We came, we Sawtoothed, we wandered!

Galena Summit

When we left Grants Pass for our social distancing trip, our main destination was the Sawtooth Mountains. At long last the day had come when we would finally arrive. We woke up early at our Sun Valley campsite and readied the Argosy for our trip over the mountain to Stanley. Highway 75 snakes out of Ketchum and over Galena Summit Pass at 8700 feet! There was still snow everywhere as we stopped at the overlook and marveled at the views back towards Sun Valley.

We coasted down the other side gazing at the Sawtooth range that grew larger ahead of us. Cate had figured out a few candidates for camping spots. We wanted to be choosy since we were planning on staying put for a week. Needing gas, we arrived in Stanley and I asked the clerk at the market if he had any suggestions. He mentioned a spot near the ghost town of Bonanza. We followed the road down the Salmon River to look for the spot but didn’t find it. Eventually we ended up with a phenomenal dispersed campsite on Nip and Tuck road overlooking the mountains. This area is apparently very popular in the summer, but this time of year compounded with the Covid, we had it entirely to ourselves!

This section of Idaho is chock full of hot springs and ghost towns and we wanted to see as many as possible. Out first outing was to see a pair of ghost towns called Bonanza and Custer. Both are old mining towns, but Custer has been restored and looks much like it did in its heyday. Unfortunately due to the virus, all of the buildings were boarded up. Large pieces of mining equipment lay all around. Bonanza on the other hand, was in ruins with the exception of one house that looked like it was preserved as a vacation rental. It was fascinating to wander through the old collapsed cabins. High above us on the canyon wall we spied a lone mountain goat lying on a small ledge! Just up a small side road was the Bonanza Cemetery.

We attempted to drive Custer Motorway to Challis. The motorway winds through the canyon along the Yankee Fork River and has mines and historic structures scattered along it’s scenic route. Alas, we were thwarted after only a few miles by a large downed tree over the road. We turned around and headed back the way we came, stopping to explore the massive Yankee Fork gold dredge that was abandoned in 1953. The 988 ton dredge was a sight to behold! You can read all about it’s fascinating history at https://yankeeforkdredge.com/


After visiting the dredge, we attempted to take a soak in Sunbeam hot spring. I stripped down to my skivvies and hopped right in…and then hopped right out FAST, the snowmelt water level on the Salmon river was high enough that it intermingled with the spring making it unsuitable for an unsuited soak.
And speaking of hot springs, just up the road from the not-so-hot spring was a small pull-off along the Salmon river with a plume of steam rising up behind it. We pulled off of the road and looked down the bank, and behold, angels sang and trumpets sounded, we had found the holy grail of hot springs (actually more of a holy cauldron)😜. The cauldron was apparently a piece of mining equipment dragged up from Bonanza by locals. Someone had outfitted it with a wooden rail and a steel step. It also had a drain valve, and nearby was a bucket to put cold water in the cauldron to make it a more comfortable soak. As hot springs go, this was one of the best!

Our next excursion was to Bayhorse ghost town. This town was a little more developed as a state park, but was currently closed to visitors. It looked like a great deal of restoration had happened, but it was nice to wander the grounds without throngs of tourists.

Kirkham hot springs in livelier days-Not our Picture

Over the next several days we made day trips to two other hot springs including the Kirkham hot springs, but they were in closed campgrounds that were regularly patrolled. I suppose you’ll have that in a pandemic! Kirkham however certainly deserves a return visit, due to it’s multiple pools of varying temperatures and waterfalls.

Between random snow-showers and rain, overcast and soggy times we explored the area around Stanley, at one point finding an inspirational cabin on forest service land that I am intent on squatting on. We played disc golf at Stanley’s town park with sweeping views of the Sawtooths and we visited picturesque Stanley Lake a few times. Our time at the Sawtooth’s drew short, and before we knew it, it was time to head West, back to Oregon, back to work….but not before a few more stops along the way!


  1. I wished over and over as I viewed these brilliant photos that I could be right where you were. After you went home of course.
    You have been sharing some wonderful words and photos. Thank you Cate and Chad.

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