Thursday, December 29, 2011

High-elevation snow destinations will be best ... or, go hiking in the Snake River canyon

Beautiful smooth ice on Lake Cascade in Cascade. Photo taken on Christmas eve.

Halverson Lake

The trail to Halverson Lake is sandy.

Rock petroglyphs at Celebration Park.

Hi all,

Well, the warm rainy weather in Boise is just totally inspiring, isn't it? Here we've been waiting a month for new precipitation, and then it comes in the form of a pineapple express? How cruel!

I was glad to see that Brundage Mountain is opening on Friday, and Tamarack has opened the Summit chairlift, meaning that you can ski the top half of the mountain where the snow conditions are likely to be best. Either Brundage or Tamarack should be a good bet this weekend, especially after things cool off on Saturday. Probably going to rain at the base areas on Friday, according to the weather forecast. Cross-country skiing at Bear Basin is quite good ... we skied there last week and enjoyed it. See my video.

Downhill skiing at Sun Valley has been excellent on man-made snow in all of the main parts of the mountain, including Seattle Ridge, Warm Springs and River Run. The upper chairlifts at Sun Valley will be best because rain is forecast at the lower elevations through Friday.

The web cams at Bogus Basin indicate that the warm wet weather has not been kind to our favorite local ski mountain. Hopefully, they'll get more snow and open soon.

Cross-country skiing in the Wood River Valley has been excellent -- probably the best anywhere in the state -- because of all the groomed trails open at Galena Lodge, Harriman Trail and everything in between. If you like to xc ski, this is your Shangri-La.

For any snow activity, higher elevations will be best ... particularly above 7,000 feet. That has been the approximate snow level this week. A cold front is supposed to move through on Friday evening, which will bring temperatures down to winter-like conditions. But I don't see any new snow is forecast for the next week.

The Stanley area would be a good bet for backcountry skiing this weekend, but unfortunately, Highway 21 has been closed because of avalanche danger. Dang!

If you're in Boise for the holidays, and you're not necessarily interested in heading for snow-bound areas, I would recommend going to Celebration Park in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area for a good hiking destination, a cool place to see Indian petroglyphs more than 10,000 years old and learn about the Bonneville Flood.

Celebration Park is about 45 minutes from Boise, south of Nampa on state Highway 45. Turn left on Ferry Road just before you cross the Snake River and follow signs to the park. The park and hiking areas nearby are featured in my guidebook, Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home, available on my web site and at many Boise-area book stores and outdoor stores.

The hike to Halverson Lake is about 5 miles round-trip. It's a good place to hike when it's been wet because the trail is sandy. The non-motorized hiking trail follows the Snake River for a ways upstream, and then beelines for Halverson Lake. You may also see people on horseback on the trail. The trip is suitable for mountain bikes as well.

Before hiking to the lake, take some time to look at the petroglyphs on the rock boulders next to the parking area. Sometimes it's easy to understand the message that Native Americans were trying to convey; other times, not so much. But it's fun to guess. The rock inscriptions are apparently about 12,000 years old.

If you'd like to go hiking closer to Boise, check the Ridge to Rivers web site and see what they recommend in the trail blog. It's supposed to rain for much of the day on Friday, so the trails will probably be wet and muddy. Saturday morning, they should be frozen and usable until they thaw out. Please tread lightly!

One other possibility after it gets cold on Saturday ... go ice skating on Lake Cascade in Cascade by the Van Wyck boat ramp. Last week, the ice was absolutely fantastic!

Have a Happy New Year!

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning in Boise at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's up with this December weather!! Weather experts say there may be hope in sight

10-day outlook is not promising (courtesy NOAA)

90-day outlook calls for wetter than normal (courtesy NOAA)

30-day outlook calls for wetter than normal (courtesy NOAA)
Hi all,

Well, geez, our snow dance moves must be totally uninspiring or just plain lame. It's not working!!!

The December precipitation for the greater Boise area so far this month is a big fat ZERO. According to the National Weather Service, December is supposed to be our wettest month!

I checked with NWS officials today to see if they still are expecting a La Nina winter. The answer was, yes, but it is a weaker La Nina than last year.

The 30-day outlook from the NWS still calls for above-normal precipitation or "wetter than normal" conditions ... that should mean some big snow storms! But Colin Baxter, NWS meteorologist in Boise, says that the location of the polar vortex is to blame. "We're locked in this pattern where the polar vortex is hovering over Hudson Bay and the Bering Sea, and that's forcing low pressure to the south along the Pacific Coast."

The NWS model shows the polar vortexes shifting, but the big question is WHEN? The NWS National Climate Prediction Center "has been hinting at that for several weeks, but it hasn't happened," Baxter notes.

A storm was supposed to come through today (Thursday, Dec. 15), but it's not expected to bring any measurable snow. Dang! Another system is expected in a week, Thursday, Dec. 22, but that storm front, Baxter says, "doesn't look terribly impressive."

"We should be switching out of this pattern between now and New Year's and changing to a wetter pattern," he says.

Let's all hope that happens! Bring it, oh great one, Ullr!

In the meantime, in all likelihood, it's going to be a brown Christmas in Boise, and everyone will be hoping that Bogus Basin opens before its latest opening in recent memory -- Jan. 6, 1989. Brundage Mountain opened on Dec. 21 that year. Its latest opening was in the terribly bad drought winter of 1976-77 when Brundage opened on Jan. 8.

"We were expecting a whole lot more snow in December because it was supposed to be a La Nina year," says Bogus Basin spokeswoman Gretchen Anderson. "There's only three years when we weren't open before Christmas going back to 1969, so this is really unusual. We are ready, and we're waiting."

Brundage has a nice blog post with good photos explaining the situation there ... they need about a foot of more snow to open. Brundage plans a 50th birthday party bash on Dec. 28, no matter if they're open by then or not. "If we are not able to open before that event, it will certainly turn into the mother of all Pray-for-Snow parties," says Brundage spokeswoman April Russell.

