Payette National Forest Overview
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Payette National Forest
Payette National Forest (Visions of America-Joe Sohm/Digital Vision/Getty)
Payette National Forest

Contact Details
Payette National Forest
800 West Lakeside Ave
McCall, ID 83638-3602
Phone: 208-634-0700


West-central Idaho's Payette is a latticework of rocky crags that stand taller than 7,000 feet and sequester pristine alpine lakes and meadows skirted by lush groves of aspen. Hikers can explore these ridges along switchbacks while shortcut seekers can scramble up steep domes of granite. Rock climbers test their mettle on andesite spires such as Devils Tooth, Tower of Babel, Mount Ogre, and the Goblin in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

For those that simply crave an awe-inspiring view, you don't have to strap on a climbing harness. There are over a dozen fire lookouts that offer breathtaking panoramas throughout the more than 2.3-million acre forest.

The Payette is bordered by two of North America's deepest canyons—Hells Canyon on the Snake River to the west and Salmon River Canyon to the north. A portion of the immense Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness lies within the forest. The wilderness area is the second largest in the lower 48 states and requires days of hiking to reach its most remote regions. Bush pilots regularly drop off backcountry explorers and supplies at desolate air strips deep within the wilderness.

The forest is named for François Payette, a French-Canadian fur trapper and later the manager of Fort Boise for the Hudson's Bay Company from 1835-1844.

Scramble to a Private Lake
Thirty-three Lake is a 33-acre, crystalline jewel cradled in a cirque basin at 7,605 feet. It's beautiful and it's crammed with Mackinaw and rainbow trout, but getting there is no easy matter. For one thing, no marked trailhead exists, and you'll have to do some serious scrambling to get up onto the saddle that overlooks the lake at 8,080 feet. The best way to get there is to drive 18 miles up Lick Creek Road. Three miles before the summit, you'll find a dirt parking area. Park the jalopy and begin your hike here at an elevation of 6,480 feet. For the first mile or so, there is a trail that gradually disappears. As you ascend through a pine forest, stay north of the creek that eventually forks in a meadow. Pass north of the forks and you'll come across barren slopes speckled with sagebrush and bitterbrush. Soon you'll be able to see the saddle; follow it like a sailor follows the North Star. You'll have to get on all fours to scramble up the last 500 feet, but what a view, eh?

Climb the Seven Devils
The serrated Seven Devils Mountains that extend along the Idaho-Oregon border lure climbers from all over; Class I hikes to Class V climbs on these spiraling spires offer a little something for everyone. Devils Tooth, at around 7,760 feet, is actually two teeth separated by a narrow gap. The Tower of Babel spirals up to 9,269 feet. He Devil, at 9,393 feet, is the highest of the Seven Devils and towers 8,000 feet above the Snake River.

Camp by a Raging River
Uncrowded campsites nestled softly into natural surroundings typify the Payette camping experience. Whether you pack to a remote tent site beside a wilderness lake or drive to a level trailer pad just off a paved road, you'll enjoy your camp's beauty and privacy. And talk about camping opportunities—countless undeveloped sites await discovery. Those seeking a more developed setting can choose from 25 designated camping areas in the Forest. Try O'Hara Bar campground, located next to the Selway River. Some sites offer a view of the water, and most are surrounded by towering cedars, evergreen yews, and near-tropical vegetation.

Peer into Hells Canyon
The Horse Mountain Fire Lookout lets you peer into Hells Canyon as the Wallowa Mountains scrape the sky on the distant horizon. At an elevation of 6,887 feet, the fire lookout is one of a dozen in the forest that allows visitors to view surrounding wilderness. Hells Canyon on the Snake River reaches depths of more than 8,000 feet in places and features the sinister Seven Devils that tower over the canyon.

Raft the Snake
The turbulent swell of Class III and IV rapids are concentrated at the upper reaches of the Snake—Wild Sheep and Granite Creek are the two major rapids. Downriver, the ride gets absolutely serene. The Snake River got its name when white explorers misinterpreted the sign language of the native Shoshone. The Indians introduced themselves with a hand motion that the whites mistook for the motion of a snake; the Shoshone were trying to convey that they came from the river of many fish.

Bike the Burn
This six-mile trail snakes its way through the burn of the 1994 Corral/Blackwell fires and delivers you to the Twentymile Lakes. The first half of the trail is relatively flat, but the last three miles are steep, so be prepared to feel some burn in those thighs.

Ski Brundage Mountain
Skiing at Brundage commands compelling views of the nearby Salmon River Mountains, the tranquil Payette Lakes, Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, and the famed Seven Devils towering over Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in America. Brundage boasts a two-mile downhill run and an 1,800-foot vertical drop, all of which gets bombarded with 300 inches of annual snowfall. Nearby, the Little Ski Hill is a small community-supported ski area situated three miles northwest of McCall on Highway 55.

Published: 6 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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