Thursday, October 11, 2018

Be aware: Hunting season is underway! Try Snowbank Mountain for a colorful escape

Snowbank Mountain in the spring (courtesy John Platt)
You'll see the trailhead for Blue Lake on the way up to Snowbank. Nice spot! (from Boise Trail Guide)
Hi all,

Well it's that time of year when deer and elk hunters are roaming the woods in search of game. That increases the level of danger for non-hunters who may be out hiking, trail-running or biking on  Idaho's public lands, so be sure to wear bright colors and put bright colors on your pets.

Just so you know, general deer season started on Wednesday, Oct. 10, statewide, and in some areas, elk season started on the same day or will follow soon thereafter. There are multiple big game seasons throughout October and November depending on location, so be safe out there.

In the meantime, the fall colors are really popping in the higher elevations right now. I had to drive from Boise up to Whitebird earlier this week, and I saw the tamarack trees beginning to turn in Long Valley, while the aspens are turning yellow, orange and red, and the shrubs are doing the same.

So I have four recommendations for outdoor outings this week:

1.  Go visit Snowbank Mountain in Valley County to enjoy fall colors and maybe go for a walk at the top of the mountain or over to Blue Lake. It's hard to say how much snow is on top of Snowbank, but as things warm up in the next day or so, I don't think that will be an impediment to reach the mountain top if you have a solid 4WD vehicle. If snow is an issue, you could always stop earlier and go for a walk on the road in your snow boots.

Snowbank Mountain is accessible via Cabarton Road, past the put-in for the Cabarton reach of the Payette River. The turnoff is on your left. A well-maintained dirt road winds its way to the top of the mountain, where a FAA site is maintained and there are many cell towers, etc. Elevation is over 8,000 feet, so the views are spectacular.

Wendy on the Crown Point Trail 
2. Crown Point Trail - This is another spot in the Cascasde area where you could enjoy fall colors on a wide dirt road. The 3-mile old RR grade non-motorized trail goes along Cascade Reservoir, providing fetching views of West Mountain across the lake. You can hike it, run it or bike it. Three miles out, three miles back. Rated easy. There are choice areas with lots of sandy beachfront below the trail where you could stop, eat lunch and enjoy the scenery. The trailhead is by the Crown Point Campground in Cascade, near Cascade Dam.

Taking your kids up to the Intermountain Bird Observatory
offers a chance for them to release a banded hawk ... 
3. Go visit the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Lucky Peak - Professionals will be up there netting songbirds and birds of prey as they migrate to the south and get drawn to the top of Lucky Peak mountain by crafty quail traps that the bird-handlers provide. You can combine a trip to Lucky Peak by hiking to the top or mountain biking to the top, or you can drive to the top in a solid 4WD high-clearance vehicle. See more details about the bird observatory here.

4. Stay close to home and visit Boise Foothills trails. You're not likely to encounter any deer hunters in the Boise foothills except for maybe off of Rocky Canyon Road. The colors are beginning to change in Military Reserve, Hulls Gulch, Dry Creek, Five Mile Trail, Watchman Trail and Peggy's Trail. But the colors will not be as impressive as they are at higher elevations in Valley County.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, October 4, 2018

State Parks special! Five fall hikes in SW Idaho - Bruneau Dunes, Dry Creek and more

On a clear day, you can see a long ways across the Snake River Plain from the top of Bruneau Dunes 
Hi all,

Sure nice to get some moisture today, we certainly need it, but a continued unstable weather pattern will bring us more moisture on Saturday as well. That leaves Friday and Sunday as the best days to get outside and play this weekend.

I gave a presentation on my favorite fall/winter hikes close to home last night at Boise REI, so it seemed like a good idea to share a few of those gems with you for my outdoor tip of the week.

