Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fall is the perfect time to tackle five advanced mountain bike rides in SW Idaho

Mark Anderson and Jim Giuffre on Bear Pete Trail 
Steve riding at 8,000 feet on Bear Pete Mountain in the Payette National Forest.
Coming down on Bear Pete ... yay! 
Elk Trail at Brundage Mountain winds through the trees like a snake. Very fun! 
Watchman in the spring 
Get a group together and tackle these fall rides! 
Dry Creek Trail 
Heading off to climb the Boise Ridge 
Dry Creek
Hi all,

Well it's been kind of warm mid-week, but it's supposed to cool off into the 70s by Saturday and Sunday. Personally, I love the cool weather in the fall ... it's really the best time of the year for active outdoor adventures. You don't sweat nearly as much on the climb, and it's a beautiful time of year to enjoy fall colors.

This week, I'm recommending five advanced and strenuous mountain bike rides in Boise and McCall. Everyone has been riding all spring and summer, and the fall is a great time to push your legs perhaps farther than they've gone this year and knock off some big rides. Get some friends together and go get 'em!

1. Watchman Loop - This is still one of my all-time favorite rides in the Boise Foothills. The creeks are mostly dried up now, but the colors are happening, and the unique skyline tour of the foothills that Watchman provides is always worth the price of admission. Distance: 15 miles. Vertical gain 2,500 feet. Rated advanced. Travel time: 3 hours Start in Military Reserve. Take the trail along Freestone Creek to Ridgecrest #20 and climb to Central Ridge Trail. Climb Central Ridge to the Bucktail junction. Go straight and climb a short distance and then contour over to Rocky Canyon Road on Shane's. Climb Rocky Canyon Road to the Five Mile Trail and Creek. Climb Five Mile to Watchman. Follow Watchman across the foothills and go left at the junction with Three Bears/Curlew Ridge/Trail #6 and follow Three Bears down the spine of Curlew Ridge (super fun downhill with one technical section) back to Shane's Junction. Descend back to the bottom of Military Reserve however you like ... I always have to ride Bucktail and cruise the super-cool GS turns.

2. Dry Creek - Hard Guy - Dry Creek Loop - For advanced rides, Dry Creek is a favorite destination. You just need some time to ride it! It's a tough climb up Hard Guy but the payoff is big riding down Dry Creek and the new bridges, etc. Distance: 20 miles. Vertical gain: 3,500 feet. Rated advanced (strenuous climb). Travel time: 3-5 hours. Start at the Dry Creek Trailhead on Bogus Basin Road. Climb Dry Creek through the rocks to a creek crossing and junction with the trail spur to Hard Guy about 1.5 miles up the trail. This portion of the trail has been improved recently. Climb Hard Guy to the Ridge Road. Take your time and conserve energy. Take a break on top! Go left and ride 2 miles to the Dry Creek junction. Turn left off the Ridge Road on a singletrack that wraps around a ridge and hairpins into the densely timbered headwaters of Dry Creek. Stay right at the Shingle Creek junction. Proceed with caution. There can be downfall and various hazards on the way down the trail. It's 7 miles of fun and adventure descending Dry Creek. Ride through the rocky features and return to Bogus Basin Road. Whew! Time for a beer!

3. Corrals-Scott's-8th Street-Ridge Road-Trail #4-Sidewinder-Crestline-Red Cliffs Loop -Here's another big foothills tour that'll take you to the top of the Boise Ridge climbing via Corrals, Scott's and 8th Street, and then descending on the wide, sandy, dished-out Trail #4 motorcycle trail until you reach Sidewinder, and then it's a fast and smooth downhill from there. Distance: About 18 miles. Vertical gain: 3,600 feet. Rated advanced (strenuous). Travel time: 2.5-3.5 hours. Ride up Bogus Basin Road or the Highlands Trail to Corrals. Climb Corrals to Scott's, go left, and climb the steep singletrack to 8th Street. Ride another 1.5 miles on 8th Street to a junction for Trail #4 on the right. Follow Trail #4 connector over to Trail #4 and hang on for the tricky descent. Keep your weight back and plane through the sand! Trail #4 eventually returns to Sidewinder summit. Descend on Sidewinder to Crestline and then go right on Red Cliffs to complete your ride. Take Red Fox and Chickadee Ridge to Camelsback and you're done! Again, time for a beer!

