Thursday, January 28, 2021

Tons of new snow in the mountains - Go play in the Snow!

Fresh pow at Brundage Mountain Resort

Hi all, 

We've been in McCall since Tuesday of this week, anticipating the big atmospheric river storm that has hit McCall and the West Central Mountains right between the eyes, while the Central Mountains and Sun Valley got an even bigger dose of new snow. 

We've had nearly 2 feet of new snow in the last 48 hours in McCall. The downhill skiing has been epic at Brundage Mountain and Tamarack Resort.

I feel blessed that I could be here to enjoy the new *pow.* 

Skiing down the mountain in the dim morning light while it's bombing snow is other-worldly and transformative for me. The fresh powder was so light on Thursday, it was absolutely delightful. When I am cruising through untouched fields of virgin snow through nicely spaced trees, I start singing involuntarily or let out whoops of joy. Yabba Dabba! To nail a powder day is good medicine for the soul. Total, absolute joy! We all can use a dose of that, eh?

And so I feel kind of like Mr. Obvious on the Bob & Tom radio show by saying, hey, we just got a great dose of new snow this week -- actual snow depths depend on location -- so get out and enjoy it!

Sun Valley had received more than 3 feet of new snow in two days, so the avalanche danger in the mountains around the Wood River Valley is very high. FYI. Check with the Sawtooth Avalanche Center before you go. 

Pow day at Sun Valley (Courtesy Sun Valley Resort)

Backcountry skiers/riders also should exercise caution in the Payette National Forest. Skiing/riding on slopes greater than 30 degrees is not recommended currently. See the report on the Payette Avalanche Center. 

See my latest snow forecast on the Idaho Daily Snow

The big storm dropped over 6 inches of snow at Bogus Basin, and you can bet that there's fresh snow in them thar mountains around Idaho City, Mores Creek Summit and points beyond, too. If you'd like to check on snow depths, recent snowfall, etc., go to the NRCS Snow Survey snotel interactive map.

Downhill skiing - If you want to go downhill skiing/riding, be sure to buy day tickets online at your resort of choice before you go. Quantities are limited. Be prepared to mask up before you get in the lift line. No exceptions. 

Cross-country skiing/snowshoeing: I did a comprehensive blog post on more than 15 locations for xc skiing and snowshoeing in Idaho several weeks ago. Check it out! 

In addition, you could watch Steve Dent's Backroads report with me about Nordic skiing at Bogus Basin and beyond. 

Go tubing at Bogus Basin or the Activity Barn in McCall. I think Garden Valley may have a tubing venue too. Advance reservations are required for tubing at Bogus. Plan ahead.

Well there you have it! 

- SS

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Take a trip to Hagerman to see eagles, Box Canyon and soak in hot springs

Gordan Hardcastle photo of bald eagles in Hagerman. Hardcastle takes high-quality photographs
of birds and waterfowl. You can see his work on Facebook.  

Hi all, 

I'm going to switch gears this week from winter activities in the mountains and suggest a road trip to Hagerman and the Thousand Springs area on the Snake River to see bald eagles, maybe visit Box Canyon for a nice, scenic hike, and you could top it off with a visit to Miracle or Banbury Hot Springs. I don't know about you, but I miss the hot springs! 

I checked with Thousand Springs State Park and there's about 50 bald eagles hanging out on the eagle tree -- as it's become to be known -- behind the West Point Restaurant on 1500 South. The eagle is on private property, but you can get a great view of our national bird by bringing binoculars, a spotting scope or a telephoto lens. The tree is located on private land, so please do not trespass. 

Here's a link to a blogpost I did about visiting the eagle tree for Southern Idaho Tourism several years ago. Not much has changed~! Except there's more eagles there right now. 

Finding the eagle tree might be easiest by following your maps app to the West Point Restaurant or the Box Canyon Trailhead. Basically, you take I-84 to the Wendell exit. Turn an immediate right. Take the Hagerman highway west toward Hagerman, then a left on 1500 South, and follow that for several miles to the West Point Restaurant. 

BTW - West Point is a great place to eat or p/u supplies. You might drive around the area toward the Snake River to see more raptors perched on pivots or in other trees. 

Ducks photographed by Hagerman WMA. (Courtesy Gordan Hardcastle)

If you're interested in more information about birding in the area, the latest issue of "Windows to Wildlife" by Idaho Fish and Game has some detailed information about birding at the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area, located nearby. 30,000-40,000 ducks winter in the area on the Snake River and in the Hagerman WMA ponds. Quite a sight!  

Box Canyon

The trailhead for Box Canyon, a unit of Thousand Springs State Park, is very close to the restaurant. You'll park up on a flat (make sure you have a statewide park pass or pay the $7 fee) walk one mile over to an overlook of Box Canyon, and there's a nice foot trail that winds down to a 20-foot waterfall and the Snake River. 

