Thursday, June 30, 2011

Check out these snow-free trails in McCall and Cascade for the 4th of July weekend

North Valley Rail-Trail in McCall

Red Ridge, near McCall

Jug Mountain Ranch trails, near Lake Fork

Loon Lake Trail, north of McCall

Loon Lake ... watch for moose!
Hi all,

If previous years are any indication, there will be a max exodus of outdoor recreationists heading for the hills to go camping on this 4th of July weekend. For once, the weather looks absolutely fantastic.

Since many of you will be heading north toward Cascade and McCall, I'm recommending a number of snow-free trails, where you can go hiking, biking or trail-running in the Boise and Payette national forests. The snow level is at approximately 6,500-7,000-foot elevation; on north slopes, it will be lower.

However, some of my favorite trails in the area are snow-free. I'm glad that you'll be able to experience them. I'll start with a couple of easy ones and build to more challenging rides/hikes. Incidentally, all of these trails are featured in my book Mountain Biking in McCall:
  • Crown Point Trail - Location: Next to Cascade Dam and Crown Point Campground. It's 3-miles out, and 3 miles back. Beautiful trail along Lake Cascade on a wide, dirt surface. Easy for all abilities. Nice for hiking and running, too.
  • North Valley Rail-Trail - Location: South of McCall, starting from River Ranch on Mission Street, near the Forest Service Smokejumper Base. You also can start from downtown McCall, and pick up the paved trail heading south to the airport by McCall City Hall or McCall-Donnelly High School. The North Valley Trail is 3.5 miles long, and if combined with the paved trail, it's 5 miles out and back. Check out this YouTube video of yours truly riding the trail with my son. The trail is also a great place to hike and run.
  • Eagle's Nest Trail - Location: East of Cascade off the Warm Lake Road. Distance: 13.1 miles. Advanced/expert ride. It's kind of a brutal climb up Forest Road #400 (2,800 vertical feet of climbing), but after you reach the singletrack, it's all downhill, and it's a blast. If you're hiking, start the hike on the singletrack by the big highway pullout 4 miles east of Idaho Highway 55. You'll see the sign for Trail #111. It's 7.7 miles one-way to the jct. with Forest Road 400 at 6,650-foot elevation.
  • Loon Lake Short Loop - Location: 30+ miles north of McCall. Distance: 10 miles. Advanced intermediate ride. Drive Warren Wagon 30+ miles north of McCall, past Burgdorf Hot Springs, to Chinook Campground. The Loon Lake Loop is what I call "an Idaho classic," one of the top 10 rides in the state. I prefer to ride the loop counter-clockwise, but others prefer clockwise. The trail tread is all singletrack, with plenty of roots, rocks and steep climbs. Best-suited for advanced riders, but some strong intermediates can make it. Pack plenty of food and drink and make a fun day of it. Watch out for other trail users -- it's a very popular place to go.
  • Bear Basin Loops - Location: McCall. Distance: Up to 5+ miles. Good for beginners on up. Local volunteers from the Central Idaho Mountain Biking Association have teamed up with the Payette National Forest to build a great little network of singletrack loops on very moderate terrain close to McCall. Individual loops are less than 5 miles, but it's fun to try to ride several of the loops, or all of them, if you have time. The trailhead is located north of McCall on Idaho 55. Turn right on a signed turnoff before the Little Ski Hill lodge. There are rest rooms at the trailhead.
  • Red Ridge Loop - Location: North of McCall. Distance: 10.3 miles. Rated intermediate for hill-climbing and distance. It's a pretty easy ride in relative terms. The trailhead is off the Fish Lake Road, located next to the Little Ski Hill. Follow Fish Lake Road 1.2 miles. Turn left on the jeep trail going up the backbone of a ridge. Ignore the roads on the left and right. Spin up the ridge 4.8 miles, and then take a hairpin turn to the left (ignore right-hand turn to gravel pit), and ride a grassy two-track back to Fish Lake road.
  • Jug Mountain Ranch Loops - Location: East of Lake Fork. The lower loops on Jug Mountain are snow-free. You'll need a map from Mountain Biking in McCall to navigate the ride, or better yet, go with someone who knows the area. (There are lots of trail junctions). The trailhead starts from the Jug Mountain Ranch clubhouse.
A couple of other things you might consider ... check out Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade, if you haven't seen it yet. Great spot for kayak play-boating. There also is a 2.2-mile long new pathway called "The Strand" along the Payette River between the north and south bridges in Cascade.

