Thursday, April 7, 2016

Right here in our backyard: Cottonwood Creek combo trip by Arrowrock Reservoir

Confluence of Middle and South Forks of the Boise River on Arrowrock Reservoir
Lots of sweet car camping spots next to the reservoir and in Cottonwood Cr. canyon 
Cottonwood Creek trail 
Trailhead is marked on Forest Road #377
Saw a few beaver ponds along the way ... 
Hi all,

It looks to be a fabulous warm, sunny weekend -- perfect conditions for doing just about anything outside.

Beyond the obvious things to do close to home, like walking, running or biking on the Greenbelt, SUP'ing at Veterans Pond or Quinn's Pond, early-season kayaking or rafting on the Payette River, or hiking, running or biking in the Boise Foothills, I'm recommending a combination hiking/biking/camping/fishing outing in the Cottonwood Creek area, near Arrowrock Reservoir.

This would be an opportunity to jet out of town -- ideally with your camping gear, groceries for a BBQ, plus a stash of your favorite beverages in an iced cooler -- and do a combination trip in Boise's backyard. The Boise River is filling Arrowrock and Lucky Peak Reservoirs quickly, so the water level at Arrowrock is ideal for hanging out in lawn chairs in the sand at the water's edge, fishing from shore (or from a boat), and car camping in some primo spots right next to the water.
trip map (click to enlarge)
The Cottonwood Creek Trail is one of the closest hiking/biking/horseback riding trails to Boise in the Boise National Forest. It's featured in Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home and Mountain Biking in BoiseThe trailhead is about an hour from the eastern edge of Boise, only because of the twisty dirt road along Arrowrock Reservoir. That road is pretty darn smooth right now, so it's not that awful washboard shake-out-your-molars-type of experience. It's about 32 miles from Boise to the trailhead.

Detailed directions: Take Idaho 21 east, across the Mores Creek bridge, and then turn right on USFS Road #268, the road to Spring Shores Marina. Drive 15 miles on the road until you reach a junction with Forest Road #377. Turn left and follow that road 3 miles to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead on the right. There are camping spots at the trailhead and along the last 3 miles to the trailhead.

Lots of elk sign 

Creek has some flat benches for camping

Huck flushed a few grouse
Cottonwood Creek trail is kid- and family friendly. It's a singletrack that climbs for 10 miles up the creek bottom through a ponderosa pine forest that's been burned in places, and left intact in others. If you were to bite off the whole hike or bike ride, you'd climb over 3,800 vertical feet to the top. I'd rate that as super strenuous for hikers and advanced/expert for mountain bikers. But you don't have to scale the whole thing ... you could just hike or bike uphill for as long as you want, and turn around and come back.

You could approach this trip several ways:

  • Drive up along Arrowrock Reservoir toward Cottonwood Creek canyon, snag a car-camping spot to your liking in the morning, set up camp to establish your spot, and then go for a day hike. Bring your fishing gear and BBQ stuff for later on. 
  • Break in your body for backpacking ... backpack up Cottonwood Creek as far as you want to a suitable camping spot that you like, and enjoy hanging out in the canyon. Thorn Butte Lookout (elevation 7,515 feet ) is at the top of the hike, if you want to go for it! 
  • Head up to Cottonwood Creek for a day hike, take a quick dip in the reservoir after the hike, and then head back to Boise. 
  • Drive up the Middle Fork Road past the Cottonwood Creek turnoff, look for a great car-camping spot along the Middle Fork, maybe hit a hot springs along the way, and enjoy the weekend. You can take the road all the way to Atlanta. The Idaho City entry points are probably still snowed-in.  
  • For mountain bikers, I would normally doing the Thorne Butte-Cottonwood Creek clockwise, meaning riding roads and two tracks to the top of Thorne Butte, and descending on the creek. But the top of Thorn Butte is still snow-packed, so you couldn't do the full loop. That should be doable in a few weeks. So for now, try an up-and-back on the Cottonwood Creek trail.  

There you have it! Enjoy the weekend!
- SS


Erik said...

Hi Steve. I completed the Cottonwood Creek loop this morning on my bike per link below. The middle few miles of the trail is awful! Completely overgrown. Any idea why the FS apparently isn't maintaining it? It needs serious love or should be removed the the maps, lol.

Quince said...

I helped my Father L.S. Balter and Jess Kimball build the cottonwood trail many years ago in 1943 . I am just plain too old to go do it again. Our family spent 14 summers on Thorn Creek Butte or Bald Mountain as we called it then. I have fished Cottonwood creek hundreds of times when I was young . My family lived at the Old CCC camp just North of Cottonwood Ranger Station. At the end of June we would move the the lookout and stay there until school started in the Payette valley. Went to school at New Plymouth. Harold Balter

Steve Stuebner said...

Thanks for the background Quince! Very interesting ... I hope the Forest Service can get in there and clear the trail and keep it open for the public to enjoy ... it makes so mad to see them do such a poor job of keeping up the trails built by people like your dad ... that was a big investment that needs to be maintained! It's also sad to see the Cottonwood Ranger Station falling apart ... Best, Steve