Thursday, March 21, 2013

Some spring camping suggestions for Spring Break in the desert country of SW Idaho

Here's Steve enjoying the view atop the Bruneau Dunes 
Cool rock formations to explore at Succor Creek State Natural Area. 
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area 
Leslie Gulch 
Steens Mountain from a distance 
Hi all,

With the mercury heading into the 60s next week, it's a perfect time to plan a spring family camping trip during Spring Break. After a couple of cooler days this weekend, it's supposed to warm up to the 60s by Tuesday in Boise, and in the lower-elevation desert locations in SW Idaho, it could be even warmer. In fact, it's supposed to be nearly as warm in SW Idaho next week as it is in Moab, Utah. Time to load up the truck and go!

Here are some suggested camping destinations with possible side activities that you can enjoy while you're there:

  • Bruneau Dunes State Park - South of Mountain Home on Highway 51, Bruneau Dunes is a great place to camp, hike around on the dunes, and star-gaze. Call ahead for reservations. The park has the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America, rising 470 feet above the desert floor. Great views of the Snake River Valley from the top of the dunes. Take gators to keep sand out of your boots during the hike.   
  • Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area - Go south of Kuna to Swan Falls Dam, drive downriver on the north side of the canyon on a bumpy dirt road and find a primitive campsite. Self-support camping. Bring your binoculars and your bird book ... there are more than 800 pairs of birds of prey that nest in the canyon.
  • Celebration Park - Go south of Nampa on Idaho 45 to the Snake River and turn left to reach Celebration Park. The county's web site has detailed driving directions. It's a great place for a day trip or an overnight camping trip. The park has camping services and rest rooms. Celebration Park is Idaho's only archaeology park. It contains boulders with petroglyphs dating to 10,000 years ago, and park geology provides lessons about the Bonneville Flood.
  • Succor Creek State Natural Area - A great place to go spring camping, south and west of Homedale. I've written about Succor Creek before, describing some beautiful day-hiking opportunities from the park and camping areas. No developed services, but there is a rest room at the park. You also could climb Three Fingers while you're in the 'hood, or go explore Sage Creek, just before you arrive at the park. 
  • Leslie Gulch - Best accessed from U.S. 95, south of Marsing, Leslie Gulch is a wonderful place to visit in the spring for hiking and camping. The area also has a boat ramp and access to Owyhee Reservoir if you'd like to do a boat-and-hike trip to secret canyons inaccessible by road. The spectacular rock formations reminiscent of Southern Utah in Leslie Gulch are the big draw. Self-support camping with direct access to rest rooms.
  • Steens Mountain - Located south of Burns, OR, you can see the giant hulk of Steens Mountain from a long distance away. You can do a loop tour of Steens Mountain from the quaint little town of Frenchglen, or camp on the Alvord Desert side of the mountain, where you could camp by a lake or hit Alvord Hot Springs as a side trip. Another nearby amenity is the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. A lot of folks go birding at Malheur and then camp at Steens.              

There you have it! Have a great Spring Break.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Boise Foothills trails teeming with people, low- and mid-elevation trails ready to ride

Climbing from Military Reserve to Crestline ... Doug Lawrence and Huck 
Trail-runners on Bucktail Trail 
Hi all,

The recent cool, windy weather, combined with unseasonably warm weather this week have dried out the trails in the Boise Foothills. People have been out hiking, trail-running and biking in droves. I've been one of them. I'm excited about riding this year. With every ride, I feel my legs getting stronger, my lungs have greater capacity, and my pointer, Huck, can pretty much run forever.

Here's the official Ridge to Rivers report dated today. They are encouraging people to get out and hike, run and ride:

Great Day for Trail Use
"A THANK YOU to all the people posting their trail adventures on our Facebook Page, Boise Foothills Trail Conditions! Not much change in conditions for today. Expect to see those short muddy sections get even shorter with some becoming packed tread. Get out and enjoy the trails."

