Thursday, May 13, 2021

Station Creek, Cottonwood Creek National Forest hikes are tailor-made for a warm weekend in Boise

Wendy and Huck enjoy the view on top of the first ridge on the Station Creek Trail.

Hi all, 

It appears we're in for a bit of a heat wave this weekend, comparably speaking, with high temperatures in the low to mid-80s Friday-Sunday in the Boise Valley. It'll be in the 60s and 70s in the mountains around McCall, Stanley and Sun Valley.

Getting out early on Boise Foothills trails will be the charm this weekend, or heading to slightly higher elevations would be a good idea, too! 

To that point, I'm recommending two hikes in the Boise National Forest -- Station Creek and Cottonwood Creek -- for my outdoor tip of the week, plus I'll recommend a few other destinations that'd be perfect right now (below). 

Station Creek Hike

Station Creek Trail is a beauty, coarsing through a continuous layer of green on the forest floor, while stately ponderosa pine trees provide shade in the canopy overhead as you're climbing the mountain. Arrowleaf balsamroot is blooming in bright yellow along the way. It's a 7-mile out-and-back hike to the top of Bald Mountain, or roughly 5 miles out and back if you hike to the first ridge overlook. Hiking time: 3-5 hours round-trip. Rated: Moderate (strenuous in a few places)

If you go to the top of 5,122-foot Bald Mountain, you'll climb 2,000 vertical feet along the way. That's a very reasonable climb for most people who are in decent shape. Just take your time, breathe, and enjoy the scenery!

The trailhead is located directly across the Banks-Lowman Highway from the Garden Valley Ranger Station - hence the name, Station Creek! 

The well-maintained trail will take you to the top of the first ridge, and then there is a more faint elk trail that follows the lay of the land to the top of Bald Mountain. It's easy to find your way. 

Be sure to pack plenty of water and bring a lunch/snacks for the summit!

Steve and Huck on top of Bald Mountain with its trademark weird thingy on top.

Wendy enjoys the walk on a classic ponderosa pine ridge.

Bald Mountain, just shy of a mile-high ... good early-season hike

Cottonwood Creek 

Prior to some wildfires that swept through the Cottonwood Creek drainage, the Cottonwood Creek trail used to be quite the gem. It had a million creek crossings, but in between, it was much like Station Creek. Since the fires, the trail has gotten more brushy and falling into disrepair. Nevertheless, the first several miles are doable. But the full enchilada, which is more like 10 miles to the top of Thorn Butte, is not recommended. 

Still, if you haven't been up along Arrowrock Reservoir to the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, it's worth the trip just to check out the countryside. 

Directions: Take Idaho 21 to the high bridge over Lucky Peak and turn right. Go about 15 miles along Lucky Peak and Arrowrock reservoirs to a junction with USFS Road #377. Go left and follow the road 3 miles to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead. There's a small parking area there. 

Possible side trip: In this area, you're close to the Mount Heinen trailhead, if you're feeling more ambitious and want to tackle a challenging 10-mile climb to the Heinen summit. See my post about this hike, it's one of the four Boise Grand Slam Peaks

Cottonwood Creek guard station

Beaver pond on Cottonwood Creek

Some other recommendations ... 

  • Any of the Boise Grand Slam peaks would be great right now. 
  • 80 degrees means it's time to get tuned up on the river! Middle Fork Payette, South Fork Payette and Main Payette would be great right now. I noticed that Cabarton is only running about 650 cfs. Mid-summer flows are usually 1500-1800 cfs. 
  • Salmon River is running 20,000 cfs at Whitebird ... if it's going to come up any higher, that might happen this weekend with the warmer temps. But not much of a peak!
  • Go past the Cottonwood Creek turnoff on the Arrowrock/Middle Fork Road and continue up to the Sheep Creek trail. That's a great hike, just quite the drive to get there. 

FYI - Steve and Mike Cooley, recently retired from George's Cycles, will appear on the KTVB-TV Viewpoint program on Sunday, talking about road biking and mountain biking in the early days of Boise becoming a bike town. 

Have fun!
- SS

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