In the meantime, turn your Christmas parties into snowdance parties and shake it, baby!

If you really want to play in the snow, check out my recommendations from last week. Plus, Tamarack Resort is opening today with man-made snow on top of natural snow on the beginner chairlift, and they're doing to open Showtime via the Tamarack Express quad on Saturday. Tickets are $45 for adults.

Sun Valley is open with several long groomers open and a 20-inch base, including Warm Springs from top to bottom, Upper and Lower College, and a few others. They have a pre-season special going on for one night's lodging and a lift ticket for $79 each.

Otherwise, go boot-hiking in the snow for fun, go soak in a hot springs, or go hiking, biking or running in the Boise Foothills, the Snake River canyon or the Owyhees.

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning in Boise at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on
River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Head for the high country to find snow in SW Idaho, Galena, Bear Basin and Banner Ridge

Galena Trails in late November (courtesy Galena Lodge)

Bear Basin trails (courtesy Steve Jones/McCall Nordic)

Bear Basin (courtesy Steve Jones/McCall Nordic)
Hi all,

Well it's time to fire up the outdoor tips again now that the big game hunting seasons are pretty much over, and the mountains are cloaked in snow ... well, not a lot of snow, but at least it's a start!

This week I'll focus on places where you can go to recreate in the snow in SW Idaho ... either snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing or alpine skiing.

Galena Lodge, located 23 miles north of Sun Valley, has 35 kilometers of cross-country trails open with an average 12-inch groomed base. "The skiing is pretty fricking good considering," says Erin Zell, co-owner of Galena Lodge. "The days are nice and the nights are cold, so that's good for snow retention."

On Saturday, Galena is hosting a free demo day featuring Backwoods Mountain Sports, the Elephants Perch and Idaho Mountain Touring from Boise will be there as well. This is a great chance to try out the latest and greatest xc skis and boots from all the major sports reps. If you participate in demo day, the $15 trail pass is waived, and demos are free as well!

Zell mentioned that even the Harriman Trail is being groomed from Galena clear down to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters north of Ketchum, so if you like to xc ski on the Harriman Trail, that's available too. Please see the Blaine County Recreation District web site for details on xc trail conditions in the Wood River Valley.

Don't forget that Galena has three very cool yurts that you can rent during the winter. Check their calendar if you'd like to book one.

Bear Basin is pretty much the only place where you can go cross-country skiing on groomed trails in the McCall area right now. The latest grooming report from McCall Nordic indicates that there is a 7-inch base with 15K's open for skiing right now. Longtime Nordic skier Gregg Lawley of McCall skied Bear Basin on Sunday. "It was actually surprisingly good!" he says.

While you're in McCall, stop at the Hub and check on yurt dates available with the Payette Powder Guides at Lick Creek Summit.

The Idaho City Park 'n Ski Areas are open for snow-shoeing and xc skiing, but the skiing is pretty marginal at this point with only 12-18 inches of snow, according to Leo Hennessy, non-motorized trail coordinator for Idaho Parks & Recreation. He recommends snow-shoeing as the best bet. Banner Ridge and Beaver Creek Summit/Stargaze areas will be the most promising because they're above 6,500 feet and have the most snow.

If you're into backcountry skiing, I've heard good reports about skiing in the Pilot Peak/Sunset Mountain areas near Mores Creek Summit. I've also heard that backcountry skiing at Brundage Mountain is pretty good in higher elevations. Near Stanley, I've heard the skiing is excellent on the slopes above Williams Peak Yurt in the Sawtooths. Be sure to bring climbing skins, an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe if you venture into the backcountry.

If you go to Sun Valley or McCall, look for low-cost lodging deals at this time of year. Check with the Sun Valley chamber or McCall chamber for lodging options.

And if you're thirsting for some lift-served downhill skiing action, you could head to Sun Valley, Pomerelle, Grand Targhee, Schweitzer, Silver Mountain or Lookout Pass in Idaho. I skied Solitude in Utah last weekend on a 27-inch base. There was some great skiing in Sunshine Bowl and some other high-speed groomers. Here's some video from our outing last Sunday.

Even if you get out in the snow this weekend, we need more snow! Do the snow dance thing and do it good!
- SS

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Swing by the Greenbelt Bike Crawl on Saturday by the 36th St. pedestrian bridge

Map of Greenbelt Bike Crawl location (click to enlarge)

Hi all,

I want to encourage cyclists of all kinds, families and kids to swing by the first-ever Greenbelt Bike Crawl on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. to visit with the who's who of the Boise bicycle community, pick up some free swag, learn about local bike clubs, safe routes to schools and maybe even get a free helmet!

I'll be there representing ProHelmet, a nonprofit group that promotes helmet safety. St. Luke's Children's Hospital has donated more than 50 helmets for the event. I hope that I'm able to give all of them away to kids and adults who don't have one of their own.

Our motto at ProHelmet is that you've got only one brain. No one ever plans on having an accident when cycling or roller-blading on the Greenbelt, but accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. If you're not wearing a helmet, you could be knocked unconscious, suffer severe head injuries or worse. Look at what happened to Poor Jimmy!

We have almost 10 different bike groups that will be participating in the Greenbelt Bike Crawl. Everyone will be set up between the new 36th Street pedestrian bridge and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Ada County (610 E. 42nd St.) on the Garden City side of the Greenbelt. (Boise Parks & Rec doesn't allow bike events on their portion of the Greenbelt; Garden City was gracious enough to allow us to hold the event on their turf).

