Camping on Memorial Day Weekend is always a bit of a gamble, and the odds are doubly long this year.
The weather in the mountains and river canyons is often more like spring than summer at the end of May. The glorious start of hot days and warm nights is what we hope for on the three-day weekend. It’s not uncommon to get rain, mud and see-your-breath temperatures instead.
This weekend looks as though it has a good chance of matching that description. Forecasts call for the chance of rain to subside, but not disappear, starting today and lasting through Monday and for high temperatures to be in the 50s and 60s.
Then there is the weirdness we’ve come to expect from 2020. Nearly all public land in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington is open to recreation. But many state and federal campgrounds remain shuttered as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
That will make finding a spot to park your trailer or pitch your tent tough, even if you are like me and rarely stay in official campgrounds.
U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in northern Idaho and eastern Washington are slated to remain closed through the weekend, and camping at state parks is still on hold.
However, dispersed camping is allowed on national forest land. Dispersed camping is pretty much camping anywhere other than a developed campground. Many forest roads are peppered with such sites, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to land. They too are popular, and with developed campgrounds unavailable, competition for the do-it-yourself sites could be intense.
If you must have a developed campsite, check out some of the public ground administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency’s campgrounds have remained open through the pandemic, and most in Idaho will be open this weekend. But expect competition, even if the weather is less than ideal.
“We are seeing a lot of use on our trails and campsites,” said Suzanne Endsley, a spokeswoman for the agency at Coeur d’Alene. “People just want to get out and go camping and escape their houses.”
The bureau encourages campers and others to follow Gov. Brad Little’s “Recreate Responsibly” guidelines, which include the now familiar social distancing and good hygiene recommended for everyday life, thinking twice before traveling out of your county and being fully provisioned before departing if you do.
U.S. Forest Service units in Idaho are also encouraging visitors to follow state guidelines. That, and advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one reason the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest is waiting until May 30 to begin opening campgrounds. That is the same day Idaho State Parks are slated to reopen campgrounds.
Not all sites will be open at that time, said Carol Hennessey, recreation program manager for the forest. Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, the agency is behind in its spring work that includes making sure campgrounds are inspected and free of hazard trees.
“We are going to do our best we can, but we are probably not going to have every site open by then,” Hennessey said.
There is no date set for reopening campgrounds on the Umatilla National Forest that straddles northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. Forest spokeswoman Darcey Weseman said agency officials are working first to open day-use sites before looking at campgrounds.
If you are a gambling man or woman and itching to get out of the house this weekend, prepare for suboptimal weather, expect a scarcity of good campsites and wash your damn hands.
Barker may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.