Thursday, February 25, 2016

Boise Foothills trails are drying up, ready for hiking, trail-running and mountain biking

Steve at Shane's Summit as the sun was going down last night.
Happy to see the foothills trails dried up and open for use! 
Central Ridge trail 

Runners climbing Ridge Crest Trail in Military Reserve 
Central Ridge near Shane's-Bucktail Jct. 
Mark and Wendy on Crestline Trail 
Hi all,

A string of bluebird days and brisk winds are drying out the trails in the lower half of the Boise Foothills earlier than normal, and that means instead of getting your workout indoors at a fitness center or the Treasure Valley YMCA, you can enjoy an afternoon outing in the foothills, hiking, trail-running or mountain biking right now! For many of us, that's a big Woo-Hoo!

After skiing two powder days at Brundage Mountain last Friday and Saturday, I completed my weekend by returning to Boise and mountain biking one of my favorite loops in the Foothills, riding from Military Reserve up the connector to Crestline, and then climbing Sidewinder to Fat Tire, and then plunging down Trail #5 to Military Reserve and finishing on the sinewy trail along Freestone Creek.

Except for a greasy spot on Fat Tire near the junction with Trail #5, the trails were dry, and it was a delightful ride. My pointer Huck was happy to be out there, too. We've been riding in the foothills this winter on my snow bike on frozen snowy trails, but it's always great to be riding again in the spring. The word is getting out, as there were hundreds of people out and about in the foothills on Sunday, and every day this week.

The Boise Foothills Trail Conditions facebook page indicates that certain trails are still muddy or greasy and should be avoided, including Peggy's Trail and Polecat in NW Boise, and Rock Island and Garden in the Table Rock area. Keep an eye on that page to report what you're finding when you are out hiking, trail-running or mountain biking or see what other peeps are reporting.

For people who live in areas that are still snow-bound such as McCall or Ketchum/Sun Valley, you might want to pay Boise a visit and enjoy some early-spring outings in our beloved foothills. Maps of the foothills trails are available through Ridge to Rivers and more detailed information is available in my guidebooks, Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking and Trail-Running Routes Close to Home and Mountain Biking in Boise, 65 rides in the greater Boise area. 

Dress in layers! Try to time your workout in the heat of the day, and it's been cool, in the 50s. I wear a couple of warm, synthetic layers on top, and I've been hiking/riding in shorts. I pack along a wind-proof shell for the way down. I'm seeing runners in T-shirts and shorts.

Here are four other loops that I'd recommend right now for hiking, trail-running or biking, beyond the Sidewinder-Fat Tire-Trail #5 loop that I mentioned above:

1. Highlands-Corrals-Bob's Loop - 8 miles, rated moderate to strenuous as a hike/run, and intermediate to advanced as a ride. Bob's is a challenging rocky trail, but you can always carry your bike around tricky features. Travel time: 3.5 hours, hiking, 1:40 running, and 1:15 on a bike.
Park at the end of Hearthstone via Braemere in the Highlands. The is the trailhead for Bob's Trail and Highland's Trail. Climb Highlands, which might be shady in the bottom, but will quickly get sun as you rise out of the draw up to Corrals Trail, providing grand views of the North End. It's a little less than 2 miles and 400 feet of elevation to Corrals. Turn right on the dirt 2-track and cruise on a moderate uphill, and then downhill into a creek bottom, a fork of Crane Creek. The trail dissolves into singletrack here. Go through a gate, cross the creek, and then climb to Corrals Summit (turn right at the saddle to reach the top). It's 3.5 miles from Highlands jct. to the summit. Now you've climbed 1,325 feet and you're at the peak of the route. Descend on Corrals for about a mile until you reach the Bob's junction by a hairpin corner. Drop down Bob's, a narrow and rocky singletrack alongside a fork of Crane Creek. In a little less than 2 miles, you'll end up at the trailhead.

2. Toll Road-Cottonwood Creek-Eagle Ridge loop in Military Reserve Park. I call it the "Military Reserve Easy Double Loop" in Boise Trail Guide. Distance: 3 miles. Hiking time, 1:30, running time, 35 minutes, riding time, 20-25 minutes. This is an easy route with some challenging features here and there that provides a tour of the lower parts of Military Reserve Park. Park at the main trailhead off of Mountain Cove Road (off of Reserve St.) after you make the sharp right corner. Proceed up the Toll Road Trail #27A for a half mile to a signed junction. Turn right, cross the creek, and stay on the low trail, the Cottonwood Creek trail back toward the trailhead. It's a flat trail that zig-zags through the sagebrush. As you near the trailhead area, 1.3 miles, bear left into the Black Forest and enjoy that cool little trail. It pops out on a concrete apron. Pick up the trail to the left of the concrete and you'll hook up with Eagle Ridge Trail #25. Climb up the paved road a short bit to the top of the hill at mile 2. Bear left on #25 and take Eagle Ridge back to the Cottonwood-Toll Road junction. Return to the trailhead as you wish.

