J and D's Corner

Our Photo Attic - Stuff from Here & There

More Idaho Airstrips

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After you are set up at a camp, it is a lot of fun to get in the now lightly loaded plane and just poke around during the day. Airstrips are close spaced and there are generally a half-dozen in any 50-mile radius circle. You can get a lot of varied experience in only a couple of hours of flight time. All the strips below were no problem for my C-182 but for lower performance aircraft, watch the density altitude during the heat of the day.

Sulfur Creek Ranch: This is a back-country destination that would be great for non-campers. Departing Smiley at 08:00 one morning, we flew about 45 miles north to Sulfur Creek Ranch airstrip for breakfast. Privately owned by the Ranch, it sits sloping upward at the mouth of a relatively narrow canyon, making it a typical one-way airstrip. The upper portion is gravel and narrow ("Now I can say I've landed on a gravel road" was the comment from Tom, our wingman that morning), and although it has a good clear approach and adequate length it qualifies as a "real" backcountry strip.
Incidentally, the ID for the airport appears as 54S in some places (correct one is ID74). 54S was not in my GPS so I had to break out that old paper thingy we used to use...map, I think it was called.

The Airstrip at Sulfur Creek Ranch

Main Lodge, Sulfur Creek Ranch

Great Room of the Sulfur Creek Ranch

Once parked at the uphill end of the strip we walked across the runway to the main building and entered a classic backcountry lodge great room. At one end a comfortable lounge area is dominated by a huge wood-burning stove/heater (not in operation on this warm August morning). Behind the stove is a game area with pool table, darts, etc. The other half of the great room is taken up by a bar (featuring a stuffed bear who leans with chin on bartop) and the dining area. Kitchen facilities open off this end of the room. Large windows give loungers & diners a great view downslope, with binoculars available to view wildlife or grade approach/landings.

Cabin, Sulfur Creek Ranch

Cabin Interior, Sulfur Creek Ranch

Strung out downhill from the main lodge are a series of rustic but comfortable cabins with ensuite facilities. Rates for the cabins are $65 per person, which includes three meals (and judging by breakfast, you will not go away hungry). Oh, and be aware cash is not accepted. Checks are preferred, credit cards carry a hefty surcharge - so bring the checkbook.  [See our  Expanded Report from a follow-up trip...on J&D's website]

Indian Creek: This is a somewhat confined but not overly demanding strip good to visit just for the "canyon strip" practice. Hard by the river, it is used as a rafting access point by commercial enterprises and sees quite a lot of daytime traffic. Camping space is available mid-strip, but is relatively primitive with no tables and only a single (1-star) toilet. Water is available at the ranger station located at the upstream end of the strip. Adding to the lack of ambience is the fact that a fire in 2001 significantly damaged the forest on both sides of the river. Nevertheless, it is worth a stroll around to visit the ranger station and photograph the suspension footbridge which crosses the river at midfield.

Indian Creek Airstrip, looking upstream

Footbridge (and Caravan on short final), Indian Creek

Warm Springs Creek: A good grass-over-gravel strip but with no water or toilets and only an unimproved camping area. Land upstream, depart downstream. It was totally deserted when we landed. A trail at the upper end of the strip leads to a warm spring but we were unable to determine how far it was so didn't try to hike it. (Later found it was 2.3 miles roundtrip) I believe commercial operators bring horses to the strip and fly in clients for trail riding.

Warm Springs Airstrip

Dani & N-8514S at Warm Springs Idaho

Graham USFS: A small utility building and a solar-powered automated weather station were the only features at this deserted strip. Although it is near a stream, the whole surrounding area was absolutely blasted by a major fire a few years back and ugly downed trees are the most significant feature. We only landed there for the practice. Give this one 15 years and try it again.

Graham USFS Airstrip, Summer 2003

Also in the vicinity, visited on previous trips:

Johnson Creek: Similar to Smiley Creek, Johnson Creek boasts a premiere grass strip and is probably Idaho's most popular fly-in camp destination. Unlike Smiley, the strip is not surrounded by flat terrain and unless you are comfortable with a fairly radical descent slope you will need to make a blind dog-leg approach around a hill to Rwy 17. Scope it out from above first. The area is beautifully forested, and you camp under trees with the strip on one side and a stream on the other. Flush toilets, showers and a courtesy car are major amenities. The town of Yellow Pine, about five miles up the dirt road, is a funky get-away-from-everything kind of place, so far back they have [or had, at our visit a few years back] no telephone service and must communicate out via short-wave radio from the general store. Sample actual bar dialog: "Y'all ain't some 'o them California tree huggers, are you? No? Then have a beer!" Definitely not yuppie country.

Big Creek: Like Sulfur Creek Ranch, Big Creek airstrip has an adjacent ranch/lodge and is a fine place either to drop in for breakfast or to stay overnight in comfort. Prices are similar to Sulfur. Hunt, fish, ride horses, hike, or just kick back. There is also camping available adjacent to the airstrip. The strip is a good one but is essentially one-way and has a pronounced dip in the middle. Watch out for deer who like to graze on the airstrip's grass. [ADDENDUM: The Big Creek lodge unfortunately burned to the ground a few years back, however a major effort to rebuild the lodge is underway, CLICK for details.]