People seeking camp sites alongside a rushing river, hiking trails and opportunities to view wildlife all within a reasonable distance of the Boise Valley should consider a visit to the South Fork of the Salmon. Visitors stand a good chance of seeing eagles and elk. Travelers along the route in late summer may be rewarded with views of the spawning fish for which the stream is named.
Follow State 55 north to Cascade, then turn on the road to Warm Lake, which intersects with State 55 just north of town. The Warm Lake road is a two-lane paved highway. Look for the South Fork road, which connects with the Warm Lake road just before the lake, about 24 miles east of Cascade. It is marked Krassel Ranger Station and Yellow Pine: Forest Route 474. The road adjoining the South Fork is a paved one-lane road. The pavement was placed to prevent erosion of soil into the river but the road itself is a typical forest road: narrow with many blind curves. Given limited visibility and the fact that traffic in both directions is sharing one lane, expect to drive the 32 mile route at 20 miles per hour or less.
There are several Forest Service campgrounds along the route. Some, like Poverty Flat campground, are next to the river and just a few feet above river level. Others, like Camp Creek, are higher up the slope away from the stream and would be a safer choice for families with small children. Check the Payette National Forest website before going: some campgrounds do not have water or trash cans. Camp sites cannot be reserved, it is first come, first to camp. Some campgrounds are used as staging areas for trail riders on horseback; encountering horses is less likely in the southern campgrounds.
Scenery along the route varies from uninspiring to impressive. Because of a large fire in 2007 the first ten miles of the route going north from Warm Lake wind through brush and standing dead trees. This stretch does provide good views of the river. Beyond the ten mile mark, the forest is green. Some sections of the road are so close to the river that travelers can hear the rapids and feel the coolness of the air. The route leaves the river long enough to enter flat land that provides a frame for a view of snow-covered peaks. Krassel Ranger Station is a picturesque old-fashioned outpost of the Forest Service that is about 23 miles from the start of the South Fork road.
The South Fork road connects at its north end with roads going east to Yellow Pine and west to McCall. The road to McCall is open only from mid-summer to fall because of snow drifts. Travelers who appreciate a paved road will need to turn around and follow the South Fork back the way they came.