I touched on 25+ hikes from my Boise Trail Guide and Owyhee Canyonlands guides, so that's WAY too much info. to share here, so I'll shake the dice and deliver five of them ... suitable for this weekend:

  • Bruneau Dunes State Park, south of Mountain Home - Take the kids and go play in the sand. Take your camping stuff if you're so included (check on space with IDPR). Easy to do in a day trip or overnight. Bruneau Dunes has a 470-foot high sandy mountain inside the park. Take a hike on the ridge of the dune. People also try to ski and snowboard the dunes. It's always a cool place to explore. 
    These were our GPS tracks of doing a loop around the dunes (light green line)
  • Eagle Island State Park in west Eagle - Take a 5-mile hike in the park to tour both channels of the Boise River. The trails in the park are generally well-drained with gravel along the river. Hiking time: 2 hours; Vertical rise: 55 feet (essentially flat). Rated: Easy. Make sure you buy one of those $10 annual park passes with your vehicle registration so you have a free pass to get into any state parks in Idaho. Well worth it!! 
 


  • Huckleberry Trail in Ponderosa State Park - If you happen to be in McCall, the "Huck" is especially colorful right now. Wendy and I did the loop 2 weeks ago, and it was really starting to light up! It's about 3.5 miles to do the loop. 400 feet of vertical gain. Hiking time: 2 hours. Biking time is 45 minutes to 1+ hours, depending on your speed. The trail has lots of rocks and roots, but the views are wonderful -- you look out on Payette Lake as you tour of the peninsula. You can climb to the top of Osprey Point at the mid-point for a nice overview of Payette Lake and the surrounding mountains. Do this hike on Sunday. The air will be crisp in McCall -- a high of 52 is forecast. 
    Wendy enjoyed the fall colors on the Huckleberry Trail in Ponderosa State Park. 
  • Charcoal Gulch, Idaho City - Take a drive to Idaho City and go for a nice colorful hike on the Charcoal Gulch Trail, just on the outskirts of town. Find the trail by the Idaho City Airport (ever been there?) on the south side of town. There's a little trailhead on the north side of the airport. Take the Buena Vista Trail along the edge of the mountain, and then you'll see the junction for Charcoal Gulch. There are aspens and pines along the way, plus a small creek.  
    Charcoal Gulch Trail weaves through ponderosa pine trees and aspens near Idaho City. (Courtesy Visit Idaho) 
  • Dry Creek out and back, Boise Foothills - Friday afternoon or Sunday should be a good day to go for a walk on Dry Creek. The colors should be getting good up there, too! The trailhead is off of Bogus Basin Road, several miles up from Boise, on the right side, as the road begins a series of hairpin switchbacks. You'll see other cars at the trailhead. It's a big day to hike to the top of the Boise Ridge via Dry Creek (7.5 miles, 2000+ vertical feet), so just take your time and go as far as you want.
    Steve rides one of the nice bridges across the Dry Creek
    Trail in the upper Boise Foothills. 
  • Bonus #6: Head up to Bogus Bogus, ride the chairlift and go for a bike ride or hike from the top of Deer Point lift. I saw that they are running the lifts on Saturdays and Sundays through October. The promotion this weekend is that if parents buy their college student a season pass ($160), the whole family gets to ride the chairlift for free.   
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A few notes:

  • Our friends at the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands wanted me to share that they have raised enough money to pay for restoring the Plantation pedestrian bridge on the Boise River Greenbelt. It may be installed by next spring! 
  • The Idaho Whitewater Association will be doing a litter pickup project along the Payette River on Saturday. See Facebook event for more information.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Explore five scenic drives in Southwest Idaho where you're guaranteed to see fall colors

Scenic vistas of the Sawtooth Mountains (courtesy iexplore.com) 
Upper Payette River along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway
Classic scene at the Rainbow Bridge on Idaho 55, Payette River Scenic Byway
Idaho scenic byway routes in Southern Idaho
North Fork Owyhee River canyon 
Silver City - hiking up Jordan Creek with Wendy
Hi all,

Fall colors are beginning to pop everywhere right now. What better way to enjoy the colors than to take a scenic drive?

I recently traveled to Salmon and back via Idaho 93, Idaho 75, Idaho 21 and the Banks to Lowman highway, and I saw aspen trees and cottonwoods turning yellow, and the shrubs are glowing orange, yellow and red, particularly at higher elevations.

