Idaho Meadows-Mosquitos-and Fire Lookouts (2014)

“I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.”

                                                                                                  – John Muir

Unlike some of our neighboring states who are dealing with on going drought conditions, Idaho has been blessed with a fairly normal water year. Snow packs came in late, but packed up none the less delaying our adventures up into the high country.

Most of the common route selections out of the Boise Valley take us up over 6-7000 ft plus passes. These passes have up until this weekend been closed by the Forest Service to minimize road damage due to lingering snow.

I’ve waited long enough and figured it was time to venture out to see if these passes were indeed “passable”, so I set my sights on an area called Bear Valley Basin.

Bear Valley is a picturesque valley that is home to a number of large open meadows surrounded by high mountain ridges and flowing creeks such as Bear Valley and Elk Creek. Perfect for throwing down a tent!

My planned route this weekend would take me out of Boise and up over Bogus Basin to the North, to Harris Creek Summit via the Boise Ridge Road, stopping in Garden Valley, but plans change.


Packing only the essentials :D …. It sure seems that I pack way more crap than I actually need. Vision Dry Bags by AIRE work great for keeping gear dry. They’re available in 5, 10, and 15l capacities. The bags also have a clear side panel making it easy to determine the contents without the need to unload or open the bag.

Luggage system by OBR ADV Gear …..


Heading up Bogus Basin Rd out of Boise. Bogus Basin is our local ski area that sits just 16 miles out of town. Very close if your a ski bum needing to satisfy the itch during winter!


Once you reach the ski area the pavement ends and the Boise Ridge Rd begins. The Boise Ridge Rd is a “flowy” two track that runs north-south towards Harris Creek Summit. Harris Creek Summit is a four way intersection connecting the Ridge Rd with Harris Creek Rd



-Giant Pines


As I drop down towards Harris Creek Summit I start notice large dust plumes? …. perplexed as to what could be creating these plumes I assume that there must be heavy equipment running over Harris Creek. I round the corner only to discover road tape in place as a road closure was in effect due to a local Rally Race.


Now I normally find these types of events fun and cool, but this day I was in no mood to be faced with this delay. The summit was estimated to be closed for another hr with access over the rest of my planned route “unknown” since the main summit into Garden Valley, Alder Creek Summit was within their impact area.

Garden Valley is out of the questions at this point, so plan B will be to route through Idaho City for fuel. Back tracking at least an hour to make a connection to Idaho Hwy 21 is my only option …..

So after my run in with the Rally I re-traced my tracks back to the Bogus Basin ski area and beyond to an ATV trail called Eagleson. This dropped me down 263 to Crooked Summit along the Robie Crk/Clear Creek Rd. I figured this route to be a safer bet on actually getting to Hwy 21 vs dropping down the closer Pine Crk Rd with the pending closure of Grimes Crk Rd …..

Signage warning travelers along the bottom of Bogus Basin Rd of the planned road closures would have saved me two hours and probably a gallon of fuel. I made this suggestion to the Rally organizers via a friendly email, but have yet to receive any kind of response? (Response received, hopefully they improve sign placement for their 2015 event)

So with my route plans re-directed to Idaho city, I made a quick run up Hwy 21 stopping in IC for final fuel. (Sorry, no pics were taken while I attempted to re-establish a route and gain back lost time)

Sometimes a change in plans can be a good thing. In my case I am now forced to ride Hwy 21 from Idaho City to Lowman. This stretch is also called the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway and is a route of interest in the Butler Motorcycle Map of Idaho.

Hwy 21



Good pavement IMO can be a nice break after a rough two track or trail. The ATV trail I had just come down is OK in my book in terms of condition … so a bit of hard top was nice…. plus it helped to regain lost time.


This road sucks …. :D


Not fun at all …. :D


I think I rode past a speed sign stating the speed limit to be 45 mph …. yeah right, whatever!

The DRZ even loaded and with knobbies drops in and carves these corners like I’m running in a Moto GP ….. sort of …. still fun none the less!

I finally reach Lowman where Clear Creek Rd peels off Hwy 21 to the north …


Clear Creek Summit is technically closed, but with the warmer weather we’ve had the last week or two I’m willing to gamble that I’ll be able to slip through any snow that might be lingering. If the snow is too deep still the only available route into Bear Valley will be approx. 35 miles up Hwy 21 over Banner Summit ….

-Clear Creek Summit


Clear Creek Summit reached at just below 7100 ft, but I must descend the north side in order to reach Bear Valley and there are some tree’d sections that might just hold enough snow to turn me back …


Detour avoided! …. once far enough down the north side I became confident that Bear Valley would be reached. All remaining snow drifts were melting fast and presented no problem. In fact fresh truck tracks were present indicating clear access from the Bear Valley side.

