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  View original topic: July 2020 - Idaho roadtrip report
pnwkayaker Sun Jul 12, 2020 2:02 pm

We just returned from a 10 days trip looping around Idaho, we started from Seattle and up north of Coeur díAlene, then moved south towards Boise looping up north again before returning to Seattle. I think we only saw 3 Westies in our trip, not sure if the coronavirus had something to do with that, or if it's not a place frequented by Westies?

We camped all nights, and stayed at different state parks, report below:



Or course, before every long trip I (foolishly) decide to do major improvements to our Syncro, and this time, I had to improve our aux battery situation (our previous battery had died during our Yellowstone trip last year and my wife was not a happy camper with a non-working fridge throughout the trip). This was our third aux battery, so I had to do something drastic.

A happy wife leads to a happy life, so I installed a 50Ah GoWesty lithium battery, new lithium battery AC charger, added new DC-DC charger with an integrated MPTT solar controller, removed previous PWVM solar controller, removed previous non-lithium batter AC charger, removed Blue Seas ACR, added USB sockets, relocated fuse block, rewired a whole bunch of stuff and built (and laminated) a new panel containing all the new equipment and switches to enable/disable functions as needed. The pictures below were taken 2 days prior to the start of the trip, so we were scrambling to have everything ready the very last day.





The system worked flawlessly throughout our trip, we used all components (solar, DC-DC and AC charger, USB) as needed and it didnít skip a beat. So far, it seems that 50Ah might suffice for our needs (and camping style), but everything is ready in case we need to upgrade to 100 Ah.

Potholes State Park

Because of all this madness, we finished preparing the van the last day at the last minute and we had a late start, so our first stop was at Potholes State Park in WA, right before entering Idaho. It seems to be a very popular park in the middle of farmland due a water reservoir with lots of fishing (all camping spots were occupied). We saw one of the first Westies in our trip there, a nice couple from Kirkland, WA (Joy and Ricardo) - we exchanged emails and got in touch afterwards, hope to see them later on future meetups/campings in WA.

Potholes has an immense grass field surrounded by trees close to the reservoir that itís great for picnic or playing with kids/dogs. Our loop had only pit toilets, but there were flush toilets by the grass fields (I didnít check for showers). We were at the standard sites, so no water nor electricity. BTW, we were told to not drink the water from the taps available at the campground, since itís polluted with fertilizer (fortunately, we had plenty of water in our Syncro).

Potholes itís a great place to stop in our way in/out of Washington.



Round Lake State Park

Our first stop in Idaho was at Coeur díAlene; we biked around for a couple hours, we liked the town and the lake, itís a very nice place.

Our first camp night in ID was at Round Lake state park, north of Coeur díAlene, very nice place. The campground is not very big, but thereíre very nice trails around the area around the lake and creeks. We stayed at a standard site, so we had no water nor electricity. Restrooms and showers were open, so we were able to clean-up.



Sandpoint, ID

The next day we decided to drive up north to visit Sandpoint, ID, Iím a ski nut and heard it was a fairly popular ski resort. Of course, thatís in the winter, during the summer itís another tourist trap :) Personally, for ski resort/summer tourist traps, my top selection is Whistler (BC), but Sandpoint was nice too. We saw our second Westy of the trip while there, with a very attentive guardian in the passenger seat.



Hellís Gate

We then went south to Hellís Canyon, and stayed at the very popular Hellís Gate state park. The road to Hells Canyon goes through Coeur díAlene, Moscow and Plummer, with a very, very long downhill descent towards the canyon.

Hellís Gate state park is by the Snake river, right on the outskirts of a town (Lewiston) and facing the cliffs of Eastern Washington on the other side of the river. There seems to be a paper mill nearby that produces some funny smells. Restrooms and showers were also open, so after a clean-up, it was time for a late card-game!



The sunset was gorgeous though, and produced some beautiful colors and rainbows (it was the first of 2 consecutive rain days, the only ones from the trip).



