While the National Forest Service is opening up new campgrounds and other recreational facilities in some regions, many sites in the forests and parks along the Idaho-Wyoming border won’t be open in time for Memorial Day weekend.
The Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis National Forests will open another batch of campgrounds (at least two dozen) this week in addition to campgrounds and river access points that opened last week.
One new batch is in the Challis-Yankee Fork Ranger District. Several boat launches and restrooms were opened in the Middle Fork Ranger District, but adjacent campgrounds were not.
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest opened 17 campgrounds beginning Friday. These include:
• Palisades Ranger District: Riverside Park, Big Elk, Blowout, Palisades and Calamity B and C Loops
• Teton Basin Ranger District: Mike Harris, Trail Creek and Reunion Flats
• Westside Ranger District: Scout Mountain, Malad Summit, Curlew and Big Springs
• Montpelier Ranger District: Willow Flats, Porcupine, North Fork, Montpelier Canyon and Cloverleaf
“Recognizing that many Americans will head outdoors this Memorial Day weekend, the Forest and our local concessionaire have been hard at work trying to prepare campgrounds for visitors,” said Caribou-Targhee spokesperson Sarah Wheeler. “Our priority remains on ensuring the safety of the public and our employees and volunteers. In that light, not all our campgrounds are open, but we are making every effort to expand access while following CDC and state guidance. We look forward to the day when all locations can safely reopen.”
Wheeler said the campgrounds are offered on a first-come/first-served basis only.
“We ask people to be understanding and remain courteous to one another,” she said.
Idaho State Parks and Recreation plans to open its campgrounds after the holiday on May 30, including the popular Henrys Lake State Park.
Nearby national parks, although open for day use, will not offer any overnight accommodations until later in the season. Campgrounds, backcountry permits, visitor cabins, most stores, expanded tours, takeout food service, boating and visitor centers will remain closed at least through May.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is open, but its campground and visitors center are closed. Backcountry camping is still allowed if you obtain a permit through the park.
Delays in opening everything up depends on work arrangements and keeping workers safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, said Salmon-Challis spokesperson Amy Baumer. To open a campground, water must be turned on and tested, toilets cleaned out and pumped, hazard trees removed and campsites cleaned and cleared of debris.
“We continue to work closely with state and local partners to determine the best path forward to safely reopen sites closed in response to the pandemic,” said Salmon-Challis Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark.
Many facilities on the Caribou-Targhee and Bridger-Teton National Forests are scheduled to open at the end of the month. Besides those campgrounds that will be open, dispersed camping is allowed and trails are open. Dispersed campers are urged to prepare for lack of services — including no trash pickup or restrooms — and pack out all trash.
“Users should stay on designated travel routes and use good judgment regarding travel on roads and trails not yet sufficiently dry to prevent resource damage,” the Forest Service said in a news release. “Avoid leaving ruts in the roads or trails and do not drive off-road to avoid snowdrifts.”
Baumer said some campgrounds don’t normally open by Memorial Day weekend because they are still under snow or roads are inaccessible.
“There are several campgrounds on our forest that you’re lucky if you can reach by July 4,” she said. “Meadow Lake is a good example. That one is outside of Leadore. A lot of people from the Idaho Falls area use that one. There’s been years since I’ve been on the Forest, they haven’t been able to have it open by July 4th due to snow and it’s inaccessible.”
Baumer said there may be an uptick in use at some of the less popular campgrounds this year because fewer sites are open. Forest Service online sites list the updated information on campgrounds open this weekend. For the Salmon-Challis, go to fs.usda.gov/scnf. For the Sawtooth National Forest, go to bit.ly/3g9RRFB. For a schedule on the Caribou-Targhee, go to bit.ly/2zlB8OR. For the Bridger-Teton, go to bit.ly/2yn7xUV.
“Moving past Memorial Day weekend the forest continues to look at other developed recreation sites that are currently closed and it is working on a plan to continue reopening as they can. This list will get updated into the future,” Baumer said.