Holiday stress! There’s a lot to juggle at this time of year.
Forget it. Take a break. Take the advice of REI, a major outdoors retailer, and get outdoors during the holiday season.
If you remember, REI closed all 143 stores on Black Friday and paid employees to head outside.
“REI believes a life outdoors is a life well lived,” said Sylvia Cooper, outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator at the Boise REI.
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If a major retailer can take a break during the biggest shopping season of the year, so can you.
Here are seven natural tranquilizers to combat holiday stress:
BICYCLING WITH TREATS
Be active and enjoy good food. Boise is convenient when it comes to bicycling or hiking and food. Head out any direction on the Boise Greenbelt and you’re going to hit a brewpub or pizza place.
Cafes and restaurants also can be found near major hiking and biking trailheads, making it easy to plan a workout and then lunch or dinner.
One of the best (but sometimes forgotten) routes for food is the Greenbelt. Hit Ben’s Crow Inn along Warm Springs Avenue during a long bike trip from Municipal Park to Discovery Park near Lucky Peak Dam. Best bets include finger steaks, cheeseburgers, clams and, of course, beer. It also serves breakfast.
Also on the Greenbelt at Eckert Road is Lucky 13, a favorite hangout for cyclists coming back from Discovery Park or those just tootling along the new Greenbelt path in Marianne Williams Park. Lucky 13 is all about pizza, such as the Lucky 13 Supreme or Barber Park Basil, and beer.
Greenbelt walkers have only a short distance from the Bethine Church Nature Trail along the Boise River to Bown Crossing and Flatbread Community Oven, which also serves up excellent pizzas, including Italian sausage, pepperoni, portobello, and Tuscan chicken, plus beer and fun wines. Along the same street are Idaho Fry Company, Locavore Bistro or the Tavern at Bown.
If you’re biking or hiking the Greenbelt in town, the Boise River Ram is right on the river at Broadway Bridge and features sandwiches, salads, BurgerRama selections and locally brewed beer.
A variety of eateries can be found downstream along the Greenbelt. Try the Cottonwood Grille near the Capitol Bridge. You don’t have to be wearing your formal biking attire at the upscale restaurant to enjoy lunches, such as Thai Peanut Chicken Salad, which features a marinated chicken breast served on mixed cabbage with fresh Asian vegetables and a Thai peanut vinaigrette dressing.
The Pantry along the Greenbelt near Americana Boulevard has a really homey feel and should be a sure stop on a ride. Critics say the restaurant offers one of the best breakfasts in town with a menu that includes quiche and omelets. It’s also a convenient stop for lunch for deli sandwiches.
Those looking for a snack after a Boise Foothills run or hike can hit Lulu’s Pizza on Bogus Basin Road for slices and draft beer.
Just down the street is Highlands Hollow Brew House on Bogus Basin Road, a good stopping place after skiing or snowshoeing at Bogus or hiking or mountain biking in the Boise Foothills.
Eat, drink and be active. It’s pretty convenient in Boise.
Here’s a simple afternoon alternative to long lines in stores: Stand in line at a tee pad at a local disc golf course. It’s a lot more relaxing.
The handiest course is at Ann Morrison Park off Americana Boulevard.
It has a large 20-hole summer course but also an alternative course in winter. It’s easy to find because golfers are playing every day no matter the weather.
If you’re looking for something a little more wild, there’s a primitive 20-hole course in Lydle Gulch just across Lucky Peak Dam, 7 miles east of Boise, off Idaho 21. Located in hilly sagebrush terrain, near Sandy Point, the course is year-round but is for those looking for a challenge and strenuous hike.
Nearby Sandy Point beach, below Lucky Peak Dam, there’s a 12-hole course in a well-groomed park setting from September to May. The area doesn’t get much snow, so the course is usually accessible most of the winter. It can be a challenging course with lots of mature trees in the way, as well as some hilly areas that demand accuracy. There is a $5 state park entry fee if you don’t have an Idaho State Park pass. Maps are available at the entrance kiosk. (Annual state park passes are $10. Find the details at parksandrecreation.idaho.gov.)
