The Bureau of Land Management's Garden Creek Campground is situated on the Big Lost River in Idaho, between the Pioneer Mountains and the Lost River Range. The area features fantastic mountain vistas and is a paradise for those looking to enjoy a natural wilderness setting. It is adjacent to the Challis National Forest. The Big Lost River runs beside the campground, and the area is ideal for fishing and hiking.
The campground and recreation site are tucked into an aspen grove, with some cottonwood trees on reasonably level ground. During the summer months, the area is very hot and dry, and you will need to ensure you have plenty of water for strenuous recreational activities. Also, don't forget the bug spray, as the thick vegetation along riparian areas creates the perfect environment for biting insects.
The campground won a local award for being the best campground in the area. It has five campsites, a vault toilet, picnic tables, and fire rings and most sites are shaded, although some are situated out in the open. The campground is available from May to October and situated at an elevation of 6745 feet above sea level, featuring high arid wilderness habitat. The site is appropriate for tents and small RVs.
While staying at the Garden Creek Campground, you are conveniently located near the border of the Challis National Forest where excellent hiking rails are situated and wilderness viewing areas such as the Whiskey Springs Wildlife Viewing Area with the Chilly Slough Wetlands Conservation Area are about 15 miles to the north.
To reach the Garden Creek Campground from Sun Valley, Idaho, head east on the Trail Creek Road for just under 25 miles. This route is closed during the winter months, when heavy snowfall in the region makes it impassable. During the summer months, when the Trail Creek Road is open, it is not available to large vehicles or tow trailers. The route is a spectacular scenic backcountry route, but is not for the “faint of heart”. It features steep inclines and drop-offs, and is dirt surfaced with rocky sections. Take this route if you are an experienced backcountry mountain driver, with a 4x4 vehicle that has high clearance. Ensure you take extra supplies including spare tires and water in case it is necessary to top up coolant levels in the heat of the summer months.
You can also reach Garden Creek Campground on the Trail Creek Road from the east, off Highway 93. There is no cellular service along the Trail Creek Road or at the campground.
Travelers in the area can restock supplies at McKay, Idaho, on the east side on Highway 93, or at Sun Valley to the west. Both are over a 30-minute drive from the BLM campsite. To reach the Whiskey Springs Wildlife Viewing Area, head 15 miles north on Idaho Highway 93.
Situated between the Lost River Range and the Pioneer Mountains, along the Big Lost River, visitors who enjoy natural wilderness camping will revel in the Garden Creek Campground. This is a Bureau of Land Management property with free camping, open from May to October.
The campground is situated in high wilderness terrain and dotted with aspens and cottonwoods that provide some shade, although there are also open sites at the campground. This is a small camping area with just five sites. There are some picnic tables and fire pits, and a vault toilet located here.
There are no trash facilities, and campers need to pack in, supplies, and pack out waste, and adhere to “Leave No Trace” principles. During the summer months it is very hot and dry at the campground, so remember to bring a large water supply for your party. Because it is situated in a vegetated area along the river, biting insects can be an issue, and you will want to bring plenty of bug spray.
The campsites offer primitive camping for tents and small RVs. However, the access route is dirt and gravel-surfaced and challenging to drive, so ensure your vehicle is appropriate for travel to the campground. Bring your own firewood, as none is available on site. Pets are permitted but should be leashed. The vault toilet is ADA accessible.
RVers in the region can stay at the Joe T. Fallini Campground, which is accessible just off Highway 93, 24 miles southeast of the Garden Creek Campground. The BLM campground and recreation area features 26 sites on the Mackay Reservoir. A boat launch to access the reservoir is available for boating and fishing activities. There are RV hookups, including power and water, an RV dump station, restrooms, drinking water supplies, group picnic areas, and an interpretive trail.
Enjoy views of the Lost Mountain Range, the sparkling waters of the reservoir, and abundant wildlife, including excellent bird watching and fishing opportunities.
You will find four double RV sites and four individual RV sites on the Chukar loop. There are additional individual sites on the Grouse Loop for RVs, and all sites include picnic tables and fire rings. Many of the RV sites have shade shelters. Campground hosts are available seasonally, and there are trash collection services. Pets are permitted on a leash.
Mountains surround the Garden Creek Campground, and some of Idaho's most scenic peaks are within easy distance for mountaineers to go adventuring. Experienced peakbaggers can climb Mount Borah Peak, Idaho's tallest mountain, to the east.
The route starts at an elevation of 7400 feet and ascends to a jaw-dropping 12662 feet. The out and back route takes a full 12 hours, so be prepared for a day of strenuous climbing with steep hiking, and rock scrambling, followed by a steep descent at the end of the day. You can also scale the Sheep Mountain at 9469 feet of elevation, which can be climbed as early in the year as March when snow no longer significantly hampers the trip.
You will need plenty of water in summer months, and climbing activities may be best conducted in the spring after the snow recedes, or in the fall before the sub-freezing temperatures set in.
Challis is just 50 miles north of the Garden Creek Campground, and when you are visiting the region in the winter months you can head up Highway 93 to visit the Challis Hot Springs. Soak in the mineral-rich waters at the pools here to stay warm, while surrounded by snowy mountain vistas.
The bubbling springs filter through a gravel base and are clean and refreshing. The hot springs are open all year round, but seasonal hours vary. Check out the website at Challis Hot Springs for more information.
The Salmon River features class I and class II rapids, and is a frequent destination for whitewater rafting fun. Check out local outfitters in the area that can facilitate rafting trips with guides, rafts, and safety equipment. Ensure you wear lifejackets and appropriate headgear for whitewater adventures.
You will enjoy spectacular scenery, steep canyon walls, and may even get to spot some local wildlife along the banks or the river, so get ready for an awesome wilderness excursion down the waterway.
One of the most popular activities at the Garden Creek Campground is fighting for trout on the Big Lost River. You can fish from the banks of the river at the campground, or travel to the Salmon River Forks in the region and try your luck on the larger waterways.
Be sure to have a valid State of Idaho fishing license if you are 16 or older, and be aware of local fishing regulations. Use caution when fishing from the banks of the rivers and creeks in the region, as the bank can be unstable, especially in wet weather, and the river has a significant current. Take lots of bug spray to protect from biting insects.
Abundant hiking opportunities await in the Garden Creek Campground area. The campground is just 3.5 miles north of the Challis National Forest where the Deep Creek Trailhead is situated.
This 3.4 mile out-and-back trail runs along the river and is rated as moderate in difficulty, with minimal elevation changes and some rough terrain. Watch out for black bears that frequent the area, take insect repellent, and plenty of water during the hot summer months.
Bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities in the area. Explore the recreation site at Garden Creek Campground with its riparian and wooded habitats, or venture further afield to the national forests.
Large mammals including bears, deer and even mountain lions have been seen in the area. There are also a wide variety of bird and waterfowl species, and various small mammals that reside in the region. The Whisky Springs Wildlife Viewing area is just 15 miles north on Route 93, and during the migration season, the Chilly Slough Wetlands Conservation Area at the site sees an abundance of migrating waterfowl and songbirds pass through the region. Have your camera ready to capture your discoveries.