Other groups participating Saturday include:
  • Boise Bicycle Project - our community's favorite nonprofit according to the latest Boise Weekly Best of Boise survey. BBP will help folks with bike maintenance tips on Saturday.
  • SWIMBA - the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association, the top mountain bike advocacy group in Boise. They're a great resource for learning how to mountain bike, discovering great trails, building new trails and protecting our access to trails.
  • Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance - a group that assists commuters and road cyclists in the Treasure Valley.
  • YMCA Safe Routes to Schools program - Looking for the best route for your kids to walk or bike to school? These folks can help you out.
  • Look! Save a Life! - a group that advocates safe cycling and provides tips for riders on how to avoid getting into an accident on our busy streets and sidewalks.
  • Idaho Transportation Department Bicycle and Pedestrian Program - Meet the great folks at ITD who assist communities with new pathway projects and safe routes to schools. ITD is one of the few agencies that finances some of these projects.
  • Boise State University Cycling Learning Center - This is a relatively new campus-based service focusing on developing healthy and sustainable lifestyles by promoting the use of bicycles and multimodal transportation options.
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Ada County - The club facility at 610 E. 42nd Street in Garden City is a great place for boys and girls to hang out after school, play games, do homework and learn about ways to realize their full potential in life. The club teaches kids respect for others and good clean fun. I'm hoping to give away a lot of bike helmets to these kids on Saturday.
  • Cycling Sistas - This is a group of female cyclists from the Boise area who are cancer survivors. Great way to meet people who have suffered the same plight for inspiration. The Cycling Sistas are looking to add more members.
The weather on Saturday is supposed to be sunny, so grab the kids, ride over to the Greenbelt and learn about all of these great cycling resources in Boise! You won't go away empty-handed, that's for sure. You might even learn something!

Hope to see you at the Greenbelt Bike Crawl. If you've got any questions, please give me a call at 208-484-0295 or send an email:
- SS

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Late-season river trips in Idaho offer solitude, great fishing

Greg and Jan 20 years later in the grotto with their wedding T-shirts on ...
Parrott's Grotto
The water gets deeper and swifter in the Impassible Canyon
Fish on!
The snag that almost landed on Greg
Yee-haw! Hello Middle Fork!
Final approach to Indian Creek ... really excited now
Taking off for the Middle Fork, banking by the Sawtooth Mountains
Ready to roll at 7:45 a.m. at the Stanley airstrip with all of our gear
Hi all,

Idaho's blessed with world-class rivers, and because of their popularity, it's tough to get a permit in the middle of the summer. But in the fall, after Labor Day weekend, it's easy to grab a launch permit -- if one is required at all -- and you can enjoy the September weather, solitude and great fishing.

Some friends of mine got married 20 years ago in Parrott's grotto on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. We had hoped to do a wedding reunion trip in July, but no one in our group drew a permit from the lottery system, so we planned a September trip instead. You just have to hang loose and wait for the permits to become available on the web site, and snag one.

The hard part is finding a date that works for working people with kids in September. You've got to find someone to supervise the kids so they can stay in school -- that can be a tough one -- get time off work, etc. Plus, there might be other complications. So even though we had 18 people on the wedding party trip, our reunion trip consisted of just four people -- the honored guests, Greg Harley and Jan Sutter, my partner Wendy and me. That's cool ... I love small groups ... it makes things SO much simpler.

Considering all of the fall multi-day trip options in Idaho, the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon rivers involve the most logistics and expense. Floating Hells Canyon near Cambridge, the Lower Salmon Gorge near Whitebird or the South Fork of the Snake River east of Idaho Falls are easier to pull off, and no advance reservations are required. You just fill out a self-issue permit at the boat launch, arrange for a vehicle shuttle and go.

Besides the hassle of getting an advance permit on the Middle Fork, you also need to decide whether you're going to fly into Indian Creek (25 miles downriver to avoid low water and lots of rocks), and then arrange for a vehicle shuttle ($225 from Stanley to the takeout). We choose to fly into Indian Creek with McCall Air Taxi from Stanley to make things easier for our group. Most of the private groups we saw on the river started from the top, at Boundary Creek, because the water was a little higher this year (1.8 feet on the gauge). They ran small boats and packed lightly. One nimble group from Hailey floated in self-support inflatable kayaks backpack-style with no rafts to carry camp gear.

Admittedly, we chose the deluxe route. We wanted to eat like kings and queens on the wedding reunion trip (lots of Dutch oven meals), we packed champagne for the grotto, and the rafts allowed us to bring plenty of warm clothes for hanging out in the evenings and mornings.

(FYI - I've run the Middle Fork many times in late season at 1.8 feet or less without incident, but you have to focus like a laser beam on your line through rock-choked shallow areas, and be ready to leap out of the boat and push off rocks, which can lead to injuries. A friend of mine floated the Middle Fork the week before we went this year, and his boatmen were so weak and inexperienced, they just gave up on trying to steer around rocks after a while, and just drifted until they got stuck. They were totally exhausted by the time they reached Indian Creek.)

Back to the weather ... the first couple of days, the mornings were downright chilly, with temperatures just above freezing before sunrise. And then, when the sun popped over the high mountains guarding the river canyon, it warmed up in a hurry. There's at least a 30-degree temperature swing between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. By noon, the temperatures were in the 80s, and the fish were biting on dry flies. Wa-hoo!

I have to mention one bone-chilling incident we experienced at Marble Creek Camp on Day 1. A 60-foot dead snag fell over in the afternoon after we reached camp and almost landed on Greg, who was hanging out in his lawn chair, reading on his Kindle. He was looking up at the tree and said to Wendy, "Hey, did you see that widowmaker up there?" Seconds later, the tree came crashing down, and Greg was quick enough to leap out the way!

A Shoshone-Bannock woman had given us a blessing before we launched at Indian Creek. Let me tell you, we all felt that her blessing may have made a difference, and we certainly felt blessed after that incident. The tree could have injured Greg or worse, and it could have landed on our camp table, wrecked dry boxes, etc. We were lucky!