3. Jumpin' Jeepers Figure-8 Loop - 6.75 miles. Rated strenuous as a hike or run with moderate sections. Rated intermediate for biking. Hiking time, 2.5-3 hours; running time, 1:20; riding time, 1:10. This is one of my favorite rides in Military Reserve that connects to Shane's Trail. It's an equally nice run or hike. The name comes from the Boise Police Dept. shooting range at the end of Mountain Cove Road. The unexpected blast from a gun might cause you to jump out of your skin! To start, go to the main trailhead on Mountain Cove Road, after the sharp right-hand corner. Take the Toll Road Trail #27A to #20 Ridge Crest and climb to the top of the hill. Turn right on Central Ridge Trail and climb at a moderate pace to Shane's Junction. Take Shane's #26A to the left, and climb to the top of Shane's. You've climbed 1,000 feet over 3+ miles. Give your puppy a drink and a snack. Descend Shane's for less than a mile, turn right on the Shane's Loop and return to the Central Ridge-Bucktail-Shane's jct. Take Bucktail downhill and enjoy the big GS turns as you wind across a big downhill on a large flat. Bucktail drops into the Central Ridge alternative trail. Go right and then left on that and it'll take you back to the trailhead. It's a great view of Idaho's Capital City as you cruise downhill on that sagebrush slope to the trailhead.

4. Camelsback - Kestrel-Crestline-Red Cliffs Loop - Distance: 5 miles. Rated moderate for hikers and runners. Rated intermediate for biking. Hiking time, 2-2.5 hours; Running time: 55 minutes; Biking time: 45 minutes. This is a popular loop with hikers, runners and bikers. Start at Camelsback Park off of Heron and 13th Street in North Boise. Head over to the trailhead in the east side of the park, and follow Owl's Roost Trail on the right by the ponds. Follow Owl's Roost to the Foothills Learning Center area. Turn right at the junction with Kestrel, and climb Kestrel to Crestline, it's about .6 miles of continuous climbing. Turn left onto Crestline, climb a short abrupt hill, and then watch for a left-hand junction with Red Cliffs in less than a half mile. Turn left onto Red Cliffs and enjoy a fun descent for over a mile back to Hulls Gulch. Follow Hulls back toward the Foothills Learning Center, cross 8th Street, and take Chickadee Ridge back to Camelsback Park.

Have fun!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Go visit Miracle or Banbury Hot Springs near Hagerman, go hiking, sight-seeing on the way

Launching into the pool at Banbury Hot Springs
Big pool at Banbury is good for large groups and Scout groups 
Newly remodeled, Miracle Hot Springs has a really nice aesthetic ambiance 
Large pool at Miracle Hot Springs; Private rooms border the main pools outside.
Covered pool at Miracle is kept between 105-106 degrees 
Hi all,

There's nothing quite like immersing yourself in a natural hot springs and feeling the water cleanse your body and soul. Precious geothermal hot water -- heated naturally deep inside Mother Earth -- penetrates your pores and clears your head of all worries.

Just lie there, float freely and weightlessly in the steam-covered pool, and enjoy. It doesn't matter if it's snowing or raining, the hot water keeps you comfy and warm. Now that we're moving into early spring, it's prime time season for hot springs! Pack up your swimsuit, a towel and flip flops, and take some friends or family on a road trip!

If you like Gold Fork Hot Springs in Donnelly, you'll love Miracle Hot Springs -- the closest natural hot springs resort to Boise, near Hagerman.
Side pool at Miracle Hot Springs. 
Miracle was remodeled in 2012, and it turned out really nice - it has a ruggedly handsome design and ambiance, creating a very inviting and comfortable feeling for soakers and swimmers.

Miracle is an easy drive about 1.5 hours from Boise via I-84. Go east on I-84 to the Hagerman exit (exit #141). It's located about 15-20 minutes from the freeway. Take U.S. 30, the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, to Miracle Hot Springs, located on the right side of the road next to Salmon Falls Creek. 

They have camping available on-site, or across the highway at Banbury Hot Springs. There's also some camp domes available for overnight accommodations, with prices ranging from $69 to $94/night, depending on how much room you need. Call ahead to make reservations if you want to stay overnight. Those domes are in high demand on weekends. 

Along the way, you could stop at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument or the Hagerman Museum to learn about the Hagerman horse and many other fascinating animals that lived in the area as long as 3.5 million years ago in more of a swampy grassland environment that existed in that era. 

