Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer is finally here! Four places to go Mountain Biking in McCall

Huckleberry Trail in Ponderosa State Park is super fun and challenging! 
The trail drops down by the lake in multiple places, providing a place for Huck to cool off ... 
Flowers popping near Osprey Point ... that's Council Mountain with snow in the distance 
Hi all,

It's great to finally see the snow melting off in the higher elevations of the mountains, ushering in the summer mountain recreation season. While the highest elevations are still snow-bound, the lower elevations in the greater McCall area are melted out, and the wildflowers are sprouting everywhere.

This week, for my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending four destinations for mountain biking in the greater McCall area. All of these would work for hiking or trail-running as well. All of these trails are featured in my book, Mountain Biking in McCall, available at most outdoor stores in McCall, some of the bike shops in Boise and on my web site

1. Ride Huckleberry Trail around the perimeter of Ponderosa State Park. Rated intermediate with rocks and roots in the trail. Distance: approximately 6 miles. Riding time: 1 hour. Two years ago, Ponderosa State Park staff greatly enhanced the mountain biking experience in the park by adding new sections of the singletrack Huckleberry Trail. Now you can ride all the way around the perimeter of the park, stop at one of several places to go swimming if you wish, stop at Osprey Point to soak in the view, and then cruise along the west shoreline of the park with great views of the lake.

Huckleberry Trail parallels the lake along the west shore of the peninsula ... 
I just rode the trail today, and it's been cleared of winter blowdown and other debris. I saw several deer, beautiful wildflowers by Osprey Point, and enjoyed the views of the lake along the way. You have to be on your toes when you're riding the trail in terms of negotiating around roots and rocks ... something that's pretty standard on McCall trails, but not something you encounter that much on the Boise Trails.

Note that if you ride your bike into the park from wherever you are staying, there is no entry fee.

2. Ride Bear Basin - Rated beginning and up. Smoother trails than Ponderosa Park. Distance: Up to you. Riding time: Up to you. Bear Basin is the perfect place to take kids biking. It has a variety of singletrack trails to enjoy, and good trail signage for navigation. I recommend Sleepy Hollow, Ditch Witch, Upper Drain, Blue Ridge and more. See map below.

You can reach the Bear Basin trailhead by taking ID 55 west of the city of McCall and following 55 to a right-hand turn right before the Little Ski Hill. Follow the road to the Forest Service trailhead. There is a rest room at the trailhead.

3. Brundage Mountain had a grand opening for the summer season today (Thursday, June 22), so the chairlifts are running on Thursdays-Sundays throughout the summer. There is still too much snow on top of Brundage to ride Elk Trail, but you can still ride a couple of shorter trails at the base area. You also could take the chairlift to the top to enjoy the view and snap a few photos. As the warm weather of the summer kicks in, you'll be able to ride from the top of the mountain in a few weeks. Things are delayed because of the epic winter of 2016-17.

4. Ride Jug Mountain Ranch - The trails at Jug Mountain are mostly lower elevation, so people have been riding there for a few weeks. Jug Mountain Ranch is located directly east of Lake Fork. They've got some of the best trails in the greater McCall area with banked corners, narrow singletracks, opportunities for big air, and just a beautiful setting in a dense forest with huge trees. I recommend riding South Elk Trail, climbing up on South Boundary Road to Jug Reservoir, riding around the lake on Shoreline Trail, and then taking Vandelay downhill to Harpers Hollow and return to the trailhead via North Elk Trail. You've also got to ride Berm & Ernie, preferable downhill. There are lots of different trails to try at JMR!

Check on the best lodging options in McCall via,, and the McCall Chamber of Commerce. I noticed a lot of open camp sites in Ponderosa State Park today, but I doubt that will last long!

Have fun!
- SS

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

With return of cool weather, let's go hiking and biking in Boise & the Owyhees

Back of Beyond Three Fingers Mountain Bike Loop 
Browns Canyon 
Drewby liked the Browns Canyon Overland Tour ... we stayed out of the brush! 
We took Huck on a hike in Browns Canyon when he was 8 weeks old ... 
Hi all,

After a brief blast of heat, bringing many of Idaho's rivers to peak flow, we're going to have some cool weather this weekend, creating ideal conditions for hiking or biking in the low country. There's still a lot of snow up high, and it was a major bummer to see Idaho 21 get closed between Grand Jean and Stanley because of a road-washout ... that will take time to repair! Maybe they'll at least open one lane with a flagger?

This week, I'm recommending one hike in the Boise Foothills, one super-cool hike in the Owyhees, and two fun mountain bike rides in the Owyhees. The window on desert trips is closing soon, so get out and enjoy it. Watch for snakes. All of these trip are drawn from either Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home, or the Owyhee Canyonlands: An Outdoor Adventure Guide.

Here are my recommendations:

  • Hulls Gulch Interpretive Trail - The creek in Hulls won't be running for too much longer, so
    Wendy in Upper Hulls Gulch 
    now is a great time to hike the trail with live water, which also attracts insects, birds, reptiles and wildlife. Drive up north 8th Street to the motorcycle parking lot. There's a trailhead for the Hulls Gulch Interpretive Trail here. The trail is open to hiking only, so you won't have to worry about encountering people on bikes. The trail climbs for several miles, crosses the creek multiple times. When you come to a fork in the trail, go right to see the waterfall in the headwaters of Hulls Gulch ... as long as the creek is running. Rated moderate. Travel time: allow 2 hours or so. 
  • Ride the Wilson Creek Loop in the Owyhees - A lot of people love this ride. Roughly 16 miles. Rated strenuous. About 4 hours riding time, including breaks and stopping for lunch. See details in this blog post.  
  • Hike Browns Canyon slot canyon or overland tour - Two different hikes are detailed in my Owyhee guide. One takes you into the interior of Browns Canyon, where you may encounter stinging nettles, poison ivy and deep water in the creek ... clothing attire can be challenging! But an adventure for sure! The overland tour circumnavigates the slot canyon, allowing you to enjoy the scenery from above and stay dry. The overland tour is 5.2 miles, rated moderate, with 3+ hours hiking time. The slot canyon hike is 2.8 miles, rated strenuous canyoneering, travel time 3+ hours. 
Directions to Browns Canyon trailheadGetting there: Take I-84 west to the Nampa city center exit. Drive into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for Idaho 45 to Murphy. Follow Idaho 45 to Walter's Ferry, cross the Snake River, turn left on Idaho 78 and drive to Oreana. You'll see a signed turnoff to Oreana on the right near Milepost 43. Go right and make a note of your odometer. Drive into town. Go past the church (2.25 miles from the highway) and go straight on the Oreana Loop Road until it takes a hard left. Make the corner and then take an immediate right on Alder Creek Road. Follow the bumpy dirt road six miles to a signed right-hand turnoff for BLM Road 700. Proceed down the grade to an old corral at a two-way junction. Park. The hike starts here. 

This trail is closed in the spring because of sage grouse lekking activity nearby. 
DirectionsGo west on BLM Road 700 and climb a moderate grade over to a bluff that overlooks Browns Canyon. At mile 1.4, bear right on a two-track and drop down to the Browns Creek draw. This is a pretty area that's full of shrubs and aspens. The first slot canyon with blondish rock begins at mile 1.7. Cross over to the left side of the draw, as you go downstream, and walk overland through the blond rocks staying above the canyon. You'll break out into an open sage flat at mile 2.0. When the next slot canyon begins, climb up the slope to the left until you reach the top of the rim, and then hike along the rim as close as you feel comfortable to check out the slot canyon as you move along. In a half mile, the canyon breaks open by a draw, and you'll need to lose elevation. Hike into the bottom of the gully and climb back on top of the rim. There's a nice overlook when you reach the top again at mile 3. Continue on the left side of the canyon until you come to the dirt road crossing, and then turn right onto the dirt road at mile 3.6.  Follow the road to mile 4.0 at a two-way junction. Turn right again at a fence gate, and follow the two-track road (BLM Road #710)  back to the trailhead. Feel free to explore Antelope Springs along the way. It's another tight canyon. Camping: If you'd like to stay out overnight, you could camp at the trailhead or near Browns Canyon.  
  • Back of Beyond Three Fingers Loop - This is one of my favorite mountain bike rides in the Owyhees on the Oregon side, near Carlton Canyon and Painted Canyon. The scenery is gorgeous -- you'll see neat canyons, hoo doos and other rock features, similar to what you see at Leslie Gulch. Distance is 22 miles. Rated strong intermediate/advanced. Tread: All two-track roads. Travel time: 3.5-5 hours. Bring plenty of water and a lunch. Getting there: Go to Succor Creek State Park, and continue south 6 miles to an unsigned dirt road on the right at the top of a grade. This is McIntyre Springs Road. Go right and follow the dirt road 3 miles to an unsigned two-track on the left. This is your trailhead. Follow the directions on the map below. The scenery is gorgeous on this ride -- you'll see neat canyons, hoo doos and other rock features. Detailed directions are in my Owyhee book. Bring a BLM map, topo map and a GPS for best navigation.

Trailhead is off the McIntyre Springs Road and near the Three Fingers hike ...  

There you have it! Have fun! 
- SS 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nice weather means it's time to go biking! 5 easy-going road rides for Greenbelt cyclists

Road biking season is upon us! 
Riding buddies out on Hubbard Road ... 
Hi all,

Now that the weather is warming up, it's prime time to go for a bike ride. But alas, one of Boise's most popular biking destinations -- the Boise River Greenbelt -- is mostly closed, so I'm going to recommend five rides, including several from my full-color biking map, Boise Road Cycling Guide.

All of these rides are geared toward a casual Greenbelt rider with a 10-speed. They're all rated easy to moderate, with distances ranging from 10-25 miles. Make sure you bring a patch kit, spare tube, tire irons and a pump in case you get a flat. Carry plenty of water and some snacks.

Ride #1. Wendy and I rode a modified version of what I call "City to Farm" on Saturday, and it was an incredibly delightful ride -- beautiful sunny weather and NO WIND!!! We started from the shopping mall at Five Mile & Overland and rode south on Five Mile and Cloverdale into the rural countryside, where many people have built ranchettes with horses. Then you go left on Hubbard from Cloverdale, and ride alongside cattle grazing on open spaces in the Ten Mile Creek valley.

Take a right on South Cole Road, do a short climb, and then cruise several miles south to Kuna Mora Road. Turn right, and take Kuna Mora to Cloverdale. Along the way, you'll see a big solar farm. Pretty cool! Turn right on Cloverdale and take Locust Grove to Five Mile to return to the starting point. City to Farm is about 20 miles in distance, two hours travel time at a leisurely pace.

The only bad thing about that ride was that I had two flats on my front tire! Geez!!! We had only one spare tube (the spare tube I was carrying happened to be flat from last year), so after my second flat, I hung out and waited for Wendy to finish the ride and come get me. Note to self: Need to replenish bike pack with new bike tube and throw the damn old one away! 

Anyway, here are some other recommendations for easy road rides:

Ride #2. SE Boise Bench Loop - Rated easy. Distance: 10+ miles. Start at Timberline High School. Go east on Boise Avenue to Eckert Road. Go right and then left on Surprise Way. Follow the bike path through Surprise Valley to Idaho 21-Gowen Road connector. Go right and climb hill to East Lake Forest Drive. Turn right and follow East Lake Forest Drive to Yamhill. Turn right on Federal Way bike path and pedal downhill on the bench above the city. Follow Federal Way all the way to Protest. Turn right on Protest, and then right on Boise Ave. and ride back to Timberline. Have an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen!

