Thursday, February 28, 2019

Five destinations close to home for hiking all-weather trails in greater Boise area

It's fun to look for birds, ducks and waterfowl at the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve in west Boise.
Wendy is a bird expert, so it's cool to learn about songbirds when you go on a walk with her. 
Dogs have a great time in Harrison Hollow, chasing each other in the dog-friendly reserve.
The Harrison Hollow trail is one of the most popular all-weather trails in Boise.  
Hi all,

Well it's been a wet and soggy February in Boise ... they're calling it "Februburied" in the mountains, and I'm sure many people have seen the pics of people's homes getting buried in snow in Cascade, McCall and Wood River Valley areas ... quite the epic month in terms of precipitation.

The weather is forecast to clear this weekend. Sunshine is forecast in the Boise area on Friday-Monday, with high temperatures in the mid-40s and lows in the mid-20s for the beginning of March. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to soak up some sunshine!

My outdoor tip this week focuses on five-plus destinations where you can walk, trail-run or perhaps even mountain bike on all-weather trails in Boise and the Eagle areas. These are trails that have been graveled for winter or mud-season use or they are sandy, graveled trails naturally. All of these trails are featured in my Boise Trail Guide: 95 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home. Hint: I will give away a free book on 94.9 FM the River Friday morning with Ken and Deb at about 7:40 a.m.

While you're out enjoying these trails, watch for birds and wildlife. After Feb. 1, birds of prey and even crows begin engaging in courtship flight, which can be really cool to see as the males and females try to impress each other prior to mating. Songbirds are moving back into the valley after migrating south, so you'll start seeing robins, red-winged blackbirds, gold finches and other songbirds on your outings.

Overview of one of the ponds at Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve. The area doubles a stormwater runoff filtering system. 
Now, for the destinations with all-weather trails:

1. Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve - This is a great walking destination in west Boise off of Chinden and Marigold, McMillan and Maple Grove. Running is OK here, but no bikes. Wendy and I went there yesterday and counted 20 species of birds and ducks in an hour. You'll hear the familiar call of red-winged blackbirds as you walk into the 44-acre reserve, and there are multiple species of waterfowl in the ponds surrounded by cat-tails and wetland vegetation. We saw Canada geese, northern shovelers, common mergansers, common coots, ring-necked ducks, lesser scaup, buffleheads, and great blue herons in the ponds or on the shore next to the ponds. Also saw several species of sparrows, lesser goldfinches, Oregon juncos, and house finches. This is a great place to see wildlife and enjoy a casual walk while doing so. The trails are sandy and graveled for all-season use. Bring your binoculars and camera! Note: No dogs are allowed in the park to benefit the wildlife.   

The general scene in the Harrison Hollow gulch ... the trail is easy for all abilities. 
2. Harrison Hollow all-weather trail - This is a great place for dog-lovers to take a walk and let your dog run around and play with other dogs. The trailhead is next to Harrison Hollow restaurant and Healthwise off of Bogus Basin Road. The all-weather trail goes for about a mile. The trail up the ridge spine to the east of the hollow is quite sandy and qualifies for all-weather use most of the time. Please pick up after your pets while you're out enjoying Harrison Hollow. Harrison Hollow Trail #57 (see trail on R2R interactive map) 

The trailhead in Eagle Island State Park is by an old dairy farm, with the Boise Front in the background. 

Huck sniffs for birds on my walk in Eagle Island State Park. Trails are easy and scenic. 
3. Eagle Island State Park - The river trail along the north and south channels of the Boise River are sandy and rocky, so this is a nice place to go for a walk during mud-season. People are also tubing and boarding on the snowy hill provided in the park for those activities. You can do a 5-mile loop by hiking both channels of the river inside park. Watch for bald eagles, Great blue herons, mallards, geese, kingfishers and other species on your walk. Bring your binoculars. Hopefully you have an annual parks pass ($10 per vehicle per year) to avoid the day use fee! The park is west of Eagle on Idaho 44. Follow signs to the park.

Fabulous quiet place for a walk or trail-run in East Boise. 
4. Bethine Church Riverwalk + walking trail to Barber Park on the south side of the Boise River - Take a beautiful walk going east from the Cottonwood Apartments off of River Run and ParkCenter Boulevard out to Barber Park. It's about 3 miles one-way. You can shuttle a vehicle out to Barber Park or do an out-and-back (recommended). Watch for bald eagles, Great blue herons, wood ducks, mallards, geese, kingfishers and other species on your walk. Keep track of your species. Carry binoculars, a camera, water and snacks.