On our last full day on the river, we pulled into Parrott's Cabin at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. We hiked up to the hidden grotto with the champagne and felt the mist of the tiny waterfall cascading over the rocks and into the cavern. It brought back a lot of great memories from 20 years before, and many other visits before and since. Best of all, Greg and Jan were all giddy and grinning from ear to ear. We soaked in the moment and had a big group hug.

And then a group of families showed up to see the grotto with their kids. The parents had taken their kids out of school for a week to enjoy the Middle Fork in September. Good for them, I thought! One of these years, I might do the same thing.

A few more notes on the Idaho's best multi-day trip rivers to run in the fall:

  • Main Salmon wilderness section - Float from Corn Creek to Carey Creek, about 80 miles. Six days is best at low flow. After chukar partridge season opens on Oct. 1, this section can be productive for fall bird hunting. We saw a lot of chukars on the Middle Fork. Pick up a launch permit on
  • Lower Salmon Gorge - Float from Hammer Creek to Hellar Bar or arrange for a jet boat ride from the Salmon River confluence to Pittsburg Landing. Most people do this trip in 4 or 5 days in the fall. More days equal more leisure time. Wait until steelhead season opens, and it's a great cast-and-blast trip. Great section for chukar hunting as well. Only self-issue permit needed, available at the launch site.
  • Hells Canyon - Put in at Hells Canyon Dam and float to Pittsburg Landing, about 35 miles. The cast-and-blast trip in Hells Canyon used to be kind of a secret. Nowadays, it's very popular. I will be doing my 22nd annual trip this fall in Hells Canyon in mid-October. Only self-issue permit needed, available at the launch site. Watch out for poison ivy and rattlesnakes.
  • South Fork Snake River - Put in at Palisades Dam or other points downstream and float to Heise. Fly fishing for large native cutthroat trout and brown trout on this river is quite tricky because it's fished so hard nearly every day by a string of outfitters and private boaters. Most people zip through the standard canyon run in a day. Take your time, start at Palisades, and enjoy camping along the way in large cottonwood groves. Do your research about the best flies to use. The fish are picky.
If you don't have your own river boat, there are numerous outfitters who offer trips on the rivers I've mentioned here. Go to to look for an outfitter that suits your needs and budget. Outfitters will know what flies and lures work best for fishing, and they also offer bird-hunting trips. Look for hot deals!

Have fun!
- SS
Greg and Jan made a chicken casserole and blueberry cobbler at Shelf Camp on Day 2

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Add a bright light to the emergency supplies in your mountain bike pack for safety

Roberto Negron on top of Mars Ridge, Sun Valley area

Roberto and Mark Anderson check out the Sun Valley Adventure Map
CatEye EL-135

MiNewt.250 cordless
Hi all,

Well, we all do stupid things once in a while or have unforeseen mechanical breakdowns in totally remote places when we're out trying to enjoy the great outdoors. And then you find out just how prepared you are for adversity or emergency.

I had a little incident last Friday night that revealed a weakness in my emergency equipment cache in my Camelbak pack. Four of us had been slogging up Eves Gulch Trail on mountain bikes for WAY longer than expected. I found myself cresting a high ridge divide between Adams Gulch and the Warm Springs drainage, some 2,000 feet above the valley floor, and it was well past 8:30 p.m. Darkness was settling in. Great.

And I didn't have a light. Never thought about bringing one! We were out for a "before-dinner" ride with Roberto Negron, who owns a condo along Warm Springs in Sun Valley. We wanted to drop over to the Warm Springs side of the mountains to complete the loop. Roberto had never gone this way.

These things happen when you're doing exploratory rides, but the rest of us didn't realize we were doing an exploratory ride until we were in a pickle. I was just cruising along with the group -- Roberto, Mark Anderson and Jim Hine -- and didn't really think to put up a fuss. We all were shocked at how many switchbacks we had to climb in Eve's Gulch to reach the West Fork of Warm Springs. We just kept climbing and climbing.

Finally, we crested the ridge, and realized we were even with the tops of the mountains around us. Oh boy. It's going to be a LONG way down. We found the 4WD jeep trail that descends the West Fork. Initially I was psyched because typically a road is easier to navigate than a narrow singletrack, even in the dark. But it turned out to be a particularly gnarly 4WD road that had larger-than-baby-head mobile rocks in the ruts and no decent tread to ride. Mark Anderson started to whine about the darkness, and he typically never complains about anything.

"I felt it was really dangerous," Anderson says. "When it's that hard to see in the dark, you fall off your bike and you lose your confidence. I just didn't realize how bad it would be without a light."

And then Roberto pulled out a CatEye Opticube LED light, mounted it on his handlebars, and turned it on. Cool! The light was bright enough to illuminate the trail so Roberto could see where he was going and Mark rode next to him. I rode behind Roberto ... I couldn't see much, but my night eyes were better than Mark's. Jim Hine was like a cat. He took off ahead of us and relied on his night eyes. I thought we'd find him in a ditch somewhere with a broken collarbone.

Eventually, the 4WD road gave way to a much larger dirt road and the agony of negotiating that nasty thing went away. A full moon came over the ridge, and we could see fine on the way back to Roberto's condo.

But a lesson we all learned was the importance of carrying an emergency light in your pack. "I'm going to put one in my Camelbak and never take it out," Mark said.

I'm going to do the same thing.

Roberto's light is a CatEye HL-EL135. I bought one at George's for $22 yesterday. It runs on two AA batteries. That's an inexpensive piece of emergency equipment. We all carry an extra tube, Allen wrenches, patch kit, first-aid kit, snack food, etc. I also carry a space blanket in case I'm stuck overnight in the woods. Now you know you need a light, too, if you didn't already.

Actually there are many different lights available to choose from. People who are regular night riders typically have a beefy light with a hefty battery pack. A friend of mine, Brett Magnuson, told me he carries a NiteRider MiNewt.250 for emergencies and for 24-hour racing. Those units look really compact, light and spiffy, but they're a little more pricy, $130 retail. Obviously Brett has multiple needs for his light -- racing and recreation -- so it's worth the money to him.