Ride #3. City to Farm from Boise Road Cycling Guide - Rated moderate, distance 16.2 miles, time travel: 1+ hours. Vertical gain/loss: 158 feet. Start/finish is at the Five Mile & Overland shopping center. Directions: Go south on Five Mile. At mile 3, turn right on Lake Hazel. Go one mile and turn right on Columbia. Go one mile and turn left on Eagle. At mile 6.5, go right on Hubbard. At mile 8.1, go right on Locust Grove. In two miles, go right on Lake Hazel. At mile 13.1, go left on Five Mile and return to the start/finish.

Ride #4. Hill Road out to Eagle and back - Rated moderate. Distance: 20 miles. Start at Camelsback Park at 13th and Heron. Take 13th north to Hill Road. Go west on Hill through Boise, following Hill Road Parkway to Old Horseshoe Bend Highway. Continue west on Hill into Eagle. Go into old downtown for a bite to eat, some coffee, a beer or whatever. Turn around and retrace your tracks back to Camelsback.

Ride #5. Lake Lowell Loop near Nampa - Rated moderate. Distance: 26 miles. Time travel: 1.5-2 hours. See video. This is a nice ride around Lake Lowell, especially on the south side of the lake, when you're riding near the lake along Lake Shore Drive. Start at the Lake Lowell boat ramp on Iowa Street. Go east toward Nampa. Turn right on Middleton, then left on Greenhurst. Go one mile and turn right on Midland. Go one mile and go left on Locust. Go one mile and turn right on Idaho 45. Go two miles or so and turn right on Lake Shore Drive. Follow Lake Shore for almost 10 miles along the south shoreline of the lake. Turn right on Riverside at the west side of the lake and follow that to Orchard. Go right on Orchard and follow that to Indiana and Lone Star and Lake bake to the start.

Interested in bike events coming up this summer? See the Southwest Idaho Cycling Association calendar. Ride Idaho is scheduled for Aug. 5-12 this year. The course starts in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area.

There you have it! Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, May 25, 2017

10 super-reliable camping ideas for Memorial Day weekend! Weather forecast is fantastic!

Dad and Drew at Succor Creek State Park ... that'll be popular this weekend! 
Sitting around the campfire is one of life's simple pleasures 
The Owyhees should be a fantastic place to be this weekend. Painted Canyon. 
It'll be a fabulous weekend for running the Bruneau River ... Surf's up baby! 
Hi all,

Memorial Day weekend is upon us! Typically, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer camping season, and I'm sure there will be tons of people heading into the high country this weekend to their favorite camping destinations.

For once, we're going to have great weather for the weekend! Temperatures are forecast to be in the 70's on Friday and Saturday, and 80s on Sunday and Monday in the valleys. Woo hoo! Enjoy the sunshine! We've been waiting and waiting for that!

Because of deep snow in the high country, the best camping destinations are going to be in the lower-elevation areas this weekend. Think Idaho State Parks -- all of their campgrounds are open. Call ahead for reservations. The Owyhee Canyonlands should be fantastic with wildflowers blooming! Low-elevation campgrounds in the Boise, Payette and Sawtooth national forests will be open, and high-elevation spots will be closed. Here is a great roundup of Forest Service campgrounds from Statesman outdoors.

So here are 10+ last-minute camping recommendations for Memorial Day weekend:
  • Camping in the Owyhees should be excellent. The snakes may be emerging. See my spring camping blog post for suggestions ... places like Bruneau Dunes State ParkLeslie GulchSuccor Creek State Park or the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area would all be good bets. See the spring camping post for more info. Be sure to take my Owyhee Canyonlands guide with you for tips on hiking and biking near your camping destinations. 
  • Morel mushrooms are popping in the Boise and Payette national forests. Morels are delicious and easy to identify. Look for them above 4,000-foot elevation. See last week's blog post on morel-picking near the Pioneer Fire.  
  • Float the Owyhee or Bruneau rivers and go river camping. The Owyhee still has good rafting flows in the 1,750 cfs range, and the Bruneau was running 1,950 cfs today, and probably is coming up with the sunshine melting the snow on Jarbidge Mountain.
  • Go car-camping on the North Fork or Middle Fork of the Boise River. The Rabbit Creek Road is open from Idaho City, so you can access the North Fork Boise River campsites from there. If you want to go to Barber Flats and the Middle Fork Boise River, go up via the road to Lucky Peak and Arrowrock Reservoir. 
  • Salmon River beaches! A great spring camping location is on the sweet white sandy beaches along the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins. There are numerous big beaches up there where you can set up a great camp, hang out by the river, do some floating on the Salmon and/or go hiking. Use caution around the Salmon River, though, because the river is running high and climbing at 65,000 cfs! The hike on the Wind River Trail via the Wind River Pack Bridge about 25 miles upstream of Riggins has a number of switchbacks as you climb higher and higher up the Salmon River canyon. The trail eventually leads into the Gospel Hump Wilderness, but you probably won't get that far. That'd be a great hike right now.
  • Take a day hike on the front side of the Owyhees ... See my Owyhee Canyonlands guide, available at most outdoor stores and book stores. I'd recommend Little Jacks Creek, the West Fork Shoofly Quick Loop, Between the Creeks, Toy Pass hikes, Reynolds Creek, Wilson Creek, Jump Creek Canyon or Wildcat Canyon. 
  • Head up to the Lochsa River and go rafting on the biggest whitewater weekend of the year on the Lochsa.  
  • Stay home and hike/ride/run in the Boise Foothills - It's super green, the wildflowers are out, and the trails are in great shape!  
  • Stay close to home and go for a road bike ride. See my Boise Road Cycling Guide for ideas. 
  • Stay close to home and check out the Memorial Day sales at your favorite local outdoor stores. There are usually some great deals to be had, at up to 50% discounts! 
There you have it! Have a great weekend no matter what you do! 
- SS 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Morel-picking season is upon us! Where to find them in the Boise National Forest

Fresh-picked morels 
Wendy was excited about our haul last year ... we picked in the Teepee Springs fire zone
Hi all,

Finally, a really nice weekend is coming our way weather-wise! Highs are predicted to be in the 70-degree range in Boise and in the lower elevations in the mountains! Blue sky and perfect weather for just about anything!

