|Mule deer like the open south slopes right now ...|
|Station Creek Trail - Courtesy Living in Idaho blog|
|Grassy open slopes are typical on the way down ...|
|GPS tracks of the Station Creek hike ending up at the Alder Creek Bridge|
Antsy to get out of town and stretch your legs? One of my favorite spring hikes in SW Idaho is the Station Creek Trail, a primo family hike in the pine-studded mountains that loom above the South Fork of the Payette River in Garden Valley. You could double-up the activities for the weekend by camping in the Boise National Forest nearby and go boating on Sunday on the South Fork, Middle Fork or Main Payette Rivers.
The weather forecast looks pretty darn fab for a weekend in April ... high in the mid-70s on Saturday, and mid-60s on Sunday. I say go for it!
The Station Creek hike is featured in my book, the Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home. I rate it "moderate" in terms of difficulty. It's a sweet singletrack that climbs 1,300 feet over several miles to the top of the ridge overlooking the broad valley. It's a 4.5-mile hike round-trip. Travel time is 2+ hours. Pack a lunch for the top.
The trailhead is about 1:15 from Boise on the Banks to Lowman Road. Take ID 55 to Banks, turn right to Garden Valley. Proceed past the town of Garden Valley to the Garden Valley Ranger Station. Station Creek Trail is directly across the road from the station. There's parking there but no rest room.
|Trip map from Boise Trail Guide (click to enlarge)|
The trail winds through neatly spaced ponderosa pine trees and climbs at a moderate pace to an initial ridge at mile 2.1. You'll notice a right-hand turnoff on the way up for a short loop. Ignore that one unless you have really young kids and can do only a short hike. At the top of the ridge, you'll see a sign directing you toward the downhill loop toward the Alder Creek Bridge, which crosses the South Fork of the Payette River. Take the left fork to walk a series of ridges back to the highway bridge or circle back toward the trailhead. As my book notes, the downhill trail fizzles out as you leave the top of the ridge, but you can see the valley below the whole way, so you can just enjoy a ridge-walk downhill.
As an alternative, at the top of the ridge (mile 2.1), you can go right and follow the trail to Bald
Mountain for a bigger view. It's worth the extra work to get there. Return to the ridge junction and cruise back to the trailhead or the Alder Creek Bridge.
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.
Most whitewater boaters know that the "surf's up" on the Payette River. It's cranking at about 4,400 cfs in Horseshoe Bend, according to the USGS. The South Fork "Staircase" section will be at a great level this weekend, and ditto with the Main Payette and the Middle Fork. It's still a little chilly out there, and the water is very cold, so dress accordingly. Wear life jackets.
|The Middle Fork Payette River|
Shuttle a vehicle to Crouch on the way to the launch.
The thing I like about floating the Middle Fork is that you float by a whole bunch of private cabins along the way ... it's kind of interesting to check out the cabins -- some of them are curious-looking shanti's -- and say hi to the people as you float by.
Boise National Forest officials say all of the campgrounds in the Garden Valley and Middle Fork areas are closed this weekend. Tie Creek and Hot Springs will open on May 2, and more will open up after that, officials said. However, there are lots of places you could set up a self-support camp along the Middle Fork Road or in the Boise National Forest.
After the hike, you can hit a local hot springs and/or have a burger in Crouch at the Longhorn Saloon. There is lodging in the area if you'd like to 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.