Thursday, June 7, 2018

Five premium mountain bike rides to get your adrenaline and fun meter in the red zone

Flowers are blooming in Ponderosa State Park right now along the super fun Huckleberry Trail 
Lunch break at Loon Lake 
Friends Barb and Paul on Jug Mountain Ranch singletrack 
Hi all,

The weather is supposed to cool off markedly this weekend, particularly on Sunday when it's supposed to hit only 65 degrees as high in the Boise Valley. In McCall, Stanley and Sun Valley, it will be much cooler with rain and snow in the high elevations predicted.

But neverthless, for this week's outdoor tip, I'm recommending five premium mountain biker rides in Boise and McCall that are in good shape and ready to ride as of today ... the McCall trails will get wet this weekend, but the weather is supposed to snap back to warm temperatures by Tuesday and Wednesday. The summer season is upon us, and the kids are out of school!

The rides:

Typical view of Around the Mountain Trail on the backside of Bogus ... super fun! 
1. Around the Mountain at Bogus Basin - Distance 10 miles, riding time 1.5 hours, 1,500' vertical gain. This was voted as the best ride in Idaho by IMBA ... I'm not sure I agree with that, but it's definitely in the top 10. Bogus Basin is open for summer operations. See their web site for more information.

2. Eastside-Stack Rock-Sweet Connie-Chukar Butte to Boise - I'm not sure of the distance of this ride but I'd guess it's close to 20 miles if you end up at in Hidden Springs on Dry Creek Road at the bottom of Chukar Butte. Vertical drop has to be about 3,000-feet plus. This is a huge long downhill that's much improved with the trail-enhancement work that'd been done on Sweet Connie. Shuttle to the Eastside trailhead, ride Entrance Exam to Eastside to Stack Rock then take Sweet Connie downhill to Chukar Butte and go right on Chukar Butte over to Hidden Springs. This is probably one of the coolest downhill rides that you can do in the Boise area.

3. Jug Mountain Ranch, Lake Fork - The trails at Jug are opening up for lots of fun and enjoyment. See the latest list of JMR trails at this link. They've built a new beginner downhill trail called "Doe-Joe." I'm looking forward to riding it. It looks like Doe-Joe connects to Berm & Ernie, which is a super-fun flowy trail with banked corners. Another great loop is to take South Elk over to the South Boundary Road, climb that to Murphy Jct., climb to the Jug Reservoir, ride the Shoreline Trail around the lake, then take Vendelay downhill to Harper's Hollow and finish out on North Elk back to the trailhead.
JMR trail system map (courtesy JMR)
4. Loon Lake Loop - I checked with the McCall Ranger District and the trail has been cleared to the Secesh River. You may encounter a few downed trees on the way back along the Secesh River to the trailhead. Distance: 10 miles. Difficulty: Strong intermediate. Travel time: 2-3 hours. Bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic at Loon Lake. Here's the MTB project writeup on the larger Loon Lake Loop.
Here's a writeup and video on the 10-mile loop in my blog.

5. Huckleberry Trail Loop at Ponderosa Park - Distance 6 miles; riding time 1+ hour; vertical gain, 750 feet, Difficulty: Strong intermediate. Park staff built more singletrack a couple of years ago so you can hike, run or mountain bike around the whole park peninsula. The trail has tree roots and rocks on it, and it has lots of up and down, so it's a good training ride for more challenging national forest rides in the McCall area. MTB project didn't do the whole loop, but they have a description of most of the trail.

BTW, 10 Barrel Brewing is sponsoring a downhill bike race on Sunday, called "Bogus to the Barrel." Cash prizes are at stake. There must be some talent coming into town to compete for the cash! Might be fun to watch somewhere along the course, or to participate in ...

Have fun biking!
- SS

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Snake River Raptor Fest, Big Water Blowout in Riggins and the Grand Ronde River

Steve on the Grand Ronde River last weekend ... 

