Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pray for more snow to augment the slow start we have so far; where to find snow this weekend

Sun Valley groomers are a hoot! 

Big views in all directions
Ski the pow at Targhee!
Galena has some of the best xc skiing in North America! 
Bear Basin is the main xc venue in McCall right now 
Boot hiking the Five Mile-Orchard Gulch loop in the Boise footies 
Hi all,

Now that we have a little bit of snow, and we can enjoy some downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the mountains, it's time to fire up the weekly outdoor tips for the winter season.

We've had a slow start in terms of snow, that's for sure. Snowpack levels in the Payette and Boise basins are about 64 percent of normal so far. The Big Wood is 59 percent, and the Weiser is 45 percent. I'm hoping that winter storms really pick up in the coming weeks. It looks as if a significant storm is coming in on Friday, and that will allow Brundage Mountain to open for the ski season. Yay!

Here's the latest conditions at popular alpine skiing destinations:

  • Sun Valley has the most skiing of any downhill area in the SW Idaho region, with top-to-bottom groomers available. We're talking leg-burners down Warm Springs or College and River Run. Lift tickets are discounted at $69/day right now, and if you combine a ski day(s) with lodging, you can probably do better than that. 
  • Bogus Basin has some terrain open on the front side, and they will likely open the backside when they get more snow. Lift tickets are $25 at the moment.  
  • Brundage opens on Friday. Lift tickets cost $36 on opening day. 
  • Tamarack Resort is operating on Thursday-Sunday, with skiing on the Summit Chairlift. I've heard the skiing is quite good in the upper part of the mountain. They're charging $49/day for adults. 
  • Grand Targhee has the best skiing in the southern Idaho, with the full mountain open and a 54-inch base. Lift tickets are $59 through Dec. 20; $72 during the holidays. Not sure if they have any rooms left for Christmas break, but I bet Targhee will be busy! 
As for cross-country skiing ... 
  • Bogus Basin Nordic has about 15Ks of groomed xc ski trails at the moment. The main trail from the Nordic Lodge is groomed past the Shafer Butte picnic area turnoff. Several shorter loops are open as well. Day tickets cost $11 for a full day, $8 for a half day after 1 p.m. 
  • Bear Basin has 9 inches of snow, with all of the main trails open. The web site doesn't specify exactly how many K's are open in total. Cost is $10 for adults. 
  • Ponderosa Park doesn't have enough snow depth to open right now, but after Friday's storm, they may open by the weekened. Ditto with Jug Mountain Ranch.  
  • Galena Lodge, north of Ketchum/Sun Valley is reportedly skiing great. They have 30Ks of trails open at the present time. Many of the trails around Galena Lodge are open, plus the Harriman Trail down to Prairie Creek, and the Prairie Creek system is open. Down-valley trails are closed until they get more snow. The cost to ski at Galena is $15 for adults; $5 for kids, and kids 12 and under ski free.  
  • The Idaho City Park n' Ski Trails are open but not groomed yet, because they need more snow for grooming. The snow phone reports 1.5-2 feet of snow in places. The parking lots are plowed. So you could head up there with your snow boots and go for a hike or go snowshoeing. Banner Ridge and Beaver Creek Summit and Stargaze Yurt areas should have the most snow being at the highest elevation. Be sure to get a Park n' Ski parking pass on your way at the gas station in Idaho City. 
Backcountry skiing is decent at Mores Creek Summit, I hear. But it's going to be thin in places. Watch out for hazards. Drive to the Mores Creek Summit parking lot above Idaho City, and hoof it up to Pilot Peak, Freeman Peak or Sunset Mountain from the Mores Creek parking lot. Skins on skis or snowshoes work great! 

Closer to home, one thing I've been doing a lot of lately is boot-hiking in the foothills with my dog. The trails have been frozen, with a few inches of snow on top, and it makes for great walking in Sorels or the equivalent. Enjoy while you can. A lot of the trails out of Camelsback Park are great for this, as well as Corrals Trail, Five Mile Creek Trail and Orchard Gulch.    

