Updated: May 28, 2020
Swan Valley area is one of my favorite places in Idaho. In less than an hour from my driveway, I can enter this beautiful valley, buy a Square Cone, marvel at the surrounding mountains, and view beautiful waterfalls and riffles along the South Fork. In addition, it just happens to have a multitude of great trails to hike.
Our family has hiked several of these trails. Palisades Creek Trail is a favorite, with many places to stop and view the stream. Further up the valley and past the dam lies both Little and Big Elk Creeks. Big Elk Creek is especially fun in September when the kokanee salmon are spawning, their bright red backs cutting wakes through the shallow water as they make their way upstream. More recently, our family enjoyed a morning hike up Sheep Creek, just downstream of the dam.
A friend first told me about Sheep Creek several years ago. It is off limits to human entry during the spring calving season as deer, elk and moose use this area as a nursery. As summer progresses and the animals seek cooler weather in the high country, the area opens up for camping, hiking and exploring. In September, I decided to take the family up there for a short hike.
The goal was to visit a meadow about a mile or so from the trailhead. It was mostly uphill, winding through the shady forest. We passed an elk hunter coming down the trail. I was uncertain if he was leaving because he heard our commotion or if the elk were nowhere to be found. Incidentally, I later tried my elk bugle when we arrived in the meadow, but nothing answered.
The kids had fun watching our dog, Timber, chase squirrels and flush grouse. Timber is a wirehaired pointing griffon and loves to spend time outside chasing critters. She is good about staying near us and usually comes when called…although she may be slow to respond if she has the scent of a grouse. Timber ran in front, sniffing her way through the trail and pausing periodically to make sure we were following.
Eventually, we reached the valley. On my last trip, I had counted about 9 mountain goats and hoped to see them again. Unfortunately, we had no such luck. We walked along the trail until my oldest son, Will, stopped and called for me. I walked to join him and found the carcass of a deer, the head and hide missing, but all the meat still there, rotting in the sun.
It was disappointing to find the results of a hunter who clearly decided they rules did not apply to him or her. By law they are supposed to remove all usable meat, which clearly did not happen. In addition, they left the carcass right by the trail in grizzly country. We were lucky no bear had claimed it yet, but it was only a matter of time. I chided myself silently for leaving the bear spray in the van at the trailhead.
We turned and left the meadow, heading down the trail back to the van. The kids chattered excitedly as Timber kept them entertained with her pointing and grouse flushing. The hike did not yield any mountain goat sighting or elk bugles, but the family had fun. And we topped it off with a Square Cone, as always.