Some of the best snowshoeing with easy access from Boise is in the Park N’ Ski system north of Idaho City — an area hit hard by the Pioneer Fire.
But the Boise National Forest and State Parks and Recreation have come through on their commitment to try to save as much of the winter recreation season as possible in that area.
Snowshoers will be able to hike to Banner Ridge and Stargaze Yurt — two great viewpoints. The trails won’t be groomed but they will be marked with blue blazes.
“Banner Ridge will be the best hike,” said Leo Hennessy, the non-motorized trail coordinator for Parks and Recreation and an avid snowshoer. “It’s about equal between that and going up to Stargaze Yurt. If you’ve never been there, that is a good place to go. You get a really big, overall perspective of the entire area. The views are actually better than they were (last year) because of the trees. I think (the fire) is actually going to enhance the whole area over a period of years because we were getting pretty thick forest in the whole Park N’ Ski area. It will be more open. But there will be some sticks for a few years and trail-maintenance issues.”
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For Banner Ridge, park in the Banner Ridge lot 23 miles north of Idaho City. Cross the road and follow the trail markers. For Stargaze, use the new Beaver Creek Summit parking area 25 miles north of Idaho City. The new parking area is closer to Beaver Creek Summit than the old lot. The Stargaze trail is on the west side of the road. It is open to the yurt (1.3 miles one way) but not all the way to Stargaze Point.
Be sure to take a map (print from parksandrecreation. idaho.gov) and purchase a Park N’ Ski permit ($7.50 for three days, $25 for the season). Also, check the Boise National Forest website (www.fs.usda.gov/boise) for the latest Pioneer Fire closure information.
The other two Park N’ Ski lots — Gold Fork and Whoop-Um-Up — will be open but the snowshoeing options are limited from those this year.
Out of 60 miles of Park N’ Ski trails, only about 10 will be available this year, Hennessy said.
“We’re not going to just go anyplace,” Hennessy said. “But at least there will be places to snowshoe. ... The idea is to get the trails open by next year.”
The Banner Ridge and Stargaze yurts are open this winter. The other four in the area are closed. The two operating yurts are mostly booked this winter. Parks and Recreation might open some dates for reservation at some point.
Free ski day in the Park N’ Ski system is Jan. 7.
“There’s still plenty of areas to ski,” said Brant Petersen, Idaho City district ranger for the Boise National Forest. “Just understand if you choose to winter recreate inside the burn area that there’s a high degree of hazard.”
Ponderosa State Park, Bogus Basin, Galena Lodge, Lake Cascade State Park, Jug Mountain Ranch, Tamarack Resort, Brundage Mountain, Activity Barn and Sun Valley Resort are among the recreation areas that offer snowshoe trails.
Ponderosa can be a great place for a hike because of the reward: a bench on a high spot overlooking Payette Lake, if you go all the way to the end.
One free option close to Boise is the newly formalized Upper Dry Creek Watershed trail system. The old logging roads on private land have been a popular winter destination for years. The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, in partnership with the city of Boise and Grossman Company Properties, recently installed gates to make the trails non-motorized only. The easiest access is through the trailhead 12.2 miles up Bogus Basin Road from Hill Road. There’s room to park several cars. (Learn more about that property at IdahoStatesman.com/ playing-outdoors.)
“From an overlook surrounded by trees you can see Downtown Boise, so it’s a pretty unique, cool opportunity,” said Tim Breuer, executive director of the Land Trust.
- Pack well: You’ll work harder than you think, so make sure you have plenty of water and food for the day. Among the items you should carry: a second pair of gloves, whistle, headlamp with extra batteries, sunscreen, maps, sunglasses, GPS to mark your starting location, lighter, fire starter and handwarmers. Good leg gaiters also are necessary if you’re going into the powder. And don’t forget your poles.
- Dress in layers: If you dress for the cold, you’ll be peeling off clothes quickly.
- Don’t go alone: I went on one group outing last year on which two people fell into deep snow and needed assistance getting back on their feet. Simple incidents like that can become serious if nobody else is around.
Powder is where the fun is: Snowshoe trails, Leo Hennessy of Idaho State Parks and Recreation explains, are for climbing. Powder is for downhill. On gentle slopes, try running with short, choppy steps like you’re riding a bicycle. For steeper slopes, you’ll need to slide — put one foot forward, toe up, and shift your weight back. If you’re good, you’ll slide. If not, you’ll fall on your rear and slide like a kid. Either way, it’s a good time. Also, going downhill, fresh tracks are slick. Make your own trail. When you’re on flat ground or climbing, rotate trail-breakers to spread the considerable workload and follow in your friends’ footsteps. Try to avoid wet, heavy snow and make sure you know where the groomed trails are so you don’t get lost.