Before I sign off, I should mention that the new Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook by yours truly and Mark Lisk has been popular since it was released in early December. You can find them in Boise at Lisk Gallery, Idaho Mountain Touring, George's Cycles, World Cycles and Rediscovered Books, (Boise REI and Barnes & Noble will stock them soon) Sierra Trading Post in Meridian, Flying M coffee house in Nampa, Cafferty's Cycles in Nampa, Hastings in Nampa, the Owyhee County Historic Museum gift shop in Murphy, Homedale Drug in Homedale, Logan's Market in Marsing, Gus's gas stop in Grand View, and more, plus at and

Have a great holiday everyone! 
- SS

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fall colors are popping throughout the mountains of Idaho; take a drive on our lovely scenic byways

Here's Wendy hiking along Jordan Creek in Silver City
Aspens glowing in the Sawtooth Valley by Ed Cannady
Fall colors in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest (courtesy US Forest Service)
Fall colors in the Sawtooths (courtesy
Wood River Valley (courtesy
Hi all,

The fall colors are just beginning to happen in the Treasure Valley. But in the mountains, the aspen trees are turning yellow and orange, the tamarack needles are turning yellow, the shrubs are turning orange and red, and this weekend would be a perfect time to go for a scenic drive -- and maybe a side-hike -- to enjoy the kaliedoscope of colors.

So where are you going to go? Start by taking a look at the Idaho Scenic Byways web site, providing by our friends at VisitIdaho. There are now a total of 30 official scenic byways that you can explore in statewide. The drives that I'd recommend include:

  • The Sawtooth Scenic Byway - This byway runs from Shoshone to Stanley on Idaho 75. You'll see the cottonwood trees turning color along the Big Wood River, and then things really get brilliant with the aspen trees in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. Consider a side hike in Adams Gulch on the left side of the road, just north of Ketchum. Check out the Sun Valley web cams for a sneak-peek. Going north, you'll see some beautiful aspen groves in the Boulder Mountains on the right side of the road. And then the byway continues north over Galena Summit, where you'll be treated to a huge view of the Sawtooth Valley, the headwaters of the Salmon River, the Sawtooth Wilderness on the left, and the White Cloud Mountains on the right.
  • The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway - Follows Idaho 21 from Boise to Idaho City to Lowman to Stanley. You'll see a cornucopia of colors in the Boise National Forest, with a menagerie of yellows, oranges and reds in the shrubs and underbrush below the stately ponderosa pine trees between Idaho City and Lowman. You'll see some pretty groves of aspens as you get closer to Stanley. Stop by Stanley Lake Campground to enjoy the views. 
  • Do a big combination loop by driving the Ponderosa Pine byway to Stanley and then follow the Sawtooth byway to Ketchum/Sun Valley and return to Boise via U.S. 20. Allow a full day to complete this drive, or break it up by staying overnight in Stanley or Ketchum/Sun Valley. 
  • The Payette River Scenic Byway - This is a familiar drive for many from Boise to McCall, but it won't disappoint when it comes to fall colors. On this route, you'll see tamarack or western larch trees turning yellow by the time you reach Smith's Ferry and onward to McCall and Payette Lake. Plus, you'll see lots of colorful shrubs in the Boise National Forest along the way and isolated aspen groves here and there. Check the McCall web cams for a sneak-peek for the lake view. Take a side hike in Ponderosa State Park once you're in McCall. You'll see lots of colors in the park.  
  • The Owyhee Backcountry Byway - This is a more adventurous scenic drive because it involves 85 miles of dirt road between the paved portals of Grand View and Jordan Valley, OR. But it is truly a scenic drive into the Owyhee Mountains and Canyonlands. You'll cottonwoods and aspens throughout the route. Bring plenty of food and water because there are no services along the route. Allow a full day for the drive. Expect to encounter hunters in vehicles and ATV's along the way.  
  • Murphy to Silver City - Wendy and I went hiking in Silver City on Tuesday, and the cottonwoods and aspens were peaking a brilliant yellow along Jordan Creek. It's about two hours from Boise to Silver City. Take Idaho 45 south of Nampa to Murphy, and then watch for a signed turnoff to Silver City east of Murphy. The road is paved for a while, and then it turns to dirt. A high-clearance vehicle is needed to navigate the bumpy, rocky road to Silver City. As you drop down from the pass into Silver City, turn left at a Y-junction by the ATV parking area and rest room, and then proceed through town to a BLM parking area and rest room. Take a walk up Jordan Creek to stretch your legs. Bring your own food and water. The Silver City Hotel may or may not be open on the weekend, and it's closed during the week. 
Couple of things going on this weekend that I recommend:

SWIMBA Member Appreciation Party and Group Ride Saturday from 3-9 p.m. Meet at Joe's Crab Shack at 3 p.m. There will be a bike ride to Mulligans from 3:30 - 5  p.m. It's SWIMBA's 21st birthday party, election of officers, and all of that good stuff.

