Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trying exploring two trails that start with "C"

Crooked River Trail (courtesy tiffanyrooprai at

Crooked River (courtesy of dauw at

Crooked River Trail map

Hi all,

I was up in the Idaho City area camping with my kids last weekend, and I was reminded how cool it was to go hiking or biking on the sweet singletrack along Crooked River near Idaho City in the Boise National Forest.

In this week's outdoor tip, I'm recommending exploring two excellent trails that start with "C" -- the Crooked River Trail or Cottonwood Creek Trail, both of which are about an hour from town and are featured in my Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home.

It's supposed to be quite chilly this weekend, but in my view, that's great weather for hiking or biking. Sounds like Saturday is going to be the best bet. Sunday may be wet. Dress accordingly and dig deep in your drawer for a few extra layers.

First, Crooked River. The easiest way to access the trail is via the Edna Creek Road off of Idaho State Highway 21, northeast of Idaho City and Mores Creek Summit. You'll see a highway sign for the Edna Creek Road and Atlanta, turning right off Idaho 21, about 60 miles east of Boise. There is a pull-out for the trailhead on the Edna Creek Road in the first half-mile from the highway. You can either hike or bike from here.

The trail is a moderate hike, but a little more challenging as a mountain biking trail because it is singletrack, and that makes the riding a little trickier and technical. The trail runs downhill, but remember, you'll have to climb back to the trailhead. About 3-4 miles down the trail, it becomes more sketchy with downfall, and you may want to turn around. The trail is supposed to extend all of the way to the North Fork of the Boise River (10 miles one-way) but it needs more work to make that trip possible for Joe 6-Pack.

Bring a fishing pole if you like to fish. It's a beautiful creek with nice holes and it's a beautiful roadless setting. Bring a lunch to enjoy the setting.

The Cottonwood Creek Trail is one of the closest singletrack trails in a roadless setting to Boise. The trailhead is found on the road to Lucky Peak, Spring Shores and Arrowrock Reservoir. Turn left on Forest Road #377 and go three miles to the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead on the right.

The hike or bike ride is typically out-and-back. It's a 10-mile uphill pull to the top of Cottonwood Creek and another mile to Thorn Butte Lookout. So most people go up a few miles, have lunch, turn around and go back.

It's a beautiful singletrack trail amid tall ponderosa pines. I've also called it a "wet shoes" hike because of many creek crossings, so be aware of that.

Serious mountain bikers or really strong trail runners can tackle the 21.75-mile Thorn Butte Road-Cottonwood Creek Loop. You ride or run up Forest Road #203, a 4WD road to the top of Thorn Butte (elevation 7,515) and then cruise downhill on the Cottonwood Creek Trail #189. That's a good day's workout for sure!
- SS

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Last chance to run the South Fork Canyon is this weekend; Climb a peak close to home

Lone Pine Rapids, South Fork Payette Canyon

This is the kind of thing you may see at the Fat Tire Festival

Blue Lake on West Mountain

Hi all,

Eeek! Summer is rapidly slipping away! The kids start school on Wednesday of next week, at least if you're in the Boise District. So here are a few ideas for some outdoor fun for the weekend.
1. Last chance to run the South Fork "canyon" section
on the Payette River. Water authorities will be cutting off the flow on the Deadwood River after Aug. 22, so this weekend is the last chance to run the canyon, arguably one of the best and most action-packed whitewater day trips in Idaho.

The South Fork Canyon is a kick-butt, challenging whitewater adventure. It contains six Class 4 rapids, and a portage around Big Falls, a huge waterfall that's in the middle of the trip. There also is a hot springs to soak in along the way, and chances to see wildlife. I've seen black bears in there several times.

If you have your own gear, and you have solid Class 4 experience, then you should try the canyon. I have maps of the South Fork Canyon on my web site, and the whole run is detailed in Paddling the Payette.

No gear? Go with an outfitter. Cascade Raft & Kayak, Bear Valley River Co., Idaho Whitewater Unlimited and the Payette River Company all run the canyon section frequently and safely. They provide a fun-filled day-long adventure in the canyon, plus lunch.

2. Climb a mountain peak close to home. I've got a couple of recommendations here, and if you're not sure if you're in good enough shape to climb a peak, you can always ride a chairlift to the top of Baldy in Sun Valley or Brundage Mountain in McCall and hike down. You also could drive toward Snowbank Mountain near Cascade and hike .65 miles downhill to Blue Lake. This hike is rated "easy" in my Boise Trail Guide.

Another possibility is to hike the Station Creek Trail in Garden Valley. The Station Creek Trail is rated "moderate" in my Boise Trail Guide. Once you reach the Station Creek ridge, you keep going to the top of Bald Mountain (elevation 5,122 feet). The trailhead is about 55 minutes from Boise, directly across from the Garden Valley Ranger Station.

For a more strenuous climb to a higher spot, hike West Mountain Trail to the top of Tripod Peak in the West Mountain chain. Tripod is featured in the Boise Trail Guide.
The hike is rated "strenuous." It's about 12 miles out and back to hike up to Tripod (elevation 8,186 feet). The trailhead is west of Smith's Ferry and Cougar Mountain Lodge.