Feel free to look around at Boise's bike shops or online to find the right emergency light for you.

I must say that even though Roberto took us on a wild goose chase, he certainly made up for it. He had bought ribs for us earlier in the day, and two of our ride buddies who skipped out on the "before-dinner ride" grilled up the ribs with tons of BBQ sauce at the condo. Needless to say, we were starving when we arrived, and we gobbled down the ribs like cave men. A cooler full of beer quenched our thirst. And then two more days of riding lay ahead.

It's all a big adventure!

P.S. If you climb Eve's Gulch, just turn around and go back to Adams Gulch on the singletrack. The descent into Warm Springs sucks day or night.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Try this cool road biking ride: Big Freezeout-Little Freezeout Loop in Star, Idaho

The Emmett Valley, with Squaw Butte looming in the distance
Trip map from GPS tracks (click to enlarge)
Hi all,

This week's topic is a neat road biking loop from my map, the Boise Road Cycling Guide. My mountain bike was in the shop, so I thought I'd try a road biking ride that I've been wanting to notch for some time. It's called the Big Freezeout-Little Freezeout Loop, starting and finishing in Star, Idaho.

I would recommend this ride on WEEKENDS ONLY! Idaho Highway 16 is a very busy commuter road with folks from Emmett coming and going during the week, but on the Sunday when I did the ride, the road was relatively quiet and didn't affect my experience in a negative way.

The Big Freezeout-Little Freezeout Loop is a cool ride because it's a pretty fast route without that many hills (1,039 vertical feet of gain/loss), and it's very scenic, providing an agricultural tour of dry grazing lands, and irrigated farm lands in the Emmett Valley and next to the foothills north of Star and Middleton. Another benefit is that there is almost no traffic on the roads you take in the Emmett Valley, and very little traffic on Little Freezeout heading back toward Middleton and Star.

It's really fun and relaxing to me to crank up the iTunes, cruise down the road and let the road bike roll, while gaining some fitness along the way.

I took a helmet cam video of most of the ride to provide some feeling for the scenery along the way.

All told, the loop was 43 miles, according to my GPS. It took me about 3 hours to do the ride, on a nice carbon fiber road bike I demo'd from Idaho Mountain Touring. I'm in the market for a road bike, so I've been sampling various kinds to find the right fit. This particular bike wasn't geared well for steep climbs such as riding to Bogus or the Cartwright loops because it has only two chain rings on the front crank, but it was very well suited for the Freezeout-Little Freezeout Ride.

Directions: (see map for macro view)
  • Start/finish: I parked at Star Elementary, north of Idaho 44 on Star Road.
  • Go north on Star Road from the school, turn right on Floating Feather, and then left on Pollard Lane. Pollard merges with Idaho 16 in a few miles north of Star.
  • Take Idaho 16 north to Emmett for about 10 miles. You'll pass by Firebird Raceway on the left and cross over Freezeout Pass.
  • As you scream downhill into the Emmett Valley, watch for Cherry Lane and turn left.
  • Take Cherry Lane a few blocks, turn left on Substation Road, then right on Sales Yard Road. Sales Yard beelines across the valley, passing by the Emmett Airport and what appeared to be a par-3 golf course.
  • Turn left on Star Lane, which eventually merges with South Slope Road. Follow South Slope tucked up against the foothills and enjoy the winding road until it intersects with Little Freezeout after a small climb. You also can access South Slope Road via Mill Road.
  • Go left on Little Freezeout. There's a fairly short but steep climb to the top of Little Freezeout. Then it's a very gradual downhill back into the Treasure Valley.
  • In about five miles, watch for Goodson Road on the left. Ride that to Middleton Road and turn right. From here, you can ride into Middleton if you need to replenish your water supplies (I did), and then take Foothills Road to Star or Idaho 44 to Star. I rode 44, which has a good shoulder, and I was ready to finish the ride.
  • It was about 6-7 miles to Star from Middleton, and then you turn left on Star Road to return to the elementary school.
There you have it!

The Boise Road Cycling Guide, a two-sided waterproof and tear-proof color map, features 30+ rides in the north and south sides of the Boise Valley. It also has a number of a la carte rides located in Canyon County and SW Idaho. The Big Freezeout-Little Freezeout Loop is one of them. A couple of others you might try this fall include the Lake Lowell Loop, Snake River Canyon Scenic Loop (tie in the ride with a wine tour if you can) or the Big Ride -- a 150-mile jaunt from Boise to Lowman to Banks to Boise. That's a whopper.

FYI - Idaho Parks & Recreation is hosting an annual volunteer work day at the Idaho City Park n' Ski yurts on Saturday. Join Leo Hennessy from IDPR for a day of fresh air, hard work and fun preparing the yurts and trails for fall and winter. Volunteers will help mark the trails, haul wood and landscape. Volunteers can camp free at the Beaver Creek Cabin campground on Friday and Saturday, or just come up for the work day. If you want to carpool, meet at 7:30 am on Saturday in the parking lot adjacent to Highway 21 at the entrance to Sandy Point State Park for an informal car pool to the staging area, the Beaver Creek Cabin. The cabin is located about 19 miles north of Idaho City and 1 mile off Highway 21 on the Beaver Creek Cabin Road. The turnoff from Hwy 21 is between mile marker 57 & 58. Dress for cool weather and bring water, gloves, and lunch. All other tools will be provided.

If you would like to participate, email Judy Ditto at: . Include your name, email, number of people in your party, and if you plan to meet the carpool.

Leo Hennessy will be leading the volunteer work day, and there will be a fun evening by the campfire Saturday night to swap stories about summer outdoor outings. Here's your chance to hear about Leo's "3-hour tours" that became epic adventures ...

