Thursday, August 25, 2016

Backpacking in Trinity Lakes provides quick access to six lakes basin close to home

Wendy is happy to be in the mountains 

Big Lookout Lake 

Relaxing on big granite rocks on the shore of Big Lookout Lake 

Heart Lake 

Big Rainbow Lake 

My new pack ... much lighter than the old Kelty! 

Wendy hikes toward the top of the pass 
Hi all,

After spending quite a bit of time on the river this summer, I had a strong itch to go backpacking last weekend. I wanted to go somewhere relatively close by, as both Wendy and I had work stuff going on through Friday afternoon, but we still wanted to get out of town Friday night. We decided to head for the Trinity Lakes, a sweet lakes basin under the shadow of towering Trinity Mountain Lookout (elevation 9,451 feet).

We figured that the Trinities would probably be relatively clear of smoke, being well south and west of the leading edge of the Pioneer Fire. And that turned out to be true!

It'd been 20 years since I've been up to the Trinities, quite honestly, and I forgot how long it takes to get there, even if you go through Prairie, the most direct route via 3 hours of dirt roads. Wendy and I took Black's Creek Road to Prairie on Friday evening, and enjoyed the scenic drive along the South Fork of the Boise River. It was about 8 p.m. as we pulled into Prairie, and I figured we'd better look for a campsite somewhere along the forest road because we had some lamb steaks to BBQ. We were still an hour from the Trinities, and it'd be dark by then. We spied a nice outhouse by the Prairie Airstrip and car-camped by a picnic bench on the end of the airfield.

Our campsite on the Prairie Airfield 
We drove east to the Fall Creek Road the next morning and scaled a steep dirt road to Big Trinity Lake, the trailhead. The dirt road becomes a steep and gnarly 4WD road for the last couple of miles. I was wishing I'd taken my Ford F-250 instead of my Honda Pilot as I slowed rolled over razor-sharp rocks in the final ascent into the Trinity Lakes area, holding my breath all the way. Even so, it's rare to be able to drive to a trailhead at 8,200 feet, which of course, puts you in prime position to access the lakes basin without that much climbing.

There are a number of super-cool car-camping spots around Big Trinity Lake for future reference. The trailhead to the Trinity Lakes is on the east side of the lake, even though the topo map shows it on the west side. Not true!

Our plan was to scale the pass on the well-worn singletrack trail and decide which lakes to visit after we got a closer view. It's about 1 mile from the trailhead to the top of the pass, gaining about 500 feet. From that perch, Green Island Lake looked swampy and poor for fishing. We decided to head into Big Lookout Lake and make a base camp there. It's about 2.5 miles total to Big Lookout from the trailhead. The lake was crystal clear, and nice and deep for fishing and swimming. There were several campsites around the edge of the lake, and that's a good thing because most of them were full.

Topo map for Trinity Lakes area (click to enlarge)
Take a Boise National Forest map with you
for road navigation.
Wendy liked the quick access. "The Trinities are my new favorite place for a short hike into a whole basin of lakes, there's nothing quite like it," she said.

We've taken our kids to Josephine Lake and Snowslide Lake in McCall, and they're short hikes, but they don't take you into a whole basin of lakes like the Trinities. There are eight high mountain lakes named on the map, but truthfully, several of them are ponds, like Little Lookout Lake.

I brought my fly rod and spin cast set up to fish for trout, and that was fun. I caught a nice cutthroat in Big Lookout Lake, and some smaller fish, but the fish seemed finicky. I could see that a float tube would be "the kind" to really slay the fish up there to access the deep spots in the middle of the large lakes.

Wendy and I toured Heart Lake and Big Rainbow Lake Sunday morning before we hiked out to the trailhead. Those lakes were only a mile or so from Big Lookout, but they were both very big and beautiful. I could see base camping at either one of them.