Eagle Island State Park is an urban, day-use state park with year-round disc golf. An 18-hole course is open November through April. Golfers like the woodsy feel of the park and also some of the water and brush hazards. It is located west of Boise in the Eagle area on Hatchery Drive, east of Linder Road between Idaho 44 and East Chinden Boulevard.
FISHING THE BOISE
The Boise River from Boise to Eagle is one of the best urban fishing holes around. The river is stocked monthly with thousands of rainbow trout by Idaho Fish and Game, even in winter. That’s if the river doesn’t freeze, which is rare.
Fly anglers love the river because it’s conducive to sinking a fly with its low, clear waters in the winter. Spin anglers can catch trout by throwing a small spinner, such as a Mepps or Roostertail, in deeper holes.
Bait anglers simply drift worms or salmon eggs through deep runs.
You’ll need a fishing license to fish in Idaho. An adult resident fishing license is $25.75. A junior resident (ages 14 to 17) fishing license is $13.75. Since licenses are annual and run out Dec. 31, it might be worth just getting a one-day license at $11.50. A nonresident one-day fishing license is $12.75. Kids younger than 14 don’t need a license. Get more information at Idaho Fish and Game’s website: fishandgame.idaho.gov.
A trout dinner sure tastes good this time of the year.
If you really want to get out in the wilds and enjoy some desert canyon scenery, it’s only an hour away.
The Snake River Canyon can be a sheltered getaway on cold December days. The floor of the canyon is about 700 feet below Boise Valley and a lot milder than Idaho’s capital city in the colder months.
A day’s outing in the canyon, which is part of the Snake River Birds of Prey Natural Area, will really “wow” visiting friends and relatives.
It’s a celebration of winter with its high-desert topography and rimrock canyons.
One of the best ways to get in the canyon is at Celebration Park, south of Nampa.
Hikers, runners and mountain bikers will find miles and miles of trails. It offers a giant playground for four-legged friends, too, who are allowed to run off-leash (although it’s advisable to keep a close eye on them because the area has a lot of bird life).
And Celebration Park is the perfect place for a winter picnic after an outing on the trails. Make sure you stay until sunset. The sunsets are magnificent. If it’s chilly, build a campfire and hang out.
The park has fire rings and picnic tables right in the middle of fields of huge basalt rocks, which resemble black watermelons, and petroglyphs 100 to 10,000 years old. The visitors center offers additional information about the area’s rich history, from the Paleolithic and Archaic periods through its early mining and railroad days.
For an easy outing with the family, take a trail west (downstream) along the Snake River from the park to the Guffey Bridge, an old railroad bridge that kids especially love to walk across.
The 450-ton, 70-foot steel bridge spans 500 feet over the river and is an excellent spot for bird watching, with lots of waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. It’s also an idyllic spot to just watch the river flow by. For a little bit more activity, head upstream on the south side of the river for some hiking; an out-and-back route runs for several miles.
If your relatives need something more adventurous, once across the bridge on the south side of the river, scramble from the river canyon floor at 2,300 feet to Guffey Butte at 3,000 feet. The rugged basalt butte is home to eagles, so give them a wide berth. Once on the rim, enjoy a picnic while enjoying the views, including those of other hikers and bikers scrambling around below.
Directions to the park are complicated, and some visitors get lost circling farm fields in Ada and Canyon counties. Go to Canyon County’s website at canyoncounty.org and click on parks and Celebration Park.
Outdoor enthusiasts in the Treasure Valley are lucky to have the Boise Foothills for a quick workout.
The Table Rock area, which is only one example, is easily accessible off Warm Springs Avenue near the old State Pen and has a variety of trails through steep and rocky terrain with great views of the city. It’s one of the largest trail systems in the Boise Front.