There are many deluxe camps in the forest along the river. 
Hiking up the mountain behind camp is always rewarding and beautiful. 
Hi all,

The weather has been pretty topsy-turvy lately, with major rainstorms or hail late in the day. But the 10-day forecast for Boise and surrounding areas in the valley looks like summer is coming BIG-TIME! 

Just as we turn the page into June, forecasters are predicting temperatures in the 80s on Saturday, low 90s on Sunday, and mostly 80s through mid-month. Bring on summer!

For my outdoor tip this week, I'm recommending two weekend events and providing some recap notes from our Grand Ronde River trip in Eastern Oregon. 

First, the events ... the Snake River Raptor Fest in Kuna sounds like a lot of fun this year, particularly because of the 25th anniversary of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, a great location at Indian Creek Winery and live music! I'll be manning a table and signing copies of Cool North Wind, a well-regarded biography of Morley Nelson's life with birds of prey. The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. There will be live birds of prey on display and kids activities as well. Hope to see you there. 

This is what one reviewer had to say about Cool North Wind"It is truly an amazing book, and a fun, entertaining, and enlightening read!" American Falconry 

BTW, I'll be on a panel at the Idaho Environmental Forum next Wednesday, June 6th, to talk about Morley Nelson as part of a discussion about the 25th anniversary of the designation of the birds of prey area. Former Congressman Larry LaRocco will be on the panel along with Amanda Hoffman, area manager of the birds of prey area for the BLM. The deadline for signing up for this IEF luncheon program is on Monday. 

The first weekend of June also marks the Big Water Blowout in Riggins ... Take a wild ride with a local outfitter or bring your own raft and try your hand at running some big water on the mighty Salmon River. The Salmon River has been flowing in 50,000-60,000 cubic feet per second range in the last week or so after two peaks over 70,000 cfs. Should be cranking in the 65,000 cfs range this weekend! 

A lot of big water whitewater boaters were at the Lochsa River Memorial Day gathering last week, so they'll be tuned up for some more big water fun in Riggins! 

For a lower-key river adventure, I would recommend running the Grand Ronde River right now. We camped on the river for 4 days last week, Thursday-Sunday, and it was a super fun time. The whole canyon is really beautiful right now, chock full of wildflowers and very green! We picked a campsite that ended up having a resident bighorn sheep herd grazing on the opposite mountain from camp. We hung out and watched the wild sheep in the morning during breakfast and also during the cocktail hour in the evening. There were at least 4 baby lambs that were chasing each other around in the rocks and a small group of about 12 sheep ... really precious to watch! 

With fairly high flows in the 9,000 cfs range, the Grand Ronde scoots along at 7-8 mph. That means you can clock a lot of miles fairly quickly, and then make a base camp. The whole section we typically run is only 35 miles in length. So we went down about 20 miles in 3 hours, base camped for 3 days, and then rowed out 15 miles the last morning. 

The put-in for the Grand Ronde is at Minam, northeast of La Grande on Highway 82 (paved road all the way to the put-in; unusual for some rivers), and the takeout is at Powatka Bridge by the Wildcat Creek road. You do drive a gravel road from the takeout to a point near the little town of Wallowa, where you jump back on the highway. Super easy drive in the whole scheme of things to do a stellar river trip. 

The Grand Ronde is great for kids, side-hiking, wildlife-watching, camping and R&R. I highly recommend it! 

- SS

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Four spring hikes - 2 in the Boise Foothills, 2 in the Owyhees, plus Boise Bike Week!

Jump Creek Falls, near Marsing
Big Jacks Creek canyon as it looks as you're hiking down from the Parker Trailhead. 
Hi all,

After a week of unsettled weather, this weekend looks fabulous with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s in the Treasure Valley. There's a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms on Sunday. We've seen that all week, and sometimes the storm happens, sometimes not!