Once descending off the north side of Clear Creek Summit and clearing what snow remained, the road then twists and turns all the way down to Big Meadow, which is the entrance to Bear Valley. Since the gate was closed… the ride down was at a spirited pace assuming a lesser chance of oncoming traffic.

Once reaching Bear Valley, the road forks in four directions, to the south from which I just arrived, to the north is Big Meadow/Bear Valley, to the East a dead end with remnants of a mining past, and to the west a climb up to Whitehawk Look Out.

My secondary goal for this trip was to actually make it up to Whitehawk LO. I enjoy making Fire Lookouts a destination as I find each one as something different to offer in terms of viewing the surrounding geography. Whitehawk LO I have yet to visit, so it will be on my list for this trip.

-Bear Valley, where I’m going …..


-Bear Valley, where I’ve been ….


Whitehawk LO sits atop the far ridge behind me in this last pic. I’ll hit the LO on my ride out tomorrow… today I need to locate a suitable camping spot.

The last time I passed through the valley I had spotted a nice looking camp spot that was to be my destination for this trip. Upon reaching the spot, I was further surveying the area for best tent orientation offering the best mountain views when the mosquitos started to buzz.

First there was one, then ten, then what seemed like fifty of these little bastards buzzing my ears. On went the helmet and back on the bike! My hope is that these crazy blood sucking critters are only concentrated along this particular spot since it sits next to a grassy meadow. Not to be so!

I figured at this point since the day is still young that I’d go ahead and ride the Bear Valley/Elk Creek loop, checking out other potential camp spots along the way.

As I made my way along Bear Valley Creek, most all of the camp spots along the creek are available, but experience tells me that anything within close proximity of the water is still going to be a mosquitofest!

I know that a few miles in there are a couple of good sized meadows, these meadows are on the opposing side of the road from the creek and might be a bit drier, and maybe mosquito free?

The first turn off is into Mace Meadow, this meadow was new to me as I have yet to visit it. Entering the meadow I ride into a series of buildings that appear to be ranching quarters. It doesn’t look like they have been used for a wile, but are still kept up ready for that next drive of cattle or sheep. I don’t notice any skeeters, but I’m not particularly interested in camping here, so I ride on.



The next meadow down the road is Cache Meadow. Cache Meadow is large with a nice view of Red Mountain. I’ve camped here once in the past and I recall the open sky and stars that were visible at night. But I’m still curious to what’s down the road, so I again… ride on.

As I continue my ride around the Bear Valley/Elk Creek Loop, checking out more spots as I go, I find a spot just past the Elk Creek Work Station that has a large open area, seems dry, next to Elk Creek, and open eastern views down the valley. There is a nice breeze blowing that I hope will help keep the nasty skeeters at bay! This spot we’ll call home for the night!



 It’s approx. 3:30pm and camp is set, views are nice, a breeze is blowing helping to frustrate the local skeeter polulation … for now, so I figure it seems like a perfect time to kick back and read a bit.

 This lasted for all but about 15-20 min before the skeeters fell back and regrouped only to storm forward with an assault regardless of the blowing breeze. My only defense at this point was to spray down with bug spray and keep myself occupied and moving around camp.

…… Oh look … pretty flowers …. skeeter attack …. move on!


Even the local deer population had it figured out before me…. defeat the skeeters by making them chase you!

I kept myself busy for the next few hours by wandering around the immediate area exploring and collecting fire wood. I figured a camp fire would help a little bit to maybe thwart off the impending skeeter hour attack. In order to defeat the skeeter one must understand the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent! Skeeters don’t like smoke!
The mosquitos remained relentless for most of the evening. Inevitable given that the ground is still moist from melting snow and some standing water still in the low laying areas. It’s early evening now, so I relent, I’ve had a mosquito net in my kit for years, never used, until tonight … on goes the net! Bite through this you little bastards!


Here’s an evening view down Elk Creek looking east towards Bruce Meadow ….

The view straight out my tent door is of Bear Valley Mtn. Bear Valley Mtn itself is constrained with the Frank Church Wilderness, but a road easement remains maintain access to it’s peak. On top is the old Bear Valley LO, an old steel tower that no longer see’s any official use, but remains to weather in the high mountain air.

As the evening wore on … the area became very active with the wildlife. The birds continued to sing well after dark, a lone wolf howled up stream, which did not deter the three elk from hanging just outside camp in the creek meadow who continued to call back and forth well into the evening.

With all this activity I’m hoping I can get some sleep!

The skeeters committed to one last assault, they threw everything they had at me and finally threw in the towel around 10 pm. With skeeters gone to bed, the camp fire lit, and the stars starting to appear, the evening was finally shaping up to be quite nice.I burned the last bit of firewood that I had collected and figured I’d better hit the rack intending on an early departure.

The night time temps had been dropping down into the 30’s in the Stanley Basin, and this night was no different …. it got down right chilly into the wee hours.