Or, there are several state and national fish hatcheries you can visit, or stop at Thousand Springs State Park, visit Minnie Miller Springs and go for a hike on Ritter Island next to the Snake River. It's an easy, scenic hike that I highly recommend. Minnie Miller springs is one of the few springs in the Thousand Springs complex that hasn't been harnessed for hydropower or fish production.

A visitor once asked Dean Olsen about the name, Miracle Hot Springs. "The water contains over 50 minerals, which can be therapeutic and might make you feel much better," Olsen said. "This is our miracle -- the water."

When I visited Miracle Hot Springs, I spoke with three 40ish moms from Castleford, decked out in one-piece swimsuits, glittery sunglasses and hats, who were soaking in one of the side pools, kept in the 102-103 degree range. How's the water?

"Wonderful!" "Perfect!" "Lovely!"

The women come to Miracle as often as possible. "This is a great place all year round, and it's close to home. I love it," said Mickey Dekryf.

"You soak and it makes me feel great," adds Lori Hale, moving her shoulders around to loosen them up.

Miracle also has a 15 private hot pools enclosed in tasteful private rooms with a changing area and bath pool. It has 6 VIP private hot pools, which can be reserved in advance. The other private pools are first-come, first-served. Hot and cold water feeds allow guests to control the water temperature to their liking. 

Miracle has spa services as well. "You come here and it's like a vacation in one visit," says Jane Olsen, massage manager. They have a massage therapist on duty at all times; advance reservations are recommended. Call 208-543-6002 to make a reservation. 

Banbury Hot Springs, a property recently acquired by the Olsen family, is located across the highway from Miracle. Banbury has a large pool kept at about 100 degrees with a diving board and a large log to hang onto or plan on for kids. It also has private bathing rooms. The Olsens plan to do a full remodel of Banbury starting this fall. But the large pool is a good option for large groups and scout groups. 

The grassy camping and picnic areas at Banbury are really nice, located under a canopy of old cottonwood trees. Bald eagles often perch on the cottonwoods next to the Snake River during the winter. "Sometimes there are 15-20 eagles in one tree," says Enoch Olsen, co-owner. 

There's a free boat launch location at Banbury, which opens up opportunities to go Stand-Up Paddle Boarding, canoeing or kayaking on the Snake. One trip I'm planning to do when the weather warms up a bit is to launch at Banbury and go visit Box Canyon State Park, just 1.5 miles downriver. You can explore Box Canyon, the 11th largest natural spring in the United States, by foot on some hiking trails. Unique fish species live in the water because of its pure water and constant temperature 

There is not much current in this section of the Snake, allowing folks to paddle back upstream to the launch without much trouble. 

The other thing you have to do on this trip is stop at the Snake River Grill in Hagerman and have a hearty meal. They have sturgeon, catfish, alligator and many other exotic items on their menu. Highly recommend it! 

Enjoy your trip! 
- SS 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Road Trip! Take a tour of Magic Mountain and Pomerelle in a fantastic weekend getaway

Wendy skis a powdery bowl under the chair at Magic Mountain
Magic has some steeps off the top - plus some rock-launching opportunities 
Pomerelle has a new trip chair called E-Z Rider that accesses
Milk run, an immaculately groomed, perfect slope for people
learning how to ski or ride.  
Pomerelle has a down-home friendly uncrowded atmosphere ... and good food! 
On a sunny weekend in early February, I took my partner Wendy on a little ski stay-cation. Instead of driving to some of our favorite out-of-state resorts like Jackson Hole, Alta or Steamboat, we took a low-key approach and visited a couple of enchanting mom-and-pop ski areas right here in southern Idaho.
We visited Magic Mountain Resort  on Saturday, toured the mountain on alpine skis and cross-country skied a 4-mile loop to the top of the South Hills, and then hop-scotched to Pomerelle Mountain Resort   on Super Bowl Sunday and had a wonderful private Idaho experience there as well.

The allure of mom-and-pop ski areas is they harken back to the good ol' days of alpine skiing, when a two-person fixed-grip chairlift was luxurious compared to a rope tow, T-bar, and platter lift, lift tickets were relatively cheap, ski rentals cost a few bucks, and you had plenty of elbow room to enjoy the mountain.
Beginner hill at Pomerelle with magic carpet. Magic Mountain has a beginner
hill and a magic carpet as well, but a shorter hill. 
All of these things are still true at Magic Mountain and Pomerelle. Plus, both have been getting a 
TON of snow this year. Magic has 114 inches on top, and Pomerelle has a 122-inch base at the summit, while Grand Targhee has a 91-inch base, Sun Valley has 88 inches and Brundage has 90.  

In 30 years of living in Idaho, I had never skied Magic Mountain. But I think it's definitely worth checking out. It's a fun mountain with a nice mix of advanced, intermediate and easy terrain, a 750-foot drop, a cool terrain park with multiple rail features and big ramp jumps, and a cliff-band area offering even bigger jumping opportunities.  

