Spring classics: The Boise area has great trails to ride — or aspire to ride

rphillips@idahostatesman.comApril 10, 2014 

Call them classic rides, epic trails, or whatever you want, but they're what every mountain biker wants to experience.

We have lots of amazing riding among the 140-plus miles of trails in the Foothills and adjacent areas. Chances are good you've ridden some of them, but chances are also good there are some you haven't.

So what makes a classic? It's subjective, of course because riders have their own favorites. One rider may find bliss on a buttery-smooth trail while another may groove on a tooth-rattling technical trail.

Here are five showcase trails (or routes that include multiple trails). These are rides you would take friends from out of town on to show them the special place in which we live and play.

They're also trails budding riders should aspire to because they are fun and rewarding, but they aren't Greenbelt cruises.

You will be challenged, so get in shape before you tackle them. Be prepared for long climbs and descents, steep sections, and rocky, sandy or challenging terrain.

Depending on the time of year, you can also add dusty and washboarded to that list. That's not to scare you off, just to let you know what you're getting yourself into.

With mountain biking season coming into its prime, here are some rides to add to your to-do list.

CORRALS TO HULLS

What: This may be the original classic mountain bike trail in the Foothills. It's about a 10-mile loop depending on how you go.

Why it's cool: It's a great ride because you can gain most of your elevation on pavement, but still get some intense climbs in the dirt with lots of rocky, tight, steep, technical singletrack.

It's a good workout, but not punishingly difficult.

This ride is also kind of a microcosm of the Foothills. As you ascend up Bogus Basin Road, you pass the Simplot house and new development as homes are carved into the Foothills.

As you reach the trail head, the namesake corrals are still there, and you may even come across a band of sheep, showing the Foothills' ranching roots.

Keep climbing and you reach the high point of the trail, which gives you sweeping views of the Treasure Valley. Take a moment and soak it all in. You've earned the view.

Then comes an exciting downhill ride. The popularity of this trail is evident by ruts, loose soil, washboards and dust, depending on the time of year. Keep your speed in check and your bike under control because there are likely to be hikers and uphill traffic.

At the end of Lower Hulls Gulch, you have several choices of trails. There's no wrong answer, and you can end your ride anywhere between Crestline Road and Highland View Road (if you detour on Bob's Trail), or descend on various trails back to Camel's Back Park.

Where: From Camel's Back Park, hit Bogus Basin Road and ride about 2 miles to the Corrals trail head on the right. Take Corrals Trail to Lower Hulls Gulch and back to Camel's Back.

Spring is the best time to hit it, because it gets hot, dusty and washboarded by summer.

BROKEN HORN TO SPRING VALLEY CREEK

What: You will be mostly on singletrack in the Avimor trail system with a little bit of pavement and gravel between trails. It's about a 10-mile intermediate level ride.

Why it's cool: This ride feels different than many trails in the Ridge to Rivers trail system because most of it was built and maintained by Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association on Avimor's land.

First thing you will notice as you climb the Broken Horn/Fisher Lane trail is that you have to deal with some technical terrain. It may be challenging, and you may be pushing short sections instead of riding. This is intentional. It's not meant to be a butt-in-the-saddle cruise.

The trails at Avimor have a little rougher edge to them, and that's also intentional. They're meant to be challenging, and that's one reason why this loop made the list.

The trail winds through the bottom of a gully, and in places you will encounter sections that are more like rocky stair steps than a dirt tread. Stick with it, and the trail will eventually climb into rolling grasslands. Toward the end you will detour north and descend into Spring Valley Creek.

That's where you get the payoff for the climbing.

Enjoy the ride downhill, but watch your speed. There are more gotcha spots ahead, and some tricky, technical sections that really add to the excitement level. Don't expect to ride them all unless there's a red "S" on the front of your jersey.

The trail may get rough - that's why you bought that full-suspension mountain bike. Not that you can't do this route on a hardtail, it's just going to be a rough ride.

Don't be scared off, and remember you can always walk your bike through the sketchy sections. The trail may be challenging, but it's also incredibly fun.

Ride this route and be prepared to take your licks, and when you're done, you will feel like you've accomplished something.

Where: Take Idaho 55 north to the Avimor entrance. Go to the end and veer left. Park near the pond.

From W. Avimor Drive, N. McQuarrie Way and N. Goldenridge Way to Broken Horn Road, which is a gravel road heading south.

The trailhead to Fisher Lane/Broken Horn Trail is on the left shortly after you pass through the gate.

Alternate access: Park near the intersection of Seaman Gulch and Dry Creek roads near Hidden Springs and take Broken Horn Road north to the trailhead.

AROUND THE MOUNTAIN TRAIL

What: This 7-mile trail was constructed last year and when it's linked with other trails at Bogus, you can ride about a 10- to 12-mile loop. As the name implies, it circles around the ski slopes.