I've been seeing some pictures of morel mushrooms on Facebook, so clearly the morel-picking season has begun in the lower elevations. Now we'll have some sunshine in the forest for morels and other forest-dwelling fungi, plants and wildflowers to pop! Bring it on!

Morel-picking for private use is legal without a permit in the national forests in Idaho. Consumption is limited to 5 gallons per day. Commercial pickers are required to pay a fee. In the wake of the Pioneer Fire, the Boise National Forest is asking people who are picking for personal use to carry a brochure and map with them. The map details the locations where people can pick in the fire zone for personal use and for commercial use. There are many areas in the fire zone that will be closed to morel picking as well. Check out the map.

Blue hash marks are for person use, green for commercial pickers. 
Word has it that morels are sprouting around the Lowman area, according to the Boise National Forest. Lowman has an elevation of 3,750 feet. As things warm up, and the snow melts, morels will popping up at higher elevations. They haven't been seen too much around Idaho City yet, but it's still early.

It's also fine to pick morels anywhere else in the Boise National Forest, Payette National Forest or other forests in Idaho.

What's so special about morels? If you like to eat mushrooms, morels are a delicacy. They are positively delicious, especially sauteed in butter and garlic, and mixed with eggs or served with steak, mixed into soups -- there's just all kinds of applications.

Basidiospores at a microscopic level. The spores
fly from one mushroom to start a new fruiting
body nearby in the forest floor. I have a chapter
about the wonders of mycelia and morels in my
book, "Idaho Microbes."    
Morels are fun to pick because they're very distinctive ... they have a conical shape, kind of like a Christmas tree, but with honeycombs inside. My suggestion is to walk very slow through the woods, and stare at the ground, looking for morels. Once you see some, you'll find more. The grow prolifically the spring after a forest fire, but you can get into quite a few of them even several years after a fire.

I seem to find them more under fir trees than pine trees on open ground. If there's a lot of beargrass growing on the slope, it's not a good site for morels. Sometimes you'll find groups of morels popping up underneath the brush. Once you find a fertile area for morels, you'll keep coming back to those spots for more.

This also should be a great weekend for spring camping. Here's a previous post about some spring camping spots I'd recommend. Pick up a copy of my Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide for tips on 55 hikes and mountain bike rides in the Big Wide Open, plus a guide to the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.

Have fun!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Five easy Boise Foothills trails for Greenbelt walkers who might dare to try the dirt!

Hiking on Red Fox Trail above the Hulls Ponds 
My son Quinn on a hike in Military Reserve 
You feel as though you could reach out and touch Boise from the Seaman's Gulch Trails 
Hi all,

The weekend weather doesn't look that promising -- it's expected to be unsettled and cool, with a 70 percent chance of rain on Friday, 50% chance on Saturday, and then a slight chance of rain forecast Sunday morning. So Sunday looks to be the best day, but at this time of year, who knows? You have to go with the flow!

With most of the Boise River Greenbelt closed right now, I bet that a lot of walkers and runners are wondering about the best trails to try in the Boise Foothills? For my tip of the week, I'm going to recommend 5 easy trails to consider at a variety of trailheads across the foothills.

All of the routes are featured in my Boise Trail Guide - 90 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home. I organized the book as a step-by-step guide to hiking and running in the greater Boise area, starting with flat Greenbelt sections stretching from Eagle to Lucky Peak, and then stepping it up a notch to Easy Mountain Trails, which have short distances and a small elevation gain. And then after you master those, you step up to Moderate Mountain Trails, which are longer and have more elevation gain. And then you might graduate to Strenuous Mountain Trails -- great workouts that involve some pain -- or Epic Mountain Trails, which would take you to the limit!

Boise Trail Guide is your ticket to discovering the splendor and diversity of the hiking and running opportunities in the SW Idaho region. The guide takes even native Idahoans to trails they've never experienced before ...

So let's get right to it ... 5 Easy Mountain Trails to get you started. All of these are kid-friendly:

  • Eagle Bike Park - A number of the trails at the Eagle Bike Park are open to hiking and trail-running, including Rabbit Run, Junk Yard, D-Chaos and Twisted Sister. These are short, singletrack trails that tour around the west foothills near Idaho 55. Take Old Highway 55 north of State Street to get to the park. It's also a fantastic place to bike, with flow trails, a pump track and big-air opportunities for expert riders, and features for kids to practice and build their skills. 
  • Seaman's Gulch - Located on Seaman's Gulch Road, heading toward the Ada County Landfill, you'll see a trailhead for the Seaman's Gulch trails by a giant water tank on the east side of the road. The short singletrack trails here take you out for a fantastic view of the city. Distance is 1-3 miles. Less than 500 feet of gain. 
  • Harrison Hollow - Take the trail up the draw to get a feeling for Harrison Hollow. It's about 1 mile up the canyon to a saddle with several more trails. There also are trails on the ridges heading back to the trailhead, or you can return the way you came. This is a dog-friendly area. Please pick up after your pets. 
  • Camelsback Park - Owl's Roost - Red Fox Loop. 2.2 miles. Start at Camelsback, pick up Red Fox in the east side of the park and follow Red Fox out to the crossing of 8th Street. Go across the dirt road, and hike past the Foothills Learning Center on Kestrel to a right-hand turn for Owl's Roost. This trail will take you back to Camelsback. Excellent hike for kids in the backpack. There will be lots of people on these trails ... it's a popular area. 
  • Miltiary Reserve - Go to Fort Boise area in Boise and find Reserve Street. Go north into the foothills and turn left on Mountain Cove Road. Proceed about 3/4 of a mile to trailhead after a sharp right-hand turn in the paved road. At this trailhead, you can take Toll Road Trail up to a right-hand turn and creek-crossing. Cross the creek, and pick up Cottonwood Creek trail going back toward the trailhead on the other side of the creek. This is a scenic low-key hike, great for kids and dogs.