I must mention how cool it was to see two dad-and-daughter pairs camping at Big Lookout Lake. One of the dads hauled his 2 1/2-year-old daughter up to that lake, carrying a backpack with his sleeping bag and hers, a tent, their food and clothes, etc. He told us that he had to carry his daughter most of the way to the lake ... all while carrying a 45-pound pack. That's devotion! It's nice to see young people out backpacking and camping in spite of what we hear -- that our children don't want to venture into the outdoors anymore.

On our drive home, we took Forest Road #172 to Featherville (much smoother road) and took mostly paved roads back to Boise. It's still about 3 hours going that direction, but much easier on your vehicle. Plus, you can stop at the restaurant in Pine and get a milk shake!

As we move into September, I would expect that the number of people flocking to the Trinities will dissipate. And there's plenty of nice weather left for backpacking!
- SS

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Save the date: McCall Mountain Bike Festival coming up Aug. 27-28; 5 classic McCall rides

Latest smoke map from NASA 
Jug Mountain Ranch will be hosting the first high school mountain bike
race of the season on Saturday, the 27th. 500 riders are expected. 
Beautiful scene from Ponderosa State Park 

Along the Huckleberry Trail on west side of the peninsula

Huck surveys the scene at Osprey Point in Ponderosa Park 
Jim Giuffre on 20 Mile Trail 

Steve on 20 Mile Trail 
Bear Grass on the way to Loon Lake 
Always a happy day at Loon Lake 
Hi all,

It sure is nice to see a more moderate weather forecast for temperatures in the 80s next week (highs of 70s in the mountains) and hopefully less-smoky skies with some wind to blow the valley clear. Many thanks to the firefighters working hard on the 81,450-acre Pioneer Fire.

The great folks at the Central Idaho Mountain Biking Association (CIMBA) are hosting another Mountain Bike Festival in McCall on Aug. 27-28, so I'm giving folks a week's notice to plan to visit the McCall area for a wonderful weekend of biking! Bring your SUPs or preferred watercraft and double-dip!

CIMBA is serving up group rides on Saturday and Sunday, bike demos during the weekend, and BBQ, beer and music on Saturday night! Free shuttles will be running Sunday for riding the Goose Creek Loop, a challenging 14-mile ride. Meet at Depot Park at 9:30 a.m. Sunday to sign waivers and load bikes. Rigs leave at 10 a.m. JMR is hosting the first Idaho high school mountain bike race of the season on Saturday, the 27th called the Jug Jamboree. They are expecting 500 racers to participate.

On Saturday, group rides include the Payette Rim Trail, an awesome ride close to town, East Fork of Lake Fork Trail, an excellent ride in a higher-elevation setting, a 10-mile ride on McCall Pathways and the North Valley Trail south of McCall with yours truly, and $25 discounted lift tickets for mountain biking at Brundage Mountain. On Sunday, there's the Goose Creek ride mentioned above and a group ride at Bear Basin, the premier place to take kids mountain biking in McCall. Fun for all abilities! Please watch the CIMBA web site and Facebook page for more details.

