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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Idaho Vacation: Payette River Scenic Byway

The Payette River Scenic Byway is 112 miles of non-stop scenic views; most will simply take your breath away.  This byway is a great Idaho getaway vacation any season of the year.  This route has also been designated as a National Scenic Byway. 

Payette River Scenic Byway Information Sign
 The southern end of this byway is at the junction of ID-55 and ID 44 just west of Boise.  The route follows ID-55 to the northern terminus at New Meadows where ID-55 and US-95 meet. 

The southern portion of this byway skirts around the city of Eagle and heads north on the Horseshoe Bend road.  After topping the pass between the metro Boise area and Horseshoe Bend, the scenery changes to the Boise National Forest mountains.  The road drops in elevation down to Horseshoe Bend where we meet the Payette River.  Horseshoe Bend is named for the large horseshoe shaped bend in the river.

In addition to a few places to grab a bite to eat, there are two other reasons to make a stop in Horseshoe Bend.  The Thunder Mountain Line features scenic train rides along the Payette River.  Throughout the year they also have many themed and dinner rides.  Check them out here for a fun and different experience.  Zip Idaho gives a very different experience as it has a series of seven zip lines to let you soar between Ponderosa Pine trees or race with a friend on a 1460 foot long line over 100 feet above the ground below.  Information is found here.

One other note about Horseshoe Bend, it is best to not exceed the 25 MPH speed limit through town.  This author found that it is “strictly” enforced. 

Rafters Enjoying a Float Down The
Payette River

For the next 35 or so miles, the road follows the Payette River through a mostly narrow canyon.  Along the way we pass through the small burgs of Banks and Smith’s Ferry.  The scenery is beautiful and can be a distraction to drivers.  The river is relatively calm in the lower stretches but turns into a churning tumult as it  cascades over rocks higher upstream.  The stretch from Banks downstream to the Beehive Bend Sportsmen Access is the most heavily floated portion of the river and may be the most heavily used of any river in Idaho.  This stretch has mostly Class 1 and 2 rapids with one or two Class 3’s. 

Winter on The North Fork
Payette River
 Numerous outfitters and guides provide expert advice and equipment for river excursions.  Trips can be tailored to any age and/or experience level.  See contact information below.  The North Fork and South Fork Payette River join at Banks.  The South Fork is very popular for its many class 4 and 5 rapids.  The North Fork is mostly a continuous series of Class 5 rapids and is not suitable for rafters and kayakers who are not experts. 

Kayaking at Kelly's Whitewater Park near Cascade
 Several Forest Service campgrounds are located near the highway in this stretch and there are a number of turnouts to allow slower drivers to safely pullover and let those in a hurry to pass.  A number of turnouts allow for viewing rafters and kayakers on the river.  There is also a nice beach area a couple miles south of Banks.  There is also access to many secondary roads that lead away from the river and to many other camping and other outdoor recreational opportunities.  The road is open all seasons but will likely be snow covered and/or icy during winter months.  It is best to not be in a big hurry on this stretch of highway.

Rainbow Bridge Over North Fork
Payette River
 The highway east from Banks follows the South Fork Payette River.  This roadway is also the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway and is described  here.   Going east to Lowman, one has the choice of returning to the Boise area via ID-21 and the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway or continuing up river towards Stanley and the Sawtooth Mountains on the northern portion of the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway. This scenic byway is described here, here and here.

ID-55 Holiday Traffic Heading South Along the Payette River

ID-55 is one of two main highways from the Boise area to central and northern Idaho.  As such, it can be very busy, especially during summer and holiday weekends.  It is not uncommon for a steady stream of recreational vehicles, boats, ATV’s etc. to be headed north on Fridays and south on Sundays.  If your travels allow, plan to avoid these times. 

Cattle Grazing in a Meadow in
Long Valley

Fall Colors in Aspen Near Cascade
 A few miles north of Smith’s Ferry the road leaves the river and soon opens to the Round Valley prairies and meadows.  Another 5-6 miles and Round Valley is left behind and we enter the south end of Long Valley.  Long Valley stretches all the way to McCall.  Cascade is the next community we encounter.  Historically, Cascade was economically tied to the lumber industry.  Today, tourism and recreation top the economy. 

Fall Colors With Cascade Reservoir in Background
 Cascade is the gateway to Cascade Reservoir, a twenty mile long impoundment on the Payette River.  Year-round fishing highlights the outdoor activities here but there are certainly many additional activities in this outdoor wonderland including all kinds of water sports, bird watching, hiking, biking, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and more.   

Lake Cascade State Park has nine campgrounds scattered around the reservoir with six boat launch ramps.  Some sites have water, sewer, and electricity.  There are also Forest Service campgrounds. 

FR 22 goes east of Cascade towards Warm Lake, South Fork of the Salmon River and Johnson Creek.  Access to many other lakes and streams are found in the area.  Tamarack Resort is located near the North West portion of the reservoir. 

Pastoral Scene With Tamarack Trees Changing Color
Near Smith's Ferry
 Continuing north on ID-55 we soon arrive in Donnelly, the main access point to Tamarack Resort.  Donnelly has a few stores, restaurants and gas stations but not much else.  We continue our trip towards McCall. 

The resort town of McCall is located on the southern end of Payette Lake and offers every amenity any traveler could want.  Ponderosa State park is just northeast of town and is described   .  There are numerous events throughout the year in McCall with the Winter Carnival the most well known.  Ice sculptures line the streets during the carnival which is held in late January and early February.  Brundage Mountain Ski Area and Resort is located just a few miles west of McCall

From McCall we head in a more westerly direction towards the community of New Meadows.  ID-55 and the Payette River Scenic Byway end in New Meadows where the highway intersects with US-95.  Turn right and head towards Riggins and Grangeville and points north or stay left and head towards Council and back to the western Treasure Valley area. 

The route makes a great day-trip loop or just go up and back on ID-55.  The scenery will look different depending on which way you travel.  This makes a wonderful Idaho vacation any season of the year. 

Additional Information:
Boise National Forest -
Idaho Outfitters and Guides Ass'n (White Water Trips) -
Idaho Historical Highway Marker Guide -
Cascade Chamber of Commerce -
Donnelly Chamber of Commerce -
McCall Chamber of Commerce -
Brundage Mountain Ski Area and Resort -
New Meadows Area Information -

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about the Tamarack Resort to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!