Thousand Springs State Park Manager Dave Landrum points to Box Canyon below. (Courtesy SITA) 

Box is the 11th largest freshwater spring in the United States, pouring out of the basalt cliff at 180,000 gallons per minute. The Caribbean-like turquoise water is so clean and pure, it's absolutely mesmerizing. The spring is part of a huge complex of natural pure-water springs in the Thousand Springs region. Visiting the different state park units in the area, including Niagara Spring and Minnie Miller Spring, will give you a great sense of the grandeur of the springs.

Box Canyon in the lower part of the canyon, close to the Snake River (Courtesy SITA) 

Many of the springs in the area have been tapped for aquaculture or hydropower by Idaho Power. The pure spring water with a constant 55-degree temperature is highly prized for raising trout. You might have heard that Clear Springs Trout operates the world-largest rainbow trout facility, raising fish for restaurants nationwide. 

If you have questions to be addressed to Thousand Springs State Park, the number is 208-837-4505. I got current information from a person who was manning the phones today. 

Miracle Hot Springs/Banbury Hot Springs    

If you haven't visited these hot springs, you definitely need to make the trip. Banbury is a big pool that a group of kids would really enjoy, or lap swimmers, and Miracle has smaller general pool areas in a more intimate setting. Private pool rooms are available as well. 

  This is a video I did for Southern Idaho Tourism on Miracle and Banbury Hot Springs. 

On your way home, considering topping off your trip with a meal at the Snake River Grill in Hagerman. The restaurant is famous for it's exotic menu and excellent food!

For more information on exploring interesting outdoor venues in the Magic Valley, go to Southern Idaho Tourism or visit their beautiful Visitor Center by the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls.  

- SS 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Boise Foothills trails are wet and slurpy - 7 alternative destinations where you can avoid the mud!

It's fun to look for birds, ducks and waterfowl at the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve in west Boise. 

Hi all,

Well it's been wet and soggy in Boise lately, and even though we're going to be drying out over the next week to 10 days under a High Pressure weather system, most of the Boise Foothills trails will continue to be muddy in the afternoons when temperatures rise well above freezing into the mid-40s.

Photos from the Ridge to Rivers Facebook page tell the story. Come on people!  

Please! If the trail is muddy, try one of my alternative destinations below ... 

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.

Overview of one of the ponds at Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve.
The area doubles a stormwater runoff filtering system. 

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 or dogs. 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. 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 trailhead in Eagle Island State Park is by an old dairy farm,
with the Boise Front and Bogus Basin the background. 

Huck sniffs for birds on my walk in Eagle Island State Park. Trails are easy and scenic. 

2. 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. 
3. 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. 

Try the all-weather trails recommended by Ridge to Rivers in the Boise Foothills.

4. Mountain Cove Trail in Military Reserve Park. The trail runs for a little less than a mile parallel to Mountain Cove Road, next to Freestone Creek. The trail also connects to Central Ridge, Bucktail, Shanes and more in the Military Reserve complex, but those trails are likely to be muddy right now, so don't count on doing a big loop.     

5. Red Fox - Owl's Roost - a 2.2-mile loop from Camelsback to the Foothills Learning Center, suitable for all abilities. Hulls Grove Trail next to Owl's Roost is another all-weather alternative in that area.

Hulls Ponds from Red Fox Trail near Camelsback Park 

6. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Trail #19A  (Table Rock/Castle Rock area) Flat and easy trail for all abilities. 

7. Red-Winged Blackbird #35A (Camelsback Park area) - Flat and easy trail for all abilities. It runs from the Hulls ponds to Chickadee Ridge through a wetlands environment. 

Have fun! 
- SS 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Idaho's xc ski & snowshoe areas are in great shape - 15 destinations where you can't go wrong!

Sunset on the Boulder Mountains while skiing the Prairie Creek Loop north of Sun Valley.

Hi all, 

I hope everyone had a fun Christmas and New Years with their families, friends and loved ones! 

I felt blessed to be with my family over the holidays in McCall, and I also felt very fortunate to see all of the snow storms dumping fresh powder in the Idaho mountains in recent weeks. Snow depths in the Boise Mountains and Central Mountains have vaulted from less than two feet of snow in early December to the 50- to 60-inch range here in the first week of January. That means the mountains are totally "in shape" for backcountry travel, xc skiing and snowshoeing. 

On Monday late afternoon in McCall, I was xc skiing at Bear Basin with Huck. There was 3-4 inches of new snow on the trail. There was only 1 other car in the parking lot at 3:30 p.m. The Christmas crowds from the valley had gone home. 

Snow was falling lightly and steadily as I was kicking and gliding on the trail. I turned off on Camas Trail to climb over to Mack's Loop, and when I reached the top of the Camas hill, it seemed so quiet and magical. I had the whole place to myself. It's such a beautiful scene to watch the snow fall in the midst of a cathedral of snow-flocked fir and pine trees.  

These are the kinds of moments that I cherish in McCall in the winter-time. But you can experience the same feeling wherever you might want to go for a xc skiing or snowshoeing outing in the Idaho mountains. You just might have to work a little harder to find solitude like I had on Monday.   

