Idaho Heaven: Camping on the Salmon River

By the time we left Stanley Lake and headed north for the Salmon River, we’d only been on the road for a week, but it felt like longer…in the best way. We’d been able to disconnect from the stresses of work and the daily grind and reconnect with our inner adventurers and each other. We’d remembered what it was like to throw the to-do list to the wind and just be in the moment.

We restocked the coolers in Stanley and I nabbed a new magnet to add to Betty’s collection. We mentioned to each other with disappointment that this was the last leg of our trip, and then quickly changed the subject in order to fully enjoy it. I know we were both brainstorming ways to extend our time away. After all, we had our happy dog in my lap and a cozy home behind us; everything we really need in life was right here. We could just keep going…couldn’t we?

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To continue the spirit of exploration during our journey, we decided to skip the highway route and take a well-maintained dirt road through the mountains and find a campsite somewhere along a river, preferably the Salmon. We turned at a “town” called Sunbeam (with a whopping three buildings that were already closed for the season) and just started driving. A few miles down the dirt road, in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we came upon some signage indicating we’d arrived in Custer City.

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Custer City was a mining community in the late 1800s and the town’s site is now a protected historic landmark, with many of the old cabins and business buildings intact. What a fascinating discovery! We parked our rig and wandered among the ghost town. The museum and gift shop were shut down for the season, but that didn’t stop us from peering into cabin windows on tiptoe. The interiors decorated true to their era and there were signs along what appeared to be a walking tour, depicting photos of Custer in its heyday and offering information about the little city.

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I have always been utterly captivated by the Old West and was amazed to see the antique tools, wagons, and artifacts from a lost era displayed everywhere. What a priceless gift to still have the opportunity to get a taste of this way of life (now a thing of the past). In many ways, it was so much more difficult than life today, but also far simpler.

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In Custer, we learned from a bulletin board that a forest fire had shut down the dirt road somewhere ahead of us, so we turned around back toward the highway. The ghost town visit made the extra mileage worth it. Our hunt resumed for the perfect campsite in which to end our vacation. The goals: quiet, private with space for Cholula and Betty, and on the river. Our campsite luck continued and the first campground we turned into, O’Brian, delivered. We snagged a shady, pine-filled spot on a bend in the Salmon River, tucked away from other campers.

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With only two days left before heading back to real life, we each focused on maximum relaxation: John stalked the biggest trout I’d ever seen and I devoured yet another book with the river burbling below me.

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That was the theme of the next 48 hours: relaxation centered on the river. We went for long walks along a dirt road, made our favorite camp meals, went exploring to see potential chukar-hunting land, and listened to the lovely lullaby of the river from the hammock.

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The days felt both long and short at the same time. On the eve of our departure, we lingered by the crackling fire a little longer than usual. We tried to decide what our favorite moments of the trip had been. We failed to narrow it down- there had been so many happy surprises along the way- but it was fun to recap the trip with the warmth from the flames on our faces. After the coals burned down, the three of us snuggled into the piles of sleeping bags on the tiny bed for the last time on this trip.

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In the morning, we busted a move to get on the road so we’d be home before dusk. Before we left, I noticed an old horseshoe tacked to a skinny pine. When the ends are pointing up, the horseshoe is said to collect any good luck that is floating by. I thought about luck and gratitude and perspective. The blessing of having ten days off to play in the wilderness. A warm place to lay our heads in Betty. The best camp dog, Cholula. And on a larger scale, a husband who is truly my best friend. A home in a beautiful town with all of our needs met. Friends who care deeply about us. Family that demonstrates love in every word and action. A new life growing and dancing in my belly. It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine for us, especially over the last few years. But there’s nothing like time away from the madness to remind you about what really matters. Lucky, indeed.

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(P.S. The hot, overdue shower back at home was nothing short of amazing.)

See the first two installments of our heavenly Idaho adventures HERE and HERE

Bit by the travel bug? Check out more of our wanderings HERE

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