To enjoy the colors, I'm recommending five scenic drives. Click on the links to see the scenic byway detailed descriptions via VisitIdaho:

1. Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway - Idaho 21 and the Banks-to-Lowman Highway. I saw full mountainsides glowing red this week near Grand Jean and Lowman.

2. Sawtooth Scenic Byway - The Sawtooth Valley is at a higher elevation and thus, the colors are happening big-time right now. Following Idaho State Highway 75 through Ketchum-Sun Valley and then over Galena Summit into the Sawtooth Valley should be spectacular. Do the big loop by combining the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Highway on Idaho 21 from Boise with the Sawtooth Scenic Byway on the way home, going from Stanley to Ketchum and then back to the Treasure Valley via U.S. 20. Stop for lunch in Ketchum. There are many great restaurants to choose from. I personally like the Pioneer, Whiskey Jacques, and Lefty's.

3. Payette River Scenic Byway - Take Idaho 55 north to McCall to enjoy fall colors along the North Fork of the Payette River and in the Payette National Forest. Once in McCall, keep going north on Warren Wagon Road toward Upper Payette Lake and Burgdorf Hot Springs to see even more brilliant colors. Bring a swimsuit and towel to enjoy the natural geothermal hot water at Burgdorf. The hot springs won't be accessible by vehicle much longer until snow shuts the road and turns it into a snowmobile highway. That usually happens in late November. Stop for lunch in McCall -- there's a great sushi place as well as multiple other venues with sandwiches and burgers.

4. Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway - Take a big drive from Grand View to Jordan Valley, Oregon on this scenic byway on backcountry dirt and gravel roads. It's about 100 miles and full day's drive to cover the byway. Beyond the BLM online guide, we provide all the details on this scenic drive in our popular guidebook, The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guideby yours truly and fine arts photographer Mark Lisk. There are restaurants and services in Grand View and Jordan Valley. Make sure you top off your gas tank before venturing off into the Owyhees!

5. Take a scenic drive to Silver City in the Owyhee Mountains. The aspen trees are turning color in the quaint mining ghost town, located near Murphy. There are places to go hiking and mountain biking in Silver City. Details are available in The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure GuideTo reach Silver City, go south of Nampa on Idaho 45 to the Snake River and junction with Idaho 78. Turn left to head for Murphy and watch for a signed right-hand turn to Silver City. It's paved road for a while, and then it turns to dirt. Pack a lunch and enjoy the day!

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Try Cycle Oregon for week of challenging, scenic road biking with friends

Happy rider grinding up the hill on Day 1 to Halfway, OR
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon 
Wendy found an unexpected friend in the Blue Mountains 
Leaving Wallowa Lake and heading for Elgin on Day 3 ... cool, beautiful morning. 
Hi all,

I'm happy to say that Wendy and I survived Cycle Oregon last week, a big event with 2,000 fellow road bikers who rode 383 miles and climbed 23,612 vertical feet over six days of riding. Whew!

Passing through a rainbow of balloons at the finish line in Baker, Oregon, last Saturday afternoon, after riding 60 miles from La Grande to Baker on scenic back roads, I felt a major rush of happiness overtake my body, a feeling of accomplishment, and a feeling of freedom -- getting my life back after being engulfed in a pretty intense drill of road-biking boot camp for 7 days in a row. 

The route Cycle Oregon selected this year was absolutely beautiful in NE Oregon. That was a big draw for me since I lived in La Grande as a cub reporter for the Observer in the early '80s, and I used to ride my road bike everywhere in the Grande Ronde Valley in my free time. I even did some long-distance rides from La Grande to Wallowa Lake, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Main Stage in La Grande ... Karaoke night. Kind of a stich! 
We also were motivated to participate in Cycle Oregon because some friends of ours from Portland were signed up, and I thought it would be a cool thing to do in my 60th year. Road biking really helps me burn calories and improve fitness in a way that's superior to mountain biking. And I thought the challenge of doing Cycle Oregon might be appealing to Wendy after her Mom died in late May. It would give her a fitness goal and something positive to do while working through the grieving process. She had 3 months to train! Wendy liked the idea, she took ownership of it, and did fantastic.

