Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oregon Trail - Surprise Valley Loop is an ideal early-season trail for hiking, running & biking

The Rim Trail runs under some giant IPC powerlines
Dad and his kids on a morning walk

The Kelton Ramp ... bikers should walk this section

Trip map from Boise Trail Guide (click to enlarge)
Hi all,

I think it's fair to assume that this relentlessly clear, blue sky weather we've been experiencing for weeks on end has dampened people's spirits somewhat for skiing (at least until we get more snow). And so, on these 45-degree afternoons, the trails in the Boise Foothills seem tempting for hikers, mountain bikers and runners.

However, at that time of day, most of the trails are soft and muddy. It's the wrong time to be out there. You can check on trail conditions on the Ridge to Rivers blog and web site. I recommend doing so before you take off on an outing.

Here's what it says today on the Ridge to Rivers site: "We have had a tremendous amount of damage done to the trail system this winter due to inappropriate use. This damage in many cases is irrepairable. Please help us preserve the integrity of our trail system by using only dry trails."

I say amen to that.

My outdoor tip of the week focuses on one place you can go right now where the trails are dry -- it's the Surprise Valley-Oregon Trail Loop in SE Boise. I went for a run on the loop this morning, and it was fabulous. I ran into a couple of people hiking, and one mountain biker. The loop trail is very convenient for people who live in Surprise Valley or Columbia Village, but other folks in Boise may not know about this little gem.

It's a 2.8-mile loop, starting from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Surprise Valley (don't park there on Sunday morning). The church is on the right side as you drive into the Surprise Valley area on Surprise Way, off of Boise Avenue or Amity.

Go behind the church and pick up the public trail that runs along the base of the basalt cliff, follow that for a mile or so, and then go up the Kelton Ramp, a rocky old two-track where Oregon Trail wagons descended into the Boise Valley. Once on top of the rim, you can follow a trail that stays close to the rim, or several others on the flat portion of the Oregon Trail Reserve Park, and complete the loop.

On top of the rim, Boise Parks & Recreation has put up a number of interpretive signs that explain the history of the Oregon Trail, early gold-mining activity in Idaho City, and more.

"Standing here, you are only a short hike away from original Oregon Trail ruts," one sign says. "Pioneers by the thousands walked and rode through this very country. Turning wagon wheels represented more than simply a people moving West; as the wheels turned so did the pages of our history, uniting our nation from coast to coast."

Ponder the pioneers when you're out there. And then you flash-forward to 2011, looking out at the development in the eastern Boise Valley, where houses popped up by the hundreds in the big-growth years of the late '80s and 90s. But you can still see the Boise River winding through the valley, the Boise Foothills across the way, and a white cloak on the shoulders of the Boise Ridge and Bogus Basin.

Because the loop trail is relatively short, it's a great place to take young kids or seniors. I saw a dad with his two young children hiking on the trail today, and a gentleman power-hiking on the rim.

For runners who typically go farther than 3 miles, it'd be a cinch to do a couple of laps, do some short laps on the trails in the Oregon Trail Reserve on the upper flat, or start at Barber Park and run an extra mile or two on the streets approaching the trailhead in Surprise Valley.

The Surprise Valley-Oregon Trail Loop is featured in my hiking and biking books, the Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home, and Mountain Biking in Boise. I rated the ride a beginner route in the biking book, and the hike as an easy mountain trail.

One more note about avoiding muddy trails in the Boise Foothills. The best bet is to get out on the trails when they're frozen early in the morning. Plan to be finished by 10:00 or 10:30 a.m., when things start turning to mush and mud.

Until the next rain storm, the Surprise Valley-Oregon Trail loop is a rare trail that's dry morning or afternoon. That makes it worth visiting, especially at this time of year.

Have fun!

1 comment:

Dave Rhodes said...

Do you have fb ? Do bike in the winter?