Thursday, July 23, 2015

Biking at Jug Mountain Ranch, Tamarack offers super fun, diverse trails + shuttle

Steve and Wendy at Jug Mountain Ranch, with Upper Jug Reservoir
and Jughandle Mountain in the background ... 
Wendy's still smiling even after flying off her bike a couple of times ... 
Paul was stoked after riding around Upper Jug Reservoir on the new Shoreline Trail ... 
Cool boardwalk on the new Shoreline Trail. 
The super cool JMR shuttle rig ... 
Hi all,

I had a blast riding at Jug Mountain Ranch near Lake Fork last Saturday with Wendy and a couple of friends, following a spirited evening at the Huckleberry Music Festival. And then I rode the new Huckleberry Trail at Ponderosa State Park on Sunday morning with my friend Jim before having to pack up, clean the cabin and return to the Boise Valley. 

This week, my outdoor tip focuses on mountain biking in the McCall area Park II. My blog on June 11 featured the new Huckleberry Loop, Payette Rim Trail, Loon Lake Loop, Upper Drain at Bear Basin, and Berm and Ernie at Jug Mountain Ranch. 

The greater McCall area is loaded with hiking and biking trails. It's a wonderful place to be this time of year because it's always 10-15 degrees cooler than it is in Boise, and I love to ride in the cool, shady forests of the McCall area in the summer. I detailed 40+ rides in my book, Mountain Biking in McCall, so you might say that I'm somewhat smitten about riding in the Valley County area. 

This week, I'll recap a fun loop that we rode at Jug Mountain Ranch, and also touch on some mountain biking opportunities at Tamarack Resort. Remember that you also can go biking/hiking at Brundage Mountain. Lifts run on Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Lift fees are $12 for single-ride lift (hikers), $16 (for bikers), and $32 for day pass for bikers. Brundage is hosting a Family Festival on Saturday, an event geared toward young kids and season pass holders. 

Jug Mountain Ranch continues to impress with new and existing trails, shuttle service, events and general hospitality. Our group met at 10 a.m. at the clubhouse and went for a 2.5 hour ride. I didn't have my GPS on my bike, so it's hard to say how many miles we rode, but I'd guess it was over 10. 

What's great about riding at Jug is the exciting and challenging singletracks that zigzag through the forest, mixed with occasional technical features, fast descents and surprising uphills that you don't expect. When you're done, you feel like you've been worked, but you've got a big grin. 

The route we took Saturday began with a loop around the South Elk Trail, an up-and-down trail in the forest right out of the parking lot. Then, we climbed Mainline, a two-track road, to Upper Jug Reservoir, circled around the reservoir on the newly-dug Shoreline Trail, and then descended on Vandelay Trail and Harper's Hollow back to the clubhouse. 

Shoreline is still getting worked in, but it's really cool to be able to ride around the lake. It's a great addition to the trail system at JMR. 

Both Vandelay and Harper's are narrow singletracks with lots of entertaining features on the way down ... rocks, roots and assorted hazards are all in play in the forests around McCall. True mountain features. Trail-builders at JMR have incorporated those features into the flow of the trail, all to benefit the mountain bike experience. Check it out!

BTW: JMR offers Pivot long-travel bike rentals and runs a shuttle service on weekends. The shuttle cost is $20 for 4 hours. 

This is a Tamarack Classic taken by Sherri Harkin back in the day ... 
Double-diamond line at Tamarack ... 
Super G! 
Another cool place to ride in Valley County is at Tamarack Resort, which is running a shuttle service this summer on Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shuttle costs $36 for a full day and $26 for half-day. Full-on downhill bike rentals are available. Call 325-1030 to reserve a spot on the shuttle. 

The big draw at Tamarack on weekends is the ability to take the shuttle and ride Super G, an intermediate to advanced/expert mountain bike trail with high-banked corners on numerous turns, downhill for nearly 2,000 verts. Tamarack is a favorite with hard-core freeride bikers, offering rare double-diamond steep rock drop-offs and other totally sick features. For lower-key riders, there's an easy way down on Pura Vida. 

Blast from the past ... Gary Kucy, left, and Steve on a ride down the backside
of Tamarack leading to the upper Weiser River ... My old full-suspension Cannondale ... 
Check out the meadow trails at Tamarack, too, where no shuttle is required. You can take Cottage Trail or Lower Pinnacle over to the meadow trails. Climb Lower Pinnacle, go left on Merlin and climb that to the junction with Sandhill and Wild Turkey. Go downhill on Wild Turkey as it slaloms through the forest to Blackbird and continue to Pelican Trail, which provides a big loop around the perimeter of the golf course, returning to the clubhouse area. 
- SS 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wanna go camping? Five of my favorite primitive car-camping spots in SW Idaho

Stanley Overlook map ... Click to enlarge 
Steve on Railroad Ridge 

Wendy on Railroad Ridge 
Railroad Ridge camp set up 
Sunset off to the west 
Mark Anderson looks off into French Creek from the Bear Pete Trail 

Steve loves to ride Bear Pete! 
Aerial view of Bear Valley Creek, the headwaters of the Middle Fork. 