In the meantime, I'll recommend some classic McCall-area rides that people would enjoy, no matter what. As we move into September, fall weather is fabulous for riding these trails. My guide, Mountain Biking in McCall, has 40 rides in the Valley County area, including all of these rides.
  • New Huckleberry Loop at Ponderosa State Park - This is my favorite before-dinner ride when I get to McCall late afternoon. It takes a little over an hour to loop around the peninsula of Ponderosa State Park on lakeshore trails on the east and west sides of the park. If you haven't tried this loop yet, you've got to do it! Start at the junction of the Pilgrim Cove Road and the park boundary. Be aware that the trail has rocks and roots as you go along, and some steep uphill and downhill pitches, so there are some challenging sections for those just learning how to ride singletrack. It's good practice, however. Rocks and roots are part of the trail experience just about everywhere in the Payette National Forest.
  • Bear Basin Trails - Easiest mountain trails close to McCall for kids and families. Fun for adults too! The main trailhead is west of McCall near the top of the hill on the right-hand side on Idaho 55 before you get to the Little Ski Hill. There's a trail map at the trailhead. And most of the trails are well-marked. There are fewer rocks and roots on the Bear Basin trails than the Huckleberry Trail. 
  • 20 Mile Trail out and back - This is a fun singletrack that slowly descends the 20 Mile Creek drainage in the first few miles and then gets steeper and more technical as you climb toward Duck Lake and Lick Creek Summit. Ride up 20 Mile trail as long as you want, turn around and return to the trailhead. Upper Payette Lake is located across the road for a quick dip. 
  • Loon Lake Loop - This is a super-fun beautiful ride that I love to do whenever I have a little more time. The Loon Lake short loop, starting from the Chinook Campground trailhead, past Burgdorf Hot Springs, on the forest road to Secesh Meadows and Warren, is 10 miles long. Rated strong intermediate. Takes 2-4 hours, depending on riding speed and how long you hang out at Loon Lake for lunch. There are technical rock and root features on the trails in places. 
  • Bear Basin - Brundage Lookout - Elk Trail - #488 Loop - This is a longer ride, 18 miles, rated advanced. The ride features over 2,500 feet of gain to climb the Bear Basin Road up to Brundage Lookout, then down Elk Trail to a point near the bottom of Brundage, and then you go left on Growler and climb up to a shoulder of the ski mountain where Forest Road #488 takes off for 4.5 miles back to Bear Basin Road. To start, I usually park at the buck fence on Bear Basin Road next to the east trailhead for Bear Basin Trails. 
All of these rides are fantastic! And there's many more to choose from! Be sure to attend the McCall Mountain Bike Festival to meet new people, learn about local trails from the locals, and enjoy a fun BBQ and party Saturday night!
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Bogus Basin Hill Climb is Saturday. Are you ready?
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Because of damage from the Pioneer Fire, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation officials are expecting that public access to the six yurts in the Idaho City Park n' Ski Area complex northeast of Idaho City will be closed in the winter of 2016-17. The Whistling Pines yurt was destroyed by the fire, several outhouses have burned, and some of the canvas coverings on the other yurts were damaged as well. See story by Chadd Cripe in the Statesman for more detail. Refunds are being issued thru Aug. 30, and it sounds like IDPR will not be taking any reservations this winter because of the uncertainty of the situation.
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Boise rally for three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday at Municipal Park. Should be fun! So great to see Kristin excel in her last Olympics ... she's GOLD all the way.
- SS

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Get your goofy costume together for Tour de Fat Saturday, plus Mtn Biking in Pocatello

Rio Carnival is the costume theme for Tour de Fat this year. 
Let's make it memorable! 

TDF parade 
Sterling Justice Trail overlook several thousand feet above Pocatello

Go see Corey Wight at the Sandtrap Bar & Grill in Pocatello after your ride 
Hi all,

The 15th annual Tour de Fat is on Saturday (Aug. 13), so that means it's time to put together a fun, goofy, maybe even sexy costume for the TDF parade on Saturday morning and the day-long event at Ann Morrison Park. The costume theme is based around the Olympics in Rio, meaning "Carnivale." Be sure to pre-register for the event and chip in $5 for the Boise Bike Project and help elevate the fund-raising bar for TDF to over $100,000!!!!

The TDF typically raises more than $70,000 for the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, SWIMBA and BBP, so this would be a quantum leap to surpass the $100K goal. All of the proceeds go toward these totally awesome non-profits. Drink beer = $ for bikes and bike trails!

The TDF parade starts to gather at Ann Morrison Park at 10 a.m. Get there early cuz it'll be a really long line! The parade starts pedaling at 11 a.m., and then the event starts as soon as people arrive at the park after making the loop around downtown Boise.

Make sure you read Jimmy Halliburton's blog about the 5 Big New Things to Look for at TDF. They have a hilarious video in the blog post about two naive riders who failed to pre-register for the event, and guess what? They crashed a tandem in the Boise River while wearing costumes and capes!