Notes: Next week is Boise Bike Week, May 13-20. The Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and Boise Bike Project always serve up a bevy of events during this time. See their web site or facebook page for details. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Climbing Mount Heinen, the toughest of the Boise Grand Slam Peaks, is a rewarding trip

Looking back at Mt. Heinen on the north side ... very steep approach from this side. 
Jack, Joanie and Steve on top of Mt. Heinen 
Celebrating the completion of Steve's Grand Slam on top of Mt. Heinen with Jack, Joanie and Judy 
Hi all,

I've been pecking away at the two remaining Boise Grand Slam peaks this spring to complete my Grand Slam, and by climbing Mt. Heinen with three friends on Saturday, I did it! 

At 6,390 feet, Mt. Heinen is the tallest of the Grand Slam peaks, and definitely one of the most strenuous hikes. But we hiked it on a gorgeous sunny day last Saturday, with temps in the mid-60s, and it felt wonderful to be out hiking in wildflowers, green grass and relatively warm weather! 

Just for background, the Boise Grand Slam was created by Tom Lopez, a retired lawyer and the author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide. The concept is to give Treasure Valley residents an early goal of hiking the Grand Slam peaks to begin getting in shape for the summer backpacking and mountain climbing season. 

Joanie with her pup in the snow field on the north side of Heinen. Hiking poles were very handy on this trip. 
The other three peaks are Mt. Cervidae (closest to Boise and shortest, but still hard -- 2 miles straight up, 2,000 feet of climbing), Mt. Kepros (10 miles and over 2,000 vertical feet), and Lucky Peak/Shaw Mountain, the top of the eastern flank of the Boise Foothills.   

There are multiple approaches to Mt. Heinen. We drove up to the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead in the Boise National Forest, about 1.5 hours from town, next to Arrowrock Reservoir. We hiked one steep ridge up to the main ridgetop leading to Heinen Peak, and hiked another steep ridgeline back to the trailhead. It was a great adventure tour with no real trail most of the way, but pretty easy route-finding staying on the ridges. 

My friends Joanie Faucie, Jack Van Valkenburg and Jody Thorne went with me. We made for a good group, all hiking at about the same pace. We brought lots of water, a lunch, wind breaker, hiking poles and GPS for the trip. It took us about 4.5 hours to do the whole hike. Mileage was 7+ miles. Vertical gain over 3,300 feet. It'd rate the trip strenuous. 

Our route took us up a ridge above Garden Gulch, through the forest and then on a main ridge heading for Mt. Heinen.
From Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, we went back down the road toward Arrowrock Reservoir for a short bit, crossed the creek and climbed up a ridge above Garden Gulch. Be sure to respect the private property in the vicinity by the creek bottom. Once on the ridge, we climbed steadily through grass sagebrush terrain and wildflowers until we reached the timber zone, and then we had to navigate a little brush to reach the top ridgeline. Once on that ridge, we ran into a couple that was hiking to Heinen from the South Ridge, or Irish Creek Campground by the reservoir. This route is 4.5 miles one-way, with 3,880 feet of gain. Our route was more direct, but perhaps more punishing. 

It was super pleasant on the ridge, and an easy walk up to Heinen. We had almost no wind up top, so we could hang out and eat our lunch. There are two rocky peaks on Heinen that seem to be the same elevation, but the peak furtheast west is the one with the USGS marker on top, and a water bottle containing some note paper for hiker notes. I signed my name. 

The descent off the north side of Heinen was super-steep! There was a snow field that we slid down on our boots laterally, and then we hiked down the face of the mountain over the ridge we planned to descend. It was a delightful walk downhill along the backbone of a steep ridge, with major elk habitat in the dense timber, and open brush, or bird and deer habitat on the sunny side of the ridge. Huck flushed three big blue grouse on the way down, and at least two on the way up. 

Matt Clark of the Idaho Trails Association says he calls climbing Heinen, a Heineken-type of hike because you earn your beer -- and your dinner -- on that one! I sure was glad to have a hot tub to jump into when I got home, with a PBR in hand. 

See more pics on my Facebook page. 

Have fun! 
- SS 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weather warming up this weekend and next week! Time to head for the Owyhees!

Jim Giuffre, foreground, Steve Schneider and Doug Lawrence just finishing the China Ditch Trail ... 
Sheep Creek Canyon cuts through old rhyolite lava rock 
Stopping to enjoy the grandeur of Reynolds Creek canyon. 

Hi all, 

The forecasts are predicting that we'll get a break from the rain this weekend, and next week the temperatures might hit 70 degrees F! OMG! Time to head out for a spring hike or bike ride in the Owyhees! Maybe take your camping gear and stay overnight? 

I just completed a 3rd printing of The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide, so I've got plenty of books on hand if you haven't purchased your copy yet. The books are available on my web site,, Boise REI, Idaho Mountain Touring, Owyhee County Museum gift shop in Murphy, and Amazon

For this week's outdoor tip, I'll dish up two hikes and one mountain bike ride in the Owyhees. 

