Smiley Creek Idaho and the Stunning Sawtooth Mountains

We have a Sprinter van we love, mainly because it has a big bed, a kitchen and it is much easier to use the bathroom in the van compared to the 210 airplane. But of course we can get somewhere in three hours in the 210 compared to two days in the van. On this trip we were able to have our cake and eat it too by having our son NeyJ and his girlfriend Kathy drive our van out to Smiley Creek Idaho while we flew. This also meant they could bring kayaks and bikes so I didn’t have to tie the kayaks on the wings like I normally do.

Black Rock Desert (where Burning Man usually occurs when there isn’t a virus)

As usual Betsy and I (and our two dogs) launched early in the morning for a flight east over the mountains and desert in order to catch that calm air. It was still calm enough that when we got near the Black Rock Desert that I descended to 500 feet over the ground for a high speed run across the desert. Betsy, a nervous flyer, found that fun and enjoyed the sense of speed you get when you are that close to the ground. We didn’t really even climb all that much (maybe to 6,000 feet) until we got to the Sawtooths, when we climbed abruptly to 10,000 feet then right back down again to land.

The airstrip at Smiley Creek is high at 7,200 feet but it also very long at 5,000 feet. My 210 is actually a T210, which means turbocharged and that helps quite a bit at high altitude strips. Plus it was just Betsy and I without a full fuel load or much luggage so no worries at all. It hadn’t been mowed for a few days and that made for a very soft landing, and then a surprising amount of power to taxi. Smiley Creek is a beautiful airstrip with a full-time caretaker that keeps the strip watered and mowed.

The long airstrip can be seen on the flats

NeyJ and Kathy had left the day before in the van and met us in time for dinner. This is during the COVID pandemic so we picked a dispersed camping spot near a lake (Petit Lake) and spent the week hiking, swimming, kayaking and mountain biking. There is good camping right at the airport but not with the van too. We canceled a planned shuttle boat trip across Redfish Lake because the boat was crowded with only half wearing masks.

A few days in I took NeyJ and Kathy for a flight over the Sawtooths and I pulled off one of my favorite maneuvers. I get the plane situated above the peaks, find a nice canyon that flows out into the valley, then pull the power completely off and glide down into the canyon. If it is really steep then I even drop gear and flaps though this time I didn’t need to. It’s pretty thrilling to have the canyon walls so close on each side while you are quietly gliding (and dropping) by.

The lake we camped at, from the air
Lazy afternoons at the camp site
The famous Fisher Creek ride

After eight days of outdoor fun we camped next to the plane then got up early for a morning departure. We stopped for fuel in Mountain Home Idaho, but because we gained an hour with the time zone change we still landed at home by 10:00 am. After all these years flying I’m still in awe that we could be standing looking the Sawtooth mountains in Idaho in the morning and be home for lunch.

The van arrived two days later and, being young and all, they enjoyed the long drive back.

COVID note (July 2020): The Smiley Creek Lodge across the street from the airport has an outdoor dining deck. They have also taken some of the tables and moved them onto the lawn. Masks are required to go inside to shop. This wasn’t the case for some other restaurants in Stanley. where they had made no changes. In any case if you are interested in flying into Smiley Creek and eating at the lodge it seems pretty safe to do so.

4 thoughts on “Smiley Creek Idaho and the Stunning Sawtooth Mountains

  1. Great trip! I spend almost half my time in Idaho in the Summer. Much cooler. Enjoyed your post!

  2. Sweet, thanks Ney, loved our interview and working on it with my editor…

    BB

    >

  3. Yeah, it’s a pretty special feeling when your wheels touch down on the tall grass at Smiley Creek! Really one of the nicest in all of Idaho. My wife and I honeymooned in one of the cabins at the lodge. Just four walls and a bed, not even a TV! Not that we noticed. Sure hope it hasn’t changed.

  4. Yeah, it’s a pretty special feeling when your wheels touch down on the tall grass at Smiley Creek! Really one of the nicest in all of Idaho. My wife and I honeymooned in one of the cabins at the lodge. Just four walls and a bed, not even a TV! Not that we noticed. Sure hope it hasn’t changed.

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