Nice quiet spot for reading or contemplation. You can walk your bike through the area, but no biking is allowed. 
5. Try a sample of the all-weather trails recommended by Ridge to Rivers in the Boise Foothills.
The Shoshone-Bannock trail is over at the foot of Castle Rock and Table Rock and the others are over by Camelsback Park in the North End of Boise. 
·         Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Trail #19A  (Table Rock area)   
·         Red Fox Trail #36 (Camelsback Park area) 
·         Gold Finch #35 (Camelsback Park area) 
·         Owls Roost #37 (Camelsback Park area) 
·         Hulls Pond Loop #34 (Camelsback Park area) 
·         The Grove #38 (Camelsback Park area) 
·         Red-Winged Blackbird #35A (Camelsback Park area) 

Please give the rest of the Ridge to Rivers trails a break until the trails dry out in warmer and drier weather yet to come! See latest conditions on the Ridge to Rivers Facebook page. 

Have fun! 
- SS  

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Perfect conditions for fat biking in the snow right now in Boise, McCall and Sun Valley

Rider in the Fatbike Fondo at Stanley Winterfest last weekend. (Courtesy Bike Touring News)

Fat biking at Jug Mountain Ranch (Jerri Lisk, Wyatt Lisk, Mark Lisk and Dave Kelly) 
Hi all,

I woke up Wednesday morning in Boise to 2-3 inches fresh snow in our front yard, and it continued to snow hard. Perfect day for a snow bike ride!

I cleared my immediate work stuff and took Huck over to Military Reserve to ride along Freestone Creek to the Central Ridge and climb to Shane's Summit. It's a 6-mile loop that takes about an hour. When the snow conditions move into the perfect zone for snow biking in the foothills -- as they are right now -- you have to seize the day and do the ride!

Being a Minnesota native, it gets my heart pumping when I see new snow. At times like this, I must get out and do something fun in the snow ... it's just in my blood.
My ride on Wednesday with Huck ... horizontal snow at Shane's Summit. 

As it snowed like gangbusters, I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the middle of a snow storm on the snow bike. I wore my ski helmet with goggles, and was perfectly warm with several layers of capilene on top and my backcountry shell ski coat. A gentle wind blew the light flakes almost horizontally across the Central Ridge area in the footies. I ran into a couple of trail-runners with dogs along the way, all grinning wide with rosy cheeks. Huck and the other pointers chased each other at full throttle, doing big circles in the powder, before going on their merry way.

I ride a custom-made snow bike that Dave Kelly of Eagle ( made for me 4 years ago. It's pretty light, with carbon wheels and 4-inch tires. It's geared to handle climbs like the ride up to Shane's or Sidewinder. But when I'm pushing through 4-5 inches of new snow, with some foot tracks underneath, it made it a little more challenging on Wednesday. I loved the downhill, so smooth in the fresh *pow* with big tires! I felt great after the ride.

Taken in Stanley, Idaho during the Winterfest last weekend (courtesy Bike Touring News)
I did a spin class on Tuesday at the downtown Y with Eva, and she worked us hard on a heart monitor interval-type of workout. I thought about maxing my heart rate at 170 beats per minute during the spin class, and felt that I hit that red zone for sure on the steeper parts of the climb to Shanes. My glutes sure felt it the next day! And that's another reason we ride!

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm giving you all a head's up that the conditions are perfect for snow-biking in the foothills right now. Trails are frozen with 3-4 inches of snow on top. The conditions in McCall and Ketchum/Sun Valley also are perfect for snow-biking. In fact, there's a Snowball Special Fat Bike Race in Ketchum on Saturday. There was a snow-bike race in Stanley last weekend. 

But it is kind of curious ... snow-biking, or biking in the snow with a fat-tired bike, never really took off around here in big numbers ... it's remained kind of a niche-market for a minority of riders who like to have a full quiver of bikes for all occasions!

I bought mine after snow-biking at Jug Mountain Ranch near McCall. That remains one of the better places to ride in SW and Central Idaho. You can ride on JMR's xc trails, which also are open to dogs, and you can ride some snow-bike specific trails. You can rent bikes at JMR before you go.