John Wheaton, Amy Haak, Wendy and me on
a winter ride on Bingo's Trail. 
First, the bike ride - the Wilson Creek - Northwest Passage Loop. Distance: 16.25 miles; travel time: 3.5-4 hours; vertical gain: 2,075 feet. Rated strenuous. Mountain bikers love this ride. It's almost all singletrack with a couple of short sections of two-track road. The Soda fire did a number on Reynolds Creek canyon, which some people feel has diminished the scenery. But I still think it's a great ride. 

See my blog post with photos, a map and blow-by-blow directions of the ride

Now, the hikes: 

1. Wilson Creek-Reynolds Creek Loop - Distance 7.4 miles; travel time: 3.5 hours; vertical gain: 750 feet; Rated moderate to stenuous ... mostly moderate. This is a shorter version of the Northwest Passage loop. Getting there: From downtown Boise, take I-184 west to Nampa. Take the Franklin Road exit (City Center) in Nampa, and turn left. Follow Franklin to the intersection with 11th Street. Turn right and take 11th into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for Idaho 45 south. Take ID 45 to Walters Ferry at the Snake River and turn right on ID 78, heading for Marsing. In a couple miles, turn left on Wilson Creek Road. Proceed up the paved road, past the cattle feedlot, until it turns to dirt and pull into a dirt parking area on the left, the trailhead for Trail #300. The hike starts here.

This is a great hike (good for trail-running, too) in the foothills of the Owyhee Mountains, about 45 minutes from Boise. The trail weaves through rock formations on the way over to Reynolds Creek, and then you hike the China Ditch trail along Reynolds Creek. The red rock canyon is spectacular. Bring your camera, plenty of water and a lunch. Even though the route is 7+ miles, the elevation gain is pretty minimal, so the hike may be suitable for kids 8 and over. My kids enjoyed the hike, especially throwing rocks into the creek.

Quinn hangs out on a big rock 
Directions: To begin, pick up Trail #300 out of the parking lot. Ignore trails branching off to the left in the first mile. At mile .9, you’ll cross a road and continue on the singletrack trail. The trail climbs one last hill and then widens into a two-track and descends to a T-junction at a dirt road (mile 1.8). Go right for a short bit, and turn left on Trail #410, a sandy wash going downhill towards Reynolds Creek. At mile 2.3, go right on Trail #310 and proceed for a half mile to a junction with Trail #600, the China “Ditch” trail. Go right and walk upstream along Reynolds Creek canyon for a long mile. After walking next to vertical rock walls, the trail opens up on the right at the junction with Trail #510, #601 and #610. Go right on #510 and climb out of the canyon. At mile 4, bear right at a Y junction on #510 and stay on #510 to BLM dirt road #37154. Go right and follow the road to the junction with Trail #400. Go left on #400 at mile 5.28 and head back to the trailhead. At the top of the first hill, you can either stay on Trail #400 or branch off on #300. Both ways head over to the Wilson Creek Road and the trailhead.

Sheep Creek canyon is deep! 
2. Mary's Creek to Sheep Creek Canyon - Distance: 8.75 miles; travel time: 4-5 hours; Vertical gain: 1,389 feet; Rated moderate to strenuous. This is a neat hike that takes you over to the deep incised canyon of Sheep Creek, where it's possible to camp by the creek or certainly stop and have lunch there before you head back. Mary's Creek also lies inside a BLM wilderness area, so this is a hiking-only experience. 

Road access: Easy, any kind of 2WD vehicle will work to reach this trailhead. 

Getting there: From Boise, take I-84 east to Mountain Home. Take the first exit to downtown Mountain Home. Proceed through town and watch for Idaho 51 to Bruneau. Turn left on Idaho 51 and go to Bruneau. Pick up any last-minute snacks/beverages and head south on Idaho 51. Check your odometer when you leave Bruneau. It's about 40 miles from Bruneau to the signed turnoff for Roland Road on the left, just past the old bar and junk yard in Grasmere. Go left on Roland Road, and take that good-quality gravel road 5.2 miles to the signed Mary's Creek Wilderness Trailhead. The hike starts here.   

General remarks: Mary's Creek is one of the more easy-to-access trailheads in the Sheep Creek/Bruneau Wilderness area. It's a scenic basalt canyon that drains into the much-deeper and spectacular box canyon of Sheep Creek. It's possible to do either a day trip here, or take a backpack and camp overnight at the Mary's Creek/Sheep Creek confluence, do some exploring and enjoy some quiet peace of mind. The day hike features a cross-country walk along the edge of Mary's Creek canyon for 3+ miles to the edge of the canyon rim. Then, there's a nice little singletrack hiking trail, called the Tindall Trail, that drops down to the confluence area, where there are several areas large enough for a campsite. We returned to the Mary's Creek Trailhead via a rough and rocky two-track road, just to make the walking a little easier. The two-track is drivable with a high-clearance 4WD rig, outside the wilderness boundary, if you want to drive directly to the canyon rim. I'd recommend this hike for kids who are 8-10 years old and up.       

Directions: To start, hike through the sagebrush along the left side of Mary's Creek canyon. It will get considerably deeper as you approach Sheep Creek canyon. At mile 3.6, you'll arrive at the canyon rim, where you'll see a singletrack trail winding through the rocks down to the Mary's Creek/Sheep Creek confluence. It's .7 miles and 520 feet of descent from the rim to the confluence. Great spot for lunch or overnight camping. Retrace your steps to the canyon rim, and take the two-track road back to the trailhead. Final mileage is 8.75 miles.

Have fun! Hoping for sunshine all weekend! 
- SS 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Five kid-friendly spring hikes in the Boise Foothills -- easy shorties & long ones too

A dad and young kids out on the Surprise Valley-Oregon Trail Loop
Highlands Trail hugs the foothills, climbing up to the Corrals Trail on a moderate grade. 
Hi all,

The weather looks promising in the Treasure Valley area on Friday and Saturday, but now it's supposed to rain on Sunday, so that's unfortunate ... but that's springtime for you in the Rockies!

