Editor’s note: Former outdoors writer Roger Phillips originally published this story in 2014. It has been updated.
The Treasure Valley is packed with choices for a mountain bike ride — but some of those options stand out. Here are five great rides for a variety of skill levels:
What: These are among the newest trails in the Foothills and add a link from Polecat Gulch trails to those near Hidden Springs and Bogus Basin Road.
Why it’s cool: It’s a cross-country ride with long manageable climbs, rocky sections and crazy-fun downhills.
Like the other trails on this list, these trails were built with mountain bikers in mind. While technically they’re two trails, they’re typically ridden together.
Expect all types of trail users when you’re riding, but also enjoy the fact the trail builders gave you some wonderful terrain with long sight lines, so if you want to back off the brakes and let gravity take over, you have that option.
About 90 percent of this trail is your standard-issue Foothills tread of smooth, hard-packed dirt and sand, but it adds character. There are small creek crossings and rocky sections that include some walking for most riders — a steep climb (or descent depending on your direction) near the pond that you will be pushing your bike up. There are times you feel pretty far out there, even though you’re never that far from Cartwright Road.
The trails combined are about 10 miles, and you have three more miles of pavement to complete the loop, which you should. It’s a great ride.
Where: Take Cartwright Road to the Polecat trailhead about a quarter mile east of the intersection of Cartwright and Pierce Park.
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 system because it’s a combination of technical and flowing.
The first thing you will notice as you climb the Broken Horn/Fischer 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 stairsteps than a dirt tread. Stick with it, and the trail eventually will climb into rolling grasslands. Toward the end, you will detour north and descend into Spring Valley Creek.
Enjoy the ride downhill, but watch your speed. There are more gotcha spots ahead, and some tricky, technical sections that add to the excitement. Don’t expect to ride them all unless there’s a red “S” on the front of your jersey.
The trail may get rough, but 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 rougher 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.
Finish the ride by crossing the bridge onto Twisted Spring Trail, which will take you back into Avimor near the tennis courts.
Where: Take Idaho 55 north and turn into the Avimor entrance on the right. Turn left on McCleod Way. Park near the tennis court. Ride back down McCleod, go left on Avimor Drive, right on McQuarrie Way and right on Goldenridge Way to reach Broken Horn Road, which is a gravel road heading south. The trailhead to Fischer Lane/Broken Horn Trail is on the left shortly after you pass through the gate.
Around the Mountain Trail
What: This 6.4-mile trail is linked with Deer Point trail near the ski lift of the same name and circles Shafer Butte, so you can ride about a 10- to 12-mile loop. As the name implies, it circles the mountain.
Why it’s cool: This trail was built with mountain bikers in mind with 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.
There are quick descents and ascents that give it a roller coaster feel. There are enough rocks and roots to keep you alert and reacting, but it’s not too technically challenging.
This is an intermediate/advanced trail that requires you to ride about 10 miles at considerably higher elevations than Boise, so it demands some fitness. But truth be told, it’s also been ridden more than once by people in jeans, sneakers and bikes better suited for the Greenbelt than mountain trails. Take it seriously, but not too seriously.
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 6.4 miles, and then the ice cream on the pie is taking Morning Star trail back to the lodge.
Five 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 advanced ride.
Why it’s cool: You start near the Boise city limits and ride through the Foothills and almost to timberline at 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.
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, especially on a hot day.
It is steep and relentless with enough rocky sections to block you from casually spinning 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 pumping hard enough to bump into your tonsils.
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, so 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.
Ada/Eagle Bike Park
What: Is it a bunch of trails that make a park, or a park with a bunch of trails? You ride and decide.
Why it’s cool: This is the “something for everyone” cliche brought to life, and what a life it is. Visit Ada/Eagle Bike Park on a sunny, spring day and you will see everything from little kids on tiny BMX bikes circling the pump track, to full-face-helmeted riders bombing down the Flow Trail to old, gray dudes doing laps on the cross country trails.
Start at the parking area and head up any trail. This is a condensed network of trails that connects to the others in Northwest Boise. Go over the ridge (on REI Connector or Rabbit Run) to Big Springs and Veterans trails, and the Seaman Gulch trails are a short ride away.
Or you can just stay and ride at the park and do a variety of short loops, or play on the flow trail, jump lines, pump track and other features at the park.
After your ride, do yourself a favor and hang out and savor the biking awesomeness with so many styles of riding in one place and the great vibe it produces. Don’t overthink it. Just do it.
Where: Park at Ada/Eagle Bike Park off Horseshoe Bend Road.
SWIMBA offers beginner clinics
The Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association is beginning a series of clinics that are free to members. The beginner, co-ed class is at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The women-only beginner class is at 6 p.m. May 17. And the intermediate, co-ed class is at 6 p.m. May 31. All clinics are at the Ada/Eagle Bike Park. SWIMBA memberships cost $25 for individuals and $40 for families. More info: swimba.org.