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Idaho is probably as good as it gets for airplane camping in the "lower 48", and maybe anywhere!

Fly-In Camping

Smiley Creek Idaho

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THE MISSION: August 4 - 8, 2003: The mission this week was to do a little light backcountry camping in beautiful (and aviation friendly) Idaho. With us would be Doug & Beth in their Bonanza (not an "off-road" type of plane) so we selected Smiley Creek, reputed to be suitable for all makes & models.

Our C-182 was pre-loaded for an oh-dark-thirty departure on Monday and we were off, beating our compatriots in their Bonanza by 30 minutes, which turned out to be perfect spacing on the leg considering their 30+ knot speed advantage.

After greeting the sunrise over the Saline Valley, we both arrived simultaneously at our fuel stop, Battle Mountain NV. Here we borrowed the Harless Aircraft Service courtesy car for the short run into town to the Owl Club, a small restaurant/casino. After an acceptable if not exceptional breakfast, we pushed onward over the fertile Snake River Valley and into the rugged mountains of Idaho.

Sunrise, Saline Valley Dunes at Sunrise, Saline Valley Smiley Creek Airstrip, Idaho

THE AIRPORT: I had never been into Smiley Creek before and was expecting a typical Idaho strip buried in a forested canyon. Therefore, I was a little surprised to suddenly encounter a broad valley green with irrigated fields and pastures in the midst of a sea of jumbled peaks. The 4900' long grass airstrip is located near the south end of the valley at an elevation of 7100 feet. With miles of level approach from the north, Runway 14 is the preferred landing direction. The strip is all grass - no nasty loose gravel - and immaculately maintained by a full-time staff of one (Gordon, as of this writing). Keeping altitude considerations in mind, it should be fine for any GA aircraft up through medium twins.

N-700T on Smiley Creek Airstrip Camp Facilities, Smiley Creek Airstrip Wildflowers, Smiley Creek Airstrip, Idaho

CAMPING FACILITIES: The campground is equally well maintained and immediately adjacent to the tiedowns. Three sheltered picnic tables with room for multiple tents are set in a grassy area planted with young pine trees. Areas of wildflowers support a hefty population of hummingbirds, who are also interested in anything colorful you might have sitting around. The Salmon River (the "River of No Return"), which is just a creek at this point in its life, runs right by the campground. To top it off (particularly in the view of the ladies) are the 4-star bathroom facilities, boasting hot showers. I would have given them 5 stars, but according to the ladies the electric heaters should have been activated for additional post-shower warmth. (For contrast, click here to see a 1-star facility)

OTHER AMENITIES: Two state-owned courtesy cars were available, one a small station wagon and the other a large van. They rent for $5/day plus $.30 per mile driven (gas included) and are great for exploring the surrounding area. Unlimited firewood and an axe are provided. There are two horseshoe pits with horseshoes. Finally, just a short walk away is the Smiley Creek Lodge, which boasts a small general store, a nice restaurant, and if camping gets old (or cold), rooms, cabins and tepees (with electric blankets).

Smiley Creek Lodge/Store/Cafe Mountain Lake, Smiley Creek Idaho  

THINGS TO DO: Fly-fishing is reportedly good in the Salmon River, and licenses are available at the Lodge. Gordon (the airport overseer) says walk downstream past the irrigation pump shack and work the deeper pools with a black-and-white "mosquito" fly. With the courtesy car, visit the beautiful nearby lakes for more fishing, canoeing, hiking and picture taking. Swimming too, but a few minutes will probably be enough...chilly water! Further a field by courtesy car, the town of Stanley (small museum, great burgers @ Burgers & Brew in Lower Stanley) is 20 miles north and the upscale Ketchum/Sun Valley area (shopping, yuppie viewing) is a bit further than that out to the south.

SYNOPSIS: Smiley Creek is about as good as it gets for "civilized" camping. The airstrip is perfect as a first-time "off pavement" experience, or for owners of aircraft that might not be at home on a more primitive strip. It is also a great base from which to make airborne day trips to other area strips.

OTHER AIRSTRIPS VISITED: Although we stuck to the Smiley Creek strip for our overnight camping, we did make brief forays to some other local airstrips, most notably Sulfur Creek Ranch (Lodge).

CLICK HERE to see that page.

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