Caribou National Forest Overview
You'll find moose, elk, mule deer, and bears roaming southeastern Idaho, but not a single caribou. Caribou National Forest got its name from an infamous tale-spinning gold miner, Jesse Fairchild, whose nickname was "Caribou Jack." According to local lore, Caribou Jack divided his time between concocting incredible whoppers about the Canadian caribou country and searching for gold in Idaho's hills. In 1870, Fairchild and two other men struck paydirt near what is now called Caribou Mountain. The resulting gold rush lasted 20 years and produced $50 million worth of placer gold. The Caribou National Forest was created in 1907 to help preserve wilderness land in an area marked by mining activity and westward migration. The forest now covers more than 1 million acres in southeast Idaho, with small portions in Utah and Wyoming. Several north-south mountain ranges of the Overthrust Belt dominate the landscape, their slopes covered in both timber and sagebrush. Caribou National Forest offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, fishing, climbing, biking, skiing, and horseback riding.
Travel Back in Time
In 1843, the first westward-bound wagon train of white settlers reached the Columbia River, having survived a long, perilous journey along the Oregon Trail. Looking for a shortcut that wouldn't require travelers to navigate a waterless wasteland, a party led by Frederick W. Lander explored 16 mountain passes. The final route ran from a point east of South Pass, Wyoming, to a junction with the Oregon Trail just east of Fort Hall, Idaho. The Lander cutoff avoided the main trail's dry wastes, provided emigrants more water, wood, and forage, and enabled them to make the journey in a single season. During the first year, 13,000 emigrants passed over the trail, which remained in service until 1912, and today the Lander Trail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Relive this journey west by car and by foot, through wild and beautiful country. Walk along portions of the trail rutted by wagon wheels and look out for tree carvings left by passing pioneers.
Join the Cutthroat Competition
The Caribou National Forest is well-known for outstanding fishing opportunities, and intrepid anglers can explore about 250 miles of streams and 8,100 acres of lakes and reservoirs. Caribou's game-fish species include rainbow trout, eastern brook trout, brown trout, bluegill, and bass. The forest also has a pure strain of Bonneville cutthroat trout, discovered here in 1970, and the forest's managers work hard to keep these trout healthy and productive. Blackfoot River is highly recommended for its blue-ribbon cutthroat trout.
Visit Wyoming's Underworld
Located in beautiful St. Charles Canyon northwest of Bear Lake, Minnetonka Cave offers visitors a half-mile-long tour of stalactites, stalagmites, and banded travertine. The cave is still active today, which means some of its rock formations continue to grow. From mid-June to Labor Day, more than 20,000 people take guided Forest Service tours through the show cave's nine limestone chambers, including one 300 feet in diameter and 90 feet high. Visitors should dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes—the cave remains a brisk 40 degrees year-round and each tour navigates about 450 stairs. Back on the surface, St. Charles Canyon offers both campgrounds and large group-use areas, with fishing and hiking nearby. Keep an eye out for resident wildlife such as moose and deer.
Bird with the Best of Them
Interested in the chance to view as many as 120 bird species in one spot? Look no further than Mink Creek, which provides a multitude of viewing opportunities from May through September. Another surefire spot to see a variety of bird species is Cherry Springs Nature Area on Mink Creek Road. Along with neotropical migratory birds (birds that migrate to and from the tropics each year, such as the calliope hummingbird, lazuli bunting, and olive-sided flycatcher), you'll also find many resident species, such as the common raven and winter wren. Birdwatchers should check out the nearby Curlew National Grasslands. Having survived a massive influx of white settlers in the late 1800s and subsequent Dust Bowl years, this windswept sea of grass and wildflowers is now known for its upland game birds. Watch for sage and sharp-tailed grouse—both of which put on impressive courtship displays—as well as sage sparrows and Brewer's sparrows.
Take a Scenic Summer Drive
For a nice day's drive surrounded by Caribou National Forest flora and fauna, start northeast of Soda Springs, head through Diamond Valley, along Diamond Creek, and finish up at Elk Valley Marsh. This route showcases Caribou's riparian, aspen, and conifer forests, as well as a unique 200-acre marsh complex in Elk Valley. Stop along Diamond Creek to catch a glimpse of waterfowl, moose, and raptors, as well as Yellowstone cutthroat trout gliding through the beaver ponds. As you cruise through these aspen and conifer habitats, watch for mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk. Elk Valley Marsh is unique in its high-elevation setting (7,500 feet) and its assemblage of aquatic and wetland vegetation.
Escape to a Firefighter's Retreat
Once upon a time, Caribou National Forest stationed small fire crews around the forest. These firefighters, otherwise known as fire guards, kept an eye out for wildfire; they stayed in guard stations to provide a quick response. Today, anyone seeking a little peace and quiet can rent out a guard station, and some stations are available in exchange for maintenance work. Stations sleep from four to eight people, some have access to water, and all are located in beautiful areas of the forest.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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