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Ride Idaho for an invigorating outdoor experience – summer or winter

By Steve Stuebner

Ride sweet and deep powder with Payette Powder Guides high in the Northern Rockies near McCall, Idaho.

Ride horseback into the mountains – just like the mountain men used to do – to an idyllic high mountain lake in the famed Sawtooth Mountains, catch fresh trout and camp overnight.   

Ride four-wheelers or side-by-sides on a big 50-mile mountain adventure, scaling steep mountains to a prominent summit overlooking Hells Canyon, the nation’s deepest gorge at more than 7,000 feet.

Ride a mountain bike flow trail, riding the banked corners like a giant slalom racer on skis. You feel the adrenaline, accelerating out of the turn and zooming down to the next one.

Ride one of Idaho’s many groomed snowmobile trails into the mountains, vector off-trail to ride the powder snow, and climb off-trail to your heart’s content while minding your p’s and q’s about avalanche safety.

There are so many ways to Ride Idaho, and they’ll all create a memorable fun factor that will leave you glowing for days.

Backcountry skiing. Trail rides on horseback. Trail rides on a UTV, mountain bike or snowmobile. Guided sleigh rides in the piney forest to see deer and elk grazing on winter range from a safe distance. Idaho’s licensed outfitters and guides take guests to spectacular places for the most primo mountain views and experiences.

“We’re the first off-road outfitter to get licensed in the state of Idaho, and we have got a huge territory covering three national forests where we’re taking people on some incredible rides,” said Kenny Witt, co-owner of Outdoor Adventures Northwest, based in Whitebird.

Outdoor Adventures NW leads guided ATV and UTV rides on huge backcountry tours through the mountains of North-Central Idaho. You can scale a high divide between Whitebird and Hells Canyon, for instance, where you can see four states (Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana) off in the way yee yonder distance. When the skies are clear, you can see 100 miles in all directions.

“We explain that Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America. The Salmon River gorge is the second-deepest canyon in North America. And the third, is the Grand Canyon. Most people didn’t know that,” Witt says.

“People are blown away by the incredible scenery we have here in our mountains. We’ve got a ton of mountain terrain to explore for a big off-road adventure.”

Trail rides and wilderness pack trips into the Idaho mountains are a popular long-time tradition offered by a wide variety of outfitters statewide. Outfitters have well-trained horses and mules that pack people and gear into the mountains with ease. You’ll travel into the high country much quicker than you might on foot, as the sure-footed horses move right along, and they know the way.

Day trips and overnight trips often end up at a high mountain lake or a mountain meadow for lunch. Fishing for native trout at high mountain lakes is a popular extra treat. Often times, the fish are eager to bite on dry flies after a long winter beneath the ice and snow.   

Idaho’s wilderness outfitters are offering quite the variety of pack trips these days on top of a day trips and multi-day trips. Storm Creek Outfitters in Hamilton, Mont., for example, offers “glamping” trips – short for glamour-camping trips – to folks who want more high-touch service and comfortable camping accommodations.

Guests stay at Storm Creek’s base camp near Paradise, the trailhead for the Selway River, in tent cabins with wood floors, real beds, carpeting and more. Food is prepared by an actual chef. During the day, guests go on trail rides on horseback or go walk-and-wade fly fishing on the Selway, and then return to a comfy camp for a scrumptious feast with fine wine in the evening.

“Those glamping trips are turning out to be pretty popular,” said Mike Burson, a guide with Storm Creek. “People come from all over the country to do these trips.”

In the famed Sawtooth Wilderness, Mystic Saddle Ranch does a wide variety of pack trips and trail rides, plus they’ll pack float tubes for serious anglers, sit-on-top kayaks for guests, and they’ll carry camping gear for hikers to a drop camp of their choosing. That way, people don’t have to haul all of their camping gear, clothes and tents on their back.

“We had a group that hiked the whole length of the Sawtooths from north to south over 13 days, and we carried their camping gear for them between each camp,” says Rebekah Cain, co-owner of Mystic Saddle Ranch.

“We’ll do pretty much whatever our customers would like to do,” she said. “We have a large staff and over 50 head of horses so we’re able to serve a lot of different groups at the same time.”

Back to winter mode, Idaho Sleigh Rides in Garden Valley offers the peaceful experience of gliding through the snow on an old-fashioned sleigh led by beautiful draft horses. You’ll hear jingle bells as the horses clip-clop quietly through the snow, while everyone gets to see wild Rocky Mountain elk feeding on their winter range. Normally, it’s hard to get photos of wildlife that close up, but from the sleigh, the animals do not spook!

The trips wind up at a base lodge where people can enjoy a complimentary hot drink and warm up next to a warm fire. If preferred, groups can book a private group for the sleigh, including a home-cooked deluxe Dutch oven meal. These trips are great for family gatherings, company parties, holiday activities, date nights, birthday parties and more!

More than 10 Idaho outfitters offer snowmobile tours throughout the state of Idaho. We have more than 7,200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails statewide, but that’s just scratching the surface of what’s possible when touring Idaho’s mountains on snow sleds. Many snowmobiles are equipped for climbing powder slopes, and your guides can show you how to do that, and how to do it safely.

No matter what kind of ride you’d like to do, sign up for an outfitted trip with one of Idaho’s world-class outfitters, and it’ll be ride you’ll never forget!

For more information, go to Ride Idaho. Here you can search for licensed, quality outfitters and pick the kind of outdoor ride(s) you’d like to do.  

Idaho author and outdoor writer Steve Stuebner has experienced every type of ride described in this story, and he’s always yearning to do more.