Following the Independence Day Holiday Weekend in Grangeville, Idaho, a group of good friends planned a jeep adventure into the Central Idaho backcountry!
We all stuck around Grangeville for the July 4th weekend as its the time of the year when our community celebrates Grangeville Border Days, Idaho’s Oldest Rodeo – at 104 years and counting. There are parades and rodeos, arts and crafts fair in the park, street games and all sorts of things to do and enjoy during that holiday weekend.
It was an unusually HOT June and early July for us here in the central Idaho region. We’re typically enjoying temps in the 80’s but this year we survived a heat wave with some days hitting 100 degrees. That didn’t stop us from embarking on our jeep adventures from Grangeville to the resort town of McCall Idaho via backcountry roads the Monday after the Border Days weekend event.
Jeeps that are well maintained with fluids checked and a full tank of gas, are appropriate for this 150 mile backroad adventure, especially if you want to take Hwy 95 home from McCall (about an hour and a half drive). Rangers and RZR’s and other side by sides are enjoyable on these backcountry routes as well, but for the 150 mile trip, carrying enough gas, supplies, water and food can be a bit of a challenge. You would also have to double back the same way you came, since those offroad vehicles are not legal to drive on State Highways for obvious reasons. So we opt for JEEPs as the vehicle of choice for these longer rides.
With 6 jeeps in our clan, and 11 persons altogether, we began heading south on Grangeville Salmon Road to Fish Creek Meadows which is called the 221. This road is paved to approximately milepost 34 before you get to the Florence cutoff. After that, its gravel all the way down to the Salmon River. The total miles from Grangeville to the Salmon River is approximately 70 miles. Then another 60 to 70 miles from French Creek up to Burgdorf and into McCall.
FROM FISH CREEK MEADOWS TO FOUR CORNERS
Everyone familiar with this area knows about Four Corners. At somewhere around the 22 mile mark, you’ll arrive at the only stop sign along the 221, where there is a four way intersection. This is Four Corners. To continue on the 221 road from Four Corners to the Salmon River, you want to turn left at that stop sign.
FLORENCE IDAHO AS A HISTORICAL STOP
For those who have not ever visited the old gold mining town of Florence, its a worthwhile detour.
You’ll see the signs for the Florence turn off the 221 road sometime past where the pavement ends and gravel road begins. In a few miles, you’ll come to a number of signs pointing you to the old Florence Cemetery. Its a good spot to stretch the legs, use the bathroom facilities and check out the interesting history and graveyard area where the tombstones (wooden markers are etched) and sprinkled across the hill to show names and dates of death.
In a way, its remarkable to stand there in modern times to realize how different life was and how dangers present in gold rush era (late 1800’s) made life a somewhat delicate enterprise when mining for gold. History buffs will really enjoy exploring this old mining town where thousands lived in hopes of a gold strike.
ONWARD TOWARD THE SALMON RIVER
Back on the 221 road, you’ll be driving on a road system that is relatively well maintained. Its a good idea to pace yourself. At first, the climb is gradual and then becomes a bit steeper as you get to over 6100 feet elevation. Gradually you descent to the Salmon River where you’ll find a paved road offers smooth travel for a few miles and then turns back to gravel. At the intersection of the 221 road where it meets Salmon River Road, the sign pointing to Vinegar Creek is the direction you want to take if you continue our same route.
FRENCH CREEK TO BURGDORF HOT SPRINGS
As you enjoy the scenic views along the Salmon River Road, you’ll travel several miles, cross a giant bridge across the Salmon River, and after a few more miles, you’ll come to a bit of a U-turn in the road where you’ll cross a tiny little bridge next to a cabin on your right. To travel up the mountain to Burgdorf, you’ll turn right at this spot. The sign is well marked so no problem there. If you miss this turn, you’ll simply drive to the end of the road where the Vinegar Creek boat launch is a hub of rafting and jet boat activity. Its probably another 4-5 miles down the road.
When you travel the steep and winding road from French Creek to Burgdorf, make sure you have at least a half tank of gas, or spare gas with you. Your vehicle will likely get terrible gas mileage as you drive up the winding road, full of narrow switchbacks and steep drop offs. The road is good, but its certainly not a route that you want to drive fast on. Gradually, as you head up the mountain, higher and higher, approximately 22 miles will lead you to a very old run down town called Burgdorf. There are hot springs here, where snowmobilers or snow lovers can drive to for a hot dip in the winter. On a hot July afternoon, we did not explore the hot springs, but stopped to stretch and rejuvenate in milder mountain temps.
BURGDORF TO MCCALL
Right down the road from Burgdorf we picked up a lovely paved road that wound approximately 30 miles along Wheeler Wagon Road to the outskirts of McCall Idaho and views of the lake. McCall is a beautiful resort town where North Payette Lake offers gorgeous landscapes and recreation for visitors in the summer season. In wintertime, Brundage Mountain Ski Resort makes this resort village a hub of activity by snow lovers. There are plenty of restaurants, hotels and shops to enjoy. After 154 miles of travel, we were all ready for the comforts of an air conditioned hotel room.
Our group had made reservations at Holiday Inn Express, a beautiful property, where we all checked in, rested and cleaned up and joined together for dinner at a Lardos. We enjoyed a fine meal, sharing the activities of the day, and after a good night sleep, we all returned to Grangeville via Highway 95, refreshed by our fun travels in the backcountry with good friends.
We hope by sharing some of our backcountry adventures, like this jeep adventure from Fish Creek Meadows to McCall, that you’ll feel confident about the great opportunities for recreation using the trails that criss cross through Idaho Public Lands.