"Elevation" movie premier at Idaho Mountain Touring, 8 p.m. at Idaho Mountain Touring, 13th and Main, downtown Boise.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Head's up! General deer season opens today, ducks Saturday; here's a few places to avoid the cross-fire

Rifle hunting seasons are kicking in statewide as of today ... 
Hi all,

Well, it's that time of year again ... General deer season opens statewide today, Thursday, Oct. 10, and it runs through the end of the month in many areas, including Unit 39 in the Boise River Mountains area. Duck season opens on Saturday, so if you planned on going for a hike near Swan Falls, be aware that duck hunters might be hiking out there, too, jump-shooting ducks.

Rifle elk season kicks in on Nov. 1-9 in Unit 39, and in some areas, such as in the McCall area, elk season overlaps with a portion of deer season, from Oct. 15 through Nov. 3.

The upshot is if you want to go camping, backpacking, hiking or mountain biking in the backcountry this coming weekend, you should expect to see hunters, hear gunfire, and harvested animals hanging in camp. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, then consider going to places where you won't encounter hunters. See below.
Put some bright colors on your pup, too ... 
At this time of year, from a safety standpoint, it's smart to wear bright colors, like a blaze-orange hat, and a bright-colored coat. If you're taking your dog with you, put some type of blaze orange garment on your pet to prevent a bad accident.

Check the Idaho Department of Fish and Game hunting page to check on the hunting seasons where you are planning a backcountry adventure. The hunting seasons are set up according to big game unit. It'll take a few minutes to figure out the regulations. They are very complicated to say the least, and in general, the seasons are tied to specific animals, such as deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion, wolves, moose, etc. 

Here are a two places where you will not see hunters: 
  • Lower Boise Foothills Trails - Any of the lower foothills trails should be safe, except for the lower trails near Harris Ranch ... those trails are in the Boise River Wildlife Management Areas, and you will see hunters out there. 
  • Idaho State Parks - All of the state parks are closed to hunting. And they're not affected by the federal shutdown.  
  • Boise River Greenbelt - This is a safe bet for the length of the pathway from Eagle to Lucky Peak. 
  • Wood River Trail - The paved Wood River Trail from Bellevue to Ketchum is a safe place to go, too. The colors might be turning in the Wood River Valley, too. 
Places where you will see hunters? All national forests, BLM lands, Owyhee Canyonlands, Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Area, etc.  
Pack the house for Boise Foothills open space concert next Wednesday! It starts at 7 p.m. at the Visual Arts Collective in Garden City. Steve Fulton and Shon Sanders, Bill Coffey and Special Guests will play music. This is a fund-raiser for the open space campaign. Plus, volunteers can get signed up to help with the campaign. Tell your friends. See you there! 
On Saturday, SWIMBA will be doing more work on the super-cool Mahalo Trail on the Boise Ridge. People are meeting at Highlands Elementary School at 10 a.m. to carpool to the trailhead. Bring sturdy shoes, work gloves and a lunch. 

Have fun out there!
- SS 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Owyhee Canyonlands Outdoor Adventure guide; McCall Fat Tire Fest; Nat'l Public Lands Day

Browns Creek canyon, Owyhee Front 

We hiked Browns Creek last year when Huck was 8 weeks old ... 
Fetching views at Succor Creek State Park with Steve and Drew 
Hi all,

In case you haven't seen our campaign on twitter or Facebook, fine arts photographer Mark Lisk and I are collaborating on a new guidebook for the Owyhee Canyonlands. The book will be titled, The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide. We are expecting it to be ready for Christmas sales in late November.

We launched the Kickstarter campaign about 10 days ago, and we've already reached our minimum goal of $6,500 to cover printing and production costs. Woo-hoo! But the campaign still will run for another 19 days, so this is a chance for folks to capture some sweet deals in terms of buying an autographed copy of the hard-copy guide, buying several autographed books for Christmas gifts, getting a combination of an autographed book plus a Mark Lisk 2013 calendar, or an autographed book and a Mark Lisk photo print of your choice.