Why it's cool: This trail is an instant classic, and it's going to get a lot of use when the snow melts and the trail dries later this spring.

Although open to all trail users, it was built with mountain bikers in mind. The trail has banked corners, flowing turns, dips and climbs, and alternates between open slopes and shaded timber.

It's a high-elevation trail, mostly between 6,000 and 7,000 feet, so it may take a while for the snow to clear, especially on those shaded and north-facing sections.

But put it high on your short list. I rode it last fall, and if I had to pick a word to describe it beyond fun, it would be mischievous.

The trail builders know what mountain bikers like, and that's an exciting trail.

There are quick descents and ascents that give sections of it a roller coaster feel. There are enough rocks and roots to keep you alert and reacting, but it's not too technically challenging.

I have a hunch that's all by design. Trail building is an art, and this trail feels both modern and classic.

Of course, that's an impression after one ride, and it may seem completely different this year after it settles and people start using it regularly, but that's the beauty of a new trail.

We all get to ride it and draw our own conclusion.

Where: Go to Bogus Basin's Simplot Lodge. The Deer Point Trail starts near the bottom of the Deer Point Chairlift. Take it about a mile to the intersection with Around the Mountain Trail, which is marked. Ride it for about 7 miles, and then the ice cream on the pie is taking Morning Star Trail back to the lodge.

5-MILE/WATCHMAN/THREE BEARS

What: This 20-mile loop is a test of endurance, and even experienced riders are challenged. Due to its distance and steep climbing, it should be considered an intermediate/advanced ride.

Why it's cool: You start near the Boise city limits and ride almost into the timber in the Foothills, about 4,500 feet in elevation.

There are several options to start this ride, but the gist is to end up on Rocky Canyon Road via trails, or if you prefer, ride up Shaw Mountain Road. But ride the dirt, for goodness' sake - you're a mountain biker, after all.

As you spin up the dusty and washboarded Rocky Canyon Road, save some energy because your lungs and legs are about to get ambushed by Five Mile Gulch Trail.

The climb will tell you what kind of shape you're in, and there's no bluffing your way up this one. It can be a soul crusher.

It is steep and relentless with rocky sections too technical for you to sit back and casually spin up them, even in your granny gear (and God help you if you don't have one).

OK, that may be a bit dramatic, but Five Mile will have your heart jumping into your tonsils numerous times.

By the way, kudos to Team Eastside Cycles and other volunteers for repairing serious erosion problems on this trail and preventing challenging sections from becoming a hike-a-bike.

You will ford Five Mile Creek several times before making an abrupt turn onto Watchman Trail. The climbing continues on Watchman, and you will be side-hilling on fairly steep terrain that makes the trail feel a little more sketchy than it is.

Eventually, you will reach Three Bears, and then you get to cash a check for all those vertical feet you put in the gravity bank.

Enjoy the descent; you've earned every sweet mile of it. Whatever route you take will funnel you back into Military Reserve.

Where: Start at Military Reserve off Reserve Street east of the Capitol. Pick a trail that takes you to Shane's Trail, which will drop you onto Rocky Canyon Road.

NORTHWEST BOISE CIRCUIT

What: This ride includes three different trail networks that you can link to make a route that's great for training or fun by itself.

Why it's cool: I admit to being a homer on this one. I ride this a lot. Part of the reason is it's close to my house, but the other is that it's really fun. It tends to have a long season and unlike other rides in the Foothills, the climbing is interspersed so you're doing a series of fairly short climbs, and you get a nice rest between them.

You can start at either end of the ride, but here's the gist of it.

Start at the Eagle Cycle Park and take any trail that's going uphill and ride up to the ridge that goes north/south. You will find either Rabbit Run Trail or REI Connection.

Ride down either one (Rabbit Trail is a fun descent), which puts you on the Big Springs trails. Ride up and over the ridge and descend on Veterans Trail to Hill Road.

Ride Hill Road about a mile east to Seaman Gulch Road. Cross the road and look for the trail head.

Start climbing and go right at each trail intersection, which will take you up on the ridge on Seaman Gulch Trail and down Wild Phlox to the parking lot and water tank and continue back to your starting point near the intersection of Hill Road and Seaman Gulch.

Or for a bonus climb, go left at the water tower and back up the ridge, then descend back to Seaman Gulch.

Now reverse your route back to the Eagle Cycle Park. You can easily log 10 to 12 miles, mostly on single track, but with some pavement added to the mix.

If you want to ride more, there are short loops at the Eagle Bike Park you can do, or play on the flow trail, jump lines, pump track and other features at the park.

Where: Park at Eagle Bike Park off Horseshoe Bend Road or off Seaman Gulch. Both have restrooms. Eagle Bike Park also has water.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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