Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I heart Idaho and so should you

Hidden Shangri-La, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Though its license plates ridiculously tout “Famous Potatoes,” Idaho has way more to brag about than its tasty taters. Let me make my pitch: Idaho is one of the wildest, most jaw-droppingly gorgeous locales I’ve encountered in my travels to wilderness destinations in the United States. And it's a seriously affordable trip.

The jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Range, part of the Rocky Mountains, cut across a blue sky and go from pale rocky slate in the daytime to orange-hued behemoths as the sun sets. The alpine lakes that dot the Sawtooth backcountry are almost Caribbean turquoise in color and provide countless opportunities to take Ansel Adams-esque photographs.

Alpine Lake campsite, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
Nature is a total bargain. For a backpacking trip into the Sawtooth mountains, one night’s stay on a rocky perch overlooking a placid lake surrounded by picturesque mountains will run you about… nothing. Wilderness permits are free, though you do need a tent, sleeping bag and a few other camping supplies. And you may need to pay a fee to park at the trailhead. Still far cheaper than one night on the town in New York City or a day in a Caribbean resort. 

Be forewarned, when people ask you where you are going on vacation, and you say in all seriousness and with a straight face, “We’re going to Idaho,” be prepared for funny looks, polite and confused nods and, in the case of my editor, retorts about Idaho being a horrible state for allowing near-limitless wolf hunting. Which is kind of horrible.

Baron Lakes, Sawtooths

I didn’t see any wolves on my trip, or grizzly bears for that matter. Wolves and grizzlies stick to the eastern side of that state where it borders Wyoming and turns into Yellowstone Nation Park. So good news, the Sawtooths are grizzly-free, though the black bears are common. Just hang your food, don’t sleep with macaroni and cheese in your tent and don’t go messing with mama bears. I only saw one bear on my trip and it was inside a metal bear trap back at the Redfish Lake campground where too many careless people left food out. The rangers lured the bear into the trap with a piece of cake and some watermelon rinds. It was a humane trap and the bear was carted off to some more distant location to return to the wilderness, probably in search of more tasty cake and watermelon.

Wine at 8,500 feet, yum.
Once in the wilderness, the possibilities are endless: hiking, rock climbing, games of cards by the campfire, mountains to climb, frigid lakes for swiming, hearty lentil soup to cook, wine to drink if you lug it up the trail (which of course we did.)
Cooking lentil soup

And when you’ve had your share of breathtaking mountain views and impossibly starry nights, pack up, head out and treat yourself to a luxurious and incredibly inexpensive weekend in the way cool, totally under-rated small town of Boise. (Stay tune for my next post about this awesome bike-friendly, walkable college town with a river running through it.)