Our destination for the day was Branbury Campground. For a $5 parking fee, they will let you access the river from their boat ramp.
The plan was to paddle downstream about 1-1/2 miles to Blue Heart Springs. Blue Heart Springs is a large pool of very clear water, just off the Snake River. Even though it was downstream, there was a brisk wind blowing upstream, so it was still some work to paddle down the river and it took us 35 minutes to reach our destination. You enter the springs through a narrow path between the trees and brush. The water is crystal clear, with a slight blue tint from the minerals. We were the first ones at the spring this morning, but more kayakers showed up later.
After some time at the springs we started back. This time we had to paddle upstream. However, the winds had died down, so we didn’t have any help on the 50 minute paddle back to the campground.
We drove north on highway 75 to the Stanton Crossing campground. This is a free campground on the banks of the Big Wood River. It was a very nice spot in the trees. The trees were full of birds that singing all night long. There were a lot of other campers, but the sites are spread out, so it didn’t feel too crowded. We cooked and ate dinner while sitting in the shade of the trees. The night was nice, except for the RV that ran their generator all night long.
We had a slow morning as we cleaned up the van and enjoyed at late breakfast at the campsite. Our goal for the day was to drive and camp somewhere near Idaho Falls.
Our morning drive was across the broad Sliver Creek Valley. The valley was lush and green with many large ranches and farms throughout the valley. It was quite pretty and looked like a great place to live.
After leaving passing through the town of Carey we entered the high desert. The valleys were full of sage brush, volcanic rock and lava flows. After about 30 miles, we entered Craters of the Moon National Monument. Due to Covid-19, the visitor’s center and the lava caves were closed, but we still took a drive around the scenic loop.
We drove the scenic loop and hiked to the top of the Inferno Cone. From the top you cold see the vast area that is covered by lava flow and cinders. It was very windy on the top. We only saw 3-4 other vehicles on the drive, so it was nice to have some privacy in the park.
We also stopped at the Spattered Cinder Cones. These cones had deep holes that still had snow in them. When you leaned through the fence you could feel the cool air rising from deep in the earth.
After driving through the park we continued on highway 20 towards Arco. This was more high desert and lava. Just as we arrived in Arco, it started raining and for a while it was a hard rain. Arco is known as Idaho’s atomic city and was the first city lighted by atomic energy. Further down the highway is the Idaho National Laboratory. This is where the US government does a lot of their nuclear research.
We stopped for the night at the “Half Acre of Hell” trailhead. This is another large lava flow that has hiking trails through the formations. We found a spot down the side road and set up camp for the night. It was a little windy through the night, but overall a warm pleasant evening.
While we were passing through Idaho Falls the weather went from cool and rainy to flakes of snow and hail falling by the evening. Two days ago it was 93 degrees and sunny and now snow is falling.
We left Idaho Falls and drove east through the rolling hills and followed the Snake River. The valleys are full of farms and ranches with miles and miles of beautiful green fields. About 30 miles east of Idaho Falls we entered Swan Valley. This was a large valley with just a couple of large ranches. The Snake River winds its way through the valley.
We stopped for a while at Fall Creek Falls, a beautiful waterfall from a creek that feeds the Snake River. We had planned to camp in the area, but since it was wet and raining, we decide to drive back to the west. If we were going to be sitting in the van, we might as well be driving.
We drove back to the west through Idaho Falls and Arco. At Arco we turned north on highway 93 and drove north through Mackay. Just past Mackay we camped at a nice campsite on the river. The rain was off and on, so we didn’t spent much time outside. By the time we ate dinner, the snow and hail was falling, so we spent the evening in the van. Through the night I could hear the hail hitting the top of the van, but none of it stayed on the ground.
In the morning it was cold and snowing a bit, but not enough to stick to the ground. We left the campsite and continued north on highway 93. About 8-10 miles north, as elevation rose, there was 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, so it was good we camped down by the river.
The highway north followed the Salmon River through wide green valleys with cattle ranches and alfalfa farms. We arrived at the “town” of Elk Bend and parked at a trailhead about a mile off the highway.
Our destination was Goldbug Hot Springs. It was a challenging hike up the mountain to the hot springs. It was still raining when we arrived, but we waited for 15 minutes and the rain stopped and the sun kind of came out.
The hot springs consisted of 3 separate pools that varied in temperature. The pools were built of rock into the mountain side and the bottom was nice soft gravel. The water was crystal clear and the pool we were in was probably 100 degrees. It felt just the perfect temperature.
We went to the warmest pool, which also had the best view. When we arrived there were only 6 others in our pool and another 6-8 people in the other pools.
However, after about 30 minutes a huge family with lots of kids showed up. There must have been 15-20 of them. They all crowded in our pool, but they were pretty polite and jammed themselves into one side of the pool and left us and another couple the other half of the pool. The kids were climbing around and having fun, so it wasn’t very peaceful.
After about an hour we decided to head back down to the van. It was sunny when we got out and changed, but we were only 10 minutes down the trail when the storm hit. The wind kicked up and the hail started to come down. We were still high on the mountain in the rocks, so there was nowhere to hide. We hurried down towards the trees where we could get some shelter. However, by the time we made it to the trees, the hail had stopped. So we continued down the trail and by the time we made it to the van, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day again.
From Elk Bend we went back up the canyon and found camp at the Colston River Access. Idaho is full of the river access points that have free campsites on the banks of the big rivers. Our campsite was in a grassy meadow on the banks of the Salmon River, just across from a large cliff. It was another very nice night, however, about 5 minutes after we arrived, the sun went down behind the cliff, and it turned cold. We ate dinner and then played Phase 10 for the rest of the evening.