. Be prepared for any emergency, and definitely pack extra items for warmth because nights get extremely chilly!
Getting here: Take the Mud Flat Road and head out to Jordan Valley, Ore., to reach the start of the byway.
Of course, Idaho is full of camping sites – primitive and otherwise – and these are just a tiny snapshot of everything that our state has to offer. But since Idaho’s camping season is one of the longest in the country, I say get out there and explore – and tag a friend who you want to go on a rustic camping adventure with!