The Boise National Forest is reporting 6+ feet on top of Snowbank Mountain. If you've still got a yearning for backcountry skiing, you can drive to the top of Snowbank right now, go skiing and have a mountain-top BBQ. The dirt road to the top can be accessed from Cabarton Road, south of Cascade.

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 at, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An easy hiking trip in the Owyhee Mountains called the Shoofly Creek Quick Loop

Looking north toward the Snake Plain from a rock pinnacle

Bighorn sheep skull and horns

Jeep Trail makes for easy walking

Old cabin at the confluence of E. and W. Forks of Shoofly Creek

W. Fork Shoofly Creek

On the way into Shoofly Creek

"Between the Creeks" canyons come into view

The first canyon

Indian paintbrush was bursting with color everywhere

Hi all,

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'm working on an Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook, and so this week, I'd like to highlight a cool 5.5-mile loop hike near Grand View, about 1.25 hours from Boise.

I'm going to call this hike the "Shoofly Creek Quick Loop" because it's a short drive to the trailhead on an easy and tame 4WD road off of Mud Flat Road (easily navigated with a Subaru), south of Grand View, and the hiking trip itself took me only about 3 hours. It's a family friendly trip ... kids 8 and over would do fine on the hike. Just so you know, the hike features 840 feet of vertical gain and descent over the course of 5.5 miles.

Why go: The hike penetrates a portion of the new Big-Little Jack's Creek Wilderness area in a spectacular area that's called "Between the Creeks" on USGS maps. The rocky canyons are very scenic, you'll see wildflowers, and you might see wildlife (I found a bighorn sheep skull and horns on my hike).

There is no official trail on this route, so you'll need some basic map-reading skills to complete the loop successfully. My route will take you up one short canyon in the Owyhee Front to the top of the plateau, and then less than a half-mile away, you'll discover a basalt and rhyolite crack that leads to the West Fork of Shoofly Creek. From there, you'll follow that fork of Shoofly Creek down to the confluence of the two forks, where you'll see an old cabin, and loop back to the trailhead (see trip map above).

Getting there: Take Interstate 84 east about 20 miles to the Simco Road Exit. Go south toward Grand View. At the junction with Idaho 167, turn right and go to Grand View. In Grand View, turn left on ID 78. In two miles, bear right on Mud Flat Road, known officially as the Owyhee Backcountry Byway. Follow Mud Flat 18 miles (past where it turns to dirt) and turn left on an unsigned two-track that runs along the foot of the Owyhee Mountains. Follow the two track for two miles, and it dead ends. The hike starts here.

From the trailhead, walk uphill and slightly to the right (southwest) and climb a small basalt canyon. As you near the top of the canyon at mile .6, you'll see that the main canyon cliffs out to the right. So you'll need to switchback to the left and climb up on top of the rim through one of the grassy gateways between the rocks.

Once on top of the plateau, you'll feel like you're on top of the world. Walk toward the southwest, and look for the canyon that drops into Shoofly Creek. Once you reach the edge of that canyon, you'll see the Between the Creeks plateau and the box canyons of each fork of Shoofly Creek. The only way into the crack is at the very top of it. You can scramble down through the rocks and follow the crack into Shoofly Creek.

At mile 2, you'll reach the West Fork of Shoofly Creek. Bear left and hike along the creek (don't cross). You'll climb over over a fence at mile 2.4, and you'll pick up a road next to the creek and follow that to the old cabin at mile 2.6. This is a nice lunch spot.