For this week's tip, here are some recommendations for dynamite hikes, trail-runs and bike rides in the Foothills. The tips come from my trail guides, Mountain Biking in Boise  and Boise Trail Guide. It's important to focus on the mid- to lower foothills trails right now. The upper trails and the Boise Ridge Road are still snow-bound. The trails in the mid- to upper foothills, such as the Watchman Trail, are still wet and greasy in some places, so it's best to wait for them to dry in the coming weeks.
  • Cross-Foothills Ride (Intermediate; strenuous in places) - 10 miles. 2 hours riding time. Strong intermediate. Today, I rode up to the Corrals Trail (trailhead is 1.8 miles north of Curling Drive on Bogus Basin Road), rode Corrals to Corrals Summit, and then rode downhill on Corrals and Trail #1 over to Hulls Gulch. Then I took Crestline to Military Reserve, and dropped out on the Freestone Creek Trail in Military Reserve near Fort Boise. The hardest part of the ride is climbing to Corrals Summit (3 miles uphill from trailhead, 1,200 feet of vertical gain). Then it's mostly downhill to Military Reserve, with a few uphill sections in between. Fun ride! Hardy mountain trail runners would enjoy that route as well.
  • Crestline-Hulls Loop - 7.25 miles. Moderate. 2.5 hours hiking time; 1.5 hours running time; 1.25 hours riding time. Intermediate. Start from Camelsback Park in Boise on N. 13th. Find the trailhead behind the tennis courts. Climb on Owls Roost and Kestrel to Crestline. Follow Crestline to the Hulls Gulch Junction. Turn left and descend on Hulls Gulch. It's rocky and uneven in places. When you reach the 8th Street trailhead by the Foothills Learning Center, turn right, cross 8th Street, and finish the ride on Red Fox Trail, which leads you back to Camelsback Park.
  • Variations on Crestline-Hulls Loop - Advanced. Ride the loop in reverse, or climb Hulls. It's a challenge, but fun! Another favorite of mine is to start at Camelsback Park, climb Hulls to the Crestline junction, ride Crestline back to the Sidewinder trailhead, climb Sidewinder, come down Trail #4 to the Hulls Crestline junction, and descend Hulls and Chickadee Ridge back to Camelsback.
  • Military Reserve Short Loop - 2 miles, less than 1 hour hiking time. Easy, with a short hill. Here's a shorter tour for families and small kids. Start at the Toll Road Trailhead off of Mountain Cove Road. Go up the Toll Road Trail less than a mile to a junction. Go left and climb up to the initial summit of Military Ridge. Turn left and descend on a singletrack trail leading to Freestone Creek Trail over by the dirt road. Turn left on Freestone and return to the trailhead. 
  • Seaman's Gulch Double Loop - 3 miles total. 1+ hours hiking time; 30-45 minutes running time; 30 minutes riding time. Easy. Take Hill Road west in Boise to the Seaman's Gulch/Hidden Springs right-hand turnoff. Go right and follow Seaman's Gulch Road to a nice paved parking area and rest room next to a large water tank. Take the Valley View Trail #111 to the right, and then take the first left on Trail #110 to Phlox Trail #112, turn left and return to the trailhead for a one-mile short loop. Now go back on Valley View, and keep going out to the true "valley view" viewpoint provided by the trail, hanging above the Boise Valley. The trail loops around to Phlox and returns to the trailhead.
Please see the Ridge to Rivers map or check out my books for more hiking, biking and trail-running possibilities in the Boise Foothills. The Boise Trail Guide features 76 hikes and trail runs within an hour of Boise, including routes on the Boise River Greenbelt, the Owyhees, along the Snake River, the Boise Foothills and in the Boise National Forest.

Mountain Biking in Boise provides a guide to 65 rides in the immediate vicinity of Boise, including the foothills, Bogus Basin, Stack Rock area, Avimor and Oregon Trail.
In case you didn't know, you can buy digital color files of individual hiking, biking and paddling trips on my web site for .99 cents each or the whole book as an e-book. See more at

Have fun! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mountain biking in the Owyhees is a real treat; Boise Foothills trails are drying out, too

"Bingo's Trail" has a number of rock hoodoos along the way 
You might see wild horses in the Wilson Creek area. 
Approaching Reynolds Creek canyon 
China Ditch Trail 
Hi all,

I've been stoked about going mountain biking this spring, so I headed out into the Wilson Creek area in the front side of the Owyhees last weekend to check on the conditions. Much to our delight, the trails were dry and ready to ride. We saw a number of mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders out there, so we weren't the only ones with spring fever.

The weather this weekend looks equally fine for mountain biking in the Owyhees. Sunday looks wonderful with temperatures almost hitting 60! Low-elevation trails in the Boise Foothills are starting dry out, too. Check the latest conditions on the Ridge to Rivers web site. With temperatures in the 60s next week, people will be swarming in the foothills. Not so in the Owyhees.

My friend Paul Hilding and I rode a loop in Wilson Creek that he's been riding with some mountain biking buddies of mine for several years. We followed the Google Earth GPS tracks of Doug Lawrence, and with the aid of a BLM map with the trail and road numbers on it, we had a successful ride. I checked with Chris Cook, who's spent a lot of time in the Owyhees GPS'ing trails, and the route we rode is called "Northwest Passage," combined with "Bingo's Trail" and the "China Ditch Trail." All told, it was a 16.2-mile ride with a little over 2,000 vertical feet of climbing and descending. It took us about 4 hours to complete the loop. We made quite a few stops for snacks and photos.

(Here is the live audio about this trip on 94.9 FM The River. Steve talks about his outdoor tips each Friday with Ken and Tim at about 7:10 a.m.)

We will be including this loop in the forthcoming guidebook on the Owyhee Canyonlands that I'm working on with photographer Mark Lisk. But I'll provide all the details here for a successful ride.

I would rate this ride "advanced" and "strenuous" because of the distance, technical challenges and endurance needed to complete the ride. I'll describe a route for intermediate riders below.