Wendy had never ridden 80 miles in a day in her life, until she did Cycle Oregon. She wondered out loud, in a joking way, why she had waited until she was 61 to tackle a big week of road riding! Oh well! 

On Day 2 of Cycle Oregon, we camped at Wallowa Lake State Park, with the Eagle Cap Wilderness towering above us, at the end of a grueling ride, the most challenging day of the whole journey. The Day 2 itinerary motivated us to do big training rides, because we had to ride 78 miles over three mountain passes from Halfway to Wallowa Lake, climbing 6,682 feet along the way. Like we used to say in Minnesota ... OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOFFFFTA. That's a big day!

Morning sunlight greets us on the ominous Day 2
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon 
Weeks before we did Cycle Oregon, I'd wake up with a knot in my gut, thinking about whether I was ready for Day 2. And that would motivate me to go do a training ride, perhaps ride Bogus, or do some other bigger ride with at least 4,000 feet of climbing and 60+ miles.

And you know what? Weeks of training paid off. I focused on pacing myself on Day 2; I would enjoy the scenery no matter what. After I crossed the first summit and descended to the Imnaha River for lunch, I felt that I had done a good job conserving energy for the next two summits. But ... an annoying little twinge surfaced in the back of my right leg as I started to climb that afternoon. That was weird. I stopped to stretch that out, and tried to spin easier gears on the climbs so I didn't cramp up or aggravate that weird twinge. That strategy worked.

At the final summit, we had great views of the Wallowas and Hells Canyon, and Cycle Oregon dished up the best snack stop we'd seen yet. They had Gatorade on ice, Diet Coke, Snickers bars, apples,  grapes, peanut butter treats, Goo, and more, and I gobbled all of that down while sitting on a spare lawn chair. I'd already burned over 6,000 calories on the climbs, and I still had 20 miles to go!

Those treats got me to Wallowa Lake State Park. I arrived at 4 p.m., set up camp, and watched for Wendy. She rolled in at 5:30 p.m. She had done it. I was so proud of her! 

Heading to lunch stop in North Powder, with the Elkhorns in the background. Can you see the fresh cheapseal? Boo!
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon
People who are thinking about getting into road biking or trying something like Ride Idaho or Cycle Oregon should be inspired by Wendy's story. If she can do it, anyone can who puts their mind to it. It helps to do long-distance rides with big groups. Your fellow riders motivate you. You might meet a friend along the way. Or someone might pull up behind you and draft; and then lead later on. It's fun to ride in a draft line with people riding at the same relative speed; it's a great way to preserve energy.

Friend Sue Hartford, a Boise nurse, has ridden Cycle Oregon several times. These were her thoughts about the ride this year. "Cycle Oregon was a challenging week of riding with always-fun "after-spots," she says. "Beautiful scenery ending in a cute welcoming town or beautiful park! They set up an amazing city in itself. It was a time to also get reaquainted with old friends and make new ones. Thank you Cycle Oregon once again!" 

Cycle Oregon makes things fun by carrying all of your gear, providing excellent hearty hot meals at breakfast and dinner, and they have a main stage that travels to base camp each day. Live music cranks up at 3:30 p.m., and the beer taps are flowing and the wine bar is open. Some groups bring RVs and extra supplies so they have their own food and party materials to supplement what's provided by Cycle Oregon.

At the finish line in Baker ... happy to be done! 
Cycle Oregon also gives back to the local communities. They have announcements on the main stage each evening at 7:30 p.m., and give the riders a chance to be welcomed by local people and hear about their communities. We even heard from a Nez Perce tribal elder at Wallowa Lake.

After 4 days of riding, we earned a rest day in Pendleton, site of the famous Pendleton Round Up, which was in full swing. We bought tickets to see the rodeo events that day, and had the privilege of watching Native Americans compete in a bareback relay race. That was the most exciting thing we saw all day!