My outdoor tip this week will focus on a couple of handy hikes close to home. But first, I wanted to mention this we are in the midst of Boise Bike Week, sponsored by the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance. Tomorrow is national Bike to Work Day  So if you need a little extra motivation to get your bike lock and gear together for biking to work, there you go!!! Plus, a bunch of coffee shops are offering a free cup of coffee to people who ride to work ... so there's another boost for ya! See Boise Bike Week Facebook page for details.

Now to the hikes. First, a couple in the Boise Foothills:

Lupine going off big-time on the way to Central Ridge Trail and Bucktail Trail in Military Reserve this week. 
1. Jumpin' Jeepers Figure-8 Loop - 6.75 miles. Rated strenuous as a hike or run with moderate sections. Rated intermediate for biking. Hiking time, 2.5-3 hours; running time, 1:20; riding time, 1:10. This is one of my favorite rides in Military Reserve that connects to Shane's Trail. It's an equally nice run or hike. The name comes from the Boise Police Dept. shooting range at the end of Mountain Cove Road. The unexpected blast from a gun might cause you to jump out of your skin! Thank goodness the city finally moved the firing range! The flowers are still popping along the way ... I saw a field of arrowleaf balsomroot and purple lupine on Wednesday. To start, go to Fort Boise and then the main trailhead on Mountain Cove Road, after the sharp right-hand corner heading west. Take the Toll Road Trail #27A to #20 Ridge Crest and climb to the top of the hill. Turn right on Central Ridge Trail and climb at a moderate pace to Shane's Junction. Take Shane's #26A to the left, and climb to the top of Shane's. You've climbed 1,000 feet over 3+ miles. Give your puppy a drink and a snack. Descend Shane's for less than a mile, turn right on the Shane's Loop and return to the Central Ridge-Bucktail-Shane's jct. Take Bucktail downhill and enjoy the big GS turns as you wind across a big downhill on a large flat. Bucktail drops into the Central Ridge alternative trail. Go right and then left on that and it'll take you back to the trailhead. It's a great view of Idaho's Capital City as you cruise downhill on that sagebrush slope to the trailhead.

2. Camelsback - Kestrel-Crestline-Red Cliffs Loop - Distance: 5 miles. Rated moderate for hikers and runners. Rated intermediate for biking. Hiking time, 2-2.5 hours; Running time: 55 minutes; Biking time: 45 minutes. This is a popular loop with hikers, runners and bikers. Start at Camelsback Park off of Heron and 13th Street in North Boise. Head over to the trailhead in the east side of the park, and follow Owl's Roost Trail on the right by the ponds. Follow Owl's Roost to the Foothills Learning Center area. Turn right at the junction with Kestrel, and climb Kestrel to Crestline, it's about .6 miles of continuous climbing. Turn left onto Crestline, climb a short abrupt hill, and then watch for a left-hand junction with Red Cliffs in less than a half mile. Turn left onto Red Cliffs and enjoy a fun descent for over a mile back to Hulls Gulch. Follow Hulls back toward the Foothills Learning Center, cross 8th Street, and take Chickadee Ridge back to Camelsback Park.

Now, a couple hikes in the Owyhees:

3. Jump Creek Canyon, near Marsing - Follow this link to see a write up in the Nampa Press-Tribune about visiting Jump Creek Canyon. They used my Owyhee Canyonlands guide for reference and driving directions. Be forewarned that there is poison ivy on the trail to the falls. Watch your step and keep the kids close at hand through that small section as you approach the falls. Once you arrive at the BLM recreation site, you'll notice that you can explore some extensive trails above Jump Creek Falls. Give that a go if you're up for hiking a greater distance than the quarter-mile trail to the falls.

4. Big Jacks Creek, Parker Trailhead - Big Jacks Creek is a gorgeous canyon. Go see it and judge for yourself.
Driving map for Parker Trailhead
The hardest part of the whole trip, like many in the Owyhee Canyonlands, is finding the trailhead. A good 4WD vehicle or a high-clearance Subaru is recommended for the drive, once you hit the dirt roads.