Hilding loves the ride. "I think it's my favorite loop of all the riding I've done in Idaho so far," says the former San Diego resident. "I really like the fact that the loop is nearly all singletrack, and it's really scenic, especially with the hoodoos on Bingo's Trail, and then the awesome canyon in Reynolds Creek and China Ditch Trail. It's a pretty killer ride."
The Northwest Passage loop is highlighted in red ... ride it counter-clockwise  (click to enlarge).
Getting there: Take Interstate 84 to the Nampa City Center exit (Franklin Road). Turn left and head into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for Highway 45 south heading for Murphy. Go south on 12th Avenue and take Idaho 45 south to Walters Ferry and the Snake River. Turn right after crossing the river and head for Marsing. Watch for Wilson Creek Road on the left in about 3 miles. Turn left. Proceed up Wilson Creek Road for about 2 miles to the Wilson Creek Wayside. Park. The ride starts here. Be sure to bring plenty of water and food for the ride. I carried water for my dog, and I'm glad I did. Water is sparse in the loop except for Reynolds Creek.

To begin, peel out of the parking lot and pick up BLM Road 37131 and head west next to some giant powerlines.

Mile .4 - Bear left on a narrow, faint singletrack and ride across sagebrush flats to a stock tank area.
Mile 1.9 - Bear left at stock tank area, pass through gate (close it behind you) and ride straight ahead on two-track road.
Mile 2.0 - Bear right onto Trail #200, a singletrack, and ride up-canyon in a small draw.
Mile 2.6 - Trail #200 parallels BLM Road 37150 as they climb at a steep gradient out of that little canyon up to a ridge.
Mile 4.6 - Approach 4-way junction. Go straight on #200 singletrack.
Mile 4.7 - Rejoin road for a short bit; mile 5.0 bear left on #200 singletrack.
Mile 5.25 - Come to junction with Trail #262 on a ridge overlooking Stewart Gulch. Take a hard left on Trail #150. The trail goes through a small canyon and leads to Wilson Creek.
Mile 6.5 - Drop into steep canyon and climb out (mile 6.7). Now it's downhill toward Wilson Creek.
Mile 7.7 - Begin steep descent into Wilson Creek.
Mile 8.1 - Come to a T-junction at the creek. Cross the creek, pick up singletrack on the other side, then take a hard right on Trail #100 and climb up to the Wilson Creek Road.
Mile 9.2 - The trail emerges on Wilson Creek Road by a vehicle pullout. Directly across the dirt road, take Trail #500 and ride downhill over to Reynolds Creek. People call this "Bingo's Trail." It's a hoot. Lots of fun S-turns riding downhill.
Mile 9.7 - Bear left on Trail #500.
Mile 11.25 - Junction with BLM Road 37154. Turn right and follow the road briefly, then bear left on singletrack going up steep slope.
Mile 11.4 - Go left on Trail #510 and climb over to Reynolds Creek canyon.
Mile 11.8 - At the next junction, bear left and head for the canyon. The trail eventually drops very steeply into Reynolds Creek canyon. People call this steep section "Jacob's Ladder." You decide whether it's rideable. 
Mile 12.1 - Junction with Reynolds Creek/China Ditch Trail #600. Go left, down canyon. Gear down and weave through the rocks. Great place to stop for lunch and take pictures of the redrock canyon.
Mile 13.2 - Veer left on Trail #310 and leave China Ditch Trail.
Mile 13.6 - Cross two-track and stay on singletrack trail. More rock work makes this a sweet sinewy singletrack.
Mile 14.5 - Approach junction with Trail #310 and #311. Go right on #311 and follow that sandy singletrack downhill through the sagebrush.
Mile 15.2 - Cross through barbed wire gate and close it behind you.
Mile 15.7 - Ride around gate. You can see the place where you parked to start the ride. Take BLM Road #37154 directly west to the trailhead.
Mile 16.25 - Final ride mileage at trailhead.   
Here's Steve with his pointer Huck on the Wilson Creek ride.
 Intermediate ride: This route could be hiked or run as well. Follow directions above to Wilson Creek Road. Keep going up the Wilson Creek road to a trailhead on the left. Take Trail #300 from the trailhead in an easterly direction across the sagebrush hills, heading over to Reynolds Creek and the China Ditch Trail (most spectacular part of ride).  

Trail #300 comes to an end on BLM Road #37154. Go right and climb the road. Veer right on Trail #500 when you see that emerge on the left side of the road. Follow Trail #500 to #510 and climb over to Reynolds Creek Canyon. Bear left on Trail #600 in Reynolds Creek and follow the China Ditch Trail along the creek. Great spot for lunch and photos. After a mile on the China Ditch Trail, veer left on Trail #310. Take #310 to BLM Road #37154, go left for a short distance, then right on Trail #300 and return to the trailhead. This route is about 7.5 miles long. It's very similar to the Reynolds Creek Loop described in my book, the Boise Trail Guide. 

There you have it! Thanks to Chris Cook, Dan Meeker and Dave Beck for pioneering "Northwest Passage!"

There's a longer ride with more vertical gain in my guidebook book Mountain Biking Idaho called the "Wilson Creek-Mini Moab Loop." That ride climbs the Wilson Creek road to the top of Wilson Butte, and then takes a topsy-turvy rocky two-track back down the mountain over towards Reynolds Creek. It's possible to mix in a side trip to the China Ditch Trail on the way back.
- SS