We have a whole bunch of options if you'd like to check it out at the Kickstarter site. We have a video that explains how the book project came together along with details about the guidebook. We'll have 55 hikes and mountain bike rides in the book, and as our loyal and faithful followers know, I've been providing sneak previews of a number of these hikes and bike rides in my blog over the last couple years. (see below)

The Owyhee Canyonlands are a real treasure here in SW Idaho. There are many hidden slot canyons to explore, super-scenic mountain bike rides you've never ridden before, a few hot springs worthy of visiting, and a whole bunch of trips in the new Owyhee Wilderness areas. The scope of our guide spans from the closest Owyhee Wilderness areas in Big and Little Jacks Creek near Grand View, to the Jarbidge/Bruneau/Sheep Creek canyons south of Bruneau, to many hidden jewels in terms of slot canyons in the Owyhee Front between Grand View and Marsing, to the spectacular Southern Utah-like rock formations of the Leslie Gulch area.

Here are the links to those sneak-peek trips, if you'd like to head out for a desert hike/bike ride this weekend. The cool weather will be perfect! This will give you a taste of what to expect in the guide. Nine-tenths of the challenge in the Owyhees is to learn how to get there, have a sturdy, dependable rig to take you there, and navigate a big wide open area with very few signs or no signs, and no services. Map-reading skills are important!


Given the weather in the last few days, it's almost feeling like winter, but it's going to warm up a bit this weekend, so it should be perfect fall weather for mountain biking in McCall. The Central Idaho Mountain Biking Association (CIMBA) and local retailers are hosting the first-ever Fat Tire Festival in McCall, beginning Friday night and going through Sunday.

Here's the calendar of events for the busy weekend. If you've been wanting to learn more about the mountain bike trails in the McCall area, this is a perfect opportunity to do so with local ride leaders. Organizers have laid out a great slate of group bike rides for the weekend, geared to different ability and experience levels.

On Saturday, there's a women's beginner "Zen Ride" going on at the very family friendly Bear Basin Trail network near McCall, rides at Jug Mountain Ranch, Payette Rim Trail, Elk Trail at Brundage and more. From 4-9:30 p.m. that day, there will be a beer garden party at Depot Park downtown, dinner and live music. Perfect way to round out the day.

On Sunday, there will be more guided rides including the fun and challenging the Goose Creek Trail, East Fork of Lake Fork and Bear Basin.

In case you're thirsting for more rides, my guidebook, Mountain Biking in McCall, will keep you busy with 40+ rides to explore in the Valley County area, including all the rides mentioned above.
It's the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day
Saturday is also the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day. The Bureau of Land Management is hosting two volunteer projects -- one in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, south of Kuna, and another in the Little Jacks Creek Wilderness, southeast of Grand View.

The birds of prey project will involve planting shrubs and perennial grasses below Swan Falls Dam. If you'd like to participate, meet at the picnic area by the dam at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Bring a lunch, wear sturdy shoes and bring gloves. The work day will be over around 1-2 p.m. Contact Barb Forderhase at the BLM for more information, 384-3485.

The Little Jacks project will involve taking down some barbed-wire fence and building a new trail in the Shoofly Creek area. Volunteers should meet at the Poison Creek picnic area, on the right side of Mud Flat Road, or the Owyhee Backcountry Byway, south of Grand View, at 8:45 a.m. It's a full-day project, with horseback support for hauling trail-building materials. Free T-shirts for volunteers! Contact Dave Draheim at the BLM for more information, 384-3358.

Every Friday morning, I talk about my outdoor tip of the week on 94.9 FM with Ken Bass and Misty Taylor. Up to now, the segments have been airing at 7:10 a.m. This week, they'll move to about 7:40 a.m. Just a head's up! See River Interactive for more details and audio of previous shows.    

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Calling on all Boise Foothills hikers, joggers, bikers, horseback riders and dog-walkers! Time to Rally!

