Cold weather camping in Idaho


I’m rarely envious of my Canadian friends who brave the typical wintry blast of weather we get on Victoria Day weekend. But it’s the official opening of camping season and thus they are steadfast in their defiance of Mother Nature.

So it seemed kind of crazy that CAMPING was my answer when Our American said ‘what do you want to do for Memorial Day weekend?’

And yes, I very much screeched my answer in all caps.

We survived our first night of roughing it as a couple at Farragut State Park in 2011 but we missed any chance to camp last year. (Fair’s fair, we spent three weeks on the road, travelling to Nova Scotia and back.)

We found a spot at Chatcolet Campground, Heyburn State Park, and started to plan what we’d need for supplies. I thought, ‘Heh heh, sucker friends camping on Victoria Day, I’m waiting a whole extra week before I go. It’ll be fine.’

Karma bit me right on the ass. My cold, rained-on ass.

Yep, we didn’t have any better weather by waiting a week, but the clouds, wind and rain didn’t deter us from two nights in the wilderness.

The clouds were foreboding as we rolled along the highway from Spokane Valley to Idaho.

Our American took control, setting up the campsite. At Chatcolet, the sites are about as rustic as you can get camping in a state park. It takes time to find a flat-enough spot for the tent and there are no showers, like at Banff National Park.


Heyburn is the oldest park in the Pacific Northwest.¬†Created in 1908, it’s named for a U.S. senator who hated the idea of the federal government being involved in Indian affairs. The city of Heyburn in southern Idaho is named for good old Weldon, too.

Inspired by an upcoming allotment of land to the Coeur d’Alene tribe, he sponsored a bill in which he proposed that Chatcolet Lake be named a national park. He felt that state parks were “always a source of embarrassment.” While he was away from Washington, the bill came to a vote and was modified to allow the state of Idaho to purchase the land, turning it into exactly what he fear most. ~¬†Clark, B. (1998). A Falcon Guide: Scenic Driving Idaho. Morris Publishing.

So there.

Not many ventured out on the Friday, leaving us with a peaceful first evening. We huddled around the campfire, protected from the wind and occasional bursts of rain by giant ponderosa pines.

tall pine trees

On Saturday, we found a boardwalk to walk Shep and burn off some of his energy. The interpretive walk hosts signs that describe the wildlife and waterfowl you might see on your stroll.

We spied a trio of pelicans and a great blue heron in the distance but damned if my kit 75-200 lens is just too crappy to capture such an incredible moment. If you’re lucky (we weren’t), you might also spy bear, elk, moose, osprey, bald eagles and wild turkeys.

The best I can show you is some darned nice scenery.

marshy lake

Heyburn boasts 5,744 acres of land and 2,332 acres of water and Chatcolet campground is home to a trailhead for the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

The trail is one of the most popular biking trails in the western U.S. and starts at a gorgeous park just west of Plummer, Idaho. The park is a memorial for fallen warriors and veterans of the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe.

Memorial park with statue

The trail winds its way from Plummer to Mullan.

It’s 71 miles (114 km) of paved path that takes cyclists over the lake:

cycling, pedestrian bridge over a lake

Once over the lake, you’ll cycle along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, head into the Chain Lakes region, visit the historic Silver Valley of Idaho and finish in Mullan, just west of the Idaho-Montana border.

My one-day cycling record is 26 miles (42 km). I’ve taken my mountain bike from my old house in Calgary and almost all the way out to Chestermere. I’ve pedaled from my house in Kamloops around the North Shore and out to Westsyde and back. I’ve done a route from the house in Spokane Valley to Post Falls, Idaho, and back home again.

But 71 miles?

Maybe that’s something to consider when I invest in a road bike that’s lighter than my mountain bike. And I can go faster and farther.

In the meantime, though, I have another camping trip to plan.

Camping is a lot of work … from the preparation to Sunday’s takedown of the site and unpacking the truck once back home. But it all feels so worth it when I’m staring up at the stars with the two great loves of my life sitting on either side of me.

There’s nowhere I’d rather be.


  1. Such an interesting and informative write up. Thanks for allowing others to share your adventures! Journalism is definitely your strong point or should I say one of them. Beautiful scenery and great history lesson also. Hope it is warmer the next time you venture into the great open wilderness.

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