Shafer Butte Campground in the Boise National Forest

A perfect example of why we love living in Boise

 

Moving somewhere new is always exciting; there’s the rush of the unknown, and everything around you seems to carry its own unique beauty. When you’re somewhere new even the most benign things are interesting. A mural painted onto an electrical box is a work of art, and a trip to the Farmer’s Market on a warm Saturday morning is more like a fine weekend excursion.

 

In Boise this sensation was immediate for us. We wandered the clean downtown, admiring the charming local shops and appreciating the fact that there were some big name stores thrown in, too. It’s been almost three years for us here, and that feeling of wonderment has never gone away. We still find new hiking trails to explore, and haven’t even eaten our way through half of the various restaurants about - though not for lack of trying. Boise is a diverse city with surprises around every corner just waiting to be discovered.

 

One of those surprises for us not long after moving here was the Shafer Butte Campground in the Boise National Forest. It was July 4th weekend, and expecting a full-house we reserved a space online. A full-house at Shafer Butte might not mean a crowd necessarily, given that there are only nine sites. But we weren’t taking the risk of driving the sixteen winding miles from Boise to the top of Bogus Basin just to be turned away, so we figured it best to play it safe. Of the nine campsites only one or two others were occupied, so if anything we were a touch lonely up there on the summit.

Rotting log on one of the many hikes up in Shafer Butte camping area.

Rotting log on one of the many hikes up in Shafer Butte camping area.

 

Now, sixteen miles may not seem like a lot a at first glance, but Bogus Basin road is a steep and curving climb that allows for a top speed of about twenty-five miles per hour, so the going is slow. Still all along the way you get to see ever-changing landscape and an increasingly more beautiful view of the city, so it’s hardly an inconvenience. At the bottom you start with the nice golden desertscape that surrounds Boise in the coveted Foothills, and toward the top you enter a highland forest complete with thick ferns and ancient pine trees. It’s an interesting diversity that is unexpected on first trip, but quickly becomes anticipated each time it’s returned to.  

 

A short journey past the Bogus Basin recreation area and down a winding dirt road and the mountaintop opens into a lush valley, full of green grasses, blossoming flowers, and just a few well-spaced campsites. It’s definitely colder once you reach the top, but the views of the very edges of the Sawtooth Mountains and surrounding forest make it oh so worth it. The air is crisp and clean, the woods are silent and comforting. After taking a few moments to simply awe at the surprising beauty so close to home, we grabbed our tents and began setting up camp.

Sunset overlooking the Sawtooth Mountains at Shafer Butte in Idaho

Sunset overlooking the Sawtooth Mountains at Shafer Butte in Idaho

 

When Russell and I go camping, we are often accompanied by his father, who is just about the biggest trooper and best camp mate imaginable. He never complains, eats cheap hotdogs and trashy snacks without batting an eye, and lazes around with us when the midday droll starts to set in. We love having him around. He brings his own tent along when we camp and we were able to fit the two of ours in the space with room to spare.

 

The campground in general is relatively minimal in its offerings, which is to say that there are vaulted toilets and that’s about it. I typically prefer a bathroom with flush toilets and running water when I venture about, but I’m not one to complain much either, and am definitely willing to compromise when it’s worth it. The sites themselves are spacious and fully stocked, offering fire pits and picnic tables, and plenty of privacy from neighboring visitors. The only downside I found really, was the abundance of black flies.

Beautiful flowers along the hiking trail in Shafer Butte camping area.

Beautiful flowers along the hiking trail in Shafer Butte camping area.

 

Typically speaking I’m not easily bothered by insects unless they’re likely to bother me (looking at you, mosquitoes), but the number of flies was definitely an annoyance. They landed on us when we were eating, when we were sitting around in the day, and especially when we used the nearby toilet. Now, I will admit that the issue is mostly our fault for picking the space adjacent to the most heavily used restroom, but I think it would have been something of an issue either way.

 

We stayed for two nights in Shafer Butte, which might have been just the right amount of time if we had taken full advantage of the surrounding hiking trails. We explored a bit, but we barely touched the tip of the iceberg that is the extensive trail system that runs through the surrounding mountains. On many occasions I’ve had people recommend these hills for hiking and mountain biking adventures, but until now it just hadn’t seemed worth the drive.

 

Still we saw towering walls of white granite, walked through valleys of flowers and brush, and wandered among pine giants in our few hours of exploring. It a breathtaking place to adventure, but it seems like it might be easy to get lost as the trails wind and branch and often look a lot alike. I would recommend looking up some sort of guide before going so that you can roam with confidence.

Twilight photo of a giant rock formation with the Sawtooth mountains in the background

Twilight photo of a giant rock formation with the Sawtooth mountains in the background

 

As far as camping goes, I’d say Shafer Butte did more that just satisfy our need to get away. It was an enjoyable time and a great location, and I imagine that we’ll likely return at least once every season. It was just far enough away from the city to feel removed (and to see some nice bright stars), but close enough that a short stay isn’t tedious. We had a great view of the full moon that night, and could never really get over the nearby landscape of thick forest and cragged cliffsides.

 

The campfire was hot and wild and the marshmallows were gooey and browned to a nice gold, just like anywhere else far away and mysterious. I’d consider us lucky for having such a gem so close by but at this point it just seems like another one of the many things that’s great about the Boise area. We still have a lot of discovering to do, but I couldn’t be more happy to call this place home.