Walter and Sara On the road to who knows where
We were camp hosts at Huckleberry Campground at Lake Cascade State Park for two months from May 15th to July 15th, 2016. Huckleberry is a beautiful campground with wonderful direct water access and gorgeous water views on Lake Cascade. It is a favorite campground with many people so we found it be busier than Buttercup or Sugarloaf Campgrounds where we had worked in 2015.

Buttercup and Sugarloaf are usually pretty empty mid-week but Huckleberry had many weeks when we were half full or more during the week. And since the host site is across from the waterfront sites we nearly always had neighbors during the week. This made recharging a bit more difficult for us.

The folks who camp at Huckleberry are mostly families who come to enjoy fishing and playing on the lake and riding their ATV's on the Forest Service roads to the west. We didn't have any problems getting them to quiet down at 10 pm for quiet hours and most of the folks were good about keeping their dogs on a leash. Our biggest problems had to do with the fact that Huckleberry has no overflow parking and people seem to think they need more than one vehicle when they come up from Boise. We were told that we could have people park in site 100, the administrative site that is closed to regularly camping and used when there are problems with reservations. However it holds 3 vehicles at maximum--and sometimes floods after a good rain.

Admin site Huckleberry

The other option is to send folks to park at Curlew, the tent-only campground next door. People resist this because it means their vehicle is out of sight over with other campers and they have to walk back.

Idaho State Parks have a daily motor vehicle entry fee (MVEF) that can be covered by buying an Idaho State Parks Passport Sticker from the DMV for only $10. But many folks don't do that and so we spent a lot of time not only talking about WHERE to park the extra cars but informing people that they owed $5 a night for their cars (which rarely made them happy).

Huckleberry is one of 11 campgrounds at Lake Cascade State Park, in the west central mountains of Idaho. It's located on the west side of the lake only 5 miles from the town of Donnelly.

Huckleberry Campground sign

Lake Cascade State Park's collection of 11 campgrounds are spread around 20 mile-long Cascade Reservoir (known as Lake Cascade by the locals). The campgrounds were originally developed by the US Bureau of Reclamation and then made into a State Park in the 1999. There are 5 campgrounds (and a Group Yurt site) plus 3 Forest Service campgrounds on the west side of the reservoir. There are 6 campgrounds (and a Group Use site) on the east side of the reservoir (plus two Day Use Areas). Because of all of these campgrounds and day use areas, Lake Cascade State Park has a lot of openings each year for camp hosts.

In 2016, they divided the summer season into two sessions: the first went from May 15 to July 12 and the second went from July 12 to early September. A few hosts worked both sessions but many, like us, only worked one session.

Huckleberry is a fairly level campground with 25 sites (in addition to the camp host site)--5 of which are companion or double sites so you have the equivalent of 30 sites that can take up to 8 people each. One weekend we had 150 members of the Meridian Baptist Church using 19 of our sites and the other 6 waterfront sites filled with other folks giving us a total of about 170 people. That may be shy of the maximum of 240 people that the campground can hold but it still felt pretty darned full for the 3 nights they were there.

The campground has no hookups (except for the host site which has a full hook up). There are 9 faucets with potable water, distributed around the center portion of the campground for campers to share. Campers are allowed to fill the tanks of the RVs and trailers from these faucets but not to stay connected up to them (yet another issue that cropped up regularly).

The campground has back-in sites like this one, some with water views.

Site 79 Huckleberry Campground Lake Cascade

This is site 79 which is one of the most popular sites since it has water views from two sides, some shade and is right next to a pair of our bathrooms.

Bathrooms on south end of Huckleberry campground

These are uni-sex vault toilets with no running water. They are wonderfully designed so that they never smell and the seasonal employees clean them daily so they are always presentable. There's really nothing like having people (mostly women) compliment you on how great smelling your bathrooms are!

There are also a few side pull-through sites distributed around the perimeter. There are two of them on the waterfront side which are also very popular. They don't have much shade so when it's really hot they sometimes stand empty.

Site 81 Huckleberry Campground

There are five sites along the waterfront which once the summer weather set in were full most of the time. People make their reservations 9 months in advance to secure these sites for the weekends but they are occasionally open for walk up campers during the week for a night or two.

Huckleberry has lots of lookie-loo traffic and walk up campers because it's the first of the Lake Cascade campgrounds folks come to when they drive in from Donnelly on the north end of the lake. We had a steady parade of folks looking for sites both for weeknights and people looking for sites for the weekends (sometimes starting on Wednesday or Thursday). Since we were usually already booked for the weekend the latter could get tedious.

