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 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Go to the Tour de Fat; Latest smoke maps

Hi all,

This week's blog is short and sweet ... gotta dash off to cover a wildfire-story ...

Be sure to participate in the Tour de Fat parade and party at Ann Morrison Park! You can register in advance online. Drink beer! Support local cycling groups like SWIMBA, the Boise Bicycle Project, and the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, who make Boise one of the hippest bike scenes in the U.S.! They're hoping for 10,000 riders! Hope to see you there.

Roadies will be cranking up Bogus Basin on Saturday for the classic hill climb ... this event is open to anyone who wants to go. Racing always makes you go faster, you know. The non-competitive ride starts at 8 a.m. The competitive race starts at 9:30 a.m. More information here.

I've been tracking NASA smoke images this week:

Courtesy NASA Fire and Smoke  

Gold Pan fire complex in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness 
Seems like a replay from last summer all over again ... You have to feel for the people who have lost homes and the ranchers who have lost livestock and it's sobering to realize that even some big-game animals have been caught in the raging blazes. The Pony Complex built up to over 100,000 acres in 3 days! That's fricking scary!    

- SS 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Camp overnight at Bogus Basin; Go hiking, biking or running in the cool hours the next morning

Kelly Bachman enjoys Elk Meadows Trail at Bogus Basin 
Lupine and penstemon 
Wendy and Liz hiked up summit via Lodge Trail from Pioneer Lodge 
Looking off to the rooftop of the Boise National Forest 
Looking north over to Mores Mountain 
Trail-runners by Stack Rock (courtesy The Pulse)
My son Drew on the Deer Point Trail 
Hi all,

I camped at Shafer Butte Picnic Area a few weeks ago with some friends on a Friday night, and it turned out to be a great way to beat the heat. Bring your mountain bike, hiking shoes or trail-running shoes and go for an adventure the next morning during the cool hours of the day. If you have time, spend a couple of nights up there, and you'll really be able to cover some ground.

Getting there: Take Bogus Basin Road from the north end of Boise  to Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. Keep going on the dirt road past the day lodge and for several miles past the Nordic Lodge, and you'll see a signed turnoff for the Shafer Butte Picnic Area.

Here are some suggestions on mountain biking, hiking and trail-running trips in the Bogus Basin area:

1. Hike to the top of Mores Mountain - Since you're already there at the trailhead at Shafer Butte Picnic Area, this is the most obvious and convenient hike close to camp. Very kid friendly. It's .75 miles to the top and 400 vertical feet. There is some educational information on the interpretive trail by the trailhead -- stuff about plants, flowers and shrubs.

2. Mores Mountain - Bogus Basin Contour Trail combo mountain bike ride - Ride the Mores Mountain Trail from the picnic area/campground. It's mostly downhill, and it has a bunch of whoop-dee-do's in the trail for a little air time. Go left at the junction with the Boise Ridge Road, climb back to the base area of the ski resort, take Deer Point Trail #91 to the top, pick up Elk Meadows Trail #94, and contour around the backside of the ski area. After the Elk Meadows singletrack joins a contour road, follow the road under Superior Chair #3, and then take the switchbacks to the top of Bogus for a great lunch spot. Then take the switchbacks back to the contour road junction, and drop down to your campsite at the picnic area. The ride is about 14 miles and features several thousand feet of vertical gain. Here's a Shafer Butte trail map for reference.

3. Trail-runner special: Twin Peaks at Bogus Basin Loop - This is a 9-mile trail run. Rated strenuous. Do the Mores Mountain Loop, and when you return to the picnic area, climb a dirt road and the switchbacks to the top of Shafer Butte. Then descend back to your campsite. The run takes about 2 hours, and it features 2,509 feet of vertical gain. Thanks to Lynette McDougal for logging this one for my Boise Trail Guide

4. Hike, bike or run Freddy's Stack Rock Trail - This route is 9.5 miles, from the turnout on Bogus Basin Road that accesses Freddy's Stack Rock Trail and Eastside Trail. The parking area is close to mile 12 on Bogus Basin Road. Drop down the singletrack from the parking area to Eastside Trail. Go west on Eastside and do the loop around Freddy's Stack Rock Trail. Retrace your tracks to the trailhead. This hike/run/bike ride is fairly strenuous ... it features 2,676 feet of vertical gain. The route is featured in the Boise Trail Guide and Mountain Biking in Boise

5. Mondo mountain bike ride - Ride the Mores Mountain Trail, take the ridge road back to the Bogus base area, climb Deer Point Trail #91, then go right at the top over to Deer Point and drop down the Boise Ridge Road .9 miles to the Mahalo Trail via Forest Road #275C on the left. Do the Mahalo Loop, turn left when you reach the Boise Ridge Road, and descend a couple of miles to the Dry Creek Trail turnoff on the right. Descend Dry Creek Trail about 8 miles to Bogus Basin Road. Return to Boise.

