Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a dream-come-true for Spring-time RV boondockers. Late April to early May is when the landscape comes alive with green foliage and spring blooms, while the Big Wood River fills up with snow melt from nearby mountaintops.
There are dozens of forest roads that make up the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, but perhaps the best camping spots can be found along Forest Road 146, which branches of Highway 75, about ten miles north of Ketchum, ID. The headquarters and visitor center for Sawtooth NRA is located right at the intersection. Once you go beyond the headquarters, it’s all dirt road from there.
The road itself is hard packed, but can be quite bumpy and rocky. There are also numerous potholes, and if it’s been raining, you’ll find a fair amount of soft mud too. But yet, it’s still passable by street-legal vehicles, and one can still tow fifth wheels and bumper-pulls all the way up the end of the road. The very end of Forest Road 146 is a trail head with a loop for a trailer turn-around (it’s a tight turn-around though).
There are areas along Forest Road 146 that get very rocky and bumpy, and other areas that fill with water. All in all, it’s still passable by pickup truck and trailer. I was able to pull our 28 foot toy hauler with our 2 wheel-drive pickup about 3 miles up the road to a very picturesque camping spot.
There is a 16-day limit on stays here, and it’s totally free to camp. There is a dump station just up from the headquarters with fresh potable water. The dump station calls for a $5.00 fee, and it’s one of those “honor system” set ups, so please be kind and throw an Abe Lincoln into the slot.
Where we camped we still got Verizon 4G coverage, though very weak at 1 bar. Our WeBoost with the trucker antenna was able to turn that into 2 bars and make it usable for our voice and data needs. That signal, however, will become unusable when a storm rolls in over Ketchum, which is where the closest Verizon tower is located.
Spring time temperatures within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area remains fairly cool, rarely cresting the 80 degree F mark. During our 15-day stay there, the hottest it got was 74 degrees. Most of the time the highs were around 68 to 72. The lows typically remained about 45 degrees F. A couple of nights it got down to 36 to 38 degrees. It also rained quite a bit while we were there.
Even though technically you are required to purchase a wood gathering permit at the headquarters, there is so much dead wood laying on the ground I’m sure the forest rangers don’t mind folks collecting it for burning. Just make sure you have a metal fire ring, because this area has been hit with many fires over the past several years.
There are a few established campgrounds along Forest Road 146 including Murdock Campground, Caribou Campground, and an unnamed campground about 500 feet north of where we camped. Both Murdock and Caribou are fee-based camps, while the latter is free. These campgrounds cannot handle pickup trucks with long trailers. They are best suited for small trailers (under 20 feet) with small tow vehicles. They will handle Class A, B, and C motorhomes, but not likely anything over 30 feet.
However, there are plenty of campsites all up and down this road, some large enough 40+ foot fifthwheels and pickups.
You will definitely want to arrive here as early as possible before the weekend because these campsites fill up fast. And if it’s a holiday weekend, these sites fill up by Thursday night.
The town of Ketchum offers plenty of dining, grocery, and activities. The only propane tank refill is at a Shell station in Hailey, or the Phillips 66 in Bellevue. Note that there is also a free dump station in Hailey, located next to the Shell station, but there are signs posted that the water is not for drinking. But, you’re better off using the dump station by the Sawtooth NRA headquarters; it’s a lot less busy.
FYI: our camp spot was located at: 43.825174, -114.423140