Mostly, however, we enjoyed resting our legs for 24 hours. The annoying little twinge went away in my right leg from the rest. Wendy and I took naps. And in the late afternoon, we had more time to enjoy the beer garden, and had wine with dinner with friends. We had a substantial climb to La Grande the next day, but only 55 miles. We were on the downward side of the hump.

I highly recommend Cycle Oregon, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Ride Idaho, too. Get some friends together and make it a goal! Think of it as a present to you!
- SS
She did it! Yay Wendy Wilson! 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A great Idaho bucket list item -- Float the Salmon River from Headwaters to the Sea

Karoline Woodhead runs Big Mallard on the Main Salmon River of No Return 
Hi all,

Jeff Hennessy, one of the river guides
My outdoor tip this week is about Floating the Salmon River from Headwaters to the Sea. It's a 900-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, OR, and 425-mile trip from Smiley Creek Lodge to Lewiston.

Some friends of mine did the whole enchilada last summer. I wrote up their trip in an article for the Statesman Outdoors and Lewiston Tribune Outdoors.

Follow those links to read all about it! Pretty impressive! Thirty days on the river is pretty great therapy for just about anyone!

On Saturday, Wendy and I are off to ride Cycle Oregon in NE Oregon for a week of road riding with about 2,000 other roadies. Seven days and 383 miles, including some quality time in the Wallowas. Starts and finishes in Baker, OR. Should be fun! I'll tell you all about my trip after I get back ...

- SS

Hanging out in camp on a sandy beach ... one of my favorite parts of a river trip. 
Bob Beckwith, trip leader, went all the way
from Smiley Creek to the Pacific Ocean

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Here's at least 25 last-minute outdoorsy destinations for Labor Day weekend

Folks could go camping in Stolle Meadows and look for spawning salmon 
Just a faint bit of smoke haze at the top of Brundage today. Beautiful temperature up there! 
Hi all, 

Labor Day weekend is upon us, the typical last weekend of camping in the summer season, so I'm dishing up some last-minute tips for the three-day weekend. 

Before we get into the camping ideas, both Bogus Basin and Brundage Mountain have some fun stuff going on this weekend. 

Mountain bikers ride the Deer Point lift FREE on Friday! On Saturday, Sept. 1, marks the final segment of Music on the Mountain at Bogus Basin for the summer, highlighted by the Aldape Bootstompers and Jeff Crosby. The event feature live music throughout the afternoon in the nicely andscaped base area outside of the Simplot Lodge from noon to 6 p.m. Fun Zone activities, including summer tubing, bungee trampoline, gem panning, and climbing wall, will operate from 11 am to 7 pm., and so will the Deer Point Chairlift.

Bear Valley is a nice off-the-beaten-path spot for camping these days. 
On Friday night, Aug. 31,  Brundage is hosting a free concert with Jeff Crosby and the Refugees. The seafood boil is sold out, but other dinner food will be available during the concert. The Bluebird quad will be running from 10 am to 5 pm Friday through Monday. I saw it running today, but I rode up from McCall! 

Now, on to the camping ideas and other Labor Day ideas ... the weather looks stellar camping, hiking and biking this Labor Day weekend, with daytime highs in the 80s in the Boise Valley, and the 70s in Stanley, Sun Valley and McCall.
  • Close to home, you could work on the Boise Foothills Trail Challenge, essentially work on riding all of the trails in the Ridge to Rivers trail system in one month. People are doing the challenge in memory of Jason Delgodilla, one of the founders of Boisetrails.com, who died earlier this year.  
  • Also close to home, hike Mt. Kepros or Mt. Cervidae, both part of the Boise Grand Slam Peaks. 
  • Cascade area - Stolle Meadows and Landmark are my favorite camping areas in this neck of the woods. There are tons of primitive car-camping spots in both locations, east of Cascade, off the Warm Lake Highway. Plus, there are hot springs in the vicinity. FYI: There should be salmon spawning in Stolle Meadows this weekend. Take Forest Service Road #427 to Stolle Meadows. Once there, you can take the road south up to a trailhead for Rice Lake and Rice Peak. Nice and easy hike up to Rice Peak, and you can explore ridge tops from there ...  
    Lick Creek area in the Payette National Forest 
  • McCall area - Camping, hiking and backpacking in the Lick Creek area NE of McCall should be fabulous. Some of the nice mountain lakes up there include Box, Snowslide, Duck, Hum, Enos and Thirty-three lakes. Pick up a Payette National Forest map or a McCall Adventure Map to get the details for access. Also, check my blog from earlier this summer on five easy-to-access kid-friendly mountain lakes in the McCall area. 
    Stanley Lake 
  • Stanley area - I'm sure the Stanley area will be hopping with lots of campers at Stanley Lake, Redfish Lake, Pettit Lake and points along the Salmon River. Backpacking in the White Clouds should be dandy, particularly from the East Fork side, being a three-day weekend and all. Don't forget the Marsh Creek Trail as another potential destination ... great hiking and fly fishing spot. Hike up to the junction of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks, and there's a huge glory hole right there. 
    North and Middle Forks of the Boise River ... car-camping mecca 
  • Idaho City area - The North and Middle Forks of the Boise River work great for car camping. See my post from last week.  
If you're staying in town, I'm hearing that some people will be taking in the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, going on from Thursday through Sunday. There are supposed to be more than 5,000 balloon launches.