Riggins

From that point on we continued on Route 95 towards Lake Cascade state park, close to Cascade, ID. The road twisted through the mountains, and it was partly under construction, so it was a slow drive (especially under the rain). We stopped by the river close to Riggins for lunch and pictures, was very nice;



However, it seems that rain was more powerful than we thought, because 4 days later there was a landslide very close to that spot that closed Route 95 for several days.

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/article243993337.html


Lake Cascade State Park

Lake Cascade state park was one of my favorite campgrounds, the lake is beautiful and the contrast with the rainy skies created some very nice colours (the late afternoon fog enhanced them greatly).





One thing thatís important to know (that we were now aware of) is that thereíre several campgrounds at Lake Cascade state park, and theyíre distributed around the lake, several miles apart from each other - we ended up going to a different campground because we searched generically for Lake Cascade state park in Google maps and not the specific campground (had to backtrack 30 mins to go to the right one).

The campground we stayed at was Huckleberry, and after visiting the other campgrounds, we think this is the best one for Westies (smaller sites, located in the middle of the forest, by the lake) - the other campgrounds were geared more towards the bigger RVs and/or people with motor boats. This campground however, had only pit toilets and no showers, and our campsite (by the lake, it was awesome!) had no water nor electricity (some other ones used by RVs had electricity I believe).

Later on the kids decided to experiment and toast some bread with cheese on top, and as usual, camping foods tastes much better than the food at home!



It rained heavily that night, and it became fairly cold. Fortunately, we had a couple of movies in the iPad for rainy days like this, so the kids saw the movie ďBattleshipĒ (a somewhat sci-fi/action movie) while drinking hot cocoa - they later on claimed that it was so bad that they had wasted 2 hrs of their life! :)



Boise, ID

From Lake Cascade we went towards Boise and our next campground, Bruneau Dunes state park. The road from Cascade to Boise followed the Payette river, a pretty river with long stretches of some serious whitewater (Iíd guess Class IV or V). My days of whitewater kayaking are gone by, but I spent lots of time watching the rapids on multiple places, imagining paddling lines, eddies and ferries (the rapids truly looked wonderful!).

At Boise, we decided to spoil the kids, and we stopped at Costco for their favorite food, pizza! Costcoís pizza is huge and cheap, and the kids had plenty of leftover pizza for breakfast (they love cold pizza for breakfast, ugh!)



Bruneau Dunes State Park

Bruneau Dunes state park was a very sharp contrast with the campgrounds we had seen so far. To start, itís a lot warmer than the previous ones (even hot) and thereíre very few trees (and shade) in the campground. Thereíre however some very nice sand dunes in the park and we spent a couple hrs hiking there. Some campsite have a small structure over the table and benches, but our didnít have one.



However, the state parks in the southern part of Idaho had started to close their showers as a way to curb coronavirus spread (restrooms were still open) so were not able to take a shower to refresh and clean-up. What was worse, Bruneau Dunes state park has an observatory thatís very popular, and that I was hoping would be a highlight from this trip, however, it was also closed due to the coronavirus (super-disapointed, you had to dig deeper into their website to find a mention of it, home page was publicizing it as a big attraction).

With not much to do and since the heat was too much for us folks from the Pacific Northwest, the kids decided to catch-up on some reading (the older one is reading ďHouse of LeavesĒ, the younger one is reading ďThe HobbitĒ) - yep, Iím a proud papa :)



Meanwhile, my wife decided that it was time to assemble her ham-radio antenna and see what was available nearby (spoilers - she did not find much activity).



All through the day we saw lots of fighter airplanes flying over us (we think they were F-35), most likely from the nearby Air Force base close to the nearby town of Mountain Home (I donít have any good picture of them).


Ponderosa State Park

From Boise we went up north again towards Ponderosa state park (close to McCall, ID), one of the most beautiful campgrounds in this trip (I think we would need to visit it again in the near future). Itís located by Payette lake and thereíre lots of miles of bike trails in the park, with McCall a short bike ride away (2 mile).





The park is very big, and it was completely full (again, the restrooms were open but not the showers). Our campsite had a 30A electrical connection (Peninsula Aspen loop), so we plugged the charger during the night (it wasnít truly needed, we just wanted to make sure everything was working fine, and it was). There were lots of deer, visiting the campsites all the time.