"We're really geared to families," says Gary Miller, owner of Magic Mountain. "We've kept the prices down because we want the whole family to go. And the kids, they love the rock bands. We've got one cliff that's a 30- to 35-foot dropoff. And they love that, it's called Flathead. The kids really like flying. They want to get big air."

Lift fees are $31 for adults, $25 for seniors and military, $22 for kids aged 7-17, and kids under 6 ski free. Magic also has a fun tubing hill (tickets are $13), and 10 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails (groomed for classic skiing). Magic also offers lessons and ski rentals. The ski area is open Thursday-Sunday, and the tubing hill is open on Saturdays and Sundays.  
Two lifts service most of Pomerelle's skiable terrain, plus the magic carpet
for the beginner hill. 
Another bonus: It's easy to get there. You take the Kimberly exit on I-84 (1.5 hours from Boise; 2 hours from Idaho Falls; 1.5 hours from Pocatello), and go south on County G-3 to Magic Mountain in about 30-45 minutes. 

Pomerelle almost always has good snow because it's located on top of Howell Canyon at nearly 8,000-foot elevation. It has 1,000 feet of drop, one triple chairlift that serves the whole mountain, and a second triple chair -- new for this season -- that serves their core beginner and intermediate slopes and their terrain park.

Also geared toward families and kids, Pomerelle has a lot of ski school traffic, and affordable lessons for adults and teen-agers.  Group lessons cost $35 per person, and if you need rentals, the price is $40 for skiers and $45 for snowboarders -- that's a $20 savings right there.

"It's a great mountain to learn how to ski on or learn how to snowboard on. We've got mostly beginner and intermediate terrain. We have some pitches that will challenge anybody, but I call it a skier-friendly mountain," says Barry Whiting, Pomerelle Ski School Director.

Whiting's favorite slope is "Milk" run, where the ski instructors teach a lot of lessons. "It's a great opportunity for people to learn how to ski here."

I ran into a group of folks from Twin Falls on Sunday who were teaching their kids how to ski on Milk Run. "It's a nice place because you can teach you kids here," said one of the dads. "Milk run is great. It's nice and wide and not too steep."

Pomerelle's terrain park would be appealing for skiers and riders that like to get big air -- Colt 45 has intermediate and advanced rails and jibs, and a series of big kickers, where one could really fly high. Pomerelle is open seven days a week, it also has night skiing, and a bunny hill with a magic carpet.

Lift fees are $45 for adults, $33 for kids aged 7-12, and $17 for night skiing. Pomerelle operates 7 days a week. Pomerelle is easy to access, too. You take the Declo exit on I-84 and drive 25 miles to Pomerelle via Idaho 77. 
We did a 4-mile xc ski loop on classic gear
on nice groomed trails at Magic in the late afternoon. 

I was struck by the quality of grooming at Pomerelle. They have tree skiing and open bowls in the upper story of the mountain for people who like that kind of challenge, but many of their slopes are groomed top to bottom, beautiful corduroy for people to enjoy. I call it "hero skiing."

"Our secret is that we groom in the morning instead of the middle of the night," Whiting says. "That makes the snow ski really nice and fresh, almost like you've got a fresh layer of new snow."

Magic Mountain and Pomerelle serve a great niche in Southern Idaho, providing a low-cost place for skiers and riders to learn how to ski or ride, a place for teen-agers to enjoy terrain-park features, and a place for mom and dad to enjoy without breaking the bank. 
Wendy finishing up the Nordic adventure at Magic Mountain.
The xc trailhead is next to the chairlift. Very convenient. 

Now that the weather is getting a little warmer, and the days are getting longer, people can enjoy some spring skiing while there is still plenty of snow. It's time for the fair-weather skiers and riders to get out and revel in the sunshine.
For the best lodging options in the Magic Valley, search the Southern Idaho  Tourism web site for a full spectrum of pricing and locations. Wendy and I were lucky and stayed with friends on our trip.

One other tip: If you have backcountry gear, there are several great hike-to slopes immediately adjacent to Magic and Pomerelle that would provide excellent untouched powder runs. Carry climbing skins, an avalanche beacon, probe poles and a shovel, and go for it. I highly recommend it for backcountry devotees. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Find your winter-time Fat Biking Nirvana in Idaho

Hi all,

My tip of the week is about some of the state's best destinations for fat biking. I wrote this piece for VisitIdaho and it doubles as my tip of the week:

VisitIdaho link:

I'll be talking about fat biking in the snow on The River with Tim and Misty at about 9:10 a.m. Friday on 94.9 FM.

You gotta try a fat bike!