Feature July 6, 2021

Happy Camper

All the dirt on camping in the Wood River Valley

From lakeside beaches to uninhabited desert expanses, Idaho has a plethora of camping options. But before pitching your tent, you’re going to need to know the basics of camping in Idaho and how to stay safe while getting the most out of your camping experience.

Traditional campground camping involves your typical, run-of-the-mill camping on an established campsite. Some of our favorite Sawtooth National Forest campground spots surrounding the Wood River Valley include Baker Creek, Easley Campground, North Fork Campground and Murdock Campground. These sites are great when you’re looking for a well-established recreational area close to other campers and regulated by the U.S. Forest Service.

But when you’re looking to move off the beaten path, dispersed camping is a great option. Dispersed campers choose to camp outside of a designated campground, often to avoid some of the crowds and fees that come with Forest Service-regulated campgrounds. You’re not going to enjoy any of the amenities that come with designated campgrounds, like water hookups, but you’ll likely benefit from the solitude, accessibility and low cost of dispersed camping. And since it doesn’t require reservations, you can just plop down your tent when you’re ready to camp, instead of planning your camping trip days or weeks in advance.

While dispersed camping permits much more flexibility than traditional camping, it doesn’t mean you can spend the night wherever you want. You should always consult a map or contact the Forest Service to figure out where you can legally set up camp. The Ketchum Forest Service has identified designated dispersed camping areas, typically marked by a brown sign alongside a road. Zach Poff of the Ketchum Ranger District explained Ketchum’s policy for dispersed camping, saying, “We have so many people that come up here to utilize the forest, which is great, but we’ve identified the areas where they can actually camp, and by doing so, we’re trying to limit the impact to those areas.” From May through Labor Day, campers are limited to 10-day stretches at each campsite over the course of a 30-day period.

Additionally, some dispersed camping areas require sign-ins or prohibit fires during the dry summer season, so you should be aware of any specific rules and regulations before you go. The Forest Service recommends camping in spots where others have previously camped, which are typically marked by a fire pit. In the Wood River Valley area, many successful dispersed camping spots lie along the edges of Forest Service roads, where you can simply pull your car over to a wide spot on the side of the road and set up camp. Poff shared some dispersed camping spots within the immediate Ketchum region: “A lot of Trail Creek, Corral Creek, Warm Springs, Baker Creek—they all have designated dispersed areas. So there’s still no fee to camp there, but we ask that people stay in those areas.” If you’re unsure about your chosen campground, you can also use digital camping resources like The Dyrt (thedyrt.com), reference a Sawtooth National Forest map, or just call a ranger station.

Nothing can match the peace and tranquility that comes from camping in the great outdoors under a blanket of stars. With a little planning, your next camping trip in the Wood River Valley will be your most memorable yet. Adventure awaits!



From stargazing to s’mores, here are four things to know before you go …


Your eyes and the night sky are all that’s needed to enjoy Central Idaho’s Dark Sky Reserve. To increase your chances of viewing bright constellations, be sure to camp away from any bright lights. Turn off your phone, find a quiet area with a clear view and take some time to soak in the night sky—you can see around 3,000 stars with the naked eye. If you’re looking for more detail than that, grab a pair of binoculars or download a stargazing app like Night Sky to get an in-depth chart and analysis of the stars above. Just point your phone upwards to see an overlaid map of the constellations right above you.


When it comes to cooking and camping, it can be challenging to cook delicious but easy meals. It’s tempting to pack a PB&J and call it a day, but cooking around a campfire is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the camping experience. You can totally eat nutritiously and deliciously while camping, as long as you pack the right foods and plan in advance. Before you head out …

  • Draft a menu for yourself, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
  • Don’t go overboard with kitchen gear; identify the items you absolutely need for the meals on your menu.
  • If you’re driving your car directly to your campsite, it’s never a bad idea to bring a cooler to pack perishable items like fruits, vegetables and drinks. Some of our favorite simple but delicious meal ideas include oatmeal with fruit and nut butter, hummus and veggie wraps and tacos.
  • And of course, follow the “Leave No Trace” rule to clean up after any food preparation.


Different campsites have different rules for dogs, but most public land managed by the Forest Service requires dogs to be leashed in designated campgrounds. On day-use trails in the Wood River Valley, be sure to keep your dog leashed for the first 200 yards of the trail to avoid unsafe situations with other hikers and their dogs. If you’re ever uncertain about the rules for your dog, call the Forest Service and ask for specific information regarding dogs at your campground. Pick up and dispose of your dog’s waste, once again following the “Leave No Trace” rule. Above all, keep your dog close to you at all times to avoid your pup encountering a dangerous animal.


You never know what you might run into while camping, but it’s better to be prepared if you encounter a dangerous animal. In Idaho, you’re most likely to find yourself camping in bear country. Black bears tend to shy away from humans, but some are conditioned to approach campsites if they smell food. Always store your food and other smelly items in your car or in a bear-resistant container; never leave these items in your tent or on your picnic table. Clean your dishes and campsite thoroughly. If a bear does approach your campsite, stay calm and make as much noise as possible to scare the bear away. Other potentially dangerous critters out there include moose, rattlesnakes (south of the Wood River Valley) and bugs. Remember, always back slowly away from danger and avoid sudden movements.

This article appears in the Summer 2021 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.