From the cabin, hike along the jeep trail until it crosses the creek at mile 3.1 (this was under deep water when I was there a couple weeks ago). Don't cross, and stay on the left side of the creek and wander downriver. The low-slung canyon rims along the creek get steep, so it's best to go above the rim and sidehill along the canyon and aim for a saddle by a pinnacle point overlooking Shoofly Creek. This was my lunch spot at 4.0 miles.

Drop off the pinnacle point toward the flats along the Owyhee Front and hike back to your rig heading directly to the west on the edge of the mountains. Final mileage is 5.5 miles.

- 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 at, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Explore the Middle Fork Payette River area for floating, hiking and camping

The Middle Fork Payette River, oil painting by Venture Coy

Trip map for Tie Creek float on the Middle Fork.

Map for One Spoon Trail #043 (click to enlarge).

Steve along the One Spoon Trail. We hiked it during deer season ... hence, the blaze orange vest.

Hi all,

The rivers are cranking with high water in most corners of Idaho, a lot of campgrounds are snowed in, and many mountain hiking destinations are covered with snow as well. But in the Middle Fork of the Payette River area, near Crouch and Garden Valley, about an hour north of Boise, you can find an easy-going paddling trip, and go hiking and camping in areas that are clear of snow. It'd be a good bet for this weekend.

Paddling the Middle Fork of the Payette River is a fun trip for those folks who are looking for a lower-key experience in canoes, inflatable kayaks or smaller rafts. It's an 8-mile reach that starts at Tie Creek Campground, about nine miles north of Crouch, and flows by a number of funky cabins on the river bank, with forested mountains in the distance. It takes about 2-3 hours to do the float. Take your time and enjoy the trip.

There are no dangerous rapids on the Tie Creek section of the Middle Fork ... but the current is swift, the river is narrow and the eddy lines are pretty strong. So be sure to dress warm and wear protective river gear, including life jackets, in case you tip over. If you know how to navigate your boat and have a good brace with your paddle, you should be fine.

"We've had a lot of people come into the store who floated that section, and nobody said they had any trouble," said Stan Colby, co-owner of Idaho River Sports. Be sure to visit IRS if you need to rent a canoe, IK or raft for the float trip.

Plant a shuttle vehicle in Crouch at the take-out before you go, or have friends pick you up. There is a detailed description and map about this day trip in my guidebook, Paddling the Payette, a guide to 24 day trips on the Payette River. See the trip map above.

A cool off-beat hike to explore very close by is the One Spoon Trail in the Boise National Forest. I discovered this trail as part of my research for the Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home. I named it "One Spoon Steepness," because it's a steep climb on an open ridge cloaked with old-growth ponderosa pine trees.

It's 5.8 miles up and back, but don't let the mileage deceive you. It's a 2,600-foot vertical climb to reach the top of the ridge overlooking the Middle Fork of the Payette River, and that's the bonus of doing the hike. Great views in all directions, and a great workout in a short amount of time. I did the hike in less than three hours up and back with friend Mark Anderson. Pack a lunch for the summit.

The One Spoon Trail (#043) is about a mile north of Tie Creek Campground, on the left side of the canyon as you're traveling north. Watch for Forest Road 698L3. Go slow when you're driving on the Middle Fork Road because the turn is easy to miss.

If you've got the time, you might as well bring your camping gear and hang out in the Middle Fork area. There are numerous car-camping spots along the Middle Fork ... some are developed campgrounds with water and fire pits, etc., and some are less developed. You also could stay at a bed & breakfast or the Garden Valley Hotel. See the Garden Valley Chamber of Commerce web site for more information on lodging.

The other thing to consider when you're in Crouch is to visit the Longhorn Restaurant & Saloon. I love their burgers. The Longhorn has 16 different beers on tap. You also could play a round of scenic golf at the Terrace Lakes Resort, or eat dinner at Terrace Lakes. The food is good and prices are reasonable. Other activities in the area include numerous hot springs, both primitive and developed.

