We had just completed two interesting and pleasant days at Craters of the Moon National Monument, chosen largely because it was the rough halfway point between Grand Tetons National Park and this day’s travel destination, the Salmon River in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Our stay on the moon left us a short, perhaps three-hour drive to the section of the river just northeast of Stanley. a quite small (but larger than we remembered from our visit here in 2015) town with a heavy tourist industry focus. River guides, hunting guides, fishing guides, offroad vehicle guides. Lots of guides, in other words.
I don’t mean that condescendingly, because it is unusual for a town so centered on tourism to give off such an… authentic vibe, I guess. Like the town had this incredibly high concentration of local knowledge of the land. All the rest of the touristy stuff they didn’t go hard in an as much.
We came here before, in 2015 during our first full time RV year, and loved it, spending three days on the shore of the river surrounded by deer and eagles. Back then we only had the old bus, no tow vehicle with which to explore, so we really looked forward to returning. This time we did a lot more research, particularly on the campground options, which was fortunate since our first choice, where we stayed before, was closed for some reason. I could not determine if it was erosion or just manpower efficiency, i.e., closing some of these national forest areas to reduce the burden on rangers and staff as the season came to a close.
We continued northeast into the mountains to check out several of our backup options, all drycamping national forest sites, and ended up picking a spot at Mormon Bend, another modest riverside campground. Upon arrival we accidentally pulled into a double site, though it seemed no bigger than several others. The camp host let us get away with it for one night, but we had to move to a single site the next day or pay double the $18 nightly fee.
All the sites are very close to river with sort or private paths made by previous residents down to the water, resulting in nearly private little rock beaches for each rig. In mid-September there is still plenty of green on the vegetation, making each beach area, and even much of the RV site itself, nearly secluded.
One of the things we missed in 2015 was the many hot springs along the river. This year, equipped with Loki and plenty of online research (bolstered by additional info from locals) we set off to find and enjoy some of them. The first one we found, locally known “The Boat Box” looked a bit sketchy, like a redneck jacuzzi made from some sort of industrial container, supplied with hot spring water from an old two-inch pipe jutting out of the steep bank.
We moved on looking for others from our research, and soon found Sunbeam Hot Springs, the site of an old and now defunct bathhouse constructed by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. During peak season in good weather it can, apparently, be quite popular, possibly since it is one of the few public hot springs in the area equipped with a changing and bathroom. Only three others where there during our visit. The river’s edge boasts a series of loosely arranged, human made, rock lined “pools” collecting hot spring water flowing out from various points along bank. Bathers can adjust the pool temperature by shifting rocks to allow in less or more cold river water. Though our day of arrival had been glorious, and warm with blue skies day all around, by late afternoon of the second day colder weather was inbound, which made the warm pools quite delicious.
That weather change became more significant through the night, depositing fresh snow on the Sawtooth Mountain ranger nearby, with more on the way. That’s more than enough of a signal for us warm weather fans, so we cut our time there short and started our long run back to the Pacific Coast: it was time to get lower, both in altitude and latitude.