See you at TDF!

I recently wrote a blog, including maps and video, about Mountain Biking in Pocatello for VisitIdaho. Some friends took me a ride on the recently created Sterling Justice singletrack from the Gibson Jack trailhead over to City Creek, a fun but challenging 12-mile ride across the top of the footies in Pokey. I detailed that ride in the blog and also included GoPro video of a super-sweet ride, West Fork Mink Creek to Elk Meadows Loop.

I highly recommend riding in Pocatello, check out the City Creek trails and Sterling Justice, and the greater Mink Creek area as well. Gather up some friends and make it a long weekend. I recommend the Best Western in Pocatello Inn  as a potential place to stay or you could tent camp up in the Mink Creek area.

Have fun!
-- SS

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Avoid the smoke: Five classic backpacking trips to consider near McCall in Payette NF

Drew catches a brook trout at Snowslide Lake 
Drew at Snowslide Lake 
Drew and Huck at Snowslide Lake 
20 Mile Lakes (courtesy Quinn Stuebner)

20 Mile Lakes (courtesy Quinn Stuebner)

20 Mile Lakes (courtesy Quinn Stuebner)
Box Lake from the north side of the lake 
Wendy on top of Beaver Dam Peak near Box Lake 

Box Lake as you approach it on the trail. 
Steve at Blackmare Lake 
Hi all,

It's a bummer to watch the Pioneer Fire burning up valuable resources in the Boise National Forest northeast of Idaho City. The fire had burned approximately 50,500 acres as of today's report on Inciweb, and it's continuing to run toward the northeast toward Lowman, sending big smoke plumes into the Garden Valley area, Stanley area, the Sawtooths and points east from there. The Whispering Pines yurt, accessible from the popular Gold Fork Park n' Ski Area, has been destroyed by the fire, and the status of two other yurts is questionable. KTVB-TV did a good report on the situation.

Because of the fire and smoke impacts in that area, I'm recommending five classic hiking and backpacking trips in the McCall area in the Payette National Forest for my outdoor tip of the week.
The McCall area should be clear of smoke this weekend, being well west of the Pioneer Fire. Check the Mile High Marina web cam to make sure.

As many of you know, the McCall area is surrounded by many high mountain lakes, some of them accessible by 4WD. See a previous blog post about kid-friendly lakes in the McCall area accessible by vehicle.

All of the hikes listed below could be done as a day trip or overnight backpack trip. Bear in mind that it's always a higher quality experience to take your backpack and stay overnight, if you can.

1. Snowslide Lake - It's a steep two-mile hike on a rocky trail to Snowslide Lake, but it's a lovely forested lake with a bunch of small brook trout available for kid fishing. My son Drew and I had a great day up there with Huck and Wendy recently. Saw a large group of families backpacking there for the weekend. Once at the lake, it's possible to hike farther up the trail to a pass and climb Snowslide Peak (elevation 8,522). It took us about an hour to reach the lake at a swift pace. Take Lick Creek Road out of McCall to reach the trailhead for Snowslide on the right side of the road. Pick up a Payette National Forest map or look it up online on Caltopo.com.for navigation.

2. Upper Hazard Lake - It's slightly less than two miles to Upper Hazard from the main Hazard Lake campground and trailhead. By walking to Upper Hazard, you'll leave most of the people behind, and you can enjoy a pretty spot ringed by rugged peaks. Hard Creek Lake is nearby if you'd like to try fishing another lake while you're in the 'hood. This hike is considerably easier than the steep hike to Snowslide. Hazard Lake is accessed via the Goose Lake Road on the way to Brundage Mountain.

3. Box Lake - It's about 3.5 miles to Box Lake from the trailhead on the left side of Lick Creek Road. It's a steep hike for several miles and then you hike across a flower-filled an Edelweiss-like meadow and see the lake in a hanging valley below. Gorgeous spot! Good fishing, too, and possible side hike to the top of Beaver Dam Peak (8,600 feet).

