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Millage Rafting

Robert Millage his sons, Robert (left) and Quintin run Wild Sheep rapids in Hells Canyon.

Robert Millage Lewiston Tribune

Idaho offers great choices for summer adventure vacations. But summer doesn’t last long, so make the most of it and plan now.

An epic rafting trip, backpacking trip or road trip doesn’t happen if you wait until the very last minute. Often you’ll need to apply for permits, start working out, organize gear, research routes and more to make a trip of a lifetime happen.

For those of us who love outdoor adventures, planning and logistics are also part of the fun. There’s no better way to beat the winter blues than daydreaming on Google Earth, organizing gear or poring over articles, photos and videos of those who have already blazed the trail you wish to follow.

If you plan on rafting one of Idaho’s famous backcountry rivers this summer, it often means applying for a permit in January. There’s a reason we’ve been able to float the Selway, main Salmon and Hells Canyon in the past few years—we planned out our trips in January. You have until Jan. 31 to apply on the Forest Service Four Rivers Lottery website ( for permits for the Selway, Middle Fork of the Salmon, main Salmon and Hells Canyon.

So if you’re dreaming of beaches in July and August, you better start putting your trip together now.

In addition to applying for permits, winter is the best time to organize and work on your rafting equipment. If you need new frames or boats, they’re often custom made in limited quantities, so you better buy or place your order now—good luck getting what you need off the shelf in mid-summer. Also, this time of year is when you can find discounted gear and last year’s models at a reduced price.

For the backpackers out there, we usually plan our summer trips in the winter as well. If you’re just going a mile into a lake or something, sure, throw it together at the last minute. But if you’re planning an expedition of a week or longer into the farthest reaches of Idaho’s wilderness, now’s the time to start preparing.

Our last trip was eight days, from Fog Mountain on the Selway to Wilderness Gateway on the Lochsa, across the Selway Bitterroot Crags. It was a trip several years in the planning. I always love poring over maps, books and online material to plan our extended trips. It often requires logistical planning such as shuttle drivers, as I hate backtracking and prefer to come out of the mountains in a different location than where I entered.

The mountains of Idaho are physically demanding, and the more you start training now, the more enjoyable your trip will be. Winter also is a great time to buy backpacking and camping gear. As with rafting gear, it’s often discounted in the offseason.

Putting your gear together now and testing it out on short hikes around town always is a great idea. It’s better to find out if something doesn’t fit or work now than at a trailhead or several miles into a trip.

For those who lack the ability or equipment to get into the backcountry via hiking or rafting, we’re also blessed in Idaho with a massive mountain road system. Sure, you can take a weekend drive anytime, but if you start planning now, you can often piece together routes to carry you across backcountry roads for days on end without hitting town or the blacktop. Research now and alleviate some of the worry and unknowns from taking an epic Idaho road trip. The more months you spend planning and preparing the more you can spread out the cost of such an adventure—for better tires, camping gear, extra fuel cans, etc.

With roads like the Magruder Corridor and Lolo Motorway, there are no shortage of local options. Some of my favorites are taking the Lolo Motorway from above Kamiah to Cayuse Junction, over to the North Fork of the Clearwater and Kelly Creek and then back to Pierce—a truly grand, several-day trek of mountain driving. This trip can be extended even more by going from the upper North Fork over to the St. Joe and down it to Avery.

Another must-drive Idaho trip is to take the French Creek road off the Salmon above Riggins to the Warren area southeast of McCall, then down to Schaffer and the South Fork of the Salmon, up and over Elk Summit to Yellow Pine and points beyond—a true adventure and the only way to get from northern to southern Idaho while staying in the state, other than traveling on U.S. Highway 95.

So in summary, shake off the winter crud and start deciding where you want to be this summer—at home mowing your lawn or on some grand lifetime adventure. These are only a few ideas. There are countless other possibilities for outdoor adventure in Idaho just waiting for those who put in the effort to make winter daydreams turn into summer realities.


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