There seemed to be a ton of interest in spring kid-friendly hikes based on the number of web hits my blog had last week, so I'm going to dish up another list of spring hikes for my outdoor tip of the week. Because of all the Greenbelt closures, I'll recommend five kid-friendly spring hikes in the Boise Foothills. All of them are featured in my book, Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home. 
Dry Creek Trail 
1. Highlands Trail to Corrals to Bob's Loop - Distance 8 miles, vertical gain: 1,328 feet, travel time, 3.5 hours. Rated moderate to strenuous. I've heard that arrowleaf balsomroot, the large plants with big daisy-like yellow flowers, is blooming on the slopes next to the Highlands Trail. That's one reason to do the hike! Drive to the Highlands and park in the cul de sac at the end of Hearthstone Drive. This is the trailhead for Highlands and Bob's Trail. Start by climbing the Highlands Trail to Corrals Trail. You'll travel 1.75 miles and climb 400 feet to reach this point. Now the hiking gets easier for a while. Turn right, and take the Corrals 2-track over to a fork of Crane Creek, pass through a gate, and then begin the climb to Corrals Summit. At the top of the big switchback, go right to reach the summit at mile 5.25. This is the top of the hike. Descend on Corrals about 1 mile down to the junction with Bob's, take a hard right and finish going downhill on Bob's to the starting point. Bring a lunch to enjoy at Corrals Summit.

2. Dry Creek out and back - This is a nice hike because you're following a creek the whole way, but you might get your feet wet on crossings. It's up to you how far you go on this hike ... it's almost 7 miles to the top of the Boise Ridge, and you'd run into snow before reaching the top. I'd plan to walk up the creek about an hour or so, stop for lunch, and then head back. Dry Creek is a scenic hike because of the rock hoo doos that you'll see along the way, and eventually, you'll get into the pine trees as you gain elevation. Dry Creek is the only perennial stream in the foothills.

3. Surprise Valley - Oregon Trail Loop - Distance 2.6 miles, vertical gain: 190 feet, travel time 1 hour or slightly more. Rated easy. The residents of Columbia Village and Surprise Valley know about these trails because they live next to them, but for other folks, this is a cool destination that provides a history lesson/teachable moment about the Oregon Trail, with interpretive signs and an historic rock ramp that the emigrants used to drop into the Boise River Valley from the dusty trail on the upper bench. Go to Surprise Valley in SE Boise and park at the Trinity Presbyterian Church. Pick up the gravel trail behind the church and hike toward the east along the base of the hill. It's about a mile to the Kelton Ramp grade. Follow the grade to the top of the rim, turn right on top, and follow Trail #102 along the rim, walking in a westerly direction. At mile 2, you'll see a right-hand fork in a break in the cliff where you can descend to the big white water tank, and follow the road back to the church.

4. Military Reserve Easy Double Loop - Distance 3 miles, vertical gain: 300 feet, travel time 1:30. Rated easy to moderate. Doing this double loop is a great way to get to know Military Reserve Park very close to downtown Boise. Go to Reserve Street by Fort Boise and St. Luke's and drive toward the footies. Turn left on Mountain Cove Road. Follow the road about a half-mile, follow a sharp right-hand curve and then park on the right at the main trailhead. Head up Toll Road Trail #27A, cross the creek, and hike on a gentle uphill to a trail junction at .6 miles. Turn right, cross the creek, and go back the other direction along the Cottonwood Creek Trail. It's 1.3 miles to do this short loop. As you near the trailhead, bear left on a trail going into the Black Forest. You'll pop out on a concrete apron. Pick up the trail to the left of the concrete on the edge of the hill and you'll come to Eagle Trail #25. Climb up the paved road for a short bit to the top of the hill at mile 2. Bear left on #25 and take Eagle Ridge back to the Toll Road-Cottonwood junction. Return to the trailhead on either Toll Road Trail or Cottonwood Creek Trail, your choice.

Shanes Trail courtesy Ridge to Rivers 
5. Shane's Loop from Rocky Canyon Road - Distance: 3.75 miles, vertical gain: 730 feet, travel time 1:30. Rated moderate to strenuous. This is a short hike but it's a strenuous climb up to Shane's Loop from Rocky Canyon Road, and it's a strenuous climb up to Shane's, but after you've reached Shane's Summit, it's a great walk around the loop, enjoying views of the foothills and the city below. Start by taking Shaw Mountain Road to Rocky Canyon Road. Go past the point where the pavement ends another half-mile and park in a pullout on the right. Go uphill on the road a short bit and take the trail on your left up the hill. Once you've reached an initial saddle, climb up the next hill to the top of Shane's. Go straight on top and descend Shane's back to a multi-way junction. Take a hard left and climb a short hill before the trail contours around back to the Shane's Loop junction. Go right and return to Rocky Canyon Road.
The annual Spring Whitewater Equipment Sale, sponsored by the Idaho Whitewater Association, will be held at Cascade Outfitters this weekend. That means it will be INDOORS in their giant warehouse. Check in your equipment from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday, and the sale is on Saturday. This is a great place to find used kayaks, paddles, inflatable kayaks, rafts and SUPs.