4. Bear Basin-Brundage Lookout-Elk Trail-Growler-488 Road Loop - We're moving on to the McCall area now. I did this ride a couple of weeks ago and it worked out splendid! This is a cool tour of the Bear Basin area on a climb to the top of Brundage Lookout, then you descend Brundage ski area on Elk Trail, and then take a trail and a road back to Bear Basin. Great tour! Distance: 18.2 miles. Vertical gain: 2,600 feet. Rated advanced (strenuous in places). Start by taking Bear Basin Road about 1.5 miles to a wooden fence by the east portal to the Bear Basin non-motorized trails. Park. The ride starts here (by all means, ride from town if you want!). Climb Bear Basin Road 9 miles to the top of Brundage Mountain. The road gets pretty soft and sandy near the top. Just grind out the climb. Once at the lookout, ride over to the Bluebird Chair and pick up the top of Elk Trail. Descend Elk Trail about 6 miles to a point near the bottom of the ski area. You'll see a trail on the left at a split called Growler. Go left on Growler and climb the singletrack through open slopes and deep woods until you climb a super-steep section in the woods and pop out into the open on Temptation. Take Growler across the grassy trail and then bear right as the singletrack continues to climb. You'll see an unmarked two-track road taking off laterally from the ski area. This is Forest Road #488. It's downhill all the way back to Bear Basin now -- enjoy it! Watch for tight corners in a few spots, but generally, you can let it rip on the wide gravel road. Head into McCall and grab a burger and a beer!

5. Bear Pete Trail - The McCall locals always do at least an annual pilgrimage to tackle Bear Pete Trail, and I often gather up some buddies to do the same thing. Everyone loves the ride because it does test you, makes you work hard, and sometimes hike-a-bike is required! The cool thing about Bear Pete is that it starts at a high elevation and after you make the big climb to the top of Bear Pete Mountain, you'll be riding at 8,000 foot elevation on the mountain for a number of miles, going up and down, with huge views off to the west (French Creek) along the way. Distance: 17.5 miles. Vertical gain: 2,500 feet. Vertical gain: 3,500 feet. Rated advanced (strenuous). Travel time: full day. Bear Pete Trail is located north of McCall via Warren Wagon Road. Past Upper Payette Lake, watch for a turnoff to Cloochman Saddle. This road takes you to the trailhead. You also should plant a vehicle at the north end of Bear Pete, north of Burgdorf Hot Springs, if you don't want to ride a long dirt road slog back to your vehicle at the trailhead. At the saddle, climb trail #142 Bear Pete and grind for a couple of miles to the ridgetop. You'll ride up and down along the high mountain ridge for several hours. There are a few junctions but stay on the main trail. On the north end, the trail plunges downhill to Forest Road #246, the road to Burgdorf Hot Springs. You made it! Bring your swimsuits and take a soak at Burgdorf after the ride! Always a good call! There are a number of places where you could camp along the Brundage Road, if necessary.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Five scenic drives in Southwest Idaho where you're guaranteed to see fall colors

Scenic vistas of the Sawtooth Mountains (courtesy 
Upper Payette River along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway
Classic scene at the Rainbow Bridge on Idaho 55, Payette River Scenic Byway
Idaho scenic byway routes in Southern Idaho
North Fork Owyhee River canyon 
Silver City - hiking up Jordan Creek with Wendy
Hi all,

The cooler weather and rain this week should make the colors really pop this weekend when the sun comes back to shine on a beautiful display. Aspen trees, tamaracks and cottonwoods are turning yellow, and different species of shrubs are glowing orange, yellow and red, particularly at higher elevations.

To enjoy the colors, I'm recommending taking a drive in the mountains on some of Idaho's scenic byways. Here are five recommendations - click on the links to see the scenic byway detailed descriptions via VisitIdaho:
Fire closure area in the Boise National Forest.
(click on map to enlarge)

1. Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway - Idaho 21 and the Banks-to-Lowman Highway are both open now after the 188,404-acre Pioneer Fire has moderated and is hopefully getting close to full containment after the cool weather and moisture this week. This would be a good opportunity to not only see fall colors where things didn't burn to a crisp, but also gauge the fire damage in some of your favorite recreation areas. There is a large closure area in effect at the moment off the highway. See the map below.
2. Sawtooth Scenic Byway - The Sawtooth Valley is at a higher elevation and thus, the colors are happening big-time right now. Following Idaho State Highway 75 through Ketchum-Sun Valley and then over Galena Summit into the Sawtooth Valley should be spectacular. Do the big loop by combining the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Highway on Idaho 21 from Boise with the Sawtooth Scenic Byway on the way home, going from Stanley to Ketchum and then back to the Treasure Valley via U.S. 20. Stop for lunch in Ketchum. There are many great restaurants to choose from. I personally like the Pioneer, Whiskey Jacques, and Lefty's.