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Here are 6 last-minute ideas for camping away from crowds on Labor Day weekend

Ah, a campfire completes the camping experience

Don't forget the s'mores!

Bear Valley Creek offers fishing and hiking
Try mountain biking to the top of Whitehawk Lookout

Bear Valley in the foreground, with the Sawtooths in the background
Hi all,

We've got beautiful weather coming up here for Labor Day weekend, and it's the last unofficial weekend to take the family camping. So I'm serving up some last-minute ideas on where to go where you might not run into mobs of people.

If you DO want to run into tons of people, you'll find them at Redfish Lake near Stanley, Stanley Lake, the North Fork of the Boise area, the Middle Fork of the Boise area, Ponderosa State Park in McCall or the giant beaches along the Salmon River upstream of Riggins.

Before I list my recommendations, I'd like to remind folks to bring some extra clothes and warm sleeping bags this weekend. The wonderful cool weather that passed through SW during the middle of this week is still somewhat at play, especially in the early morning hours. Bring a winter stocking cap to be on the safe side.

Be aware that many of my recommendations are more self-support-type camping areas with no services, meaning you'll need to bring your own water. Outhouses may or may not be present, so bring a small garden hand shovel for digging rabbit holes just in case.

Now, here are some off-the-beaten path camping recommendations:
  • South Fork of the Boise River, between Featherville and Big Smoky Creek guard station. The best way to access this area is to drive to Fairfield on U.S. 20, and go north to Couch Summit on Forest Road 227, drop over the summit, and look for a cool spot off the main forest road. Activities in the area include fishing on the South Fork, mountain biking on Big Smoky Creek Trail (possible 3-mile ride one-way to Skillern Hot Springs), or hiking. Big Smoky Creek is great for hiking or biking, and the Willow Creek Trail, west of Big Smoky Guard station, is a great place for hiking. It's part of the Idaho Centennial Trail. A Sawtooth National Forest map from the Fairfield Ranger District and a Boise National Forest map would be helpful for this trip.
  • Graham, located in the Boise National Forest to the west of the Sawtooth Wilderness. Take Idaho 21 to the Edna Creek Road, which is the main route to Atlanta. Turn left on Forest Road 385, and then right on Forest Road 312 on Pikes Fork. This is your long bumpy road to Graham. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is recommended. Two campgrounds exist near Graham, Graham Bridge and Johnson Creek. There's a sweet hiking and biking trail from Johnson Creek campground along the North Fork of the Boise River. You also could hike Johnson Creek into the Sawtooth Wilderness.
  • Black Canyon area along the West Fork of the Bruneau River. This one is fairly obscure and you should have plenty of elbow room. Take ID 51 south of Bruneau to Grasmere. Turn left and take the main dirt road to Black Canyon. You'll need a BLM Sheep Creek map for navigation as there are many minor side roads that peel off to the left and right. The Black Canyon cliffs are spectacular. Find a suitable camping spot to your liking and go for it. You can go mountain biking on the secondary roads in the area, and you can hike along the West Fork.
  • Seafoam Area north of Cape Horn. A fair number of people know about this area but you'll see fewer people the farther you go to Seafoam and Rapid River campground. Take Idaho 21 toward Stanley. After going over Banner Summit, watch for a turnoff on the left for Forest Road 008, which goes to Lola Creek Campground and Beaver Creek Campground. Keep going on 008 to Seafoam guard station, and then consider camping at Rapid River Campground. With a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you could drive to a small campground at Josephus Lake. From here, you can hike to a bunch of lakes tucked inside the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. A Frank Church Wilderness map (south half) is needed for this trip.
  • Landmark to Yellow Pine. There are a number of cool camping areas in this area, east of Cascade, in the Boise National Forest. Take ID 55 to Cascade. Go right on the north end of town to Warm Lake. Most campers go to Stolle Meadows and Warm Lake. Stay on the Warm Lake Road heading east and drive up the next pass to Landmark guard station. Penn Basin is a cool camping area right by that junction. If that doesn't suit your fancy, head north on Forest Road 413 along Johnson Creek and look for a good camping spot. There are a ton of unofficial camping spots along here, especially as you get closer to Yellow Pine, which has a bar and food. Explore side roads and trails for hiking or biking. A Boise National Forest map works well for this trip.
  • Southern end of Bear Valley. Most people camp near Elk Creek Guard Station and Bear Valley Campground in this area, but the southern end of Bear Valley Creek is absolutely beautiful and doesn't get much use until rifle hunting season kicks into gear. Drive to Lowman and take the Clear Creek Road #582 over a big pass to Bear Valley. Look for your own personal Shangri La from here. Side trips include going to Lost Lake from Clear Creek Summit, fishing Bear Valley Creek, or biking or driving to Whitehawk Mountain, an official lookout on the west side of the valley. I dragged my son Quinn up there on a mountain bike a couple years ago when he was 11, and he made it to the top. A Boise National Forest map works for this trip.
There you have it. Consult with the Statesman's Southwest Idaho Camping Guide, available at most outdoor stores in Boise, if you'd like to search for more ideas.

National forest and BLM maps can be obtained from REI, Idaho Mountain Touring, the Benchmark, and the Forest Service-BLM service center at their state headquarters off of Vinnell Way near Walmart, Edwards 21 and Overland-Maple Grove junction.

Have fun!

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning in Boise at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Check out Freddy's Stack Rock Loop Trail near Bogus Basin, if you haven't already

Stack Rock, a signature landmark near Bogus Basin

Google Earth GPS map of the ride
Topo GPS tracks of the ride
The ride has 2,600 feet of gain ... lots of up and down
Hi all,

With these hot, dog days of August weather, it's best to cool off in the lakes and rivers, or go hiking and biking on high elevation trails.