Floating Bear Valley Creek (Courtesy Idaho Rivers United)
Having fun on the Salmon River beach scene 
Hi all,

A friend, Ted Kielley, was surveying the Facebook landscape for people's favorite primitive camp sites, in hopes of going somewhere new and different for his next adventure. And that got me thinking about sharing my favorite car-camping spots in SW Idaho in my outdoor tip of the week.

Some of my favorites are dry, high-elevation camps where you need to bring plenty of drinking and cooking water and everything else you need for a self-support camping trip. A full-on, high-clearance 4-wheel-drive is necessary for some of these, too. But it's super cool to be perched high on a mountaintop or ridgetop, with beautiful mountains and meadows as far as the eye can see. One of Ted's requirements was to find a place with almost no lights -- good for dark sky and stars. All of these spots pass that test in spades.

Here we go, my top five:

1. Railroad Ridge, White Cloud Mountains, near Clayton, Idaho. Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Stanley, and Idaho 75 past Yankee Fork and Clayton to the turnoff for the East Fork of the Salmon River Road. Head up the paved East Fork Road about 10 miles to Big Boulder Road #667. Go right on #667 and proceed to the Livingston Mill. A Forest Service sign indicates the turnoff for the primitive single-lane 4WD road to Railroad Ridge. You, no, the truck, must climb from 7,200 feet to elevation 10,600 feet, 3,400 feet of gain over just a few miles of steep road. It's WAY COOL! 

It took us, no, the truck, less than an hour of climbing and we were cruising up the backbone of Railroad Ridge, which was absolutely smothered with multiple layers and colors of wildflowers. We hit it at the peak! Sweet! Perched at 10,600 feet, it was so cool to look at eye level with 10,000-foot peaks in theSawtooths to the west, and the Frank Church Wilderness to the north, while the higher Lost River Range and Lemhi Mountains lorded over the eastern side of the state. We were on the rooftop of Central Idaho! 
I hiked down to Crater Lake to fly fish, just in time for a thunderstorm to hit and lightning bolts to land around the edges of the lake. We had a great evening watching a storm hammer the Lemhi's and the Borah Peak area. The only downside with the spot, is that there's no cover anywhere, no trees for shelter, no rocks, nothing. You are totally exposed. Bring a good tent! 

2. Stanley Overlook - South foothills overlooking Stanley, with the Sawtooth Wilderness smack dab right in your face! Getting there: Go to Lower Stanley and take the Nip and Tuck Road (the turnoff is off to the north, kind of hidden), a public dirt road that climbs over to Stanley Creek. There are spur roads that peel off to the left, climbing up to the hilltop overlooking Stanley. 4WD is necessary. 

I've sipped cocktails with friends on that knoll, sitting in a lawnchair on a gorgeous summer evening, taking in the spectacular views, feeling lucky to live in Idaho! In the morning, sandhill cranes echoed from the Valley Creek meadows below. 

The camp is a great jump-off point for day trips around Stanley -- biking the Potato Mountain Loop, Fisher-Williams, riding up to the Basin Butte Lookout, or hiking in the Sawtooths and White Clouds. Be sure to leave some stuff there while you're gone for the day so someone doesn't take your spot. 

3. Cloochman Summit - Great overlook campsite north of McCall, next to the trailhead for Bear Pete Trail. You're also in the vicinity of Burgdorf Hot Springs, Loon Lake Loop, etc. Getting there: Take Warren Wagon Road north of McCall, past Upper Payette Lake, to a signed turnoff for Bear Pete Trail and Cloochman Summit, Forest Road #492. It's only about three miles to the summit. 4WD rig is recommended. Chainsaw recommended. There's a couple of pullouts that make for a great car-camping spot right at the summit. One of them looks south over Squaw Meadows, 20-mile lakes, the Payette National Forest peaks, and lots of burned timber from a big forest fire in the early 1990s. Go hiking or biking on Bear Pete Trail ... it's an ass-kicker of a climb uphill from the trailhead, but once you're on top of the ridge, it's a promo skyline trail.  

4. Salmon River Beaches - Love those white sandy beaches along the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins. Getting there: Turn right on the Salmon River Road as you drive into Riggins. The river road goes for 25 miles past French Creek to the Vinegar and Carey Creek boat ramps. There are oodles of places to camp along the road, particularly on some mansion-like beaches. Go early on a Thursday or Friday to snag a primo spot for the weekend. Potential nearby activities include rafting, kayaking or SUPing on the Salmon River. Launch from your campsite and position a shuttle vehicle downstream. Or go hiking on the Wind River Pack Bridge next to the Carey Creek boat ramp and climb a nice Forest Service trail to the Bullion Mine or beyond. 