3. Payette River Scenic Byway - Take Idaho 55 north to McCall to enjoy fall colors along the North Fork of the Payette River and in the Payette National Forest. Once in McCall, keep going north on Warren Wagon Road toward Upper Payette Lake and Burgdorf Hot Springs to see even more brilliant colors. Bring a swimsuit and towel to enjoy the natural geothermal hot water at Burgdorf. The hot springs won't be accessible by vehicle much longer until snow shuts the road and turns it into a snowmobile highway. That usually happens in late November. Stop for lunch in McCall -- there's a great sushi place as well as multiple other venues with sandwiches and burgers.

4. Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway - Take a big drive from Grand View to Jordan Valley, Oregon on this scenic byway on backcountry dirt and gravel roads. It's about 100 miles and full day's drive to cover the byway. Beyond the BLM online guide, we provide all the details on this scenic drive in our popular guidebook, The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide, by yours truly and fine arts photographer Mark Lisk. There are restaurants and services in Grand View and Jordan Valley. Make sure you top off your gas tank before venturing off into the Owyhees!

5. Take a scenic drive to Silver City in the Owyhee Mountains. The aspen trees are turning color in the quaint mining ghost town, located near Murphy. There are places to go hiking and mountain biking in Silver City. Details are available in The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide. To reach Silver City, go south of Nampa on Idaho 45 to the Snake River and junction with Idaho 78. Turn left to head for Murphy and watch for a signed right-hand turn to Silver City. It's paved road for a while, and then it turns to dirt. Pack a lunch and enjoy the day!

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cooler weather means it's time to explore the Owyhees! Little Jacks and Silver City!

Wendy enjoys the views of Little Jacks Creek from a high point
by the mouth of Little Jacks canyon. 
Little Jacks is choked with vegetation. Very difficult to hike upstream. No trail. 
Little Jacks Wilderness 
The views along the Silver City Skyline Ride are spectacular! 
Jim Young and Leo Hennessy 
Doug Lawrence and Paul Hilding in Silver City. Ready for a beer! 
Hi all,

What a great cool-down we've had last weekend and this week! With cooler weather in September, it's a perfect time to go hiking or biking in the Owyhee Mountains!

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending a scenic hike in the relatively new Jack's Creek Wilderness and a super-cool mountain bike ride in Silver City. All three of these trips and many more are featured in my guide, The Owyhee Canyonlands: An Outdoor Adventure Guide. The book features 55 hiking and biking routes in the Owyhees and a detailed description to the 100-mile Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.

Now, let's go hiking and biking!

1. Little Jacks Creek - There are several hiking opportunities in Little Jacks. In the book, we recommend two hikes from the BLM trailhead. I'll recommend an easy 3.5-mile hike that provides a cool overview of the yawning, basalt-canyon. The hardest part is getting to Little Jacks. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is recommended.

Getting there: From Boise, take I-84 east to the Simco Road exit. Turn right on Simco Road and follow that to ID 167. Turn right and proceed to Grand View. In Grand View, fill up on any last-minute supplies and head east on ID 78. Watch for a major right-hand turn on Mud Flat Road. Note your mileage as you turn onto Mud Flat. Proceed 7.6 miles to the Shoofly Cutoff Road. Turn left. Proceed 2.6 miles to an un-named dirt road on the right. Turn right on the Halfway Gulch dirt road, cross cattle guard and proceed south toward the Owyhee foothills. Ignore minor roads on the left or right. After traveling 7.6 miles, you'll come to a Y-junction. Go left to reach the Little Jacks Trailhead. It's 4 miles of rougher road to the upper Little Jacks trailhead. In 1.7 miles from the Y-junction, take the right fork in the road for a smoother ride through a wash. You'll come to a BLM wilderness kiosk at the lower trailhead. You can park here if you have a low-clearance vehicle, or keep goUning to the main trailhead at the mouth of the creek (serious 4WD high-clearance road).