By the way, McCall, ID is a very populate winter resort, with several ski areas near-by (although I think itís mostly known for its nordic-ski areas and not so much for alpine-ski areas).

Hellís Gate State Park (again)

Our next leg in this trip was going to be the longest one (about 5+ hrs.), from Ponderosa state park to the last campground in our trip, Farragut state park (north from Coeur díAlene). We decided to drive by Hellís Gate state park again and check if the showers were still open, before continuing up north. The showers were open (I think the southern counties were the only ones enforcing the shower closure) so we showered before continuing north (it felt great!).

Farragut State Park

We didnít want to use the same route between Lewiston and Coeur díAlene that we used before (very long uphill from Lewiston) so we decided instead to diverge via Eastern Washington and go through Spokane and to Farragut from there. Even though it added about 20 mins driving, it was extremely relaxing/flat driving and had no issues arriving to Farragut.

Farragut state park is built on an old Navy training camp from WW II, it seems that the camp was built in 6 months and used only for training purposes during the last 3 yrs of the war. Afterwards it was used as a German POW confinement camp and then it was vacated. Thereís a very nice museum in the campground (Brig Museum) that explains all this history, and we spent quite some time there.

Thereís a very nice beach area called Beaver Bay Beach, which is great for families, and good place to start some hiking trails.

Farragut state park seemed huge to us (thereíre multiple campgrounds, group sites, beach areas, etc). You could (and should) use your bike to go from one place to another, but weíre talking several miles of biking - I think itís 2 miles from the visitor center to the Whitetail campground where we stayed.

Whitetail campground was very nice, they have a small amphitheater and some very small sites with were perfect for us (we had to stay at 2 different campsites while there due to a last minute change of plans). Some of those sites were very small, barely the size of our Syncro (one of the sites had a fairly steep backwards entrance and barely enough space to place the Syncro in a somewhat level position).



Bayview, ID

Bayview is a small town right outside the limits of Farragut state park; one thing that is very interesting in the town is that the US Navy has a submarine research base at Bayview (it seems that that all the new technologies used in submarines in the last 50 yrs or so were first tested at this base, and sometimes they had scale models of submarines under test too). Of course, that area was closed to the general public, but sounded extremely interesting.

Saw this very nice Syncro with Nevada plates at Bayview, ID - tried to look for the owner with no luck (was probably boating somewhere at the lake).



Seattle, WA

Our trip back to the Seattle area was pretty much uneventful, eastern Washington is flat and hot, but we were still able to be back in about 5 hrs from Farragut State park. The West-to-East lane on I-90 was closed after the Columbia river for a couple hrs due to some fires by the side of the road, but didnít impact folks going West.




Random thoughts

Itís probably a good time to mention that the size and storage capabilities of our Syncro are perfect for us. With not-that-much-careful planning, we were able to bring food for 10 days with us (we only bought bread, meat and lettuce a couple times), 4 bikes, ham radio equipment (laptops, batteries, antennas), sport equipment, clothes, chairs, extra table, porta-potty for emergencies, lots of water, etc and sleep 4 folks (adults almost, kids are growing like crazy) without feeling space-constrained. Many times we crossed folks (couples usually) driving these huge RVs (sometimes even towing cars behind) and wondered what is it that they carry that they need those big rigs.

Our van performed without a hiccup throughout our trip until the very last leg (Farragut-Seattle) in which I started having some issues with power not fully available when shifting 3rd gear to 4th gear, or sometimes having the engine cutting-off while on high-speed at the highway (we were able to arrive home with no problems though). Upon some research in the Subaru-Vanagon group, it seems several folks that had the similar issue were able to pinpoint the VSS as the culprit and fix it by replacing the VSS. Some folks even suggest replacing the Small Car VSS (which I have) with the RMW VSS (seems that only the folks with SC VSS are seeing this problem). I just ordered a RMW VSS and will install it next week hopefully.

