Idaho’s Redfish Lake and Lolo Pass Amid Smoke
A few miles south of Stanley, Idaho, Redfish Lake offers several Forest Service campgrounds and a Lodge. Various-sized cabins, lodge rooms, a restaurant and a marina create a small community. The Lodge sits on an expansive lawn that stretches down to the beach and marina.
The covered porch provides a good place to enjoy the view, conversation, and a drink all at once.
We chose a “Deluxe Duplex” so we could have a common sitting area and two sleeping areas (a bedroom and a low-ceilinged loft). It included electric baseboard heat, a wood burning stove, and a small refrigerator, but prohibited cooking.
Traditional construction techniques enhance the atmosphere.
The weather was cool enough that afternoon sun made the cabin’s deck an attractive place to relax.
The on-site restaurant had a nice range of breakfast options and a limited, but delicious, dinner menu. Lunch was from a gazebo selling hamburgers, hot dogs and the like, including some good fish tacos. Otherwise, it is about a 15 minute drive to Stanley. Other housing options at the Lodge complex include cooking facilities. Those cost a bit more, but could be more economical overall, given the restaurant options.
Nice weather gave us a chance to try out our new dinghy.
A self-built cabin-on-the-water caught our attention:
Around one bend, we used the boat dock at a nearby campground to stretch a bit and enjoy some different views.
Hiking opportunities — from easy to difficult – abound. Starting near cabin row, Fishhook Creek trail rises gently, revealing a range of different environments.
With tinder like this on the ground, it’s easy to understand the prevalence of forest fires.
Our walk revealed dramatic shifts among ecosystems.
After three nights at Redfish Lake, we headed on. The region north of Stanley dries out: what had been hills with trees on the cooler north side and brush on the south are replaced by brush on one side and rock on the other. A wide, irrigated, and smoky valley opened at Challis. With each mile north, we encountered increasing smoke. The “views” reminded us of days in the Inside Passage: you know mountains are out there, but you can’t see them. In Alaska, fog and high overcast obscured vision; this time, smoke was the culprit. The sky was filled with bright, diffused light.
Salmon – birthplace of Sacajawea – sits in what appeared to be a wide valley, but the smoke was too thick to tell. Smoke had plagued the city – indeed, the entire region – since the end of June and in mid-September showed no signs of ending. Air purifiers had been planned for the schools and kids were kept indoors, masks were handed out to those city residents that wanted them. The air finally cleared for a bit as we climbed over Lost Trail Pass into Montana, roughly picking up Lewis and Clark’s route. By the time we got down to Hamilton, at the south end of the Bitterroot Valley, we met new smoke, some from active fires we could see to the west. As before, the mountains were mere shadows in the distance. We were told the smoke from these Idaho and Montana fires extended east 100 or more miles at least to Butte.
Things finally cleared up as we approached Lolo, where we turned left toward the pass Lewis and Clark took before their final trip down to the Pacific. We enjoyed the sight of green trees on the way up to the Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs, where we crashed for the night. The Lodge is a friendly place with a variety of accommodations and (surprise!) spring- fed hot pools. We passed on using them, but will keep the option in mind for future trips. We were especially impressed with the helpful staff.
The clerk who checked us in suggested we try eating at The Lumberjack Saloon, a local institution since the ’70’s. Built by a lumberjack about a mile north of the highway (at milepost 16) on Graves Creek Road, it’s a bar with good food and classic, yet original decor.
They also rent cabins, tents, campsites and RV spaces (no hookups). After dinner, the Lodge’s night clerk went out of his way to help us retrieve an email message and send a fax.
We came over the Lolo Pass for our final leg back to Pullman to find more smoke on the Idaho side. It settles like fog. While the density varies, it doesn’t get as “patchy” as fog. On the other hand, the particulates irritate the nose and settle in the lungs. We hoped closing the outside vent and running the air conditioner would filter at least some of the worst of it. It took us about 100 miles to get out of the direct smoke, but the haze still hung above us in all directions.
Hearthstone Village Bakery and Tea House in Kamiah, ID, was a pleasant surprise for lunch. Set in an old pharmacy, the restaurant offers a complete breakfast and lunch menu, with dinners a few days a week. We enjoyed the food and the service. Reflective light obscured the photo below, but it still gives the feel of the place: a beautiful bar in front of large mirrors, stained and painted woodwork, period fixtures, and a pan ceiling.
While we were eating, smoke flowed up the Clearwater River Valley to greet us. With segments as dense as in the morning, we drove with smoke the rest of the way. Although surrounded by miles of wheat country, Pullman’s air still carried a hint of smoke, with telltale darker horizons, especially to the southeast.
Smoke from Idaho’s fires still lingered after a night in Pullman, but driving further west didn’t help. Fires in north-central Washington and along the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains kept us well-supplied all the way to Cle Elum. Smoke on the Columbia River was as dense as any we’d seen this trip. You couldn’t see across the river.
Our loop into Idaho and Montana didn’t provide the great views we had expected, but we certainly gained appreciation for forest fires and those they affect directly. We were thankful to have scheduled to spend nights places that were not in fire zones. Most importantly, we enjoyed another shared experience.