3. OK, maybe you're stuck in Boise for the weekend because of various commitments or kids activities. But that doesn't mean you can't participate in the Tour de Fat and Fat Tire Festival at Ann Morrison Park on Saturday. Festivities begin with the annual parade in funky costumes at 10 a.m., and the beer drinking begins at 11 a.m. at Ann Morrison Park. There is music and fun stuff to watch, including your friends in goofy get-ups. The event lasts until 4 p.m.

Even though the kids go back to school, there are still plenty of great times to look forward to in September, when the cooler temperatures and Indian summer kicks in. Be sure to reserve some time for outdoor adventures, looking ahead to one of the best months of the year for this kind of activity.

BTW and FYI: My guidebooks are now available as e-books and individual digital files ... so if you want to buy a certain hike or bike ride or paddling trip, you can get them for 99 cents each, or 10 for $5, etc., on
- SS

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Backcountry 4WD roads provide great access to Central Idaho spectacular high country

Loon Creek, clean and pure

View looking down Loon Creek from our campsite

Grouse Creek open-pit gold mine ... never got very far

Black bear feeding on berries in the creek bottom

Near Loon Creek Summit. The General is on the left.

Small rainbow amid black sky

Crater Lake, just 1,500 verts downhill from Railroad Ridge

Wendy loved all of the flowers, as did I

I love my truck!

The road to Railroad Ridge was definitely a 4WD low-range type of road

My partner Wendy had knee surgery recently, so we decided to take a different approach to accessing the high mountains of Central Idaho -- we took the truck to the top.

Normally, we'd be backpacking into the high country at this time of year, but Wendy's physical therapist would have given her hell if she tried to put in 15+ miles on a rugged backcountry trail with a full-on backpack.

So we packed up my 1990 Ford F-150 4WD, which has traveled many super-gnarly rock-strewn roads in Owyhee County, and headed out for Railroad Ridge in the White Cloud Mountains. We also planned to drive a twisty single-lane 4WD road from Yankee Fork into the headwaters of Loon Creek, if we had time, over a three-day weekend.

Why go? We yearned to see mountain wildflowers at their peak, fly fish for trout, and camp in the high country, where it's nice and cool, even in August. Most of all, we needed to get out of town and get a change of scenery!

Idaho has a great roster of backcountry byways. Those routes typically include excellent access to food, lodging and services. More primitive trips like the two I'm going to describe here are just that, primitive. You're traveling into the backcountry where there are zero services. It's a pack-in, pack-out situation. We brought 10 gallons of water, our camp cook stuff, food, fishing stuff, tent and sleeping bags, etc.

Railroad Ridge. We left on a Thursday night after work, camped in a meadow near Stanley, and headed up to Railroad Ridge on the east slope of the White Clouds the next morning. It's such a long drive to the trailhead (4 hours) that it's great to do part of it the night before.

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 more 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.

The 4WD road to Railroad Ridge is very narrow with almost zero pullouts. I just put it in 4WD low-range and cruised up the road at a slow speed, careful to not pop the tires on sharp rocks and slowly navigate big water dips and large boulders. 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 the Sawtooths 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.

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, and then we pitched the tent because the storm ended up hitting us pretty squarely by 10ish. Our REI river tent fared pretty well on that windy ridge ... should have brought the NorthFace VE-25, but it was August!

It was clear as a bell the next morning. Wendy saw 40 head of elk on Railroad Ridge to the east, and spotted a lone mountain goat on a peak nearby. Very few birds were visible in the area except for a few red-tailed hawks.

Yankee Fork to Loon Creek: On Saturday morning, we noted the storm clouds gathering quickly in the White Clouds again, so we headed for the Loon Creek Trailhead, 25 miles from Bonanza, up the Yankee Fork Road.

Getting there: We were already in the 'hood. We took ID 75 to the Yankee Fork road, drove north on Yankee Fork to the dredge, turned left on the Jordan Creek-Loon Creek Road #172, and cruised over a tall summit to the Loon Creek trailhead, just past the Diamond D Ranch.

We got there in the early afternoon. I didn't waste any time getting my fly rod set up to fish the turquoise stream. Last time I was there, photographer Mark Lisk and I hammered the cutthroat trout with Dave's Hoppers in 90-degree heat. This time around, the fish were more choosy, but I still had some action.

There is a nice hot springs about 4 miles up the Loon Creek Trail, but Wendy couldn't quite hike that far (8+ miles round-trip), so we pulled over after a while and hung out at a deep pool, taking a swim every so often to cool off (after I was done fishing, of course).

If one were nuts about backcountry roads and could take the bumpy ride for hours on end, we could have driven to the top of Pinyon Peak (9,942 feet), a remote Forest Service fire lookout on the edge of the Frank Church Wilderness. That lookout is accessible from the Loon Creek Road or from the Beaver Creek road system, north of Cape Horn.

On our way back, we stopped at the top of Loon Creek Summit, and hiked out the shoulder of a mountain to the west and had a great view of the General, a big 10,000-foot peak, and the old Grouse Creek open-pit gold mine, not to mention all of the other mountains in Central Idaho.

We were a bit dizzy from all the twisty road by the time we got back to the paved Idaho 21, but we had covered a lot of country and taken lots of great photos. We figured the trip was good practice for when our knees or hips are worn out in our late 70s or 80s. :)
- SS