4. 20 Mile Lakes - There are four nice lakes to explore in the 20 Miles Lakes area. It's a 5-plus mile hike into the lakes. The last couple of miles off the 20-mile Trail are very steep to take you up to the lakes basin. Because of the distance, it's best to backpack into 20 Mile Lakes and stay overnight. There is good fishing up there. Pick a lake for your base camp and then day hike to the other lakes and see how the fishing is. The trailhead is accessed from Warren Wagon Road in McCall. The trailhead is located directly across from Upper Payette Lake. It's all pavement to the trailhead, which is a nice feature.

5. Blackmare Lake - This is more off-the-beaten path than the rest. Blackmare is accessed from the Kennally Creek Trailhead in the southern end of the Payette forest. Take Paddy Flat Road east from Idaho 55 to the end of the road. It's possible to car-camp at the trailhead, and there's an outhouse located there. It's about five miles one-way to the lake via the Needles Trail. We hiked a loop going up by Square Top at the Needles Summit and then dropped into the beautiful basin where Blackmare Lake sits. I caught some fish. We stayed overnight and then climbed to a saddle above Blackmare, where there are a couple of small ponds, crossed the ridge, and then bushwacked back to the trail, shortening the hike considerably back to the Kennally Creek trailhead.

There you have it! Consider these trips for future reference as well!
- SS

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Whoa baby! Here comes the heat! Here are 14 tips on how to stay cool close to home

Redfish Lake always will cool you off. Hard to get a campsite sometimes, tho ... 
Lucky Peak will be busy ... 
Salmon River beach scene! Can't beat it! 
Climb a mountain peak in the rooftop of Idaho! Wendy at the top
of Beaver Dam Peak in the Payette National Forest  
Go rafting on the Payette River! 
Hi all,

Well, we knew the triple-digits were coming, it was just a matter of when. And here they come!

Next week, I'll be on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River to stay cool. But for the rest of you, here are 14 recommendations on how to stay cool:
  • Start super early if you'd like to go hiking, biking or trail-running in the Boise Foothills. That means get out before 7 a.m. 
  • Go to Bogus Basin and start your hiking, trail-running or biking trip up there. It should be 15 degrees cooler. Hike or ride the Around the Mountain Trail, Eastside or Sweet Connie. Don't forget that Bogus is running the Deer Point Chairlift on weekends, and they also have food and beverage services and live music.  
  • Float the Boise River - Put on plenty of sunscreen, wear a big goofy hat, and float the Boise River with your friends and family. See info. at Ada County Parks & Waterways. Take your time, hang out by the water and stay cool. 
  • Find a hidey-hole along the Boise River, set up your lawn chair, take a swim and hang out in the shade. 
  • Go swimming, tubing or water-skiing at Lucky Peak, Arrowrock or Anderson Ranch
  • Go swimming or SUP'ing at a local park or pond. See Boise Parks & Recreation for ideas close to home. 
  • Hire a guide or rent a boat and go float the Payette River. The Main Payette River from Banks to Beehive Bend is best for those breaking into the sport. If you'd like to crank up the adrenaline meter and float the South Fork, put a bunch of friends together and hire a guided service. Bear ValleyCascade Raft and Kayak, and Idaho Whitewater Unlimited all provide quality guided trips on the Payette River.
  • Go swimming or SUP'ing at a local park or pond. See Boise Parks & Recreation for ideas close to home. 
  • Go camping, fishing, swimming, water-skiing or SUP'ing at Lake Cascade State Park in Cascade or Donnelly.
  • Go swimming, tubing, surfing or water-skiing on Payette Lake. Find a place to stay overnight in McCall or go camping in the Payette National Forest. 
  • Go camping, fishing, swimming or SUP'ing at Redfish Lake or Stanley Lake in the Sawtooths. Go to recreation.gov to make reservations.   
  • Drive to Riggins and hang out on a big beach on the Salmon River. Go swimming, camping and fishing. Get there early. There will be competition for the primo camping spots.  
  • Plan a personal trip on the Salmon River or book a trip with an outfitter, if you don't have your own gear. Here's a few notes from my trip last year on the Salmon. It's a trip-of-a-lifetime to vacation for a week on the Salmon River, but since we live in Idaho, we can do it every year! 
  • Backpack or day hike into a high mountain lake and stay cool in the alpine forest environment. See my blog about five of my favorite kid-friendly hikes near Stanley and McCall for ideas. 
There you have it! Have fun!
- SS 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Two paddling adventures suitable for Idaho bucket list - 1000 Springs & Shoshone Falls