Also, Labor Day weekend is chock full of big sales at your favorite outdoor retailers in the Boise area, places like Idaho Mountain Touring, George's CyclesBoise REI, Greenwood's, McU Sports, Alpenglow Mountain SportIdaho River Sports, and Shu's Idaho Running Companyall have some fantastic clothing and gear on sale right now. Great deals! Go get 'em! 


- SS

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Smoke-free weekend? Sawtooth Salmon Festival or visit South Fork Salmon River

South Fork Salmon River Road is about as wide as a driveway. Great place for a secluded road bike ride.
Caution: Vehicles should go slow around blind corners! 
Chinook spawning on the Salmon River near the Sawtooth Hatchery. Those fish take my breath away!
They travel 800+ miles to reach Stanley from the Pacific Ocean. SS photo.  
Hi all,

Smoke from all the wildfires has been depressing to me, but it appears that we might get a break this weekend! I hope that's the case!

For this week's outdoor tip, I wanted to share a few details about the Sawtooth Salmon Festival going on Saturday, Aug. 25, in Stanley this weekend, and some thoughts about road biking, camping and sight-seeing in the South Fork Salmon River area and Warm Lake area.

The Sawtooth Salmon Festival is a long-standing event, sponsored by Idaho Rivers United, for people to come up to Stanley and see Chinook salmon spawning, learn about how Chinook and sockeye salmon runs are doing right now (not well), enjoy live music, drink beer from Sockeye Brewing, and of course, you can vector off to go hiking, biking or camping in arguably the most scenic part of Idaho.

Tours of the Chinook spawning grounds will occur every two hours at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturday. According to the fish counts at Lower Granite Dam, 38,500 Chinook salmon have crossed through the dam and are heading upriver to Idaho. The 10-year average to date is 80,800. There should be some Chinook salmon spawning down below Sunbeam Dam in shallow gravels, where it's easy to see the magnificent fish. About 1,000 Chinook have returned to the Sawtooth Hatchery, a few miles south of Stanley. That's another place where I've seen a lot of Chinook swimming in the gravels, directly below the Sawtooth Hatchery, north of Stanley.

If you go, this is a great teachable moment for your kids to observe salmon spawning and learn about the salmon life cycle. The way the Idaho salmon and steelhead fish numbers have been crashing lately, you have to wonder how long the fish can survive. The lower Snake and Columbia dams cause most of the mortality to our salmon and steelhead runs, in both directions, while we have hundreds of miles of pristine spawning habitat in the Salmon River and its tributaries that are awaiting the adult fish to arrive and spawn the next generation.

To paraphrase what someone once said about this situation, we have a 5-star hotel for salmon and steelhead in Central Idaho -- some of the best habitat remaining in the whole Columbia River Basin. The lights are turned on, but most of the bedrooms are empty. Sad tale, indeed.

