Finding Deadwood – A Snapshot of Idaho’s Deadwood Reservoir

Finding Deadwood – A Snapshot of Idaho’s Deadwood Reservoir

Deadwood Reservoir has been an obsession of mine for the past couple of years. One cold winter night, I poured over an Idaho topographical map and discovered its presence, tucked neatly into the Idaho backcountry. I began to search for books and internet articles on the area, and found little information is available on the lake. Most internet sites regurgitated the same information, including elevation, acres, and general proximity.

My family camped near Stanley for the 4th of July weekend, and endeavored on a day trip to Deadwood in hopes of researching its viability for a family vacation. The best route we could establish is a forest service road that travels through Bear Valley. The route from highway to Deadwood reservoir is 36 miles, and took us 2 hours. The first 10 miles were riddled with potholes and washboards, but the road steadily improved the closer we got to the reservoir. A co-worker traveled the road to Bear Valley the same weekend, and told me it was the roughest he had ever seen it. He said the forest service will typically grade the road, which significantly cuts down on travel time. We had never been to Bear Valley, and after seeing the calm and picturesque waters of Bear Valley creek, we committed ourselves to a future adventure at that location. I had read an Idaho paddling book that said the creek was an excellent class II float, and after seeing it for myself I would have to say the book did not do justice to the beauty and serenity of the area.

As we neared the reservoir, we noticed that many of the unimproved campgrounds adjacent to the branch of the Deadwood River that dumps into the reservoir were empty. An odd sight for a 3-day holiday weekend, but I guess the remote location dramatically decreases the amount of visitors to the area. We traveled the circumference of the lake, and stopped at the dam to view the vast amount of water flowing from the structure. The lake was high but sandy beaches were still abundant. We stopped at the boat ramp in Cozy Cove, and launched our canoe and pontoon boats. After an hour of fishing, my wife landed a beautiful native Cutthroat trout, a good indicator the fishing opportunities are above par. The afternoon was spent fishing, paddling the shores to scout future campsites, and swimming in the lakes clear waters. For some reason, the water in Deadwood reservoir is markedly warmer than that of the lakes that encompass the Stanley basin.

If you plan a trip to Deadwood, here are some key points that may assist with your adventure.

· The road into Deadwood through Bear Valley can be rough, but I would have no problem pulling our 14′ motorcycle trailer, or a larger camp trailer up to 25′.

· There were no significant grades or switchbacks on the road through Bear Valley to Deadwood.

· If you like to paddle, consider staying a night in Bear Valley. Until around the 1st of August when water levels begin to subside, the creek is an excellent beginner to intermediate paddling opportunity.

· There are reservation-only and first-come first-serve campsites located on the East side of the reservoir.

· Riverside Campground, the first on the lake, is the most accessible to recreational vehicles.

· Cozy Cove, the last campground on the lake, is the most secluded and has the only boat ramp.

· If you take your chances and do not make reservations, there are a multitude of unimproved campsites located on the river before you reach the reservoir.

· Budget 2 hours for travel to the reservoir after you leave pavement; more if you are pulling a trailer.

· Be sure to top off your fuel tank in Stanley and take plenty of food and water. There are no services available within 2 hours of Deadwood.

My family is planning to spend a week at Deadwood for our vacation next year. There are precious few places left in Idaho where one can enjoy secluded camping, excellent fishing, peaceful paddling, and numerous ATV and motorcycle trails all from the same base camp.