The Targhee National Forest (of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest) is located in southeastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming. There are a total of 1,645,801 acres of which 1,312,543 acres are in Idaho and 333,258 acres are in Wyoming. There are 30 developed campgrounds of which 23 meet the selection criteria.
The Targhee National Forest is full of crystal clear water and breathtaking vistas patched together by rolling fields of golden grain and dark green potato plants. With such a variety in topography, the recreational opportunities found in the Targhee National Forest are equally varied and numerous. From water skiing on Palisades Reservoir to floating down the Buffalo River, trails that challenge the body and renew the spirit to miles and miles of rivers, streams, and creeks for the angler, wildlife viewing to the Forest's natural beauty, all await the visitor.
The Targhee National Forest was created in 1908 from the Henry's Lake Forest Reserve (established in 1905) and a portion of the 1891 Yellowstone Timber Land Reserve. Known today as one of the six National Forests sharing the Yellowstone Eco-system, Targhee, as observed by Diane Verna in the "Teton Valley: Top to Bottom," is an area that packs "almost as much punch as their national park neighbors without the hype or publicity."
Some regard the Targhee National Forest as being on the quiet side of the neighboring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Much of the crystal clear water flowing beside the campgrounds around Island Park and Ashton flow from the Yellowstone Plateau. Places like Big Springs next to the Big Springs campground are totally dependent on the snow melt from the Plateau. Here, the water maintains a constant 52-degree temperature and is so clear one can see the spots on a trout's chin. Another campground in the area, Warm River, shares both of these features plus offers excellent tubing opportunities. And than there is the Buffalo campground which offers not only great tubing and river campsites but good fishing and birdwatching opportunities. (Occasionally, a moose will visit Buffalo as if to be sure all at the campers are enjoying themselves.) And perhaps the best trout fishing in the Forest can be found in the clear water next to Upper Coffee Pot, but then it might be at Cave Falls campground.
During much of the drive through Targhee National Forest, the massive profile of the Teton Range can be seen. Silhouetted against the sky, the "tres tetons" dominate the horizon particularly on the way to Teton Canyon campground. A "Split personality" style campground, Teton Canyon campground offers one loop with nice level parking aprons in an open area and a darkly shaded spur along the North Fork of the Roaring Creek in a dense stand of conifers. Adjacent to the campground are two trail heads providing access to Jedediah Smith Wilderness, some little known rock climbing areas, and the backside of the Grand Teton National Park. (Contact the Forest Service for more information and regulations.)
For those who want to explore a less visited area of the Yellowstone National Park, there is the pleasantly rustic Cave Falls campground. Located where the Park and Targhee meet, this little campground is an excellent "homebase" for exploring the many falls in this corner of the Park.
The same geologic forces that created the National Parks provide the Targhee National Forest with some of its more spectacular sights. Scattered throughout the Forest are waterfalls cascading down cliffs of ancient volcanic material broken and moved by forces deep beneath the surface. Some, like the Waterfall Canyon, are a day hike away. And others, such as Upper and Lower Mesa Falls, are within easy reach and have become well-known, attracting visitors from around the world.
As with most National Forests, hiking is an important and excellent way to explore the Targhee. One of the more popular trails is the 8-mile Mike Harris-Mail Cabin trail (near the Mike Harris campground). This trail was used in the early 1900s to deliver mail in the winter when it was too dangerous to travel the Targhee Pass. Another very popular trail is the Palisades Creek Trail (near Riverside Park campground) which accesses the lower and upper Palisades lakes and Waterfall Canyon. And, the 6 miles of the Stoddard-VanNoy trail are a favorite with dirt bike enthusiasts.
For those who prefer their recreation on a large body of water, the 1.2 million-acre Palisades Reservoir awaits. A man-made lake used to hold irrigation water, Palisades Reservoir's level does drop considerably as the summer progresses but even half full it is an impressive body of water. Just across the Idaho state line, in Wyoming, the Alpine campground is nestled in a stand of mixed conifers on the reservoir's northeastern shore. Close to the whitewater opportunities of the Snake River, this campground is also convenient to wetlands and the abundant fowl life found there. Farther up the shore is another "split personality" campground called Blowout. Here campers have a choice: camp in the lacy shade of the upper level or in the open along shoreline. While the upper section of Blowout does offer cool shade and pleasant views in the shoreline section next to the boat ramp, campers can moor a boat right in front of their camping site.
The western most campground on Palisades Reservoir is named Calamity and can be reached by crossing the dam. With multiple loops hugging the steep sides of a ravine, camp sites with extra wide parking aprons for boat trailers, Calamity might be the most popular campground on the Reservoir. Views from most of the camp sites are delightful but best from Loop C, the steepest and highest loop in the campground. A huge boat ramp and parking area add to this campground's popularity. While boating and fishing opportunities are the big attractions at Calamity, berry picking in the campground is an additional attraction. The abundant fruit, such as huckleberry, chokecherries, and raspberries, found on the campground's steep slopes, offer a nice addition to any campsite meal.
The biggest problem with the Targhee National Forest is there are so many and varied recreational opportunities to enjoy, there just isn't enough time to do them all in one visit. One must come back again and again and again.
1405 Hollipark Dr.
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83403
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
46 Hwy. 20
Ashton, Idaho 83420
P.O.B. 975, HC 66
Island Park, Idaho 83429
225 W. Main St.
Dubois, Idaho 83423
3659 E. Ririe Hwy.
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83401
515 S Main St.
Driggs, Idaho 83422