Idaho is blessed with an unusually large number of wonderful backcountry fly-in lodges. Each has a particular stand-out quality, but Sulphur Creek Ranch has perhaps the best-rounded combination of attributes fly-in guests want. That’s why, in summertime, if you ask Idaho pilots where they flew last weekend, the most common answer is, “Sulphur Creek Ranch!”
Let’s take a look and see why Sulphur Creek Ranch is so popular. The runway sits within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and therefore qualifies as remote, yet it’s only a 45-minute flight from Boise, Idaho’s capital city. The approach and airstrip are challenging enough to make a pilot proud of a good landing, yet not so difficult that people shy away. The lodge itself is historic; you can feel the pulse of those who visited decades before. The bountiful breakfast gets rave reviews. Private guest cabins are very comfortable. You can fish in the pond just steps away from the lodge, or grab a friendly horse and ride to Sulphur Creek, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, or alpine lakes where native cutthroat trout hide. Hike in the forest, take a trail ride, or go for a guided hunt: All these activities are available.
Sulphur Creek Ranch is generally open from Memorial Day weekend to October. The Schroeders have managed the ranch since 2010. They’ve upgraded the cabins, and drop-in breakfasts have become more popular than ever, served Thursday through Monday from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Like other remote fly-in ranches, securing plenty of nourishing, home-cooked food for guests is a logistical challenge that requires careful planning and more than a little ingenuity. At Sulphur Creek, a rustic wooden sign hangs from the ceiling in the kitchen: “Menu: Yes or No.” This neatly sums up the ordering process. You’re either having a meal, or not. But don’t worry; you’re going to love the creations that come off or out of the ancient Monarch wood-fired stove/oven. Basically, it is like going to grandma’s for brunch in the old days: You get what's being prepared, and it’s a very big plate!
Lodging (and breakfast for guests) is provided seven days a week. Lunches and dinners are generally reserved for overnight guests, but fly-in lunches can be reserved ahead. Sulphur Creek has eight heated log cabins with private baths and showers; one has a kitchen. Overnight stays include three home-cooked meals, pond fishing, and evening bonfires with the horses. These are a real treat; the horses hang around and graze on the lawn.
If you seek the peaceful isolation of wilderness, you can find that all around Sulphur Creek. But if you like to meet new people, most of whom are pilots, you’ve come to the right place for that too. On weekends, pilots often arrive in groups of two or three aircraft. The 4,400-square-foot lodge is cozy and woodsy inside, with a pool table, backgammon, chess, poker table, and warped ping pong table to keep guests entertained.
Pilots can drop in for trail rides Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 to 10 a.m. (email in advance). Trail rides are available daily for guests; longer drop-camp fishing or hunting trips can be arranged. Guests have multiple options for fishing; the three-acre lake across the runway is a great place to start; catch-and-release, single-hook barbless; no fishing license needed for the lake, but you need one to fish the creek, river, or alpine lakes. One of the highlights of summer is to watch as huge Chinook salmon complete their epic journey from the Pacific Ocean. These fish made it past eight dams, swam more than 800 miles, and climbed over a mile! The salmon worked awfully hard to get here; you just need to hop in your airplane. What are you waiting for?