How to get there: Take the freeway to Mountain Home. Take the first exit. Follow signs for Idaho State Highway 51 and Bruneau. After you reach Bruneau, take note of your odometer. Stay on Idaho 51 for approximately 25 miles. You'll be watching for a right-hand turn on a good dirt road, called the Wickahoney Road, just past milepost 45. The road is not signed, but it's a BLM public road.

Follow Wickahoney Road 4.9 miles to a T-junction by Wickahoney Creek. Turn right and go 2.8 miles to the Parker Trailhead. Park and hike from there.
Leo Hennessy follows the Parker Trail into the Big Jacks Wilderness

You'll follow a two-track road over to the rim of the canyon, walk over a barbed-wire fence via a wooden step-over gizmo, and descend into Big Jacks Creek. Take your time, take some photos and enjoy the scenery. There's a foot path going down into the canyon; it's marked by rock cairns along the way. Watch for snakes. They could be out.

Once at the bottom, you can explore a little and eat lunch by the campsite area. Return the way you came.
Beautiful campsite at the bottom of Big Jacks. 
The BLM is hosting two events this weekend related to the 25th anniversary of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.

1. Join in on a Naturalist Photo Safari of overlooked and underappreciated components of the NCA ecosystem. On Saturday, it's "Insect Day." On Sunday, there's a plant and geology hike in the canyon. RSVP to Cory Coffman at For the full event schedule, go here.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Riggins SCAT machine closure requires Idaho river floaters to find alternatives - FAST!

Drew and Dad on the Main Salmon River ... my old rocket box toilet won't be the best to use anymore!  
Hi all,

This week's tip is for Idaho's river floaters. News flash: The SCAT machine in Riggins has been shut down by Gem Stop and the city of Riggins. The U.S. Forest Service is working on a new solution, but not until 2019. If you're planning on running the Main Salmon River - River of No Return Wilderness section this summer, you'll have to find another way to dispose of human waste.

I wrote a full story about this debacle in Idaho Statesman Outdoors. Click on the link to read all about it! Not everyone reads the paper these days!

My solution? Invest in a new portable toilet that has a 3-inch hose that hooks up to an RV dump. Then I'm not dependent on SCAT machines. If I'm floating the Bruneau or the Owyhee river, I'll have a good way to dispose of human waste in Boise after the trip. See the article for information on RV-compatible portable toilets.

If you liked seeing Shoshone Falls in full glory at big river flows, you'll love seeing the 212-foot falls illuminated with lights and lasers synchronized with music! Southern Idaho Tourism is putting on a light and laser show for three nights running next Thursday-Sunday, May 17-19. River levels are still big and impressive! Tickets are on sale now, and they will sell out. Should be super-cool!  

A couple of other tidbits: 
  • Ridge to Rivers is hosting a volunteer trail project in the Hillside to the Hollow area on National Trails Day, Saturday, June 2. R2R will be constructing a 1/4-mile neighborhood access trail in the H2H Reserve from 9 am to 1 pm. Volunteers should come prepared to work.  Gloves, closed-toed shoes and long pants are all highly recommended. Also, bring something to eat (snacks) and plenty of WATER! A backpack to carry these items is also a good idea. Plan on 4-5 hours of work. R2R staff will provide tools and instruction. To sign up, follow this link:
  • Friends of the Owyhee are hosting a cleanup party and noxious weed knock-out event at Succor Creek State Recreation Area on Sunday, June 3, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Also highly recommended to wear long pants, bring gloves for pulling weeds, and bring plenty of snacks and water. More information on their Facebook invite page.
- SS

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Station Creek hike is a primo option in May - it's bursting with wildflowers and very green

On top of 5,122-foot Bald Mountain with its weird lightning-rod thingy marking the summit. 
Arrowleaf balsomroot was blooming from near the trailhead to the top of the mountain, depending on aspect 
The trail climbs next to Station Creek to begin with, and then switch-backs over to the ridge
for a sweet ridge walk under the stately ponderosa pines
Bald Mountain, the destination, looms off in the distance ... 
Hi all,

Every once in a while, I like to revisit my favorite hikes for a little inspiration and fresh pictures. Knowing that wildflowers are popping with gusto right now in the lower elevations, I thought it'd be a great time to revisit the Station Creek Trail in Garden Valley and climb Bald Mountain. I saw flowers from the trailhead all the way to the top of the peak.