The hike: Unfortunately, the vegetation is too thick to hike upstream in Little Jacks Canyon.To start, take the gravel trail that drops into Little Jacks Creek. There are several suitable spots for crossing the creek. Follow the trail uphill on the other side of the creek, and climb to a junction with a jeep trail that goes south into Little Horse Basin Gap (mile 1.3). Go about 1/2 mile on the jeep trail, then peel right and hike cross-country to the high butte that overlooks Little Jacks Creek canyon. Climb to the top of the butte, and walk along the ridgetop toward Little Jacks. The high point directly above the mouth of the canyon provides the best views up-canyon (mile 2.6). This would be a great lunch spot if it's not too windy. Descend from the ridge back to the trail however you see fit, and retrace your tracks back to the trailhead. This route takes about 2 hours.

2. Silver City Skyline Mine Tour - This is an advanced mountain bike ride that provides a skyline tour of the Silver City area. You basically do a big climb up to War Eagle Mountain and then hold your general elevation as you circumnavigate the whole Silver City area. Great ride!

The Ride: It's a steep climb from Silver City to War Eagle Mountain to start the ride, but once you've made it to about 8,000 feet elevation by War Eagle, the rest of the ride is mostly up-and-down on ridgelines, providing huge views of the Owyhees and the surrounding countryside. The route includes a short side trip to the Cumberland Mine, which features some nice stone and rock work, some cool old mine shafts and cabins at the Poorman Mine near War Eagle, and numerous choice overlook spots along the way. On the way down Long Gulch, you'll pass by several old mine buildings, shafts and mills. After the ride, be sure to have a cold drink at the Silver City Hotel. Ideally, it's best to camp overnight in Silver City before or after the ride. There are camp spots just outside of town in Silver City, at New York Summit or at Linehan Flat. Be sure to carry lots of water and food for the ride, you'll need it.    

Directions: To start, take the main road out of Silver City and head for the pass you drove over to reach the town. Spin easy gears and conserve energy on the steep uphill for the next several miles.

Mile 1.2 - Turn right on BLM Road F483. This is your main route for the first half of the ride.
Mile 2.4 - Bear right on Road F483 at Y junction.
Mile 3.5 - Turn right on an unmarked secondary road that leads to the Cumberland Mine. Reach the mine at 4.0. Check out the rock work.
Mile 4.1 - Continue on secondary road and it merges with Road F483. Climb to War Eagle junction.
Mile 4.7 - Reach junction with service road to the top of War Eagle. It's a short, but steep sidetrip to check out the summit. Check out the old buldings and mine shafts at the Poorman Mine near this junction ... it's a short sidetrip.
Mile 5.9 - Back at War Eagle junction. Bear right on Road F483 and cruise on your middle ring to the ridges and mountains to the south.
Mile 6.7 - Bear right at Y junction next to livestock watering area. Bear right again shortly afterward and climb a steep hill with lots of mobile rocks.
Mile 7.9 - Come to sweet overlook on the left of the main road. Cruise over to the trees to enjoy views looking out toward Triangle and the big wide open country of the Owyhees.
Mile 8.4 - Pass through barbed-wire gate.
Mile 9.2 - Bear right.
Mile 9.4 - Ignore trail going downhill on the right. Stay on the ridge.
Mile 9.6 - Pass through barbed-wire gate.
Mile 11.1 - Bear right and pass through gate. Going downhill now on ATV track.
Mile 11.8 - Come to 4-way junction. Take a hard right and climb super-steep ATV trail to a saddle at 12.6. Parts of the climb are rideable; some parts not. Go left at the junction and climb a little more until trail flattens out.
Mile 14.0 - Come to 4-way junction. Turn right and descend into Long Gulch on a jeep trail. It's a fun descent back to Silver City. There are a number of creek crossings.
Mile 15.6 - Approach old cabin and old mine shaft. Check 'em out if you want.  
Mile 16.8 - Arrive in downtown Silver City. You made it! 

Directions to Silver City: From Boise, take I-84 east to the Franklin Road (City Center) exit in Nampa. Go left and follow Franklin into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for State Highway 45 to Murphy and take 12th Avenue south, which eventually turns into Highway 45. Go south to the Y-junction after crossing the Snake River. Turn left on Idaho 78 and head for Murphy. About five miles past Murphy, turn right at the signed junction for Silver City. It's about 20 miles to Silver City. The first half is paved, and then it turns to an uneven, rocky dirt road. Allow two hours travel time from Boise. As you descend into Silver City, find a place to park near the Long Gulch Road. The ride starts and finishes here.

Have fun!
- SS