|Looking out the double doors in the hot springs behind |
the Mountain Village Hotel in Stanley.
|Looking over at Redfish Lake from a White Clouds singletrack trail. Wowsa!|
|Riding through an old Idaho burn in Central Idaho.|
|Camping by Washington Lake in the White Clouds.|
We're in the heart of the fall season, and the weather is pretty much perfect for biking. It's a good time to tackle some challenging high-elevation rides because of that wonderful cool, crisp mountain air.
I wanted to recommend the Idaho Hot Springs Route, as something to consider this fall -- not necessarily the whole thing (the route is over 500 miles) -- but maybe there are chunks of it that you'd like to ride before the snow comes, whenever that may occur.
The Hot Springs Route is a brand new mountain biking route, the brainchild of Casey Greene, an avid rider and a cartographer for Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Mont. Casey came up with the idea after doing a 10-day bike tour across North Idaho and Montana when he and some friends biked to a different fire lookout tower every night. "At the end of the tour, I thought this whole concept of having a destination where you end up each night was kind of cool ... basically, destination mountain biking," Casey said.
The light bulb for the hot springs route went off when he was soaking at a hot springs in Pole Bridge, Mont. He was thinking that Idaho had the highest concentration of hot springs in North America, so why not try to connect the dots? He started evaluating the situation from looking at maps, plotting the hot springs, looking at connecting routes, and came up with a tentative route. Then he ground-proofed them to see if it would work. Last summer, he rode the whole route that's connected by dirt roads, all 517 miles of it, and he also logged a number of singletrack routes that add spice to the whole experience.
Adventure Cycling published a set of two maps -- the main route and the singletrack routes (227 miles), and rolled them out in February. Turns out Casey had a pretty hot idea! The maps are selling like hot cakes and they've already done three printings in the last eight months. The first version came out in February 2014.
Lots of people are trying the route, and they're really enjoying it, Casey says. Dylan Gradhandt of Boise rode the entire dirt road route with his brother-in-law in mid-June. "It was a blast, I'd do it again," Gradhandt says. "In bicycle touring terms, I'd give it a huge "approved for all audiences" rating. It's actually super doable for the average cyclist, in my opinion."
|You can see the pack set up on the bike and a very lightweight tent ...|
photo courtesy Dylan Gradhandt
Plus, cyclists from all over the nation are realizing that there's a lot more to Idaho than just potatoes. "The hot springs are like the big enticement, but once people come to Idaho, they are blown away by the scenery, the people, and the rugged mountains," he says.
|The main hot springs route follows dirt roads.|
It's a big loop from Boise to Ketchum to McCall
The optional singletrack routes feature a number of popular mountain singletracks such as the Bear Pete Trail near Burgdorf Hot Springs, Eagle's Nest Trail near Cascade (both featured in my Mountain Biking in McCall book) and some of the sweet singletracks in the White Clouds and the nifty Willow Creek trail along the South Fork of the Boise River near Featherville. The singletrack optional route provides access to another 10 hot springs.
|Optional singletrack trails on the Hot Springs route.|
If you decide to stay overnight on the singletrack trails, Casey recommends going light and using the new bike-packing set up. Check out the images here. You will be doing some hike-a-bike on the singletrack trails, and if you have panniers or a Bob trailer, your equipment will get hung up on trees, brush, rocks or roots.
|This is what it's all about. Daryl Gradhandt photo.|
One of the silver linings of the hot springs bike route is that small communities like Atlanta, Featherville, Stanley, Cascade and McCall are noticing how many cyclists are discovering Idaho via the hot springs route. The small cafes and restaurants appreciate the business! "I can't believe how many riders came through McCall this summer specifically because they were doing the hot springs tour," says Gregg Lawley, owner of a bike shop in McCall next to Paul's Market.
Lawley decided to venture out on his own bike-packing adventure in the White Clouds last week. "It was one of the coolest trips I've ever done," he says.
Just casual checking indicates that a few Idaho people have tackled the entire hot springs route already, including Gradhandt and his brother in law, and more cyclists are making plans to ride it next year. I'd recommend buying the maps, downloading the GPS tracks and dreaming big about a unforgettable bike ride next year with your friends.
Thanks to Casey Greene for showing us the way!