Editor’s note: Note that in the Bethine Church Trail loop described in this story, there is a section of the Greenbelt near the Warm Springs Golf Course that is closed right now for resurfacing and other work. Try this excellent loop when that section of the path is reopened, which is expected to be about mid-November 2016.
The Boise River Greenbelt through Boise, Garden City and Eagle has many faces.
The pathway is paved in most places but is gravel in several areas dedicated as nature trails. You’ll find fishing ponds; hidden wetlands; deep woods with giant cottonwoods; developed parklands with lawns, picnic tables and grills; and playgrounds and exercise areas.
And, if you’re into bridges, you’ll get hooked on old trestles, modern footbridges and charming, creaky wooden bridges. Let’s just say it’s easy to become a bridge nut while walking or riding the Greenbelt.
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Another thing about the bridges: They make it easy to plan loop hikes or bike rides along the river. Typical loops range from 2 to 5 miles and can be combined with lunch or dinner at many of the cafes or restaurants near bridges, or with picnics in the many parks along the way.
The path has so many characteristics, such as busy commuter sections where everyone says “Hi” or “On your left,” to lesser-used dirt paths where you can find a little peace and quiet in a hollow surrounded by huge cottonwoods.
When it comes to the Greenbelt, many hikers and cyclists get stuck in a rut — walking or commuting along the same section and never seeing other areas.
So, as part of your fall hiking and cycling activities, check out as many of the Greenbelt’s unique loops as possible and discover a river that’s different at every turn, not to mention lots of different neighborhoods.
Here are several loops to try. Double some of them if you need longer rides or walks.
Bown Crossing to Barber Park
Parking: Park at the entrance to Marianne Williams Park at ParkCenter Boulevard and Barber Valley Road across the Boise River from Bown Crossing.
Logistics: From the parking area near the East ParkCenter Bridge, walk on the north side of the river upstream. It’s one of the newest paved paths along the Greenbelt and ideal for cycling and inline skating. At first, there’s a small pond to the left of the path where ducks, geese and other waterfowl frequent, especially in winter. During late summer and fall, there’s a chance to see ospreys fishing along the river or in the ponds. Bald eagles use the area in winter.
The path goes by a larger, or main, pond with a gazebo, picnic shelter and restrooms. Continue upstream on the the path from the park and you’ll soon come to an intersection where cyclists need to stay on the paved path while hikers can take a dirt path to the right, which goes closer to the river. It’s the Dallas and Alta Harris pedestrian path and a great spot to relax on a bench and look at the river going by.
Cross the bridge at Eckert Road and go into Barber Park on the south side of the river. From this point there are two paths, one for cyclists, which goes through some neighborhoods, or the foot path that goes along the river. The foot path is the best choice because it’s woodsy and there are a few little beaches along the river for relaxing. Both paths eventually end up at the East ParkCenter Bridge and Bown Crossing, where several restaurants are good bets for lunch or dinner. (Note that a section of the Greenbelt near the Warm Springs Golf Course is closed right now for resurfacing and other work. Try this excellent loop when that section of the path is reopened, which is expected to be in mid-November 2016.)
Highlight: Along the path on the south side of the river just upstream from Bown Crossing is a great blue heron rookery that’s pretty active in the spring.
Distance: About 3 miles.
Bethine Church Trail
Parking: Park at the entrance to Marianne Williams Park at ParkCenter Boulevard and Barber Valley Road (same as above).
Logistics: Cross the East ParkCenter Bridge to the south side of the river. Walk downstream under the bridge. This is the start of the 1.6-mile Bethine Church Nature Trail. It’s a very woodsy trail that goes through a 24-acre natural area with wetlands and ponds and many opportunities to see waterfowl, shorebirds and bald eagles in the winter.
The pathway remains unpaved to create a tranquil area for walking and running. No bikes are allowed.
You’ll find benches overlooking the river offering places to sit and relax and reflect.
The path is dedicated to the late Bethine Church, a conservationist who worked to protect wildlife habitat and protect public lands. She founded and chaired the Sawtooth Society, which lobbied for protection of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
The nature path ends at the Cottonwood Apartments. To complete a loop, continue west on the Greenbelt to the Baybrook Court Footbridge between ParkCenter and the Warm Springs Golf Course. There are several restaurants and coffee shops in this area for a snack or lunch.
Cross the footbridge and walk to the path on the north side of the river. Continue upstream along the golf course. There are good views of the results of the Table Rock Fire along this section. As the path continues upriver, it narrows along the section near Warm Springs Mesa, with lots of opportunities to see birds along the river. Return to the parking area just across ParkCenter Boulevard.
Highlight: Definitely the bird watching on the Bethine Church Trail section of the loop.
Distance: About 3 miles.
Americana to Ninth Street
Parking: Park in Ann Morrison Park off Americana Boulevard.
Logistics: Walk across the Boise River from Ann Morrison Park on the Americana Bridge to the north side of the river. Continue east or upriver. This is a very shady area and a great hike on hot days. It is a major commuter route, so you’ll encounter a lot of cyclists.