5. Bear Valley Campground - Great spot for folks who like to paddle a canoe or flatwater kayak. The Campground is located at the junction of Elk Creek and Bear Valley Creek, both of which are excellent for canoeing. Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Banner Summit, between Lowman and Stanley, and then watch for a left-hand turn on the Boundary Creek Road. Follow the road to Bear Valley Campground. This is an area where you might see elk in the early morning or late evening, and you might hear a wolf howling. The meadows around Bear Valley can be spectacular when the flowers are blooming. You could also go mountain biking on the Wyoming Creek Trail and return via the Fir Creek Trail and Boundary Creek Road. You could fish the streams in the area, or drive over to Dagger Falls and hike the Marsh Creek or Middle Fork trails. 

There you have it! Have fun! I'll be at the Roseberry Music Festival this weekend!
- SS

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Now that mountain snow has melted, it's time to go backpacking! Try Red Mountain Lakes!

Steve and Quinn on top of Red Mountain 

Huck loves to swim in the lakes 

He likes to help catch fish, too! 

Fish on! 

Here's an Idaho home-grown boy enjoying the wild country ... 
Hi all,

I've been wanting to go backpacking with my son, Quinn, who's 17 and a senior at Boise High this fall, but it's been tough to schedule considering his busy schedule as a student-athlete and worker bee. Finally, last weekend, the stars aligned and we blasted off to backpack into the Red Mountain Lakes with my friend Norm Nelson, who loves to go backpacking anywhere, anytime.

I chose Red Mountain Lakes because it was the 4th of July weekend, and I knew the well-known trails and high mountain lakes in the Sawtooths and White Clouds would be likely over-run with people. And by god, we made the right call! We never saw another human until the 2nd day when we scaled Red Mountain (elev. 8,722') to enjoy the vast views in all directions, and we ran into a nice couple who were on a day-hike to the peak and lakes.
Trip map. It's 3.5 miles one-way and 1,600 feet of climbing
to get into the Red Mountain Lakes. 

In all honesty, I hadn't been to the Red Mountain Lakes for probably 20 years. I remembered that when I had been there before, I had caught fish continuously in one of the lakes. Plus, the area has appeal because it's one of the closest high lakes basins close to Boise. It's maybe a 2-hour drive to the trailhead, northeast of Lowman on the road to Bear Valley. Forest Road 515 takes you right to the trailhead along Clear Creek.

It's a 3.5-mile hike to the first lake. Once you get into the lakes basin, you can fish 4-5 different lakes by Red Mountain, plus, you're super close to the little-known Cat Lakes. Norm swears that he caught two big trout in one of the Cat Lakes, but he failed to take a picture as proof ... I also recommend climbing up to the top of Red Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views of the rooftop of the Boise National Forest

Right now, the wildflowers are peaking on the trail leading to Red Mountain Lakes. We saw an incredible kaleidoscope of colors in the knee-high flowers thriving in the openings below the semi-burned timber ... I could identify red Indian paintbrush, purple lupine, Sego lilies, scarlet gilia, yarrow and yellow daisies. Seems like the elk have an abundance of feed this summer!

Steve enjoying the flowers

Ah the simplicity of backpacking ... After pulling together a week-long trip on the Salmon River with 18 people, 6 rafts and two kayaks in June, it was so nice to get back to the basics of backpacking. All you need are a few clothing items, your sleeping bag, tent, food, backpacking stove, fishing stuff, water, and a water purifyier of some kind. Quinn borrowed a super light pack from a friend that worked great for him. I used my old Kelty XL internal frame pack, but that thing is due to be replaced. Seems like it weighs 5 pounds before you put anything in it!

Norm and I brought fly rods, and I put together a spin cast set up for Quinn. I brought a bunch of Thomas lures for him to try, and he slayed the fish. Thomas lures work great for catching trout in rivers, and I figured they'd do well in the lake. Quinn couldn't get enough of the fishing. He found a hot spot in the lake, and fished it all day long! Wo-hoo!

Now that the snow has melted, there's an endless number of places to go backpacking in Idaho right now. Pore over your maps of the Boise National Forest, Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Payette National Forest and look for high lakes basins. Another good resource is There are literally hundreds of lakes to choose from. My next trip is going to be in the Pioneers, which are another off-the-beaten-path destination with good fishing and 12,000 spectacular peaks. Maybe you saw my blog about hiking into Betty Lake and Goat Lake last year?

Here's another popular post about three classic bucket-list backpacking trips in Idaho.

If at all possible, take your kids with you. It's super cool to share the wonders of the Idaho backcountry with your kids. They can't help but to be impressed with the beauty of the mountains and the awesome sights of the endless sea of mountains in Central Idaho. Plus, if the fish are biting, they won't want to leave!

Don't forgot your bug stuff ... the mosquitoes were an issue in camp, and the horseflies were out in force as well. Good bug stuff will keep them at bay. Bring lightweight long pants and a long shirt to help protect yourself.

And if you can't get out of town this weekend, go watch the Twilight Criterium in downtown Boise on Saturday. The kids ride with Kristin Armstrong starts at 2 p.m., and a whole slew of races follow throughout the day and evening.  

Have fun!
- SS