Welcome to this month’s blog post, “On the Road: Idaho to Montana”. The last 2 weeks have been a bit of whirlwind to say the least as we’ve traveled through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. We have covered some major ground, fell in love, fell out of love (thankfully not with each other). We’ve biked and hiked our little hearts out—been lulled to sleep by the river’s song. There has been happiness, laughter, and a perpetually wet dog (he loves it!). Perhaps also a bit of an unspoken obsession about getting eaten by grizzly bears. After Bear Lake, 98% of the areas we’ve explored have been new to us. This is our life—the van life and we have never felt so alive!
Since we make every attempt to take the scenic routes and avoid highways and interstates as much as possible, we didn’t take the most direct route from Idaho to Montana. First stop—Wyoming. Why-oming? Because it’s spectacular!
Bridger-Teton National Forest (South)
I’m so glad we got here before the rush. We had no idea that the main road (about 30-40 yards away) would turn into an ATV/OHV/4 wheeler/Automotive Autobahn come the weekend. This is where we fell in and out of love with the Southern portion of the Bridger-Teton NF. Beautiful, yes. Peaceful wilderness experience, not so much. The downside about ATV country is that when we try to hike/bike we get dusted out and it’s just not a pleasant experience.
The first day however, was pure bliss. Despite the fridgid cold, I’m so glad I had the chance to spend the day exploring before the crowds. Doesn’t anyone explore the forest on foot, horse, or bike anymore?
Flora and Fauna
After several attempts to carve out our own little spot near the lake, we failed. Don’t worry, we never give up that easily! I can see why this place is packed, it’s absolutely stunning! But with failure often comes success and boy did we have some success!
Off the Beaten Path
Home Sweet Home
This was one of my favorite finds! By veering away from the crowded lakeside beaches, we discovered a great area to live by a clear, cold-water creek with several hiking/biking opportunities! Score!
Back on the Road
This was the point where we had initially thought we’d end up near Stanley Idaho and possibly bikepacking the Idaho Hot Springs Loop once again. I’m not sure we’re confident that Grizz would be able to handle a 550 mile bike trip right now. So, we decided to do a quick resupply in Idaho Falls and spend the night at the nearby Island Park area.
As navigator, I was so undecided on which direction to go, so we ultimately decided to let fate take hold and just picked a general area to explore. Sometimes, fate knows what it’s doing better than we do!
Fate Takes the Wheel
Home Sweet Home
After driving through the beautiful but touristy town of Salmon, we opted to head farther north into the forest with a glimmer of hope that we would find some solitude. As luck would have it, we scored a sweet spot near the river and only saw 2 other cars the entire day! Yay.
We had a great time exploring our little surroundings and cooling off in the water.
After playing in the water all afternoon and a short hike up the mountain, Grizz passed out!
Painted Rock Lake
Above, you can see how the lake got it’s name. The rocks in the area are multi-colored walls rising up from the base of the forest. It’s quite a sight.
Speaking of sights, the lake view isn’t bad either!
As luck would have it, we scored a spot right off the lake with no other camping around! Of course, it was right off the highway, but hey, who cares! This area seems to get a lot of local traffic, but Montana plates is 99% of what we saw while visiting this place. Probably why it was clean, friendly, and did I mention how clean this forest area was? Impressive really.
We did a little hiking and cooling off at a creek about 1.5 miles up the road and we even found a secret hiking trail that looked pretty unused! Maybe next time.
The next day, we went on a long bike ride and discovered a new area I was eager to explore. So, we scurried back to the van and moved spots before the weekend rush!
From here we went on several bike rides, did a lot of relaxing (and reading) by the creek, did laundry, and lived the life! I loved it here and it was a little tough to leave because there was so much left to see and do! The upside is that I get to look forward to adventuring here again someday soon.
Little Blue Joint
The Campground Experience
Eric and I decided to bite the bullet and stay at a beautiful, free, empty campground (only 2 other guests far far away!) so that we could do some hiking. It was a Tuesday and we thought, yeah, let’s do this.
The area was stunning. Campground clean. Very Oregonesque.
Boulder Creek Trail
This trail was everything we could have hoped for. I would love to do a backpacking trip out here next time we come back! We only saw 3.5 miles out before turning around to come back, but I’m pretty sure this could be a 18+ mile hike based on some research of the area. With the exception of the McKenzie River Trail in Oregon and Around the Mountain Trail in Boise, this was one of my favorite hikes ever.
We stopped at the first water crossing and had lunch. It was one heck of a water crossing too! Right smack dab in the middle of a waterfall. WOW!
Post Hike Shenanigans
When we got back to camp, two things happened.
- When I let Grizz off leash, he immediately chased a chipmunk up into some part of the van. After 2 hours of listening to it chirp, “Mayday”, we figured it wasn’t just scared but probably stuck. Eric and I both took turns trying to figure out where it was under the van with no luck. Eventually, I sort of gave up. Eric, persevered. He removed a cap inside the van that lead to the top of the gas tank where we could see the critter. Unfortunately, he would not leave. We tried a net, tongs, nuts, fogging him out—pretty much anything and everything we could try with what we had access to in the van. Eventually, too many mosquitoes were coming inside, so we gave up. We felt so bad for it and tried to save the little fur ball. We’re not sure if he got out or not, but until we smell something, we’re going to assume he found a way out in the still of the night. I am still haunted by the cries of the chipmunk after hearing him scream for over 8 hours. *sad face*
- Someone parked right next to us in an empty campground—generator and all. I know, this should not really be a complaint. I’m just staying….I just don’t understand human behavior. Sometimes I think we’re the only ones on the planet who try to be courteous and respectful of other people because rarely do we get the same in return.
Luberecht Experimental Forest
After a bit of hiking around, Grizz and I found the perfect place to call home for a bit! We didn’t realize it when coming out this way that the Garnett Ghost Town was nearby. For only $3 you can see a really cool, intact town from roughly 1895. It’s managed by BLM and they have restored around 30 structures. More on that later….
First, you have to check out all the wildflowers I found on today’s hike!
All these flowers in less than 1/4 mile stretch! Grizz and I were loving it <3
A Mountain Sunset
Our first day out, Eric and I drove out to the Garnett Ghost Town. It was PACKED. Being social distancing extraordinaires, we opted to skip it even though it did seem kind of interesting. That afternoon, on my hike, I discovered two old, but destroyed structures (as seen in the photo below).
Later that afternoon, a couple of Montana Natives (also ranchers) drove up towards our campsite to toss some salt licks out for their cows. After they finished up, they stopped by to chat (really nice guys) and told us that we had stumbled upon the other section of town that only the locals really know about. So the next day, Eric and I ventured out and to see the remains of the non-restored ghost town. Personally, I felt being rather “untouched”, created a more genuine experience when I think of a ghost town! Bonus: we were the only two living souls there (unless you count Grizz).
Here are some photos! But, if you want to see the actual town that has been restored, click here for details. Please, if you come out and find this place, be kind and respectful to the area!
Glacier National Park made it onto our list after sitting up here looking out at those incredible mountain views in the distance. At this point, it’s a maybe since you have to have a reservation for Going to the Sun Road. So fingers crossed we can get in. If not, maybe next time!
Thanks for reading friends.
Until next time…