6. Long hike - For those thirsting for a longer day on the trail, go to the top of Shafer Butte from the picnic area via the two-track road and the switchbacks to the summit. Here's a Shafer Butte trail map for reference. Take "the Face" Trail #93 downhill to a saddle, and follow "Shindig" Trail #92 to the bottom of Bogus Basin. Then climb Deer Point Trail #91 to Elk Meadows #94 and follow Elk Meadows around the mountain back to a dirt road that descends to the picnic area/campground. This would be a good trail-run, too. You've earned your dinner!

There you have it! Beat the heat and enjoy the trails at Bogus Basin. I bet there are still a few wildflowers to be found.
Reminders on fun events coming up:

- SS

Thursday, August 1, 2013

New printing of Mountain Biking in McCall hits the streets; here's 6 must-do rides from the book

Gregg Lawley riding the Bear Basin Trails. 
Wendy in the lower end of the Payette Rim Trail ... tall grass and singletrack. Yum. 
Morgan Hine cruises along on the Loon Lake singletrack 
Loon Lake - Perfect spot for a lunch break half way through the ride.  
Elk Trail! Brundage Mountain Resort 
Cool viewpoint off the Payette Rim Trail. 
Bonus shot: Flowers galore on Bear Pete Trail ... try it sometime 
Hi all,

My guidebook Mountain Biking in McCall  has been super-popular lately, particularly in the McCall market, where it's flying off the shelf. I recently ran out of books in early July and had to quickly reprint to satisfy the demand.

I did update the Bear Basin and Payette Rim Trail descriptions to reflect a few changes/additions that have occurred lately, and otherwise, there are 41 mountain bike rides in the book, and all of them are absolutely SWEET! IMHO.

This week, I'll recommend six must-do rides from the book for different abilities, starting with easy trails and moving up to expert rides. After you're done riding, be sure to take a dip in Payette Lake and cool off. There are several public beaches on the south side of the lake, and also at North Beach on the north end. The lake is a great temperature right now, totally refreshing but not too cold.

1. 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, or 10 miles total. 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. Great for families and all abilities. 

2. Ponderosa State Park - Ride the gravel Fox Run Trail and then the Huckleberry Trail through thick woods up to the Osprey Point Overlook. It's a 7-mile loop from the park entrance. Fox Run features a moderate climb, and then a fast downhill to the Huckleberry junction. Gear down to your small ring and spin through the woods over rocks and roots, and climb a steep series of switchbacks to the main gravel road, and then climb up to Osprey Point for a great viewpoint and a well-deserved breather. BTW, there is no park entrance fee if you ride to the park on a bike from wherever you are staying. 

3.  Payette Rim Trail - The Rim trail is a longtime favorite ride in the McCall area. It's a 10-mile ride that takes about 1.5-2 hours. 1,000 feet of climbing. Three years ago, logging on Idaho State Lands really tore up the trail. But locals and CIMBA have re-routed the singletrack around the logging disruption, and the trail now takes you all the way down to the corrals by Bear Basin, creating the possibility of riding the rim trail and then making a loop around the Bear Basin Trails to add another 5+ miles to the ride. Thanks to McCall mountain bikers for the awesome re-route!

4. Eagle's Nest Trail - 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. (This is where you park for the bike ride). 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. 

5. 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. Have lunch at the lake and go swimming. Watch out for other trail users -- it's a very popular place to go.

6. Bear Basin-Elk Trail-#488 Loop - This is one of 14 advanced/expert rides in the book. It's one of my favorite loops in McCall. It's 18.2 miles, 2,580 feet of climbing, and it takes about 3-4 hours. You ride up the Bear Basin dirt road about 7 miles to the top of Brundage Mountain Ski Area. Then you descend on Elk Trail, a super-fun singletrack that weaves across the front side of the ski area for 4+ miles, all downhill. And then, before making the final descent to the base area, you turn left on Growler, and do a moderate climb on Growler over to an unsigned junction with Forest Road #488. It's all downhill back to Bear Basin Road ... a ripping descent, not much traffic, so let 'er rip! 

There you have it! Mountain Biking in McCall  retails for $12.95. It's available at Gravity Sports, Hometown Sports, Ridley's Market, Paul's Market, Shore Lodge gift shop, May Hardware, The Hub and McCall Drug. It's also available at Idaho Mountain Touring, George's Cycles, Boise REI and Barnes & Noble in Boise.

You also can download six free rides/maps on my web site anytime, and individual rides from the Mountain Biking in McCall book can be purchased for 99 cents each. Or, you can purchase a hard-copy book or the full-color ebook on my web site.

There are tons of places to camp outside of McCall in the Payette National Forest. If you don't want to camp, check into lodging at the McCall Chamber of, or
Here are two save-the-date items coming up in August from George's Cycles:

  • Bogus Basin Hill Climb - Saturday, Aug. 17. 
  • George's MS Wine Ride - Aug. 25. Thirty-mile ride starts and finishes at the Sawtooth Winery. Benefit for the Idaho MS Society.  

Visit the George's web site for more information. 

Have fun!
- SS