Near the top of the climb, the forest has transitioned into an old burn zone. 
Now, on to the South Fork Salmon River ... Wendy and I went over to the South Fork Road from McCall via Lick Creek Road last Saturday to put in some training miles on our road bikes. We're training for Cycle Oregon. The smoke wasn't too bad. The South Fork paved road is exactly 31 miles from Lick Creek to the Warm Lake highway. It's a single-lane paved surface with pullouts, so it's kind of tight for a vehicle, but perfect for a bike.

What struck me during our ride was how quiet, desolate and beautiful it was back there on the South Fork. Perhaps the smoke was keeping everyone closer to home. I'm sure a ton of people were out and about earlier this month during the Yellow Pine Harmonica Festival. But we did not see hardly a soul  back there until we got within a mile or so of Warm Lake.

Deep green pools are visible as you ride along the South Fork 
Before early October, when rifle deer season starts, consider checking out the South Fork for a quiet camping spot next to a beautiful river, go hiking, mountain biking, hot-springing or do a road bike ride. I found the ride to be especially nice in the first 15 miles, where we rode through big green ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, and pedaled close enough to the South Fork that we could see the river. Later, you ride in a giant burn zone, and it seems like a bomb went off back there and stripped away all the forest cover. It's still super raw many years after those forest fires.

I was looking for spawning salmon, but I didn't get out and peer into the deep pools. I stayed on my bike because we had a lot of miles to clock. Our plan was to go over to Warm Lake and back for a 65- mile ride. It took us longer than expected to cover the first 31 miles to Warm Lake. There are several big climbs to Profile Summit, and it's generally uphill going from Lick Creek to Warm Lake. My GPS said I'd burned 2900 calories by the time we reached North Shore Lodge! We were ready for a burger! Seemed like I drank 3 quarts of water during lunch.

A couple of happy anglers at Warm Lake.
The main cafe, cabins and picnic tables by the North Shore Lodge. 
North Shore Lodge is a great destination, BTW. They've got a beach, docks, a place to launch your boat, a bar and cafe, cabins for rent, supplies -- just a great place located there right on the shoreline of Warm Lake. People were having a great time chilling next to the lake, hanging by the beach, having a beer on the outdoor deck of the cafe, or hanging out by the cabin. We sure enjoyed our time chilling there, and topped it off with a big huckleberry ice cream cone.

At that point, our truck seemed like a world away! I knew Wendy couldn't ride all the way back, she had some hot spots on her feet (new riding shoes), and I didn't really feel like doing the whole thing either. Lucky for us, some hot-springers offered to take us half-way down the South Fork, and then we had an easy 16-mile ride mostly downhill to the truck.

Hard-core road riders that do the 90-mile version of the Cascade 4 Summit Challenge ride do most of the South Fork road after they scale Big Creek Summit. If you're super fit, riding the South Fork both directions is totally doable in a day. For more casual road riders, you might try riding one-way from Warm Lake to Lick Creek, it's much easier that way. Place a shuttle rig at Lick Creek Road, or have a friend run a sag wagon and pick you up. Maybe they could soak in a hot springs, go fishing or hiking while you're out on the ride.

If you'd like to explore the South Fork Salmon River area, consult a Boise National Forest and Payette National Forest map to plan your trip. The South Fork actually is split between the Boise and Payette forests. Maybe you have online mapping software. The developed campgrounds back there are Buckhorn, Camp Creek, Poverty Flat, and Penny Spring. From the Lick Creek side, you're only 15 miles from Yellow Pine, which is definitely worth a visit. Salmon spawning season is just beginning on the South Fork, according to IDFG, and if you'd like to see some fish spawning, look for them in the Stolle Meadows area.

I feature a fun mountain bike loop on the South Fork in my Mountain Biking in McCall book. It's called the Teapot Mountain Loop. It's a narrow two-track four-wheeler trail, 11 miles in length that circumnavigates Teapot Mountain. The ride features 2,100 feet of gain. Travel time is 1.5-2 hours. The ride goes from Buckhorn Creek to Jakie Creek and then you circle back on the South Fork road.

Hope we all have a weekend with no smoky skies!
- SS