There is nothing small about the Salmon-Challis National Forest. At over four million acres, it is one of the largest National Forests in the lower 48 states. It also contains the largest designated wilderness area south of Alaska, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. And if that weren’t enough, the highest peak in Idaho, Borah Peak, is also found within this forest.
Fantastic alpine lakes and the designated Wild and Scenic Salmon River create a landscape of stunning beauty that is ripe for rugged exploration. Interspersed in the valleys between the Sawtooth Mountain ranges, idyllic towns offer amenities from craft breweries to cozy taverns. You can follow the Lewis and Clark Trail in your rig to visit historic places while venturing through the Nez Perce territory.
Managed jointly, the Salmon-Challis National Forest is actually two individual forests. Combined, they contain over 87 campgrounds where you can park your campervan in quiet campgrounds before heading out to explore. To help you pick the perfect spot, we’ll feature three fantastic spots that you won’t want to drive by.
Two state highways, Routes 75 and 93, traverse the Salmon-Challis National Forest, making access to many points possible in your RV. The landscape is rugged, comprised of the Sawtooth Mountain Ranges, which are part of the Rockies. Even the major highways tackle steep grades with curves while running between the mountain valleys.
Numerous local roads, both paved and gravel venture, into the national forest. These can contain potholes, rough sections, and mud. Many follow rivers and streams, making for an enjoyable drive visually, but also one full of curves. When venturing into the mountains, the roads can traverse steep grades with drop-offs. Washouts and land or rock slides are possible, so take caution while driving your big rig.
Forest access roads venturing deep into the mountains should only be taken in a vehicle with four wheel drive. Road widths vary and can be narrow, curvy, and rough. During the winter, snow tires and chains are required on all vehicles.
With access to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, as well as the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, this high-elevation campground is a popular spot for RV campers. Set amid lodgepole pine on the banks of Boundary Creek, the campground is small and quiet with cool temperatures even in the summer. Open from June to August, the campground offers access to the boat ramp onto the Salmon River. Those holding permits for the river often choose this campground as a base.
All 15 campsites come with a fire ring and picnic table. There are latrine-style toilets and potable water available in the campground. However, no water, electric, or sewer hookups are available. The closest town with dump facilities is Stanley, which is over 26 miles away via dirt roads. So, arriving with water topped off and holding tanks empty is the best way to enjoy your time at this quiet fishing spot. Pets are welcome, and most sites can accommodate a rig up to 30 feet long.
Located amid the peaks at 9,160 feet, Meadow Lake Campground provides not only spectacular views but hiking and fishing opportunities as well. The 13.3-acre Meadow Lake is stocked twice a year. Toss in a line from shore or carry a boat to the water via an access trail. Once you’ve caught your fill, take a leisurely hike around the lake or head up to the ridge above the campground.
Only open July to September due to the elevation, this 17-site campground is idyllic. Reserving a spot online is the best way to claim a place to part your rig. All campsites offer a picnic table, fire ring, tent pad, and prep table. There are latrine-style toilets in the campground and drinking water.
Though only six miles from Route 28, the gravel access road climbs over 2,000 feet to reach the campground and lake. Expect some steep grades and sharp turns. The most parking spurs can handle a camper as large as 32 feet. There are no electric, sewer, or water hookups in the campground. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained by a leash when outside your rig.
Accessible to Highway 21, Banner Creek Campground is a quiet stopping point next to Banner Creek. With trails and fishing streams in the area, this pit stop on the scenic byway might just tempt you into staying for a day or two.
The small campground of only five sites is first-come, first-served only. With such a snug campground, smaller RVs up to 32 feet long are preferred. All sites come with a picnic table and fire ring. There are latrine-style toilets on site as well. However, there is no potable water or hookups. Surface water can be obtained from the stream, but will need to be treated prior to use. Pets are welcome at the campground.
Pick up a fee envelope from the registration kiosk at the campgrounds’s entrance right off of Route 21. The closest town is Stanley, which is 21 miles away.
With flowing streams, rugged mountains, and idyllic valleys, there is a lot to see in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Four scenic drives and numerous scenic areas will take you along winding routes to witness spectacular vistas. The Salmon River Scenic Byway will take you from Montana to the vibrant town of Salmon. The Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway is a 140-mile adventure from the highest peaks to massive lava flows with stops in ghost towns. For a historic tour, check out the Sacajawea or Lewis and Clark Backcountry Byways.
Visit the Salmon-Challis National Forest the way original explorers ventured into its vast landscape: on horseback! Hundreds of miles of trails are open to horseback riding and five campgrounds contain corrals. Ride out from your trailer into the backcountry, like the the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, to access a motor-free area on a journey you won’t forget. Other historic trails trace routes taken by the Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark.
Visit alpine lakes and pristine rivers to toss in a line for a chance to reel in a fish whose size you won’t need to embellish. The Salmon River, listed as a Wild and Scenic River, is one of the most popular fishing spots, but it is far from the only one. There are over 20 other streams with great spots for anglers, many located adjacent to campgrounds so you won’t have far to go from your campervan to cast a line. If you’d rather check out an alpine lake, there are 17 spots where you can try your luck amid the splendor of the mountains and quiet waters.
From day hikes to multi-day treks, the Salmon-Challis National Forest offers hundreds of miles of trails for nature-loving RVers. For a day hike that will take you less than eight hours round trip and end with spectacular views from mountains to lakes to waterfalls, there are over 100 trails to get you out of your rig. Backpacking is one of the best ways to access the backcountry, including the non-motorized wilderness areas. There are over 100 additional routes that will take you out exploring this vast area for days.
When the snow falls, many trails are converted to cross-country skiing routes so you can experience the solitude of the forest while traveling along ice-crusted streams. There are 14 main cross-country ski areas where you might find groomed trails, as well as places to forge your own path. For a special treat, check out the Cape Horn Winter Cabin rental. Head out on skis from a historic cabin with views of the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains.
If you want to head into the woods on your OHV, the Salmon-Challis National Forest provides trail and road routes that will get you out into areas your RV can’t go. There are 16 OHV routes that stay on forest access roads. With nearly 100 additional trails, you’ll run out of time before you run out of places to explore. Many routes leave from campground, making access to the forest easy. All OHVs must be registered and operated by legal riders.