Watch the video by Mark Lisk!

I checked with a few bike shops, and they said the level of interest has waned for fat bikes in the Boise area. One of the issues is that you typically have to travel to snow to ride a snow bike. The bikes are big and bulky, so they're hard to transport unless you have a specialty rack or drive a large pickup. The times when there's enough snow in the foothills are rare, and inconsistent. So that is perhaps another factor.

"It's a big expense when there's limited application for it," says Ryan King, a snow-bike enthusiast and owner of Bike Touring News, a bike shop in NW Boise. "It depends on what kind of fat-biking opportunities there are nearby. And if you look at the trails over by Grand Targhee and the Teton Valley, they've got a pretty big following over there."

Pretty cool to be riding next to a herd of elk in Stanley! (Courtesy Bike Touring News)
If there were more snow-bike specific trails near Boise, there would be a bigger following, King says. "I think the ridership is there. It's definitely a niche-thing, but if you build the trails, the riders will come."

I personally look around at my mountain biking buddies, and none of them have bought a fat bike yet. They probably wish they had one today so they could enjoy the foothills trails. But to be honest, my snow bike spends a lot of time sitting in the garage.

Chris Haunold with Idaho Mountain Touring said they quit renting fat bikes because of the high cost of the bikes and slow rental traffic. "It was just too expensive to have them sitting there taking up space," he says. IMT still sells fat bikes and also plus-sized bikes with 3- or 3.5-inch tires. Meridian Cycle has two fat bikes for rent, but they used to care more. "The demand was much bigger 5 years ago," officials said.

Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum also doesn't rent fat bikes any longer. There wasn't much demand for them, officials said. Sturtevants and Formula Sports do rent bikes in Ketchum/Sun Valley, but there isn't a big demand for them, officials said.   

John Yarnell, left, and Chris Wildt riding in Harriman State Park in Island Park, Idaho. Cool idea! (Courtesy Chris Wildt)
Lars Hedin rents and sells fat bikes at Gravity Sports in McCall. Their rental traffic doubled this year compared to last year, he says, but he thinks fat bikes would be more popular if there were more places to ride. "The big key to fat bikes taking off is working with Bear Basin to open some specific biking trails or mixed-use trails," he says. "I have high hopes for the future."

Tamarack Resort allows fat bikes on their Nordic Trails, and they are planning to build more snow-bike specific trails, Hedin says. People also can ride at the Activity Barn and on the North Valley Trail south of McCall. Those trails are great for a shorter low-key ride in my experience.

Bogus Basin allows snow-biking on three of their Nordic trails -- Nordic Highway, Sidewinder and Mores Mountain Trail. Note: The trails need to be frozen and firm for snow-biking to be allowed. Bogus also has fat bike rentals -- $53 for a 2-hour rental and $74 for a full-day. The amount of snow-biking traffic has not grown that much yet, but people call to check on trail conditions almost daily, officials said.

The Idaho City Park and Ski Trails are open to snow-biking as well. The trails will be groomed for this weekend. Two trails that you might try in that system are the Skyline Loop, and the Banner Ridge Trail over to Banner Ridge yurt and the Elkhorn Yurt.

I would close by saying I find fat biking in the snow to be super fun. The bikes have great traction with the larger tires, and I'm glad my bike is geared for steeper climbs. I'm also glad I invested in a lighter frame and wheels so that my snow bike is roughly the same weight as my mountain bike. I would recommend giving a fat bike a spin in the snow, and see what you think.

BTW, King is having a winter sales special on fat bikes and winter riding accessories right now at his bike shop, Bike Touring News.

Have fun!
- SS

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book an Idaho sleigh ride for family fun

Brundage Mountain sleigh rides operates Friday-Sunday at the Activity Barn, south of McCall. Beautiful setting. 
Elena, Michelle and Tom doing the Points Ranch sleigh ride with elk in Donnelly. 
Idaho Sleigh Rides operates in the Garden Valley area, with day rides, lunch trips and Dutch oven dinner trips. 
Hi all,

With Valentines Day coming up, I thought about going on a sleigh ride this weekend as a fun thing to do with your sweetheart or the whole family.