We decided 2 weeks prior to the trip to visit Idaho, and make it a roadtrip (weíve been stuck at home in Seattle for 4 months). Fortunately, we were able to reserve lots of sites in advance (wifeís request, she doesnít like the stress of finding a place to camp at the end of the day plus she was concerned with campground closures due to coronavirus). We used https://www.campsitephotos.com extensively to identify which sites to reserve (in case multiple sites were available at a campground) which allowed us to get private sites and/or close to a lake.

It was a stark contrast between Seattle and Idaho in terms of Covid management, northern Idaho was in phase 4 with almost no restrictions whatsoever (the streets at Coeur d'Alene were a party!); the sourthern counties close to Boise were in phase 3 due to an uptick in infections. Very few people (except us and some other fellow Washingtonians) used masks (we mostly used them when entering the visitor centers and the restrooms); we also had lots of hand sanitizer (that we used a lot) plus disposable gloves.

dobryan Sun Jul 12, 2020 2:14 pm

Great trip. Thanks! :D

shadetreemech Sun Jul 12, 2020 2:32 pm

Very nice report on a great trip.

Thanks!

Dan

campism Sun Jul 12, 2020 2:33 pm

Inspiration for those of us at home and working on our vans. Did you happen to see the Wigwam Motel in Riggins? Concrete teepees as rooms for rent. I've stayed at the one in Arizona and passed another in Kentucky.

B.O.B.Wanders Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:37 pm

Excellent report - Thanks!
We haven't done a nice long trip in a while. Thank you for the inspiration

Gnarlodious Sun Jul 12, 2020 7:06 pm

Anyone traveling in north Idaho should look me up, I am in Bonners Ferry for the summer.

coqwesty Sun Jul 12, 2020 8:33 pm

Great trip report and beautiful Westy! Thx for sharing. We came through Idaho last year up from Utah, staying in Boise and a straight drive to Spokane with dinner in Coeur díAlene - will definitely return and spend more time there - a beautiful drive using 55 North through along the Payette River.

goldtooth Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:08 am

Nice job! We took a very similar trip at the end of June but started from Portland and came up through Boise and back down through Riggins and Hells Canyon. Our trip report should be up as soon as I am done editing pics.
nate

jimf909 Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:34 am

OP, thanks for the great trip report. I love the camp activities of reading and exploring with the HAM radio. My guess is your kids are getting a solid education. Well done.


Gnarlodious wrote: Anyone traveling in north Idaho should look me up, I am in Bonners Ferry for the summer.

I spent June on the west side of Priest Lake and will be going back soon. Probably 30 miles from Bonners Ferry as the crow flies but about a hundred by road (I haven't looked too closely for forest service roads that go over the Selkirks to the east (I have traveled from the west over the Selkirks from Metaline Falls to Priest Lake).

Here's a pic near Lions Head...

rogertj Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:37 am

Very nice trip, got to love the Northwest! Thanks for sharing!

joetiger Mon Jul 13, 2020 8:27 am

Great trip report! Thanks for the ride and for the detailed information. I'd like to do much more Idaho exploration at some point...Part of a long list.

McintoshType2 Mon Jul 13, 2020 10:46 am

Neat trip we were close by.
We left Spokane on Friday and headed through CDA, I see what you mean by party... a whole different world just 30 minutes from us. We went to Sandpoint the next day. Camped at Garfield Bay for the weekend, this is a neat spot if you come through again. We are still working on bus so we took our alternative setup this go around but here are some pictures of Garfield Bay. Its 32 miles north from Faragut.





dhaavers Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:07 pm

Great, nicely detailed trip report...thanks!

8)

- Dave

Vanagon Nut Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:23 pm

Enjoyed the trip report. Thanks!

I've done some road trips in ID.

The ham antenna looks like a VHF or UHF type? Though not as user friendly, I've had good luck using my copper J pole while on Westy camping trips. It even stowed reasonably well behind the stove and side cabinet.

Neil.

