The Caribou-Targhee National Forest makes up 2.63 million acres of the 20-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The majority of the forest is situated in the states of Idaho and Wyoming, although there is a small pocket in Utah as well. Hundreds of miles of trails crisscross this region, allowing visitors to experience the beauty of this amazing ecosystem, and the abundance of wildlife that lives here, including sensitive or threatened species like Townsend’s big-eared bat, lynx, and trumpeter swans. The many lakes, rivers, and streams that are located in Caribou-Targhee National Forest are filled with rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and several other species. There are also several mountain ranges that pass through the forest, including the Teton and the Lemhi mountain ranges, which provide many opportunities for rock climbers to challenge themselves.
There are over a dozen campgrounds that are situated throughout Caribou-Targhee National Forest, each of which has facilities to host RVs and trailers. Whether you are towing a small trailer or driving a big rig, you shouldn’t have any trouble locating a spectacular spot to park for a night or two. We have highlighted three of the wonderful campgrounds that can be found in this forest.
There are several campgrounds that are scattered throughout this 2.63 million-acre forest, both on the Idaho side and on the Wyoming side. The highways and roads that lead into the park are wide roads with just a few curves, and they tend to be easy to navigate even in a big rig or towing a trailer. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest is a mountain wilderness, however, and you should expect some changes in elevation as you drive. The majority of the roads that go through the forest itself are also paved, but they are narrower. Since they are mountain roads, they tend to have a greater number of twists and turns as well as altitude changes.
There is a large population of wildlife in this park, so it is important to watch the road as you drive. It is not uncommon to see deer, bighorn sheep, or even bears attempting to cross the road, typically without any warning. This is especially true during the dawn and dusk, as these animals tend to be more active during these times.
Most of the campgrounds in this forest have well-maintained dirt and gravel roads and driveways, although a few of the larger ones have paved loops and concrete pads for your camper or trailer as well.
The Warm River Campground is located along the banks of Warm River, in the western portion of Caribou-Targhee National Forest, just under ten miles east from the small town of Ashton, ID. This campground is open for reservations during the peak season, typically from May to September, but is closed during the winter months. There are 14 standard, non-electric campsites that are suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length, as well as 11 tent-only sites, and one large group site that can accommodate up to 100 guests. Each of the RV sites has a paved driveway, as well as a fire-ring, a separate grill, and a picnic table to eat at. It is important to note that rigs over 15,000 pounds or over 30 feet long are not permitted on the bridge that provides access to sites 6-13. If you have a larger camper or trailer, make sure that you reserve a spot that does not require you to cross the bridge. There are five vault toilets scattered throughout this campground and several faucets with potable drinking water. Pets are welcome in all National Forests but must be on a six-foot or shorter leash and attended by their human companion at all times.
Buffalo Campground, located adjacent to the Buffalo River in the northern portion of Caribou-Targhee National Forest, is just under five miles from the small town of Island Park, Idaho. There are 117 single sites open during the peak season that are able to accommodate RVs or trailers up to 50 feet. There are also four double-sized units for small family groups, and one larger group site that can handle up to 150 guests. Some are electric sites with 50 amp power, while others are standard non-electric sites. Each site has a paved driveway to park your camper or trailer on, as well as a fire ring, a grill for cooking, and a picnic table. There are several faucets with potable water located in this campground, as well as 11 vault toilets. The proximity to both the Buffalo River and Island Park Reservoir makes this a popular spot for anglers and there is a fishing dock located at the east end of the campgrounds.
The Cave Falls Campground, located on the banks of the Fall River in Wyoming, is just a few miles east of the border between Idaho and Wyoming. The campground is comprised of 23 standard non-electric campsites suitable for RVs and trailers, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campsites are level dirt and gravel sites equipped with fire rings, grills, picnic tables, and bear-proof storage boxes. There are several faucets with potable water in the campground, as well as three vault toilets. Cave Falls is located in grizzly bear country, so it is important to ensure that you store any food or food litter either in a hard-sided camper or in the storage boxes provided for that purpose. Permits for staying at this campground can be obtained at the Bechler Ranger Station two miles northwest of the campground. Pets are welcome in all National Forests, however for their safety and the safety of the wildlife in the area, they must be restrained by a six-foot or shorter leash and attended by their human companions at all times.
If you are visiting Caribou-Targhee National Forest you will want to be sure that your rod and reel are safely stowed in your campervan before leaving home. The Snake River and its tributaries flow through Caribou-Targhee National Forest, providing some of the best fly-fishing in the country. There are a number of freshwater lakes that dot the landscape as well. Most of the waters in this forest have healthy populations of rainbow and cutthroat trout and depending on where you cast your line, you may be able to reel in bass, perch, catfish, and crappies as well.
Minnetonka Cave is situated northwest of Bear Lake in the Montpelier Ranger District. This fascinating natural cave is open for guided tours during the summer months, typically from mid-June until Labor Day. Those who plan on exploring the stalagmites and stalactites located in this cavern will want to be sure to bring a jacket along since the temperature in the caverns averages around 40 degrees in the summer. This cave is also home to five different bat species, including the Townsend’s Big-Eared Bats, a species of special concern in Idaho.
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest provides an excellent habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. RV campers that enjoy photographing animals will want to be sure that their camera comes along in their trailer or campervan. Larger animals that make their homes in this forest include ungulates like moose, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, as well as predators such as wolves, cougars, and bears. Smaller animals like red squirrels, martens, porcupines, and pygmy rabbits also find this area desireable, and you are likely to get some wonderful shots of them as they search the trees and undergrowth for food. If you wait until nighttime or visit the caves, you may also have the opportunity to snap some photos of one of the many species of bats that resides in the forest.
Several avian species make their homes in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Songbirds and other small birds such as bushtits, gnatcatchers, woodpeckers, bluebirds, and hummingbirds can be found in abundance throughout the forest. Several varieties of waterfowl inhabit the forest’s many lakes including sensitive species such as harlequin ducks and trumpeter swans. Birds of prey are also plentiful here. Goshawks, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons hunt prey during the daytime hours. You might also catch many species of owl, including boreal owls, great grey owls, and flammulated owls.
Visitors to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest who enjoy scaling mountains and rock faces will want to ensure that their climbing gear is in their rig. The 100-mile long Lemhi Mountain Range, including the 12,197 foot tall Diamond Peak, traverses both the Caribou-Targhee and Salmon-Challis National Forests and provides many opportunities for climbing. Portions of the Teton Mountain Range also extends into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, providing additional scenic climbs that range in difficulty from fairly simple to extremely challenging. The ice that covers these mountains in the winter also makes for spectacular ice climbing experiences as well.
Skiing is a popular winter activity at Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Once the snow falls, many of the hiking trails in the forest can be explored via cross-country skis or snowshoes. There are also several areas where novices to experts can enjoy downhill skiing or snowboarding as well. The Kelly Canyon Ski Resort on the Idaho side of the forest and the Grand Targhee Resort on the Wyoming side are both fairly busy skiing areas that offer several amenities such as equipment rentals, snacks, and lift tickets.