Most folks who float the Middle Fork of Salmon River in Idaho's Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area paddle quickly past this back country ranch owned by the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. Unless they look back upstream over their right shoulder before they round the bend below Mahoney Airstrip, Cougar Ranch remains just another unseen spot listed on their map of the Middle Fork. Located on river right at River Mile 40.4, few float parties camp on the big flat below the cabin because the shallow rocky shore with overhanging brush makes it difficult to land boats.
While stationed in Challis as a game warden from 1978-1987, I spent a lot of time at the Cougar Ranch Patrol Cabin. Beginning in 1981 we began remodeling the cabin and improving the irrigation system. In late spring 1982 I spent two weeks at the ranch putting in a new floor, a rock foundation, and improving the irrigation system. For the first week several other guys were there to help, but I spent the second week alone. My nearest neighbors during this time were six miles upstream at Thomas Creek and eleven miles downstream at Big Loon Creek. During this time I'd seen very few float parties as the river was extremely high and dangerous. Late one afternoon I nearly jumped out of my boots when someone walked around the corner of the cabin and spoke while my back was turned.
As it tuned out this party of boaters from Seattle had torn the floor out of one of their rafts in Jackass Rapids upstream and pulled in at Cougar Ranch to make repairs. Listed on the Forest Service River Guide as private property, they wanted to know if it was OK to camp for the evening. Even though listed as private property, the Department kept all it's properties open to the public except those leased to outfitters. So I said, "Sure, go ahead." Before returning to their boats to begin repairing the raft, they invited me to dinner. Being down to canned goods in my grub box it didn't me long to say, "Yes"! I've eaten many memorable meals along a lot of different western rivers, but this one definitely goes in the "Top Ten"!
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