Last year, I took our family on a elk-viewing sleigh ride on the Points Ranch near Donnelly, and everyone loved it! My step-daughter Elena actually got kissed by an elk while it was feeding on a hay bale in the sleigh, and she thought that was quite memorable!

Quinn enjoyed seeing the elk at the Points Ranch.
The Points Ranch sleigh ride trip takes about an hour. They pick you up next to ID 55, load the people on the sleigh, and you go on a very slow loop through a big group of elk that has grown accustomed to being fed at the Points Ranch during the winter months. That means you're going to see lots of elk, which everyone loves, and you get to go on a hay ride as well! Call 208-325-8783 to make a reservation and inquire about rates.

Draft horses at the Points Ranch.
In Garden Valley, Idaho Sleigh Rides offers a great variety of trips, from a simple sleigh ride, to a sleigh ride and lunch, to a Dutch oven dinner ride with live music. The rides last about 45 minutes and take you on a tour of some large snowy meadows and big groups of elk in Garden Valley, with the mountains lording above. Trip costs range from $45/person for a lunch ride to $75/person for a dinner ride.

Get a group of friends together and reserve a trip!

In Sun Valley, you can go on a sleigh ride during the day or do a deluxe dinner ride to Trail Creek Cabin. Both experiences would be great, but believe me, the dinner ride to Trail Creek Cabin would be memorable! The dinner ride costs $129 for adults ($159 from Feb. 14-24) and $79 for kids 12 and under. Reservations required.

Unfortunately, Bogus Creek Outfitters is no longer in business, so if you live in the Treasure Valley, you'll need to travel to enjoy a sleigh ride. It's worth going up to the mountains to enjoy the beautiful scenery and ensure there's plenty of snow for the trip!

In McCall, Brundage Mountain offers sleigh rides from the Activity Barn tubing hill location just south of McCall on Moonridge Drive. At this location, you also have the option of going snowshoeing, xc skiing or snow-biking on Activity Barn trails and the North Valley Trail, all of which converge by the Activity Barn parking lot. There is no charge to use the trails. A combo trip of a sleigh ride and snowshoeing/xc skiing/snow-biking might be in order!

Guests check out the draft horses ... (Courtesy Brundage Mountain sleigh rides) 
Brundage sleigh rides last about 40 minutes, taking you into a snowy environment with tree glades, open space and fetching views of the surrounding mountains. There are snacks and drinks available at the Activity Barn. Sleigh rides are available Friday-Sunday, with rides at 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Call ahead to reserve space. Rides cost $35 for adults, and $15 for kids 17 and under.

No matter where you go, be sure to dress warm for the sleigh ride trip. That means full-on winter gear -- long underwear, warm sweater, snow pants or a snowmobile suit, warm boots, warm winter hat and warm mittens or gloves. Bring a thermos of hot coffee or cocoa perhaps?

P.S. We have had a phenomenal series of winter storms pass through Idaho's mountains in the first two weeks of February, dumping a huge amount of snow. Suffice to say that the snow conditions are outstanding everywhere for sleigh rides and any other type of winter activity right now. See my daily snow forecasts about snow conditions at Idaho's ski resorts on 
- SS 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Multi-day trip to Lick Creek yurts in McCall provides access to stellar backcountry skiing

Mike Erlebach on the shoulder of Beaver Dam Peak. Snow was rugged, but cool adventure.
(Courtesy Jim Pace) 
Chris Reino making tele turns in sweet sugar-like *pow* in the Burn Line area above the Lick Creek yurts. 
We had great weather for the duration of our trip, and great snow! Beaver Dam peak in the background.
L to R, Wendy, Jim Young and Steve at the top of the Burn Line, ready to make another run. 
Hi all,

I had the privilege of taking a 4-day backcountry ski trip to the Lick Creek yurts near McCall recently with a bunch of friends from Boise and McCall.

Timing-wise, we lucked out with a string of gorgeous bluebird days, a foot of fresh snow, and top-shelf food every day. We felt blessed amid the glory of all of those big mountain peaks lording above us, sometimes lit up by a brilliant sunrise or sunset.

"It was the high point of my winter," says my partner, Wendy Wilson.

"It's nice to ski soft powder in the sunshine," adds Mack Lyons of Boise. "There's an enormous amount of terrain to ski up there. I've been up there two times, and I can see why you keep going back."

