Are you ready to Fly the Idaho back-country?

Any pilot can legally fly the Idaho backcountry, whether they are up to the task or not. You can know diddly-squat about mountain flying, density altitude or short, one-way strips but, with a big enough head and some over-confidence, pilots are perfectly free to take a stab at it. For the unprepared, I don’t recommend it. For the prepared, you’re in for the time of your life!

Photo from “Fly Idaho! A Guide to Adventure in the Idaho Backcountry” by Galen L. Hanselman

Today, returning to Indiana from a back-country flight through Idaho, the Sawtooth Mountains, and the many mountain ranges to the east, I have a new appreciation and respect for back-country pilots; those who fly with reverence for their surroundings, knowledge of the capability of their aircraft and superior piloting skills.  I know you want to fly the back-country. It’s the goal of every pilot who lives East of the Rocky Mountains and an admirable ambition within reach of most pilots — those who prepare. That said, slack pilots, do yourself a potential, lifesaving favor and choose a less stressful, less demanding destination.

Photo from “Fly Idaho! A Guide to Adventure in the Idaho Backcountry” by Galen L. Hanselman

Back-country flying requires precision piloting; the ability to slow fly your aircraft within narrow canyons into short, high-density airstrips.  Strips may be one-way, with no option for go-around. The surface might be grass if you’re lucky, but might also be rocky, gravel or cinder and your pretty prop and paint job just might get a ding, two or more.

Easy strip but still an introduction to high altitude flying. “Fly Idaho! A Guide to Adventure in the Idaho Backcountry” by Galen L. Hanselman

There’s just one word that adequately describes back-country flying:  BALLS. If you’re knowledgeable and prepared, lady pilots, taildragger or not, men the same, AND you’ve got the necessary balls you might be ready for the adventure of your lifetime! There’s one thing I can say with certainty. Be on your best game or don’t even think about flying the back-country.

Breakfast at Sulfur Creek Airport.

OK, I admit it. As pilots, a full life includes flying into Sulphur Creek Airport, Idaho for an early breakfast. The breakfast sign reads “NO $10. YES $25”. Our morning flight into Sulphur Creek from from Smiley Creek begins as an easy up-the-valley northbound flight, following the road and over a ridge. Approaching, while calling our position on 122.9, requires a turn northbound into the next valley, then a counter-clockwise turn while descending to pattern altitude between the mountains, long before you can see the airport. Descending low and slow, following instructions from other trusted pilots and YouTube videos, our hope is that our confidence has been well placed.  Wonderfully, within the valley, rounding the final 90 degree turn into Sulphur Creek, low and slow, ahead lies the welcoming sight of this wonderful back-country destination. We did it!!

Photo: AOPA Sulphur Creek short final. Sorry but way too busy to take approach pictures but trust me, this is the real deal! Don’t even think about touching down on that first few hundred feet. Be slow and hold it off, there’s plenty of time to get down as you roll out uphill on 28. ID74, Runway 28/10, 3300′ x 40′.

Many thanks to Mike & Patty Sizemore and Bill & Kate Gilstrip for inviting us to join them on this flying adventure. I had no idea we’d be flying into a Cessna 182 Straight Tall Fly-in at Smiley Creek (i.e. NOT taildraggers!) but it didn’t matter. Top notch pilots fly what they love and this time it was awesome early straight-tail C182s.

Departing Sulphur Creek, departing Runway 10

I should mention we bumped into a couple of celebrities out west. First was the famous Chef, Guy Fieri, at in Cody, Wyoming. He was laying low, one of a group of guys enjoying the old-west and group at the Proud Cut Salon in Cody. Great dinner by the way!

And next, a couple days later at an elevation of 8800′ atop a pullout at Bryce Canyon we bumped into the beautiful Abby Hornacek and her Fox News crew and producer, all surrounding and encouraging. Her parents were traveling along on her adventure, no doubt proud as can be!

Holy wow, who knew you can fly right over Yellowstone National Park and take in the incredible sights from above. A first for me!


It’s a classic photo. Think Forest Gump and you’re there, just like we were!


Loved everything about our flight south into Utah and all the National Parks. We got a dose of reality entering into Arizona though. The State has taken a recent Covid-19 hit and upon arrival we realized there was an 8 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew. Motels and food were hard to come by but with a little luck it all worked out. Next morning, with masks on, we couldn’t head north fast enough!

Traveling during Covid-19 was a constant challenge. States and localities differ in opinions and requirements. I kept my face mask handy at all times, ready for my “virtue signaling”. I’m not convinced face masks do diddly-squat but if it makes others feel better, I’m willing to participate. Heck, I’m a Type 1 Diabetic in the so-called “high risk” group but I just can’t call it a day yet. Life goes on, hopefully mine, and the best yet flying continues!


I read two book while traveling, both I highly recommend. “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” in Wyoming,  26 letters beautifully written by a former “wash-lady” to her previous employer in Missouri. Her heartfelt, astounding stories of life, hardship and determination in the old-west inspire me today.

Also, “Days on the Road, Crossing the Plains in 1865” is the diary of 24 year old Sarah Raymond Herndon;  a daily account  of her 4 month wagon train journey West to Montana.

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