All the campsites in Huckleberry have a fire ring. It was our job to clean out all the trash folks left in them when they left (and put out the fires they left smoking) and to dig out surplus ash when they got full.

Fire circle Huckleberry Campground Lake Cascade

Most of the sites also have a upright grill that a few people used for charcoal. We cleaned these out too when they got full of ash.

Grill Huckleberry Campground

There are two grassy areas in among the waterfront sites where there is good  access down to the water. As the lake drops a beach appears here where kids play and people beach their boats, jet skis and water toys. There’s no moorage on the lake but boaters are allowed to tie their boats up to the bank as long as they put in a tie up point and don’t use the park’s rocks, trees or bushes.

Huckleberry doesn't have a boat launch but there is a Forest Service boat launch about 1/2 mile north and there is a State Park boat launch at Buttercup about 1 mile south. Buttercup has nice parking for boat trailers that campers can use at no charge. However as a camp hosts we spent some of our time issuing hang tags for our campers who wanted to use the boat launch parking lot.

Huckleberry also has a number of sites with full shade in among a grove of trees.

Treed sites at Huckleberry Campground

These sites are very popular all week long in the heat of summer.

The number one most popular site in the campground is site 87 which has trees, is on the water and is very private feeling. It was full nearly every night from Memorial Day on.

Site 87 Huckleberry Campground

As camp hosts we were responsible for greeting the campers and answering their questions; keeping the reservations tags up to date on each site; picking up litter all over the campground; checking the bathrooms for litter and toilet paper twice a day; and watering the grass. People aren’t required to check in with the camp hosts when they arrive but we tried to at least stop by and say hi and ask if they had questions sometime within the first few hours of their arrival. We weren’t responsible for enforcing rules but we were asked to inform campers of leash requirements and quiet hours and any other rules folks seemed to be breaking (riding ATV’s in the park, parking on the grass, having too many tents or cars in a site and hooking their rigs up to the faucets).

On the weekends, we were asked to keep a record of the license plate numbers of all the vehicles in each site and whether they had Idaho Passport stickers. This could take an extra trip or two around the campground on Friday evening to get everyone checked in but usually once we made it through Friday it was no big deal. On very full weekens like 4th of July, this could get interesting as the extra cars built up (and changed).

The policy of the park is that the host's job is to inform people of the rules not to enforce them. Thus as a host you only talk to people about a rule once. If the campers choose to ignore the rule then it's the ranger's job to talk to them. This could be a bit tricky when it came to extra cars. We'd talk to folks about paying for extra car #1 and then it would leave and extra car #2 would arrive and we'd need to tell them to pay if they didn't have a sticker. Some folks had lots of different vehicles staying with them and frankly we'd reach our limit after the cars changed 3 or 4 times!

In the center of the campground, not far from our host site, is the main bathroom. It has a men’s and women’s bathroom each with 2 stalls. There’s no running water in the bathrooms—which sometimes is a shock to folks. You get to wash you hands at one of the nearby water spigots. Our seasonal employees clean these bathrooms every day too all summer and keep them clean and smelling wonderful.

Huckleberry Campground restrooms

Each morning and evening when we did our rounds, we'd check to be sure that there was toilet paper in these bathrooms (and the other two bathrooms on the south end of the campground). If we had lots of tenters, they'd go through a lot of toilet paper between our 8 pm rounds and our morning rounds. But since the seasonals usually came mid-afternoon, often times we didn't need to add TP in the evening.

Back at the south end of the campground there’s a nice little bridge that goes over a slough.

Bridge from Huckleberry to Curlew

If you follow the trail from here you end up at Curlew, the tent only campground (which has its own entrance on West Mountain Rd) next door. This is a first-come-first-served campground with 5 un-numbered sites. It only costs $10.60 a night (without the car fee) and while many weekends there is no one in it, on busy weekends there is a mad scramble to get a spot here.

Curlew Tent Campground

Technically, as hosts we didn't need to do anything with Curlew but we did monitor it to tell the office when it was full and we'd check the bathrooms for toilet paper on weekends when it was full of people. We'd also do litter patrol once it emptied out. But we let the rangers answer people's questions and deal with fees over there since we had our hands full with Huckleberry.

