When you go to North Central Idaho (located below the panhandle and north of… Boise), you go for the outdoors. This is not spa country. The restaurants are just OK at best, there are not many fabulous accommodations. We came up here from Boise (about 3 ½ hours), primarily to go on a Jet Boat Tour of Hell’s Canyon. If this video doesn’t convince you to come, nothing will:
To take that video, they dropped me off on a rock by the side of the river. Seriously. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back on the boat since I figured he wouldn’t be able to maneuver in a way that I could easily climb back on. After I took the video — knowing that my husband and two precious kids were on that boat — the driver maneuvered the boat to within three inches of me and the rock, like he was extending his hand to me. Incredible.
We decided to take our children, 5 and 7, on a jet boat tour instead of a float down the river. We figured that since the jet boat was bigger, they would feel more secure. We didn’t want to get stuck on the river with panicky kids. We rode with Killgore Adventures– a family run operation. Kurt, the son, has been piloting the boat for the past ten years. Kurt’s mom, Heather and his sister, Courtney are deck hands. Some benefits of taking the tour with Killgore:
- Perfect safety record
- Sun cover over the boat (six hours in the blazing sun in Hell’s Canyon would be Hell, truly)
- Killgore provides the only six hour tour that goes all the way to the Dam at the top of Hell’s Canyon
You will get wet. Your heart will palpitate. Your adrenaline will course throughout your body.
You will have a great time.
To get on the boat, you can drive to Pittsburg Landing yourself or you can take the shuttle with Kilgore. It’s a technical, steep, non-paved road. It’s doable, but if you are an insecure driver, take the shuttle. That said, our Prius did fine on the unpaved road. Killgore provides lunch, water, soda.
Here’s what you should bring:
- Hat with a cord so that it doesn’t fly away (it will, my son’s hat did)
- Sunglasses – for the sun as well as the wind
- Sunblock – lots of it
- Camera with video
We made many stops, one at Kirkwood Historic Ranch, and from the boat saw big horn sheep and mountain goats. Kurt told us to keep an eye out for bears. Bears? Mercy. We saw none.
There was an 87 year old grandmother on our boat (yes, the same boat you saw in the video going through the gnarly rapids) and she was having a grand time getting drenched and contributing to the peels of laughter and screams all around as we went through the rapids.
Hell’s Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Snake River gets to about 69 degrees in the summer (read: swimmable) and the scenery is as rugged as it was when Lewis and Clark laid eyes on it. It’s true Americana not to be missed in your lifetime. You will probably only go once, but you must make sure to get there. It’s a remote part of the world that is truly off the beaten path — even for Idaho.
After six hours on the river and another 45 minute drive back to the highway, we were beat. We ate at the ONLY restaurant in White Bird (population: 150): Mac’s Supper Club – best dish was the house smoked BBQ chicken – and went back to our lodging at White Bird Summit Lodge.
Terri Schmitz runs the White Bird Summit Lodge. She and her husband, Frank, hunt and fish. If you are an ethical vegetarian (or say, from San Francisco or Carroll Gardens), you might not want to stay here. There are hundreds of stuffed and mounted animal heads on the wall. Full animals, too! From bears to alligators to fish to deer to wild boar to… giraffe. Truthfully, it took some getting used to. Surprisingly, my kids’ first insinct was to pet the grizzly bear and poke its claws.
The place was super clean, Terri cooked a terrific breakfast, (in stark comparison to the local fare) and although we were still a little overwhelmed by the heads (buffalo! mountain goat!), we liked staying there. The lodge is a bed and breakfast, terrific for groups. We stayed in a family room with 2 bunk beds, the bottom of one was a double bed. Best part: the shower had a steam function built in. I like that — even in summer.
White Bird Summit Lodge is directly between White Bird and Graingeville, which has, really, no good restaurants. (names omitted to protect the guilty) Know this: you are not here to eat good food. You are here to see the stunning scenery and get on the river. Maybe someday, you will be able to combine the two, but not yet. Remember, it’s Idaho, not Italy.
Next up: We drive the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway All American Road (they couldn’t make it more pithy?)
Note: This trip was sponsored by the North Central Idaho Travel Association