This week's tip is about the new loop trail around Stack Rock called Freddy's Stack Rock Trail. Stack Rock is a signature granite pyramid-shaped rock on a timbered ridge to the west of Bogus Basin Mountain Resort. Approximately 1,300 acres of the Stack Rock area recently came into public ownership courtesy of a $1 million donation by Boise resident Fred Alleman and additional funds from the Boise Foothills Levy Committee. The land was purchased from the Terteling family in December 2009 for $1.32 million to make it available for public use.

The City of Boise has placed a rock at the trailhead with a message about the land-preservation effort to let the public know how the purchase was made possible. THANK YOU FRED ALLEMAN!

Since that time, the Ridge to Rivers Trail Program built a loop trail around Stack Rock. It's called Freddy's Stack Rock Trail. Here's the Ridge to Rivers trail map of the route, Trail #125. Judging from how well-used and buffed the trail was on Tuesday, I'm guessing that a lot of people have been sampling the new trail and love it!

"Awesome trail!" a mountain bike rider exclaimed as he came into the parking area/trailhead off of Bogus Basin Road soon after I arrived. The parking area is 12 miles from the stop sign at Curling Drive and Highlands Elementary School.

It's a 9.5-mile hike or bike ride from the trailhead to do the loop around Freddy's Stack Rock Trail. I would rate the bike ride as advanced intermediate because of a number of fairly steep continuous climbs along the way, and I'd rate the hike or trail run as moderate to strenuous because of the distance and 2,600-vertical-foot gain/loss.

Just so you know: The trailhead is not marked. It's a major pullout on the left as you're heading to Bogus Basin after the road passes the turnoff to a number of cabins on the left. Just set your odometer when you leave the stop sign at Curling Drive, and you'll find it, no problem. Mile 12.

I checked in with Fred Alleman on Wednesday to see how he likes the trail. He said he's been up there a bunch, either biking or hiking it. "I like it," he says. "I think Ridge to Rivers has done a great job with the trail."

I agree. Stack Rock was a stealth destination for years, but we had no official access, and the area could have been lost to development forever if the city and Fred Alleman hadn't stepped up to protect it for perpetuity.

You should allow 2+ hours for the biking loop, and 4-5 hours for hiking the loop. Be careful when you're climbing around Stack Rock. "Going up is the easy part," Alleman notes. "It's getting down that's hard."

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Try to squeeze in a great day hike in the mountains before school starts next week

The spell-binding view from the top of Observation Peak in the Sawtooths (courtesy

Washington Lake in the White Clouds (courtesy ICL)

Red Mountain Lakes in the Boise National Forest near Lowman

High mountain lakes are where you want to be right now ...
this is Steve at a mystery lake in the Payette National Forest

Wendy on the summit of the Payette Crest
Hi all,

Sad, but true, the summer is slipping away -- at least for the parents of kids who start school next week.

It's going to be hot as blazes this weekend -- temperatures are forecast in the mid-90's and higher on Sunday -- so I'm recommending that you dash to the mountains for a high-elevation hike in the cool air near Stanley or McCall.

Start early in the day and get to the trailhead when it's still cool in the morning, so you can enjoy a full day in the high country before you need to head back home. Be sure to bring a day pack with water, snacks, a lunch and a rain coat. Bring bug juice as well as sun screen. Wear a hat for sun protection.

If you go to the Stanley area, you can partake in the Sawtooth Salmon Festival on Saturday. "Fall in love with the miracle of wild salmon," the organizers say. Educational tours start at 11 a.m., you can go look at wild salmon spawning in the Salmon River (must-do activity), enjoy live music in the afternoon and evening, and chow down on a salmon feast in the evening.

Here are some suggestions for high-elevation day hikes:
  • Climb Observation Peak (elev. 9,151 feet) in the Sawtooths. This is the only mountain in the Sawtooths that has a trail to the top, according to The hike from the Grand Jean Trailhead is 12 miles round-trip. Here are more details.
  • Hike to Red Mountain Lakes, near Lowman. This area is closer than Stanley. Drive to Lowman and go north on the Clear Creek Road (USFS Road #582) for about 12+ miles to a junction on the right with Forest Road #515. Take #515 to the trailhead. If you like to fish, try catching trout in the lakes.
  • Hike to Marten Lake, near Banner Summit between Lowman and Stanley. Watch for the trailhead just past Banner Summit. It's a pretty easy hike to Marten Lake from Banner Summit. It's about 5 miles to the lake. It's an out-and-back day hike unless you want to plant a shuttle vehicle at the Trap Creek Trailhead by Idaho 21, and it's about 10 miles total, and you won't have to retrace your steps. Again, bring your fishing pole if you like to fish.
  • Hike to 4th of July Lake and Washington Lake in the White Clouds. This is a nice, short one for young kids, but more of a drive. Drive to the Sawtooth Valley either via Stanley or Ketchum, and watch for the 4th of July Road on the east side of the valley. The long dirt road takes you to a high perch where you start hiking to 4th of July Lake, the first lake. It's only a mile to this location. Keep going into the White Clouds and you'll come to Washington Lake, within view of Castle Peak.
  • Hike to Snowslide Lake in the Payette National Forest near McCall. This is one of the more accessible lakes in the McCall area. The lake is only 1.5 miles from Lick Creek Road, northeast of McCall. Once at the lake, you could climb to Snowslide Peak (elev. 8,522) or just hike to the saddle to look into the Maki Lake basin.
  • Hike to Boulder Lake near Lake Fork, south of McCall. This is a pretty easy one, too ... 2.6 miles from the trailhead. You take Idaho 55 to Elo Road, go east on Elo to Forest Road #403, and go east to the trailhead at Boulder Meadows Reservoir. It's an out-and-back hike, with great views of the mountains in the Payette Crest.
  • Hike the Deer Point Trail to the top of Bogus Basin. If you don't have time to get out of town, here's a good one that I've blogged about before. It's a 5-mile loop that circumnavigates Bogus Basin.
  • Take the chairlift to the top of Bald Mountain in Sun Valley or Brundage Mountain in McCall. These are great options if people would prefer to get a "free" ride to the top. Both resorts charge a fee to ride the chairlift. At Sun Valley, it's $25 for one ride, and $30 for a full day. At Brundage, it's $10 for one ride, and $30 for a full day. Both mountains have great trail systems to explore if you'd like to walk down.
Pick up a Boise National Forest map, Payette National Forest map (McCall District), or Sawtooth National Recreation Area map for guidance on these trips. The easiest way to get these maps is from the Boise National Forest headquarters on Vinnell Way near Overland and Maple Grove. also is a great resource for climbing Idaho's mountains.