As I did the hike today, I thought that Bald Mountain would be a worthy addition to the Boise Grand Slam Peaks, if there were such a thing as a 5-base hit. Even if the terminology is off, climbing Bald Mountain is very similar to climbing Mt. Cervidae or Kepros Peak, but it's much more scenic in a forested setting with large ponderosa pine trees, grassy benches, shade and wildflowers.

Huck takes in the view of Garden Valley at the top of the initial ridge ... 
The Station-Creek to Bald Mountain hike is 3.5 miles one-way, or 7 miles round trip. The hike features more than 2,000 feet of vertical gain, starting at a base elevation of 3,170 feet across from the Garden Valley Ranger Station, and climbing to the 5,122-foot Bald Mountain Summit. There are some extra up and downs along the way. Hiking time for me was a little less than 4 hours at a pretty brisk pace. Pack a lunch for the top.

This is a very kid-friendly hike, especially for kids 8 and up. They'll probably beat you to the top. Another thing to note about this hike is that it's probably the best hike in the Boise National Forest close to Boise because it's got a good trail, there's no downfall, and the whole area is beautiful and green -- it's a rare spot in the Boise NF that hasn't been burned.       

The weather forecast this weekend in Garden Valley looks pretty ideal for Friday and Saturday, with highs in the high 70s. Sunday looks a little unstable with chances of showers and thunder-showers.

The Station Creek hike is featured in my book, the Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home. I rate it "moderate" to "strenuous" in terms of difficulty -- but moderate overall. It's got some steep sections as you approach the first initial ridge, and then another super-steep section as you approach the top of Bald Mountain. All doable. 
Scott Mountain off in the distance to the north ... it's an 8,000-footer with plenty of snow on top. 
The trailhead is about 1 hour to 1:15 from Boise via Idaho 55 and the the Banks to Lowman Road. Take ID 55 to Banks, turn right to Garden Valley. Proceed past the town of Garden Valley to the big airstrip and Garden Valley Ranger Station. The Station Creek Trailhead is directly across the road from the ranger station. The road to the trailhead will veer off to the left of the highway before you reach the ranger station. There's public parking at the trailhead but no rest room. 

At the top of the first ridge (mile 2.1), you can go right and follow a faint foot trail to Bald
Mountain for a bigger view and a more complete experience. It's worth the extra work to get there. Return to the ridge junction and cruise back to the trailhead. 

A faint foot trail leads from the first ridge over to Bald Mountain, just a delightful walk ... 
After the hike, you can hit a local hot springs and/or have a burger in Crouch at the Longhorn Saloon. There are many places to camp in the area, particularly along the Middle Fork Payette Road north of Crouch, or you could stay at a Bed & Breakfast, the Garden Valley Hotel, or rent a private cabin. Check out the Garden Valley Chamber of Commerce web site for more information.

Have fun!
- SS 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Wildflowers are blooming! Some tips on where to hike and see wildflowers in Boise

The bitterbrush is starting to flower big-time in the lower foothills. 
Wendy takes a breather next to arrowleaf balsomroot in bloom 
Indian Paintbrush blooming in the Owyhees 
Bitterroot blooming in the rocky soil in the Owyhees 
Hi all,

After a beautiful week of sunshine and warming weather, wildflowers are popping up everywhere in the lower Boise Foothills and the Owyhees.