Photos courtesy VisitIdaho 
Taking off from Centennial Park toward Shoshone Falls 
Hi all,

I've been exploring the Southern Idaho region more than usual this year, working on Southern Idaho Tourism for Carew & Co., a really great Boise ad agency. I've been posting items on social media, blogging and shooting photos and video for content posted on VisitSouthIdaho.com.

Along the way, I've been touting two paddling trips in the region that are really world-class adventures because of the scenery and surroundings:

1. Paddling from Centennial Park in Twin Falls to the base of Shoshone Falls, a 4-mile trip one way.
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2. Doing a loop around Ritter Island below the rushing water of Thousand Springs, pouring from the Snake River cliffs above. 2-mile loop

Now that we're in mid-summer, it's prime time for paddling adventures! In terms of crafts, these trips are best suited for Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP), sit-on-top hard-shell kayaks, canoes or inflatable kayaks. In fact, these trips are perfect for them!

You can take your own gear down there, or rent stuff in Hagerman at Hagerman Valley Sports & Merc (for Thousand Springs tour), or at Centennial Park in Twin Falls for the trip to Shoshone Falls. Idaho Guide Service provides guided tours to Shoshone Falls with lunch. The cool thing about renting watercraft from AWOL Adventure Sports at Centennial Park is it's very handy. You just show up, rent your gear and go! Prices are very reasonable - $20 to $45, depending on craft.

They'll tell you how to portage Pillar Falls (two miles toward the falls) and what to expect on your journey to Shoshone Falls. Most of the time, you'll encounter a west wind on the way back. Just remember that for travel time. Bring plenty of food and drink to enjoy the day.

The big highlight of the trip is to hang out below Shoshone Falls and take in the roaring water from river level, hearing the sound of nature pounding on the water and mist rising into the sun's rays, sometimes forming rainbows.

Here's an informative blog post about the paddling trip to Shoshone Falls, titled "Hiking on Water to Shoshone Falls" by Justin Fricke, published by VisitIdaho. And here's a May post that I penned about Paddling the Snake.

For the Ritter Island Tour, travel to Thousand Springs State Park, east of Hagerman, on the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway. There are detailed maps on the state park web site. You can tour the Minnie Miller dairy barn while you're there, and hike around the island, if you wish (2 mile trail). Launch your boat on the Thousand Springs channel near the entrance to the park, and then paddle out to the Snake River, go downstream to the bottom toe of the island, and paddle back around the Thousand Springs channel. Do as many loops as you want!

Paddling in channel below Thousand Springs 
While you're in the neighborhood, I recommend the Twin Falls Sandwich Company in downtown Twin Falls for lunch, Elevation 486 for a top-shelf dinner with a stupendous view of the Snake River canyon, and the Snake River Grill in Hagerman for a delicious fish dinner or your choosing.

For lodging, you can find an RV campground in the area or book at hotel room.

Have a great time!
- SS

Friday, July 1, 2016

While I'm on vacation, some outdoorsy ideas for July adventures

Hi all,

I'll be on vacation during the week of the 4th of July, and so I looked back in my archives for some ideas to share for the coming week ...

Have fun!
- SS