Elmer Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:35 am

Hello
Very nice trip report! Thank you.
Do you run air conditioning? Factory set up?
Thanks
Elmer Carlson
91Westy
West Seattle

pnwkayaker Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:48 pm

Thanks everybody for the comments, hope the writeup will be useful for anybody going to Idaho on a similar trip.

Some answers to questions posted

campism wrote: Did you happen to see the Wigwam Motel in Riggins? Concrete teepees as rooms for rent. I've stayed at the one in Arizona and passed another in Kentucky.

Nope, we didn't see them (would have been something very interesting to see), it was pouring when we passed by Riggins so didn't stay in the town (went by the river instead).

B.O.B.Wanders wrote: Excellent report - Thanks!
We haven't done a nice long trip in a while. Thank you for the inspiration

You're welcome, hope to hear about your adventures soon!

Gnarlodious wrote: Anyone traveling in north Idaho should look me up, I am in Bonners Ferry for the summer.

Good to know, we will be going again to Sandpoint later this summer to pick-up a puppy, so we might cross paths.

goldtooth wrote: Nice job! We took a very similar trip at the end of June but started from Portland and came up through Boise and back down through Riggins and Hells Canyon. Our trip report should be up as soon as I am done editing pics.
nate

I'm looking forward to that trip report! Our original plan was to head west from Boise and visit Crater Lake/Hood River/Portland before returning home, but all the campgrounds we checked in Oregon were either closed or full for that week, so we ended up going back north instead (hitting different places though)

jimf909 wrote: OP, thanks for the great trip report. I love the camp activities of reading and exploring with the HAM radio. My guess is your kids are getting a solid education. Well done.


Thanks for the compliment! One of the main reasons we have the Syncro is to create lasting memories camping with our kids, I think we still have 2-3 more yrs of camping before we're not cool anymore :)

That's a beautiful van you have, perhaps I'll see you at the Marymoor meetup this year (if things stabilize a little bit).

McintoshType2 wrote: Neat trip we were close by...We went to Sandpoint the next day. Camped at Garfield Bay for the weekend, this is a neat spot if you come through again...Its 32 miles north from Faragut.


We never went further north than Sandpoint, but we'll probably be there again this summer, thanks for the info about Garfield Bay, we might try to stay there.

Vanagon Nut wrote: Enjoyed the trip report. Thanks!
The ham antenna looks like a VHF or UHF type? Though not as user friendly, I've had good luck using my copper J pole while on Westy camping trips. It even stowed reasonably well behind the stove and side cabinet.
Neil.

I asked my wife (she's the ham radio expert) and she told me that it can be used for VHF or UHF, but that she was trying to track satellites (she's not your classical ham radio aficionado). That antenna can be completely dismantled, and we store it in the upper bank bed, in the empty space at the end of the bed.

Elmer wrote: Hello
Very nice trip report! Thank you.
Do you run air conditioning? Factory set up?


We have the original VW AC system that has been converted to R314(?) and is connected to the Subaru AC in our EJ25.

However, our hoses leak gas like crazy, so we usually use one of the small refill tanks to recharge the system at the beginning of the summer and use it for a couple of long trips crossing Eastern WA (we've been quoted crazy numbers to fix our AC hoses). By the end of the summer there's no gas in the system, but we don't need it in the fall.

For this trip, we only used the AC on the return leg from Farragut to Seattle, and a portion of the leg from Potholes to Spokane (just in Eastern WA, never used the AC in Idaho).

dabaron Thu Jul 16, 2020 6:42 am

nice arrow antenna. i've been trying to hit the birds with my arrow antenna and VX6R but i've not been hearing any activity here in FN20. i'm waiting for a KX2 so i can work HF from the bus.

looks like a great trip.

pnwkayaker Thu Jul 16, 2020 8:07 am

:D :D

I had to ask my wife to help me translating this comment, hilarious! (typical ham radio dirty talk)

"hit the birds" threw me off until she explained me that it meant "talking to satellites"!


dabaron wrote: nice arrow antenna. i've been trying to hit the birds with my arrow antenna and VX6R but i've not been hearing any activity here in FN20. i'm waiting for a KX2 so i can work HF from the bus.

looks like a great trip.



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