Rally at City Hall on Tuesday ... 
Rally speakers talk about the many reasons why the bond issue is important
to the future of the Boise community. 
Polecat Gulch in NW Boise was one of the key properties purchased
with funds from the $10 million foothills open space levy.
The land that Bucktail Trail winds through in Military Reserve is
another key piece of private property purchased as open space for
the Boise community to enjoy. The $10 million open space bond
will allow the city of Boise to continue its great work on land conservation.
Hi all,

It's official now. Mayor David Bieter and the Boise City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to proceed with bond measures for foothills open space, parks and public safety. The amounts are $10 million for open space, $5.5 million for parks and $17.2 for safety improvements to four fire stations and the construction of a new fire training facility.

These measures will be on the Nov. 5 ballot, just 7 weeks away. Now it's time to rally and get out the vote! See the Yes! Yes! for Boise campaign web site and Facebook page.

As some of you recall, I was heavily involved in the first campaign for Boise Foothills open space. I was still an officer with SWIMBA at the time. Foothills recreationists, neighborhood activists, conservation groups, recreation groups, people who love the foothills backdrop, and lots of Boise residents of all stripes and political persuasions came together to work the phones and the streets to pass the $10 million levy.

Honestly, I feel it's one of the smartest things our community has ever done, and hopefully, all of that hard work will make it easier to pass this next open space measure. I'm also so proud of how the city carefully invested and leveraged the $10 million into wise purchases that have provided vital connections between city parks at the base of the foothills with BLM and State Lands in the middle foothills and, of course, Stack Rock on top. Approximately 11,000 acres have been purchased so far. The investment reportedly contributes $11 million to Boise's economy, according to a study, by enhancing property values and "ecosystem services" such as clean water, biodiversity and flood control, according to an article in the Idaho Statesman.

But hey, much more remains to be done!

Soon after we launched the campaign in 2000, I remember we had an awesome beer and pizza party at Noodles downtown. Several hundred foothills recreationists packed the room, and we gave them a pep talk. In essence, we said, let's seize the day, and work our butts off to make sure the levy passes the first time around and enhance our future, and our children's future. And by god, we did it. The night of the election returns, we partied at the Boise Depot, and I had chills running up and down my spine all evening, as the returns showed we had a strong majority with 60 percent of the vote, and it held throughout the night. We did it!!!! That was huge!

This time around, we'll need 66 2/3rds vote to pass the bond measures on Nov. 5. A lot more people in Boise understand the value of foothills open space now that an additional 11,000 acres of land has been purchased, and our quality of life has been enhanced, not to mention protection of the foothills watershed, clean water, wildlife habitat and more.

But there isn't much time between now and Nov. 5. The campaign is up and running, and VOLUNTEERS are needed big-time. Here's how you can plug in:

  • Canvass potential voters at foothills trailheads. 
  • Work the phone banks to identify would-be supporters who are registered voters. 
  • Staff community events and educate folks about the bond measures. 
  • Go door-to-door in strategic neighborhoods to educate residents about the bond measures. I love going door-to-door ... it's so fascinating, and you end up having great conversations with your neighbors about the future of your community. 
  • Donate to the campaign. City Council member Lauren McLean just put out a challenge yesterday to raise funds, and she will match contributions up to $3,000. 
If you'd like to volunteer, please contact Tom Hamilton at If you're already connected with the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, the Idaho Conservation League or the Nature Conservancy, contact those groups because they're already involved in the campaign and can tell you how to plug in. 

I had coffee with Emily Walton this morning. I just met her at the City Hall rally on Tuesday. She's the executive director of the Idaho Civic Engagement Project, which works on getting young people registered to vote and engaged in enhancing their communities. Emily also is active with the Boise Young Professionals. Forty percent of potential Idaho voters under 30 years old, or 150,000 people in Idaho, are not registered to vote. "It's crazy!" she says with a gleam in her eye. 

A native of Declo, Idaho, who grew up in the heart of the potato fields in southern Idaho, Walton has learned how to become an effective political dynamo after putting herself through college and networking. She wants to run for governor someday. She is actively involved in the open space campaign. "Think about how Boise celebrated its 150th Birthday this year," she says. "It's amazing how people just love this place. But there's a feeling in the air, what are we going to do next? I believe in the city. I want to make it better. Let's keep up the momentum!"

Boise is one of those places where we all rally at important times to enhance our community. We do it through community involvement. Thousands and thousands of people do this through fun and cool events, campaigns and community improvement projects. We all have a ton of pride in our community, and we all want to make it better. 