We're seeing the bright yellow bouquet of arrowleaf balsomroot, bitterbrush blooming with mustard-colored flowers, as well as sky pilots, aase's onion and lupine. Out in the Owyhees, you'll see the bright red Indian paintbrush, showy daisies and many more.

Dust off your wildflower guide and take a hike to refresh your memory of our local wildflowers. Here are a number of recommended trails in the Boise Foothills and the Owyhees where you're like to see a diversity of early flowers in full display:

Boise Foothills - All of the lower trailheads are adorned with flowers right now ... west to east, I'd recommend: Seaman's Gulch Loop, Polecat Gulch, Peggy's Trail, Hillside to the Hollow, Owl's Roost-Kestrel-Crestline-Red Cliffs, multiple trails in Military Reserve, including Toll Road Trail, Cottonwood Creek, Central Ridge, Bucktail and Shane's Trail. Table Rock and Homestead trails also are a good bet.

See my Boise Trail Guide - 95 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home or the Ridge to Rivers map for more detail.

Owyhee Canyonlands - Lower-elevation trails are best for wildflowers right now, including Little Jacks Creek, Between the Creeks, Shoofly Quick Loop, Mud Flat Road/Owyhee Canyonlands Scenic Byway, Browns Canyon, Jump Creek Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, Leslie Gulch, and Succor Creek Natural Area. 

Click on the hyperlinks to see directions and details about these hikes. All of those routes also are featured in my Owyhee Canyonlands guide.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Participate in BLM clean up at the Snake River Birds of Prey Area Saturday

Spent shotgun shells left out in the birds of prey area ... (Courtesy BLM) 
People using our public lands as a dumping ground (Courtesy BLM) 
(Courtesy BLM) 
Hi all,

The weather forecast looks fantastic for this weekend -- temperatures nudging 70 degrees for three days in a row! Should be great weather to do just about anything outdoors ...

This week, I'm recommending several events on Saturday, and then there's a few tidbits below.

1. The BLM needs volunteers for what they hope to be a record-breaking volunteer clean up event at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Volunteers should gather at the Boise Wild Horse Corrals, 12466 Pleasant Valley Road, south of the Boise Airport. Volunteers will be broken into groups and directed to locations within the NCA, where they can expect to encounter trash that includes everything from simple litter to discarded appliances. Sign up at or call 208-384-3342.

How about adding a whitewater tripper canoe to your fleet? 
2. Tis the season of used whitewater boating equipment sales! The largest one, sponsored by the Idaho Whitewater Association, will be held Saturday, April 28, at Cascade River Gear in Garden City, 604 E. 45th St. The sale has moved indoors! The whitewater sale is a perfect time to buy a used whitewater raft, canoe, SUP, life jacket, wet suits, dry suits, touring kayaks at affordable prices.  

Pick up a worthy whitewater raft, kayak, inflatable kayak and SUP and you're dialed in for a fun-filled boating season on Idaho rivers for the whole family. 

A few details: Friday check in and register gear from 3-9 p.m. The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. IWA retains 15% of sales for items less than $1,000, and 10 percent for items over that. 

Another outdoor equipment sale will be held at Idaho River Sports this Saturday called the "Woolly Buggers Trout Unlimited Gear Sale." The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Clean out your garage and sell your fishing gear, fishing cats, camping equipment, etc. See IRS link for more information. 

3. Support the Autism Society of the Treasure Valley Run/Walk on Saturday. I'll be there with my son, Drew, and he's participating as part of the STEP Super Heroes. He's going to be Thor from the Avengers. The event is a 5K run and 2-mile family stroll. This is a great cause to support! 

4. I've talked about visiting Shoshone Falls recently in the blog, and I wanted to share a feature story I wrote about that for the Statesman Outdoors section. "Experience the thundering power of Shoshone Falls." I also detailed a waterfall tour of other worthy destinations in the Magic Valley area in that story. 

Have fun! 
- SS