Have fun!

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Explore the Lochsa Country in North-Central Idaho; it's plum full of cool things to do

So happy to be here!

Wendy and Elena on the Warm Springs pack bridge

A few huge tamaracks grew among the giant western red cedars

Big trees and ferns

Warm Springs Creek

Life is good!
Hi all,

A quick drive to Missoula, Mont., last weekend reminded me how much I miss the Lochsa River Country in north-central Idaho. To be totally honest, I feel a huge tug in my heart when I go there -- a feeling that comes from many wonderful trips in which I felt absolutely awe-struck by the beauty, power and majesty of the Lochsa region.

As a University of Montana student many moons ago, I frequently went backpacking in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, often via Elk Summit or other trailheads along the Lochsa River. I used to visit Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in all seasons -- at all hours of the day or night -- and even went winter camping and backcountry skiing in the vast mountains around Lolo Pass.

Later, I went whitewater rafting on the Lochsa and the Selway rivers, traced the Lewis & Clark Trail by mountain bike, went canoeing on the lower Selway, and survived an epic mountain bike loop featuring more than 5,000 feet of climbing in the high mountains above Lowell for my book Mountain Biking Idaho.

So for this week's tip, I'm going to share a few suggestions for recreation outings in the Lochsa Country. It's all in the spirit of the Idaho stay-cation, where you can enjoy an inexpensive trip relatively close to home over a long weekend and explore some hidden parts of Idaho that perhaps you've never seen before ...

How to get there: Take Idaho 55 north to U.S. 95 in New Meadows. Follow U.S. 95 to Kooskia on the Clearwater River. Turn right and take U.S. 12 east to Lowell, where all of the fun begins! It's about 4-5 hours of drive time to the Lochsa.

Here are some cool trips to try:

  • Canoe the lower Selway River. The whitewater season is over on the Lochsa River, and all but the die-hards are done on the Selway. But low water means a smooth non-threatening trip on the lower Selway River. The cobalt blue water coming out of the wilderness is crystal clear and pure, so you see fish swimming below, and of course, if you're into fishing, you can fish along the way! Go upriver on the Selway River Road from Lowell. Launch the canoe at 23-mile Bar campground and float 12 miles to Lowell and take out at the bridge. The Class 1 to Class 2 rapids on this section make it ideal for inflatable kayaks and small rafts as well.
  • Mountain Bike the Lewis & Clark Trail. Go east on U.S. 12 to Powell Junction, and take Forest Road 569 to Pappoose Saddle (elev. 5,680). Park there, and ride FR 500, the "Lolo Motorway," to the west and trace the route that the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery took over the mountains to reach the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s. There are interpretive signs along the way that explain various tidbits of history regarding Lewis & Clark and also the Nez Perce Tribe. You should map out what part of the trail you want to experience before you go. I did a three-day, 75-mile trip on the Lolo Motorway with vehicle support, and it was a blast! Lots of up-and-down riding on a single-lane rocky dirt road. If you don't have multiple days, drive to a point where you can ride to landmarks like "Sherman Peak," "the Smoking Place" and "Indian Post Office." You'll need a hardy 4WD rig to drive the 500 Road. Guided hiking and biking adventures are available through Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures. This ride was listed by Outside mag as one of the Top 25 trips of a lifetime.
  • Hike Warm Springs Trail to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs. Watch for a big cable-and-wood pack bridge on U.S. 12 that leads to the Warm Springs Creek Trail. Cross the bridge and hike up trail to the hot springs. It's a little over 1 mile to the springs. Easy hike. Huge western red cedar trees greet you alongside the trail. I used to walk into the springs barefoot at night during a full moon. Too cool! Clothing is optional at the springs. The Forest Service closes the springs at 10 p.m. at night. Not sure how they enforce that. Warm Springs Trail is also great for a longer hike and backpacking. The trail enters the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and goes for many miles into the interior.
  • Try conquering the Coolwater Ridge Epic Jungle Ride. Ride mileage is 25 miles, but it's a demanding full-day ride. Starting from Lowell, climb the Coolwater Ridge Road #317 more than 5,400 vertical feet to Coolwater Lookout, follow a high ridge overlooking the Selway River country, and then descend more than 5,000 feet through jungle brush on the East Boyd Trail (singletrack with rock water bars) to the Selway River Road. Then grind back on the road to Lowell. (I arranged a partial shuttle). It's a 6- to 8-hour ride. The ride is detailed in my book Mountain Biking Idaho.
  • Stay at Wilderness Gateway Campground. Wilderness Gateway is a high-quality developed campground right next to the Lochsa River. Across the river is the Lochsa Historic Ranger Station. There's a hiking trail that goes to the west from the ranger station and travels above the river corridor. Thimbleberry plants will tower over your head. Side activities include fly fishing on the Lochsa or other streams that feed into the Lochsa near the campground.
More lodging ideas. If you'd like to get a room, the Western Motor Inn in Kooskia, River Dance Lodge, run by River Odysseys West, one of the best oufitters in Idaho, and the Lochsa Lodge in Powell are your best options. Because lodging is so scarce in the area, be sure to call ahead for reservations. ROW has guided trips available in the vicinity.

Have fun!
- SS

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.