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'll recommend a number of key destinations for xc skiing/snowshoeing right now, and provide the latest information on snow conditions: 

Bogus Basin Nordic trails - Packed powder conditions with 7 inches of new snow in the last 24 hours, 9 inches in the last 48 hours; 37Ks of trails open for xc skiing and snowshoeing. Go to the Bogus Nordic site for for a trail map, rental gear information, etc. Day tickets are $12 for a half day, $18 for a full day. Purchase tickets at the Frontier Point Lodge. No advance reservations are required. 

Kelley and Kirk Bachman, left, and I xc skied at Bogus on a stellar bluebird day. 

  • Idaho City Park n Ski Areas - 55-inch base in general, based on the snotel site at Mores Creek Summit. Snow depth at Mores Creek has increased from 35 inches on Dec. 15 to 45 inches on Dec. 31 to 55 inches today (Jan. 7). Make sure you have a Park n Ski pass to use the Idaho City Park n Ski trails. The parking passes can be purchased at IDPR or at the Sinclair gas station in Idaho City (recommended). 

    For the latest grooming information on the Park n Ski trails go to the IDPR Non-Motorized Trails Facebook page. 
    Thanks to Danny Tappa at NRCS Snow Survey for this graph ... so far, we're tracking pretty much right on the average median line for snow water equivalent (SWE) at Mores Creek Summit.
    Basin-wide, snowpack levels are 95 percent of normal in the Boise Basin. 

    FYI: Please stay away from the Mores Creek Snotel site and snow pillow. 
    Human tracks around the snow pillow can adversely impact snow measurements. 
    Thank you. 
    • Gold Fork-Skyline parking area - Best for xc skiing, snow-shoeing and snow-biking. The trails are getting groomed weekly, including this week, according to IDPR.  
    • Whoopum Up - Best for snowshoeing (no grooming). 
    • Banner Ridge - Best for xc skiing, snowshoeing and snow-biking. 
    • Summit Trail - Connects Skyline trails with Banner Ridge Trails. This trail is being groomed on a weekly basis this winter. 
    • Stargaze at Beaver Creek Summit - Best for snowshoeing (no grooming) or backcountry skiing. 

      FYI - All of the Idaho Park n Ski yurts are booked solid every weekend through June. Some mid-week dates are available in April. Watch for any last-minute cancelations mid-week. 

      Breaking trail to Stargaze Yurt, near Beaver Creek Summit. 

  • McCall Nordic trails 
    • North Valley Trail - 6-8 miles (North Valley Trail and Activity Barn trails combined) of groomed xc ski trail open to snowshoeing and fat biking as well. 15-inch base freshly groomed on Jan. 7. 2 inches of new snow. New loop trail climbs from the North Valley Trail around the top of the Activity Barn tubing hill and then descends to a flat meadow and circles the meadow before returning to the North Valley Trail. Nice new loop to try this year. No trail fee. 

      Snow biker hamming it up on North Valley Trail 

    • Ponderosa State Park - Ponderosa has a great variety of xc trails and snowshoe trails. 20-inch base. Trails are being groomed daily. My favorite loop is to xc ski out to the top of Osprey Point via Fox Run and come back next to the lake. Daily ski passes cost $5. You'll need a pass for your vehicle too (I buy the statewide park access pass when I register my vehicles ... that gives you free admission to any state park in Idaho; awesome deal). Generally, no dogs are allowed except on Rover's Roundabout, a 1.5-mile loop. 

      Looking across at Brundage Mountain from Ponderosa Park before the lake froze ... 

    • Bear Basin - We love Bear Basin because they have more than 10Ks of groomed trail and they allow dogs on all of their xc ski and snowshoe trails. Day pass costs $12. Our favorite circuit is to ski Polar Express, Mack's Loop and Lyle's Loop and then return over Moon Ridge to the start. 
    • Jug Mountain Ranch - There's a 15-inch base at Jug with 3 inches of new snow today. JMR  trails are groomed on a regular basis. Trails are open to dogs, xc skiing, snowshoeing and snow biking. Daily trail fee is $10. Allow for enough time to climb up to JMR Reservoir and take a nice tour through the trees on your way back. Jug is generally not as busy as the park or Bear Basin if you want plenty of elbow room.   

      Freshly groomed xc trail at Jug Mountain Ranch 

    • Tamarack Resort - Meadow and forest trails are groomed on Mondays and Fridays each week. Rentals are available at the Sports Dome. Trail map.   
  • Blaine County Winter xc and snowshoe trails -  You must make the drive to Sun Valley and check out the Blaine County Nordic trail system because it's absolutely world-class in all respects. The trails are groomed daily, and they're extensive - 160Ks of xc ski trails and 36Ks of snowshoe trails. Trail fee is $18/day. You can buy a trail pass from most outdoor ski shops in Ketchum. 
  • Galena Lodge is on the north end of the Blaine County Winter Trail system. Galena has a super-extensive system of Nordic trails and snowshoe trails, and they have a great lodge where you can buy soup and sandwiches and hot beverages.  
There you have it! 

Please be courteous and use basic covid-19 precautions and mask-up in parking areas or in areas where you can't socially distance. 
- SS