The host campsite at Huckleberry is a back-in site in the center portion of the campground near the main bathroom.

Huckleberry Host site

Our back windows gave us a view of the open grassy area.

Huckleberry campground

And the view from our side door patio area was wonderful especially when the campground was empty.

Huckleberry campground

The firewood bin is on the road in front of the host's site. There are pay envelopes ($5 a bundle) and folks are supposed to put the envelopes in the pay tube at the campground entrance but often tried to give them to us.

Wood bin Huckleberry Campground

The pay station is across the campground from the host near the park entrance. Here's the view from the cattle guard at the entrance.

Entry view of Huckleberry Campground

And here's the pay station. Note the yellow tube that says, "Pay Here".

Huckleberry pay station

The fee structure in the Idaho State Parks is fairly complex with different fees for instate vs out of state campers and discounts for seniors Monday through Thursday evenings plus the Motor Vehicle Entrance Fee which confused people even more. Folks would often times show up at our door to ask what they owed once the sign had confused them enough. I made up a 'cheat sheet' with all the various fees so I could quickley figure out their fees.

Every day we received an updated list of the reservations for the next 7 days. On Monday’s I’d wipe the dry eraser marker off each tag and write in the next week’s reservations. Then when the updated list arrived I’d just need to double check for additions and cancelations through the weekend and make changes to the tags as needed. The tags are riveted to the numbered posts at each site. That makes cleaning them off a bit of a challenge (I call it praying to the reservations tags) since you have to squat or kneel down 25 times in the hour or so it takes to clean the tags. My creaky knee was always crackling by the time I was done.

Sara Schurr cleaning reservation tag

We expected that watering at Huckleberry would be as big a job as it had been at Buttercup the year before. But Mother Nature came to our aid in 2016 with heavy rain several different times so that we only watered 3 times in the 2 months we were there. We would have liked to have watered the week after the 4th of July but the campground was too full of people so we couldn't water. But then it rained heavily the next weekend so all was good.

The soil at Huckleberry is very sandy and so once the weather turned warm what little grass there was began to turn quickly. The 'lawn' is actually mostly made up of wild strawberries, dandelions and clover with a bit of grass mixed in here and there. The grass along the waterfront is sparse but the lake seems to water it nicely at least until it recedes pretty far out. The grass along the road holds up the best because it's rather boggy on that side of the campgound. In fact, when it rained in May it flooded over there.

Flooding Huckleberry Campground

The rangers and managers at this park were simply wonderful in 2015.  They were appreciative, supportive and responsive. However, in 2016 they experienced a big turn-over and only one of the rangers remained when we returned in May. We were short a ranger until July 1 (they usually have 4 and we only had 3 to cover the whole park). And the two new rangers still needed a lot training when the high season began. I'm sure that will be all worked out by the end of the season but it made it a bit more challenging for us because we often times knew more than our ranger did.

This year we arrived in time for the full-day host training session which was informative in general but lacked a lot in terms of what was actually expected from the hosts on a daily basis. Since we weren't new it didn't matter too much but it was hard on our one new host in the first session. They're working to remedy this for the second session and I'm sure things will be better in 2017.

The notebook for the campsite is well organized and has lots of information. They provided a box of literature to help answer people’s questions about trails, drives and recreational opportunities. All the repairs that we requested around the campground were done quickly and we started the season with 5 working Rainbirds and the campground gained 300 feet of new hose too which was a real boon.

The fishing off Huckleberry is good. People caught rainbow trout, bass and perch from the banks and from their boats. The bird watching was good too. We had Great Blue Herons, osprey, bald eagles, redwing blackbirds, woodpeckers and a ton of small song birds on a regular basis. There were ducks, geese, white pelicans and western grebes out in the lake.

Red-napped Sapsucker

We were visited by deer, foxes and small squirrels. Curlew has LOTS of ground squirrels and there were some at the south end of Huckleberry too. But we didn't have huge problems with them in the main campground.

It is 22 miles to the town of Cascade and only 17 miles to McCall from Huckleberry. There are two very nice grocery stores, an Ace Hardware, an inexpensive laundromat and a Rite Aid in McCall so we oriented that direction. There is a laundromat in Donnelly too which is only 7 miles away and equally nice and inexpensive (and had free wifi). Cascade has a small grocery store and a laundromat too if you want to make the longer drive. We like McCall a lot and enjoyed Payette Lake and Ponderosa State Park on our days in McCall doing errands.