Thursday, April 19, 2012

Here are 5 kid-friendly hikes near Boise for Unplug and Be Outside Week

My boys Drew and Quinn at Camelsback Park

Red Fox Trail above Hulls Ponds

A Dad and two kids hike in Surprise Valley on the way to Oregon Trail Reserve

Hi all,

It's Earth Day on Sunday, and a full week of activities kick off Saturday for Unplug and Be Outside week in the Treasure Valley. So I thought I'd suggest five kid-friendly and family friendly hikes close to home for the upcoming weekend. After kind of a soggy week, the weather this weekend looks fabulous! Temps in the 80s! OMG!

First I'd like to wish all of the Race to Robie Creek runners and walkers the best of luck participating in the "toughest half-marathon in the Northwest" on Saturday. Hat's off to you.

The whole point of Unplug and Be Outside is to get your kids outside (leave the headphones and cell phone at home, please), and discover the wonders of nature. When you're out doing whatever activities you choose this weekend, look for little "teachable moments" when you can teach your kids little tidbits about nature. Maybe you can identify a wild flower, a shrub, a plant or a tree. Show them how to remember that species.

Take a sample of water from a pond or a creek and put it in a jar at home. See what's swimming around in the water and learn about it. Put it under a microscope if you have one.

Spend some time just sitting on a hillside and watch the clouds go by. Look for birds of prey flying above. If you look close, you're likely to see a kestrel, a red-tailed hawk or maybe even a cooper's hawk. Bring a pair of binoculars, a bird book and a wildflower book on the hike to help with identification.

Here are the kid-friendly hikes, all drawn from my book: Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home.

1. Owl's Roost-Red Fox Loop. This is an easy 2.2-mile loop in the Central Foothills, starting and finishing from Camelsback Park (13th and Heron) in Boise. Rated easy. This one is great for infants or toddlers in the backpack or young kids who might be able to walk that far. Start from behind the tennis courts in the east side of the park or on the north end of 9th Street. Go north on Red Fox Trail, cross 8th Street, and come back on Owl's Roost. You'll find Owl's Roost next to the Foothills Learning Center.

2. Castle Rock - Table Rock Loop. This hike is called "Foothills on the Rocks" in my guidebooks. It's best done on foot because the trails are quite steep in a few places, especially in the approach to Table Rock on the south face. Trip distance is 4.35 miles. Travel time is 1.5-2 hours. Rated strenuous. Take Warm Springs Avenue east to the Old Penitentiary. Park behind the Bishop's House at the public trailhead. Take Castle Rock Trail #19 to the top of Castle Rock. If you have small kids, this can be your destination and loop back to the trailhead. Otherwise, take Trail #15 from the top of Castle Rock and climb to the top of Table Rock. Enjoy the view. Do a loop of Table Rock on Trails #16 and #17 and then retrace your steps back to the trailhead. It's a good workout.

3. Surprise Valley - Oregon Trail Loop. It's 2.6 miles and 1 hour hiking time. Rated easy. Start from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Surprise Valley (don't park there on Sunday morning). The church is on the right side as you drive into the Surprise Valley area on Surprise Way, off of Boise Avenue or Amity. Go behind the church and pick up the public trail that runs along the base of the basalt cliff, follow that for a mile or so, and then go up the Kelton Ramp, a rocky two-track where Oregon Trail wagons descended into the Boise Valley. Once on top of the rim, you can follow a trail that stays close to the rim, or several others on the flat portion of the Oregon Trail Reserve Park, and complete the loop.

Learning about Oregon Trail history is the teachable moment on this trail. This is what one of the interpretive signs says: Standing here, you are only a short hike away from original Oregon Trail ruts. Pioneers by the thousands walked and rode through this very country. Turning wagon wheels represented more than simply a people moving West; as the wheels turned so did the pages of our history, uniting our nation from coast to coast."

4. Military Reserve Double Ridge Loop. The loop is 3.7 miles long. About 2 hours travel time with small kids. Rated moderate to strenuous. Take Reserve Street north from Fort Street, and turn left on Mountain Cove Road. Follow the road for over a mile around a corner and park at the trailhead. Take Central Ridge Trail #22 and climb up on the middle ridge in Military Reserve Park for a mile or so. At the top of the ridge, turn right on Ridge Crest Trail #20A and go downhill to Cottonwood Creek. Go left at the bottom of the hill, cross the creek, and go left on Eagle Ridge Trail #25. Follow that trail to the toe of the ridge, and drop down to the trails by the flood control cells next to Reserve Street. Turn right and hike back to the trailhead. If you want to shorten this route for young kids, do a short loop on the Toll Road Trail #27A and Cottonwood Creek Trail #27 (total distance is slightly over 1 mile).

5. Seaman's Gulch Loops. This is a sweet and easy loop off of Seaman's Gulch Road in NW Boise. On the way to the Ada County Landfill, you'll see a trailhead, rest room and parking area on the right next to a large brown water tank. There are two short loop hikes you can do here. The loop on Trail #110 is one mile, and the loop on Valley View Trail #111 is three miles. I recommend Valley View -- it has a great bird's eye view of the city up on the hill. Rated easy.

All of these hikes and many more are featured in my book Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home.

For tips on hiking with children, the Statesman featured Boise dad and Outside correspondent Mike Lanza this week. Mike had some great tips on getting your kids started out early in the outdoors ... and how to get them started out right ...

Beyond the hikes, check out the activities for Unplug and Be Outside week. On Saturday, they've got golf clinics, a scavenger hunt at the World Center for Birds of Prey, rock climbing at a climbing gym and a story trail at the Foothills Learning Center. There are all kinds of activities going on all week!

BTW - I will be teaching a flatwater kayaking clinic at Sierra Trading Post in Meridian on Monday and Thursday nights of next week, if you'd like to know more about places where you can paddle in a non-threatening environment in SW Idaho and what crafts to use for these kinds of paddling adventures.

For more information on kid-friendly activities, see the Be Outside Children in Nature web site and Be Outside videos.

Have fun!
- SS

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.