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 at, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saturday is a good opportunity to enjoy a 28-mile gravity ride on the Weiser River Trail

The Weiser River Trail is a nonmotorized trail open to hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Weiser River Trail annual bike ride.

Washington County uses goats for weed control.

Riders on the WRT in last year's bike ride.
Hi all,

The Weiser River Trail is a real gem in Southwest Idaho. It runs for 84 miles from the New Meadows area to the city of Weiser.

If you haven't ever experienced the Weiser River Trail, there's a great opportunity on Saturday to do so. The Friends of the Weiser River Trail are hosting the 5th annual Weiser River Trail Bike Ride. You can choose from riding 28 miles from the northern-most trailhead near New Meadows to Council, or ride shorter sections of either 18 miles or 8 miles. You can sign up here.

Even the 28-mile ride should be doable for just about any ability levels because you'll get a shuttle to the start, ride 18 miles on a gradual downhill grade to the flats near Fruitvale, and ride the last 10 miles to Council along the old railroad grade. Check out the trail map for reference.

I personally have ridden the full length of the trail (I broke the 84-mile trail into two different day trips for 40+ miles each). That should be your long-term goal if you haven't done that already. The northern section of the trail from New Meadows to Council is definitely a lot of fun. Once you've ridden past the Evergreen sawmill, the trail dives downhill, winding along the upper Weiser River in a forested setting, so it's very scenic and beautiful.

The Friends of the Weiser River Trail have planked all of the river crossings for smooth travel. It's really invigorating to cruise across the river and feel the blast of cool air from the stream as you ride along the river corridor. The bridges could be slick on Saturday morning, depending on how cold it gets Friday night, so be on the watch out for that. The trail is completely set apart from U.S. 95, so you won't have to worry about riding on a busy highway.

The bike ride event costs $40, including lunch and beverages at the conclusion of the ride. You need to be in Council by 8 a.m. Saturday, so race organizers can load up the trailers and transport you and your bike to the northern trailhead near New Meadows. You might want to spend the night in Cambridge or Council Friday night so you don't have to drive up early in the a.m. Cambridge is about 2 hours from Boise, and Council is about 2.5 hours away.

BTW, Cambridge is hosting Hells Canyon Days on Friday and Saturday, so that'd be fun to check out while you're in the 'hood.

Barb McGann of the Friends group says that typically about 100 people sign up for the ride, but this year, only 60 have pre-registered so far. "Could be weather ... could be conflicting events," she said. Please register as soon as you can, however, so race organizers know how many trailers and vehicles they need to haul people and bikes to the trailhead.

My guess is it's probably the Global Weirding freaking bizarre weather we've had this spring that has messed up many weekend plans so far. But the forecast for Saturday looks fabulous (high of 78 degrees, 0 chance of precip). After a big storm Thursday, it's supposed to clear off and warm up Friday. That should make the trail ready to ride for Saturday's event. The trail has a very well-compacted sand and gravel surface ... volunteers have used a vibrating roller to harden the surface for easy spinning on a bike.

If you're busy and can't make the ride on Saturday, be sure to reserve some time later this month to check out the trail. It's best to ride the trail in the spring when everything is green. Group up with some friends, and you can set up a shuttle rig wherever you'd like to go. I have three favorite sections of the trail -- the north end from Rubicon to Council, the roadless section between Council and Cambridge, and the roadless section from Midvale to Weiser. By roadless, I mean the trail follows the Weiser River in a roadless canyon, where you can enjoy wildlife, wildflowers and the rushing river. In other sections, the trail winds along the river in large agricultural valleys. There is a detailed mile-by-mile guide to the Weiser River Trail in my guidebook, Mountain Biking in McCall.

I've been a member of the Friends of the Weiser River Trail since the beginning in 1997, and hundreds of other folks are members as well to help support the maintenance and improvement of the trail. A number of dedicated citizens in Washington and Adams county have toiled for years to turn the Weiser River Trail into a real treasure for all of us to enjoy. The bike ride on Saturday is worthwhile event just to support the cause.

Have fun!