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Where camping is permitted in Idaho's forests

You can go off-road to camp, but that doesn't mean you should. The Forest Service advises campers to do their homework before going out in the forest.
Credit: Aaron English
This photo posted to the Sawtooth Mountains Hiking and Backpacking Facebook page shows a half dozen vehicles parked in a meadow.

BOISE, Idaho — The camping season has arrived in Idaho and Forest Service officials want to remind the public to be good steward of the land this summer.

There have already been reports of trash and human waste left behind, and mistreatment of public lands. One recent example was posted on Facebook earlier this month. It shows a half dozen vehicles parked in a meadow in the Sawtooth National Forest.

KTVB spoke with Zach Poff, the recreation and program manager for the Ketchum Ranger District, about where campers should and should not go. He says understanding where camping is allowed in Idaho's forest is not as simple as some might think.

First, there is two types of campgrounds. Designated and dispersed. There are certain areas of the forest that have designated campsites. Most of those are reserved in advance. Then there are dispersed camping opportunities, which have no fees. You can pull off the road and use certain areas to make camp. Some are clearly marked and others are not. One thing they have in common - there are no amenities such as water, fire rings, garbage cans and public toilets.

The Forest Service has a motor vehicle use map on their sites where people can go find where camping is permitted. Here is a link to the one in the Sawtooth National Forest. It shows roads where motorized travel is allowed and what types of uses are permitted in those areas.

Poff says it's important to do you research before you go into the forest. He says be a good steward and stay off riparian areas, meadows and wetlands because the damage made by vehicles can last for years.

There are limits to how long you can stay. Some camping in the Ketchum Ranger District is limited to just three nights, while other sites permit stays up to 10 days. And it may be different in the Boise National Forest. Poff says know before you go. You can check the website or call your local Forest Service office with any questions you may have.

"We want people to get out and use our national forests, but do it responsibly," Poff said. "It's amazing what they'll leave in the forest." 

The COVID pandemic has only served to increase outdoor recreation across the nation. The Sawtooth and other national forests in Idaho saw record numbers of visitors in 2020, and those numbers are expected to go even higher this summer. Poff said he was out at a trailhead Friday morning, and even though the weather was not that great, the parking lot was already full. Weekends are the busiest times if you are going camping.

And one final reminder - leave the place better than you found it.

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