"It's pretty amazing to step outside the yurt, jump into your skis and enjoy some of the best skiing in the world, right off the deck," adds Jim Young of Boise and McCall.

Beer-30 after our last full day of backcountry skiing ... 
On Day 1, picture Wendy, Mack, Jim and the rest of our group climbing up a skin trail to a spot snowcat driver Gregg Lawley calls "No Complaints," where there's some sweet north-facing fields of powder waiting below, just a 15-minute climb from the yurts. We de-skin and pick our own personal line of virgin snow through shin-high sugar. That brings a big smile and whoops of joy from everyone as they make perfect signatures in the snow.

After a few of those runs that afternoon, I looked at the slopes above and saw a lot of blank fields of snow below the peaks, and some that had been shredded by the guys who were there for several days before us. Still, it looked there'd be a ton of terrain we could ski close to the yurts for the next two days! Fun thing to ponder as we enjoyed some brewskis and wine on the deck in the waning hours of sunshine.

Playing cards in the evening after dinner. 
This was my fourth or fifth trip to the Lick Creek yurts over the last 10 years. The yurts are owned and operated by Payette Powder Guides. McCall skier, river guide and kayaker Marty Rood worked with the Payette National Forest to obtain a special use permit to provide guided backcountry ski trips and avalanche courses at Lick Creek. It sure is a great amenity to enjoy in the winter months! Marty also allows people to rent the yurts if they've gone with a guide before at Lick Creek and have at least a Level 1 avalanche certification. That's what we did.

As I've written before, yurt trips are a deluxe way to enjoy the mountains in the winter. Yurts typically are equipped with wood stoves to make things warm and cozy, bunks for sleeping, double-burner cook stoves, lanterns, pots and pans, plates and silverware, etc., everything you need to cook up a big feast. Marty also has a propane BBQ outside on the deck, a very nice touch. He even has fold up deck chairs available if they weather is nice.

Jim Young apres ski 
At Lick Creek, there's two yurts -- one of them is the cook yurt with a larger wood stove and cook stuff, and the second yurt is for extra sleeping space with a smaller wood stove. For our group of 8 people, half slept in the cook yurt, and half slept in the other one. There's also a very nice sauna building to enjoy after a day of sweating up and down the mountain. And of course, there's an outhouse and a pee tree.

The yurts are located at the top of Lick Creek Summit (elevation 6,700 feet), about 12.5 miles from the east side of McCall. You either pay $800 for a roundtrip snowcat ride to the yurts and back to town, or you can go in by snowmobile, if a bunch of the people in your party own or have access to 'biles. We did the snowcat route this time, with my old Tamarack friend Gregg Lawley at the helm. It takes about 2 hours to get to the yurts.

The snowcat provides several big benefits. You don't have to climb multiple miles with a heavy pack to reach the yurt, like you do at most yurts in Idaho. You can bring coolers full of food and drink, another benefit. No restrictions on bringing extra clothes to stay warm. So all of that is pretty deluxe! Our friend Jim Pace brought a two-up snowmobile to the yurts, just in case we might need it for an emergency, or to access more ski terrain nearby.

One of the big highlights for Wendy and me, along with most of our group, was to farm an area called "The Burn Line," above the yurts. The Burn Line was full of fabulous untracked snow. We skied it in the afternoon of Day 2 and a full day on Day 3, picking a new virgin line each run, while enjoying clear skies, almost no wind, and temperatures close to 30 degrees. Just about perfect!

Getting ready to take the snowcat into the yurts with Gregg Lawley.
L-R, Mike Erlebach, Deb Glazer, Mack Lyons, Steve, Chris Reino and Wendy.
On Day 3, Jim Pace went over to the north ridge of Beaver Dam Peak with Mack Lyons and Mike Erlebach of McCall to ski a chute or the bowl below the ridge. As they skinned up to the serrated ridge on the shoulder of the mountain, Erlebach said it was pretty obvious that the skiing would be marginal -- everything was breakable crust and windblown. But they thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

"There's great opportunities for adventure skiing up there," Lyons says. "That was fun!"

I highly recommend booking some nights at the Lick Creek yurts with a group of your ski buddies, if you haven't done so already!

We've been blessed with a great winter so far with regular new doses of powder every week ... I hope you are getting out and getting your share of turns and grins in the *pow*!
- SS

Mike skiing the breakable crust below Beaver Dam Peak.