Now is the time to get engaged! Now is the time to make it happen. I want everyone who sees this blog to choke Mr. Tom Hamilton's email inbox with tons of emails offering your assistance to take Boise to the next level. Seize the day! 

Thanks in advance for all of your efforts. I know you will rally and support the cause. 
- SS 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Here are some fun hikes, bike rides close to home; plus, Avimor Bike Demo Day and Ride for the Red

Took my boys out on the Five Mile-Orchard Loop on Father's Day  
At the Orchard-Five Mile saddle ... big views everywhere ... 
Sweet trail ... Orchard Gulch 
Five Mile Creek didn't have much water in it last time I was there ... pack water for your pets.  
Doug Lawrence on Eastside 
Paul Hilding and Doug on Eastside 
Doug finishes the Mr. Big steep-ass climb 
Hi all,

After all the moisture this week -- Yay! -- the trails should be nice and tacky this weekend, and the temperatures will be in the low 80s in the Boise Valley. So it should a great weekend to get out on some local outings close to home.

I'm recommending a couple of sweet hikes and bike rides, and also, I'd suggest heading out to the Avimor Bike Demo Days on Saturday or Ride for the Red on Sunday. More about those events in a moment.

First, the hikes. Both of these are a little off the beaten track in the NE foothills, and they're very scenic.

1. Five Mile Creek - Orchard Gulch Loop - This one is 5.35 miles. Allow about 2.5 hours hiking time. It's rated moderate to strenuous in my Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home
Take Rocky Canyon Road to the end of the pavement, and keep going for about 2.5 miles to a parking area and trailhead for Five Mile Creek. Park here. Climb Five Mile Creek Trail for about two miles, and you'll come to a junction for Orchard Gulch connector trail. Climb a steep hill to a saddle, and then drop into Orchard Gulch. Find a spot in the shade for lunch. And then finish hiking down the draw and you'll come to Rocky Canyon Road. It's about a mile back to the car.

2. Five Mile Creek - Watchman - Three Bears Loop - This is a much longer hike, about twice as long at 10.2 miles if you do the whole thing. (It's an awesome bike ride, too.) But I'll recommend something that's a little shorter, and nice for hiking. Follow the same directions to the Five Mile Creek trailhead as the hike above. Climb Five Mile Creek past the Orchard connector, and you'll merge with Watchman Trail. Following the Watchman Trail as it winds around the upper tier of the foothills. It's very scenic and enjoyable. At the end of a long downhill, bear left at the junction with Trail #6, and head for Three Bears. After a short climb and another downhill, you'll come to a junction with Three Bears on the ridge. Go left and do the steep descent on Three Bears back to Rocky Canyon Road. Go left and the Five Mile trailhead is about 100 yards to the left.

Here's a video of the Five Mile Creek - Watchman - Three Bears Loop ...

Here are a couple of bike rides that are real smooth right now. Both of them are featured in my guide Mountain Biking in Boise

1. Eastside Loop - I've been amazed at how popular the Eastside Trail #120 is this summer. We rode it last Saturday, and it was super-smooth. The standard Eastside Loop is done by going up Bogus Basin Road about 12 miles to a large vehicle pullout on the left. Park here. Ride your bike on the pavement almost to the Bogus Basin base area, and then go left on Eastside Trail. Along the way, you'll see some optional big-air or technical features that you can either ride or bypass. I'd rate this ride as strong intermediate/advanced. It's about 10+ miles. The only thing I don't like about the ride is you go slightly downhill on Eastside, and then you have to climb back to the parking area on a pretty steep trail. There are a couple of options for climbing back to the parking lot. On Saturday, we took Eastside to Mr. Big, descended a short section on Mr. Big, and then did a steep, arduous climb on Mr. Big to Freddy's Stack Rock/Sweet Connie junction, turned left, and rode that back to the parking lot connector and finished the climb to the parking lot.

2. Freddy's Stack Rock Loop - This one is 9.5 miles. I'd rate this strong intermediate/advanced. Drive to the same parking area as the trailhead for Eastside. Drop into the singletrack next to the parking lot and descend to Eastside Trail #120. Bear left on the singletrack. At mile 2.5 from start, you'll come to a junction with Mr. Big and Freddy's Stack Rock Trail. Go straight on Freddy's #125. In another half mile, you'll come to the Freddy's loop junction. Here, you can decide to do the loop clockwise, or counter-clockwise. I recommend clockwise. At mile 4, you'll reach Stack Rock. Take a break and have a snack. Follow the loop around the rock, and return to the Eastside parking lot. Allow 2.5-3 hours for the ride.
See the SWIMBA web site for information about Avimor Bike Demo Days. Should be a lot of activity with the Knobby Tire race going on, plus the demo day, BBQ and beer. I got there in the afternoon last year, and none of the 29ers were available to demo. So show up early! Avimor has a lot of cool trails to explore. Worth driving up there to check them out, if you haven't already.

