Explore McCall's Backcountry Activities Like Scenic Drives and Mountain Hikes...
Idaho Statesman Article Published: August 25, 2011
Many people enjoy McCall as a summer destination, but the fun doesn’t end at the city limits.
There’s a vast area north of McCall accessed by Warren Wagon Road that’s rich in history and outdoor recreation. You can base in McCall and do day trips or camp and spend several days exploring.
Roads are reasonably well-maintained, but expect a mixture of paved, gravel and dirt. As for the recreation, you can make it as easy (drive up and play), or as challenging (peak bagging and long hikes) as you want.
Here are some options:
Canoe or kayak the meanders of the Payette Lake
The North Fork of the Payette meanders into Payette Lake, and it is an easy flatwater tour for canoes or kayaks, which you can rent at North Beach with prices starting at $12 per hour. Rentals are available through Labor Day weekend. For details go to backwoodsadventuresmccall.com
There are several miles of river where you can paddle upstream and see waterfowl, deer, moose and other wildlife.
Upper Payette Lake
If Ponderosa State Park is too busy, check out this campground about 16 miles north of McCall on Warren Wagon Road.
The campground is in the forest with paved campsites, outhouses, water pumps and a boat launch. It has 13 single campsites, six double sites and two group sites, which you can reserve by calling (877) 444-6777 or go to reserveusa.com.
The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, and it’s a nice place for canoes and kayaks.
Upper Payette Lake is near several trailheads for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding.
This is a rarity for a mountain lake in the area because the drive to it may be tougher than the hike. Fortunately, both are short. To get there, drive past Upper Payette Lake, over Secesh summit and continue to the lake’s marked turnoff on the left about 3 miles past the summit. Drive about three miles to the trailhead, and if it feels too bumpy at first, be warned it doesn’t get any better. At the end of the road is a half-mile trail to the 13-acre lake.
Burgdorf Hot Springs
This is the crown jewel of McCall’s backcountry about 30 miles north of McCall. Take the marked intersection past Secesh Summit where the road changes from pavement to gravel.
Burgdorf has welcomed travelers since the late 1800s. It’s a rustic and historic place where you can relax in the swimming pool-sized hot spring and enjoy the mountain scenery.
Pool hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and it costs $6 for adults and $4 for ages 5 to 17. Debit and credit cards are accepted.
Rustic cabins (no electricity) are available for rent for $35 per night for the first person and $25 for each additional guest and $10 for kids. Cabins include bunks and woodstove for heat, but renters supply their own lantern or flashlights and cooking gear.
For details call (208) 636-3036.
There’s also a small Forest Service campground near the hot springs with five campsites. Camping fees are $10 per night and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Backcountry loop drive
If you’re at Burgdorf, you’re roughly a quarter of the way through a great scenic drive that takes you down to the Salmon River, to the town of Riggins and back to McCall.
The entire route is about 125 miles, with about 90 on pavement and 35 on dirt and gravel.
From Burgdorf to the Salmon River is 25 miles of dirt and gravel suitable for vehicles except those cars with low ground clearance. You can expect some bumps and rocks and steep switchbacks down to the Salmon River.
From there, drive downstream to Riggins and U.S. 95 and Idaho 55 back to McCall.
Note: The Salmon River Road is in the midst of a massive reconstruction project, and it’s closed most weekdays except at night.
Before you go, go to salmonriverroad.org for a schedule of when the road is open.
Chinook Campground/Loon Lake Trail
Where Warren Wagon Road turns to gravel, continue to the marked turnoff. The campground is about 39 miles from McCall.
It is one of the most popular trails in the McCall backcountry and a favorite for mountain bikers. The trail goes about 4.5 miles to the lake and hikers can do it as an out-and-back for the most direct route. The terrain is more rolling than steep, so it’s not a challenging hike for people in reasonably good shape.
The lake is a beautiful destination and there’s an opportunity to do a short side hike to a World War II vintage B-23 aircraft that crashed in 1943, and a skeleton of the fuselage still remains.
Most cyclists do a 10-mile loop ride that includes the section of trail that crosses the Secesh River downstream from Chinook Campground.
The campground is near the Secesh River and has 10 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Located on Warren Wagon Road about 45 miles from McCall with about 20 of that on gravel and dirt roads.
This backcountry mining town was established in 1862, and there’s ample evidence of the area’s mining history there. Many of the buildings there are more than 100 years old.
The town is still inhabited and privately owned, so respect people’s property.
You can grab a burger and a cold drink in town, and that’s the menu: hamburgers. The restaurant is open on weekends.
- Services are limited beyond McCall. There are no gas stations, stores and cell phones probably won’t work. Bring what you need.
- Make sure your vehicle is gassed up, in good shape, and you have a spare tire.
- Bring a map. This is just a sampling of what’s available to do. There are many other trails, roads and things to do. Mark your map for places you might want to visit again in the future.
- Watch for wildlife. For the best chances of seeing them, be out early in the day or in the evening. The area has deer, elk, moose, black bears and wolves, as well as birds and small mammals.
- You don’t have to camp in a campground. There are lots of good places to camp on National Forest land, but practice low-impact camping and always pack out what you pack in.
- Watch the weather. The terrain is between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. Snowstorms occasionally hit in September and are likely in October. Expect cool morning temperatures, including frost.
Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2011/08/25/1771423/explore-mccalls-backcountry.html#storylink=cpy
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