Tram Trail No. 14 is pedestrian-only, so there are no conflicts with mountain bikers. It takes off from a trail head near the Warm Springs Golf Course and climbs 1.2 miles all the way up to Table Rock Quarry Trail No. 17, which is a great way to loop around through trails below cliffs and across a sagebrush flat.
Table Rock Trail No. 15 is a main artery for the area. It takes off from the Old Penitentiary to the top of Table Rock. From there, trails connect to Table Rock Loop No. 16 and Table Rock Quarry Trail.
The Military Reserve area is another place to get great views of the city. It is a 460-acre natural area close to Downtown with plenty of room to explore a variety of trails.
Some of the more popular ones are Central Ridge Trail No. 22, which can be combined with a number of trails in the area. It also makes a great loop on a ridge with excellent views of Downtown Boise. It’s a popular trail at sunset after work.
Don’t stop there. Cottonwood Creek Trail No. 27 goes through a riparian forest area of cottonwood and sagebrush. Ridge Crest Trail No. 20 links Cottonwood Creek and Freestone Creek drainages and gets hikers even higher in elevation in the Boise Foothills.
The best place to start is at the main trail head parking areas off Mountain Cove Road.
HIKE AT LAKE LOWELL
Combine a frosty gray-white mist coming off dark green waves at Lake Lowell with a stark-white blanket from a December inversion coating trees and brush, and you have the makings of some great photographs, especially on a cloudy day with subtle lighting.
The trails at the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge offer great photo ops and hiking to boot. A nature trail loops about a half-mile near the visitors center for a casual walk and photo safari. You may spend so much time taking photos of nature’s frozen landscape and ducks and birds, the half-mile jaunt may be all you need, especially if it’s cold.
Hikers who want a little more distance can link with other trails nearby and put in more than 3 miles. Besides going along the shoreline, trails also go up into sagebrush terrain. The trails are all-weather pathways for easy hiking. Dogs are allowed but have to be leashed.
One trail goes out to an observation tower for even more bird watching and photography. It’s a must for getting a bird’s eye view of the lake and surrounding wildlands.
An added benefit of hiking at the refuge is the visitors center, where hikers can warm up, use the restroom and look over exhibits. The gift shop has some unique wildlife-related items like bird pencils.
Don’t forget to check out the spotting scope and see what birds are resting on the lake while you’re warming up inside.
You’ll definitely see lots of waterfowl and some raptors, upland game birds, such as pheasants and quail, and possibly deer and coyotes.
Getting there: Leave Nampa south on Idaho 55 and go 3.5 miles; turn left on Lake Avenue. A sign marks the spot. Go about 2.5 miles on Lake Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue and turn right. Drive to the top of the hill or to the corner of Roosevelt and Indiana avenues. That’s the entrance of the refuge.
See more information at the refuge’s website at www.fws.gov/deerflat.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area are easy ways to entertain guests from out of town because rental gear is easily available at the Nordic Center.
The Frontier Point Lodge at the trail head is a pleasant and comfortable place to hang out for lunch after trekking the trails. Bring a brown bag lunch from home and enjoy the fireplace upstairs.
It’s also fun to relax on the couch upstairs and watch people on the trails.
An adult can get a snowshoe pass for $7 a day. For a full list of prices this season, go to bogusbasin.org.
The Pepsi GoldRush Tubing Hill, which features an 800-foot downhill slide with a paddle tow, is also an adventure for young and old alike. The cost is $12 per person for a two-hour session. Tubes are provided. Advanced reservations are required at bogusbasin.org.
You can also drive up Bogus Basin Road to the ski area and just take a walk. There is snow on the mountain (at least right now), so you’ll need your boots. It’s a fun winter picnic looking over the Treasure Valley from the mountain.
Pete Zimowsky (aka Zimo) is a retired Idaho Statesman journalist who has been writing about the outdoors for about 50 years. He loves to bike and hike, especially to restaurants and brew pubs, in all kinds of weather.