The Idaho Statesman is sponsoring a trails discussion at Payette Brewing next Wednesday, from 5-7 p.m., to get some new ideas on where to go hiking and trail-running. The event is sponsored by The Pulse, Running and Fitness shop in Meridian. Sara Arkle, Foothills Open Space manager, Leo Hennessy of IDPR, Holly Finch of The Pulse, and Dennis Swift of SWIMBA are the panelists. The discussion will be moderated by Statesman outdoors writer Chadd Cripe.
- SS

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Five early spring kid-friendly hikes in the Boise Foothills, Boise N.F. and the Owyhees

Bruneau River Canyon, courtesy Chad Case 
Shoofly Quick Loop, Owyhee Canyonlands 
On top of the Owyhee Plateau before dropping into the West Fork of Shoofly Creek. 
Hi all,

If the weather forecast holds, it should be a pretty nice weekend for early spring hiking. It's supposed to be mostly sunny on Saturday with highs in the upper 50s, and even warmer on Sunday, with highs in the mid-60s.

I've picked out five of my favorite hikes that would work well at this time of year (you shouldn't run into any snow), they're all kid-friendly, and they're in diverse locations in the Boise Foothills, Boise National Forest and the Owyhee Mountains. Two of the hikes are drawn from my Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home, and three are pulled from my hiking and biking guide on the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Indian Paintbrush in Shoofly Creek
All of these hikes can be done as a day trip. Dress in layers, bring a shell or light jacket for wind-protection and warmth, pack a lunch and plenty of water, take your hiking shoes, and head for the hills! Hiking poles are recommended for the Shoofly hike and Station Creek.

1. Five Mile Creek-Orchard Gulch, Boise Foothills - Distance: 5.35 miles. Hiking time: 2.5 hours. Elevation gain: 1,149 feet. Rated moderate to strenuous. Drive up Rocky Canyon Road 2.5 miles to the Five Mile Creek Trail junction. Go slow and watch out for Robie Creek runners and mountain bikers. Park by the trailhead. It's a beautiful hike up Five Mile Creek on a singletrack trail. There are several creek crossings. Look for animal tracks. It's about 1.5 miles to Orchard junction (signed). Go right and climb to a small pass, where you'll drop into Orchard Gulch. Follow the trail down several switchbacks and hike back to Rocky Canyon Road. It's 1.2 miles of gradual downhill on the dirt road back to the Five Mile Trailhead.

Great views of the Boise National Forest from the Station Creek Trail 
Top of Bald Mountain in Garden Valley
2. Hike Station Creek Trail to the top of Bald Mountain, Boise National Forest - Distance: 7.2 miles. Hiking time: 3.5-4 hours. Elevation gain: 2,000 feet. Rated moderate to strenuous. This is one of the best hikes with an actual trail in the Boise National Forest close to Boise. It takes about an hour to drive to the trailhead. Take Idaho 55 to Banks. Turn right and follow the Banks to Lowman Road to the Garden Valley Ranger Station. Look for a primitive road on the left side of the highway, directly across from the ranger station. That leads to the Station Creek Trail. It's a sweet hike on a singletrack trail through ponderosa pine trees to the top of the ridge. Ignore the short-loop junction on the way up the hill. Once on top of the ridge (mile 2.1), you'll see Bald Mountain looming off to the right (east). It's another 1.5 miles one-way to the top of the mountain, but not that much elevation gain. Easy-going stroll to the peak. There's a goofy looking steel four-legged thing on top of the peak. Do a selfie on top, and retrace your tracks back to the trailhead.

3. Bruneau River Overlook - This is more of a driving tour, than a hike, but there are places to hike once you reach the overlook. The reason to go there is to see the jaw-dropping chasm of the Bruneau River and rushing water below. Allow several hours to reach the overlook. Take I-84 to Mountain Home. Take the first exit and go south to the town of Bruneau. Make note of your odometer reading or zero your trip odometer. Go south on the Hot Springs Road. It's paved for several miles and then turns to dirt. 8.5 miles from Bruneau, go left on the Clover Creek-Three Creek Road. This is a good-quality gravel BLM road. Proceed south on the road to a signed right-hand turn (mile 15.7) for the Bruneau River Overlook. It's three miles to the canyon. Bring your camera and your binoculars. Look for eagles and hawks. You might even see some whitewater boaters running Five Mile Rapids below. There are several two-track roads next to the overlook that you can explore for some short hikes. Watch your footing next to the canyon! It's a long ways down!

Three Fingers from a close distance ... the road cut provides a trail to the top 
4. Hike to Three Fingers Mountain - Three Fingers is an easy hike to the top of a basalt-capped mountain in the big wide open country of the Owyhee Canyonlands. Distance: 2.4 miles out and back. Hiking time: 1.5 hours. Elevation gain: 833 feet. Rated easy to moderate. The hardest part of this trip is getting to the trailhead, and that's not too hard. A 4WD rig is recommended. Follow the directions in this blog post,  which provides driving directions to the trailhead, and also directions on the hike. This hike is located near Succor Creek State Park, so if you feel like taking your car-camping stuff, by all means, do that and stay overnight at the park. There is a rest room in the park and more hiking nearby.

The Big Wide Open, Owyhee Canyonlands in Eastern Oregon. Norman Nelson soaks in the view. 
5. West Fork Shoofly Quick Loop - Distance: 5.5 miles. Hiking time: 3 hours. Vertical gain: 846 feet. Rated moderate. This is a pretty easy hike that takes you into the Jacks Creek Wilderness. It requires a little bit of route-finding, so be sure to bring a map. I pioneered this hike when I was working on the Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook, and it turned out to be a keeper. Follow the directions in my blog post, which provides driving directions and hiking directions. You might want to bring a GPS to make sure you're on track. You'll climb up onto the Owyhee Plateau and see the Shoofly Canyon in the "Between the Creeks" area, another favorite hike that's longer and has a different trailhead.

My friend John Robison did this hike with his wife and twin daughters when they were 15 months. This is what he said about the hike: "Great hike! The directions were spot-on! The last two miles of side-hill hiking were not ideal ... I would rate the hike as "moderate" because of this. Having hiking poles definitely helped."

There you have it! Hope you can get out and enjoy the sunshine this weekend!
- SS