Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mountain biking in the Owyhees is a real treat; Boise Foothills trails are drying out, too

"Bingo's Trail" has a number of rock hoodoos along the way 
You might see wild horses in the Wilson Creek area. 
Approaching Reynolds Creek canyon 
China Ditch Trail 
Hi all,

I've been stoked about going mountain biking this spring, so I headed out into the Wilson Creek area in the front side of the Owyhees last weekend to check on the conditions. Much to our delight, the trails were dry and ready to ride. We saw a number of mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders out there, so we weren't the only ones with spring fever.

The weather this weekend looks equally fine for mountain biking in the Owyhees. Sunday looks wonderful with temperatures almost hitting 60! Low-elevation trails in the Boise Foothills are starting dry out, too. Check the latest conditions on the Ridge to Rivers web site. With temperatures in the 60s next week, people will be swarming in the foothills. Not so in the Owyhees.

My friend Paul Hilding and I rode a loop in Wilson Creek that he's been riding with some mountain biking buddies of mine for several years. We followed the Google Earth GPS tracks of Doug Lawrence, and with the aid of a BLM map with the trail and road numbers on it, we had a successful ride. I checked with Chris Cook, who's spent a lot of time in the Owyhees GPS'ing trails, and the route we rode is called "Northwest Passage," combined with "Bingo's Trail" and the "China Ditch Trail." All told, it was a 16.2-mile ride with a little over 2,000 vertical feet of climbing and descending. It took us about 4 hours to complete the loop. We made quite a few stops for snacks and photos.

(Here is the live audio about this trip on 94.9 FM The River. Steve talks about his outdoor tips each Friday with Ken and Tim at about 7:10 a.m.)

We will be including this loop in the forthcoming guidebook on the Owyhee Canyonlands that I'm working on with photographer Mark Lisk. But I'll provide all the details here for a successful ride.

I would rate this ride "advanced" and "strenuous" because of the distance, technical challenges and endurance needed to complete the ride. I'll describe a route for intermediate riders below.

Hilding loves the ride. "I think it's my favorite loop of all the riding I've done in Idaho so far," says the former San Diego resident. "I really like the fact that the loop is nearly all singletrack, and it's really scenic, especially with the hoodoos on Bingo's Trail, and then the awesome canyon in Reynolds Creek and China Ditch Trail. It's a pretty killer ride."
The Northwest Passage loop is highlighted in red ... ride it counter-clockwise  (click to enlarge).
Getting there: Take Interstate 84 to the Nampa City Center exit (Franklin Road). Turn left and head into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for Highway 45 south heading for Murphy. Go south on 12th Avenue and take Idaho 45 south to Walters Ferry and the Snake River. Turn right after crossing the river and head for Marsing. Watch for Wilson Creek Road on the left in about 3 miles. Turn left. Proceed up Wilson Creek Road for about 2 miles to the Wilson Creek Wayside. Park. The ride starts here. Be sure to bring plenty of water and food for the ride. I carried water for my dog, and I'm glad I did. Water is sparse in the loop except for Reynolds Creek.

To begin, peel out of the parking lot and pick up BLM Road 37131 and head west next to some giant powerlines.

Mile .4 - Bear left on a narrow, faint singletrack and ride across sagebrush flats to a stock tank area.
Mile 1.9 - Bear left at stock tank area, pass through gate (close it behind you) and ride straight ahead on two-track road.
Mile 2.0 - Bear right onto Trail #200, a singletrack, and ride up-canyon in a small draw.
Mile 2.6 - Trail #200 parallels BLM Road 37150 as they climb at a steep gradient out of that little canyon up to a ridge.
Mile 4.6 - Approach 4-way junction. Go straight on #200 singletrack.
Mile 4.7 - Rejoin road for a short bit; mile 5.0 bear left on #200 singletrack.
Mile 5.25 - Come to junction with Trail #262 on a ridge overlooking Stewart Gulch. Take a hard left on Trail #150. The trail goes through a small canyon and leads to Wilson Creek.
Mile 6.5 - Drop into steep canyon and climb out (mile 6.7). Now it's downhill toward Wilson Creek.
Mile 7.7 - Begin steep descent into Wilson Creek.
Mile 8.1 - Come to a T-junction at the creek. Cross the creek, pick up singletrack on the other side, then take a hard right on Trail #100 and climb up to the Wilson Creek Road.
Mile 9.2 - The trail emerges on Wilson Creek Road by a vehicle pullout. Directly across the dirt road, take Trail #500 and ride downhill over to Reynolds Creek. People call this "Bingo's Trail." It's a hoot. Lots of fun S-turns riding downhill.
Mile 9.7 - Bear left on Trail #500.
Mile 11.25 - Junction with BLM Road 37154. Turn right and follow the road briefly, then bear left on singletrack going up steep slope.
Mile 11.4 - Go left on Trail #510 and climb over to Reynolds Creek canyon.
Mile 11.8 - At the next junction, bear left and head for the canyon. The trail eventually drops very steeply into Reynolds Creek canyon. People call this steep section "Jacob's Ladder." You decide whether it's rideable. 
Mile 12.1 - Junction with Reynolds Creek/China Ditch Trail #600. Go left, down canyon. Gear down and weave through the rocks. Great place to stop for lunch and take pictures of the redrock canyon.
Mile 13.2 - Veer left on Trail #310 and leave China Ditch Trail.
Mile 13.6 - Cross two-track and stay on singletrack trail. More rock work makes this a sweet sinewy singletrack.
Mile 14.5 - Approach junction with Trail #310 and #311. Go right on #311 and follow that sandy singletrack downhill through the sagebrush.
Mile 15.2 - Cross through barbed wire gate and close it behind you.
Mile 15.7 - Ride around gate. You can see the place where you parked to start the ride. Take BLM Road #37154 directly west to the trailhead.
Mile 16.25 - Final ride mileage at trailhead.   
Here's Steve with his pointer Huck on the Wilson Creek ride.
 Intermediate ride: This route could be hiked or run as well. Follow directions above to Wilson Creek Road. Keep going up the Wilson Creek road to a trailhead on the left. Take Trail #300 from the trailhead in an easterly direction across the sagebrush hills, heading over to Reynolds Creek and the China Ditch Trail (most spectacular part of ride).  

Trail #300 comes to an end on BLM Road #37154. Go right and climb the road. Veer right on Trail #500 when you see that emerge on the left side of the road. Follow Trail #500 to #510 and climb over to Reynolds Creek Canyon. Bear left on Trail #600 in Reynolds Creek and follow the China Ditch Trail along the creek. Great spot for lunch and photos. After a mile on the China Ditch Trail, veer left on Trail #310. Take #310 to BLM Road #37154, go left for a short distance, then right on Trail #300 and return to the trailhead. This route is about 7.5 miles long. It's very similar to the Reynolds Creek Loop described in my book, the Boise Trail Guide. 

There you have it! Thanks to Chris Cook, Dan Meeker and Dave Beck for pioneering "Northwest Passage!"

There's a longer ride with more vertical gain in my guidebook book Mountain Biking Idaho called the "Wilson Creek-Mini Moab Loop." That ride climbs the Wilson Creek road to the top of Wilson Butte, and then takes a topsy-turvy rocky two-track back down the mountain over towards Reynolds Creek. It's possible to mix in a side trip to the China Ditch Trail on the way back.
- SS