On Sunday, George's and the American Red Cross are sponsoring Ride for the Red, a group road ride from Barber Park in east Boise to Celebration Park next to the Snake River, south of Nampa. You can sign up to ride 50, 75 or 100 miles. Should be a very interesting course. Registration closes on Friday.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Idaho Fire Lookouts are a great place to visit, stay overnight; plus Sawtooth Salmon Festival

Bald Mountain Lookout ... Clearwater National Forest.
You can rent this one! 
Google Earth map of all of Idaho's 1,000 lookout sites ... 
Volunteers who helped to restore Basin Butte Lookout near Stanley. Thanks everyone! 
Work in a bike ride or a hike to and from the lookout if possible ...
This is Whitehawk Lookout in Bear Valley, Quinn's first summit via mountain bike several years ago. 
Hi all,

I must admit, I've always had a soft spot for Idaho's fire lookouts ... especially after I started mountain biking in the mid-80's, mountain-top lookouts were a natural place to go. Typically, there is a 4WD road leading to the lookouts, and so you've got dirt road access, and often the climb to the lookout goes for multiple miles with several thousand feet of vertical gain, meaning you'll have a guaranteed excellent workout to reach the summit.

Idaho Public Television featured a program last Sunday titled "Eyes of the Forest" about a number of super-cool fire lookout towers in the state. You can watch it online here on the Idaho PTV web site. Watching that program inspired this week's blog post and outdoor tip of the week.

My recommendation is to explore Idaho's lookouts whenever you can, wherever you can, work in a hike or bike ride into the outing for some exercise, and consider making plans to rent a lookout for a weekend with your honey, friends or family.

Why go? Fire lookouts, by definition, are always located on top of a high mountain peak. That's so the Forest Service lookout personnel have a big view of the surrounding countryside and can spot lightning strikes and fire starts. That means the lookout locations have a huge, 360-degree view of the mountains for miles on end -- this is one of the big payoffs.

"There's no finer way to see our state," says Gary Weber of the Forest Fire Lookout Association in the Idaho PTV program.

"Idaho's Lookouts are doorways to the heavens," narrator and executive producer Bruce Reichert says. "They inspire people to visit these sanctuaries at the edge of the sky."

Another reason is to get a workout hiking or biking to the summit. For families with small children, it's a big benefit to be able to drive to the top. Mom or Dad can drive, and the other can ride or hike. You know the drill.

One of the biggest benefits, I'd say from personal experience, is to experience a sunrise or sunset from a fire lookout tower. It's absolutely, utterly spectacular! Bring your camera, and pack your binoculars to look for wildlife.

At one time, there were 8,000 fire lookouts nationwide, and Idaho had about 1,000 of them. Here's a website with all of the original sites. Many of the lookouts have been decommissioned over the years, but there are about 150 lookouts still standing in Idaho, according to the Idaho PTV report. I've noticed a number of sites where the lookouts no longer exist, such as on Packer John Mountain, Red Mountain, Council Mountain, etc. I bet you've seen some, too.  