As morning neared, the sun started to appear over the eastern ridge and my inclination was to stay balled up in my sleeping bag, but I knew the smarter choice was to rise up to meet the morning, prepare some coffee and breakfast (yep in that order), get packed up and head out. I knew as soon as it warmed just enough the skeeters would commence their day two attack.

Morning steam off Elk Creek

Warm morning sun …

All packed up and ready to head out …..

My timing was about perfect. It was 8:30 by the time I was packed and ready to ride, which is also the time that the skeeters began to buzz…

So my plan for today was to get an early start, which I did. I was only about half way around the Elk Creek Loop and had a few miles to ride before Big Meadow, which is where the turn off is to ride up to Whitehawk LO.

It felt nice to be riding these sections in the cool morning air. Usually it’s mid -day when I pass through these parts with typical summer time temps. Not this morning … the crispness of the air required a jacket.

Elk Creek


Being that I had time on my side this day … I decided to explore some of the side roads which I had so many times just ridden past. Most concluded with a dead end, but they did reveal trail heads and possible camp opportunities should the need present in the future.

 Once hitting the intersection for Lowman off the Landmark/Stanley Rd, I would head south. Along this section you run along side another meadow of which I don’t know the name, but impressive like all the others.

A higher vantage point of Red Mountain, Cache and Mace Meadows in the valley below …

Rolling back over Bear Valley Creek …
Back tracking through Big Meadow ….
The barely visible far end of the meadow is where the access road for Whitehawk LO peels off to the west. Whitehawk LO sits atop the far ridge. Snow is still present along the ridge so I’m hoping that I can make it all of the way up. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of snow to stop me, so here we go!

I make my way back down to the southern end of Big Meadow via Rd 582 to where Rd 569 turns west and climbs up to Whitehawk LO, which sits just shy of 8400 ft.

The road up is your typical primitive two track that winds through the timber as it crisscrosses 4 miles up the mountain …. very scenic.

Right about mid way, I round a corner and pick up movement about 50 yds up the road. A second glance and I realize I’m looking at a cow moose and her calf.


I stop and shut off the bike ….. mama moose stops and looks back for a minute. She then directs baby moose down the hillside and off into the timber.

I continue up the road advancing over small snow drifts that are still barely clinging to the road surface. A truck has already made it’s way up and through, I figure a USFS crew most likely opening up the road for the up coming fire season.

I make my way up to the summit and find the lookout locked down waiting for this seasons attendant.


I was shocked at the view …. I was looking at a full panorama , Bear Valley to the east and below, the Sawtooth Mountains rising above to the east, the Trinities to the south, Deadwood Reservoir to the west, and endless ridge lines to the north.

Bear Valley (Big Meadow) … from where I just rode up from.

SE view into the Sawtooth Mountains …
looking west, Deadwood Reservoir

looking south towards the Trinities

looking east towards Bear Valley, Big Meadow, and the Sawtooth Mountains
looking north, endless ridge lines

I soak in the view for a few minutes and decide it’s time to head back down. Right at about the bottom I ran into mama moose and her calf once more before they again scurried off into the timber.

At the meadows edge there is an old remaining foundation with still erect poles running in line across the meadow, probably used for old communication lines. Curious …  I stopped at a FS kiosk that details the history of Big Meadow.


It told a story of feuds that erupted between local and Wyoming sheep ranchers who were attempting to stake claim to the meadow for grazing. The FS thought it best to station a ranger to the area in order to mediate and resolve conflict.

The meadows history ranges from ranching to actual dredging in the 50’s-60’s where they were extracting a rare radioactive ore exclusive to the area. The US government needed this ore for the manufacture of nuclear reactors.

The area was rehabilitated back in the 80’s to restore the stream bed back into it’s natural state for the local salmon runs.

I made my way back over Clear Creek Summit, finding an open gate, to Lowman, Idaho City, and home. The ride back was pleasant and uneventful. I chose to end my picture taking since I was just backtracking from the previous day. I had contemplated for a half a second to route home through Garden Valley, but I figure the Rally from Saturday is probably a two day event.

This adventure concludes with two days and 320 miles. Other than the required re-route everything went as planned. The bike never missed a beat and the OBR ADV Gear Soft Bags worked flawlessly holding all gear tight and secure!

Until our next adventure ….. ride safe!

2 thoughts on “Idaho Meadows-Mosquitos-and Fire Lookouts (2014)”

  1. Great write up and pictures, I love the bear valley area, ride north to warm lake and landmark, look on the map for a wonderful little lake called mud lake, and for a long adventure head north to Johnson creek to Yellowpine Idaho, Idaho’s most rural town. I will add a word of caution, I and a friend had wolves come in our camp at the early morning time at the bear valley camp ground, they were 40 feet from us and we suspect 4 or 5 wolves, howling and barking, we were both equipped with pistols, 45acp and 40 s&w. They never did attack or get aggressive, but way to close for comfort. Love the bear valley.

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