Here are a few lookout towers to visit near Boise, and some possibilities for rental. Rental rates, by the way, range from $35/night to $50/night:
Scott Mountain Lookout near Garden Valley 
  • Scott Mountain Lookout - Scott Mountain lords over Garden Valley at an elevation of 8,215 feet. You can get there via the Banks to Lowman Road, heading toward Lowman, and then head north to Scott Mountain on Forest Road 555. You can hike or mountain bike from the Scott Mountain Road junction to the top of the mountain. Be sure to bring a lunch and enjoy the views from the top. 
  • Pilot Peak Lookout - A lot of backcountry skiers know about Pilot Peak because it's an awesome backcountry skiing area. In the summer, there's a great mountain bike ride going up to the lookout, and then descending all the way to Idaho City via Bear Run Road! Plus, it's a nice hike or trail run to the lookout and back (3.5 miles each way) from Mores Creek Summit. You can access the gravel road to Pilot Peak via Mores Creek Summit on Idaho 21, about 10 miles northeast of Idaho City. 
    Sunset Mountain Lookout is a great hike or bike ride from Mores Creek summit.  
  • Sunset Mountain Lookout - It's five miles to the top of Sunset Mountain from Mores Creek Summit. This is a good hike or bike ride. The hiking and trail-running trip to the top of Sunset L.O. are featured in my book Boise Trail Guide. I remember pedaling the baby trailer to the top of Sunset when my son Quinn was about 6 months old; it was definitely doable. Sunset has fabulous views of the North Fork of the Boise River country, and Steel Mountain and the Sawtooths are visible from the distance. 
    Basin Butte offers amazing views of the Sawtooths, the White Clouds and the Frank Church 
  • Basin Butte Lookout - This one is available for rent. It's located north of Stanley in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. (need details on the approach). Forest Service Road #432 climbs to the top of Basin Butte. The turnoff is across Idaho 21 from the turnoff to Stanley Lake. Go left on the Stanley Creek road (653), and then after several miles you'll come to a fork. Go left on #432 to reach the top of Basin Butte. It's 6.3 miles and 2,750 feet of gain to the top from the turnoff. Check into rental availability at
    From the inside looking out at Deadwood Lookout ... this could be yours for a weekend! 
  • Deadwood Lookout - This one also is available for rent. According to, Deadwood Lookout is one of the most popular Forest Service rental cabins in Idaho. It's located on Deadwood Mountain, high above Deadwood Campground and the Deadwood River confluence with the South Fork of the Payette River. Take Forest Road #555 north from the South Fork to a junction by a campground at the top of the grade, and take a hard right on Road Road #555EC. It's less than 3 miles from the junction to the lookout.   
  • Bald Mountain - This is a 50-foot-high structure that sleeps four in the Clearwater National Forest in the Hoodoo Mountains. It looks so cool, that it's certainly worth the long drive to get there. You'd want to set aside a day on either side of your lookout trip for travel time. I bet this particular lookout is in high demand because there aren't that many left that sit that high off the ground. Bald Mountain Lookout is accessed from Highway 6, near Moscow, along the White Pine Scenic Byway. There are a number of hiking and biking trails that you can tie into near the lookout. 
    Lookout Butte Lookout, 60 feet high 
  • Lookout Butte - This one also is set on top of a steel tower, 60 feet above the ground, and it's available for rent. Sleeps up to 4 people. Lookout Butte is located in the Nez Perce National Forest, and it offers fetching views of the Selway Crags, Seven Devils, Coolwater Ridge and more. It's 15 miles southwest of Lowell on Forest Roads 223, 470, 286 and 1124. 4WD recommended. There are zillions of Forest Service roads in the vicinity. Looks like a cool place to explore.   
    Tripod offers fetching views of the southern end of Long Valley
  • Tripod Mountain Lookout - And last, but not least, we come back closer to home to visit Tripod Mountain Lookout, above Smith's Ferry. This one also is featured in my Boise Trail Guide. Tripod is best reached by trail on foot. You take Forest Road #626, across from the Cougar Mountain Lodge, and take that to the West Mountain Trailhead at a saddle on the road. It's 11.8 miles round-trip to the peak and back. Vertical gain is 3,160 feet. I rate it strenuous. But once you're on top of the ridge, you're glad you did it! 
Sockeye heading for Redfish Lake ... what a beautiful sight! 
There's a cool event happening on Saturday in Stanley, the Sawtooth Salmon Festival. Look for the festivities at the Stanley Historical Museum off Highway 75, between Stanley and Lower Stanley. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

The festival begins with the Shoshone-Bannock Blessing of the Salmon, always a treat to experience. And there will be live music all day, plus four educational tours of spawning sockeye and chinook salmon as well as a tour of Sunbeam Dam. There also will be vendors, kids activities, artwork, and a presentation by Idaho Falls author Jo Deurbrouch about her book, Anything Worth Doing. I've read it, it's a great book! 

If you go, you have to stay for the wild sockeye dinner ($15/person). Wine and beer will be provided by Sockeye Brewing.  

Have fun! 
- SS