Why not have lunch or dinner at the Cottonwood Grille, which is right along the path and close to the 9th Street Bridge?
Cross that bridge and get on the south side of the river, turning downstream back toward Ann Morrison Park.
Highlights: The playground in Ann Morrison Park is definitely popular with kids. Adults will like the exercise area just before you get to the playground. There are park shelters for picnics.
Distance: 3.5 miles. To increase the distance another mile, expand the loop to the Bob Gibb Friendship Bridge at Boise State University or the Broadway Bridge, now that it is open. To increase the walk or ride even more, go from Americana all the way to the Baybrook Court Footbridge for a total of 6 miles. Don’t forget to stop at the MK Nature Center on this route.
Trestle to Whitewater Park
Parking: Park at Idaho’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial Plaza off Shoreline Drive between Fairview Avenue and Americana Boulevard.
Logistics: Walk downriver to the trestle bridge and go across to the south side of the river. This is a brand new section of the Greenbelt and opens a lot of new areas along the river, especially if you are a trout angler.
As you cross under the Main and Fairview bridges, you’ll come to Joe’s Crab Shack and the Sandbar Patio Bar & Grill, which are handy spots to catch a bite to eat.
The area from here goes past the whitewater park (Ray Neef M.D. Boise River Recreation Park), where you can watch kayakers and surfers dancing on the waves of the river diversion.
Cross the river on the footbridge to the north side and continue back upriver past Quinns Pond, which is stocked with trout.
The path continues back up to the Firefighters Memorial.
Highlight: Just sitting at the whitewater park near Quinns Pond and watching all the action, from paddleboarders on the pond to surfers in the river.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Veterans Memorial Park to Glenwood Street
Parking: Park at Veterans Memorial Park at Veterans Parkway and State Street.
Logistics: Go through the west end of the park to the footbridge that crosses the canal near the Boise River. Follow the path downstream under the Veterans Parkway Bridge and continue downriver. The first thing you’ll notice is how shady the area is and the massive trees along the pathway.
The area combines deep woodsy areas with manicured lawns and also athletic fields. Restrooms are available.
There’s a dirt pathway off the main Greenbelt that puts you in the woods.
At about 2.7 miles you’ll come to a footbridge that crosses a segment of the river and puts you on a river island for about 100 yards. Another bridge gets you to the south side of the river on the Garden City path.
Look closely here. Take the first “Greenbelt Access” detour onto city streets. The route comes back to the pathway in a block or so. If you don’t take that exit from the Greenbelt, you’ll end up at a dead end upriver at a housing area and have to walk the river bottom to the start of the Greenbelt again. It’s a jungle of poison ivy.
The Greenbelt path continues upstream through Garden City to Veterans Memorial Parkway and the parking at Veterans Memorial Park.
Highlight: The deep woodsy feel from Veterans Parkway to the island crossing.
Distance: 4.8 miles; the entire loop is open to cyclists.
Glenwood to West Bridge (near Eagle)
Parking: Park at the lot at Glenwood Street and the Boise River. It’s on the southeast side of the river and bridge.
Logistics: Leave the parking lot on the path on the south side of the river heading west. Just past the bridge is River Pointe Park with lots of benches and grassy areas for a picnic. The newer paved pathway is great for cyclists. It is also part of a nature trail on the Garden City Greenbelt Pathway. Interpretive signs describe the insects and wildlife inhabiting the wetlands.
There are a few nice beaches along the river to swim the dog or wade. Warning: There’s lots of poison ivy along the path, so watch out.
The pathway goes through woodsy areas and eventually enters an open, dry and unshaded area, but it doesn’t last long. Just over 2.5 miles is the West Bridge and a chance to cross to the north side of the river. From here head upriver on the nature trail. The trail on the north side of the river is not open to bicycles.
The path continues through woodsy, wildlife habitat until hitting houses along the path.
You’ll eventually come to Riverside Pond and the Glenwood Bridge. Return to your car.
Highlight: Lots of trees and lots of bird watching. The interpretive signs on the first leg of the hike are a must to read.
Distance: 4.7 miles.
Pete Zimowsky, aka Zimo, has been biking the Boise River Greenbelt — both for recreation and commuting — for nearly four decades. He likes to bring a good picnic lunch, with, of course, chocolate.
Some Greenbelt pointers
Here’s what Zimo found exploring Greenbelt loops:
▪ Wear good walking or running shoes. River sandals rated for trail hiking are ideal for wading in the river and hiking.
▪ Take along a fishing rod (yup, there are a lot of hidden fishing spots along the pathway, and you can hike or bike and fish). Well, at least scout some new fishing areas.
▪ Binoculars are needed for birdwatching.
▪ Pack a daypack for picnicking if you don’t want to hit eateries along the way.
▪ Although there are fountains in some areas, take along a water bottle (the dog can drink out of the river).
▪ Read the historic signs along the Greenbelt. You’ll learn a lot about Treasure Valley history.
▪ Check out the website at parks.cityofboise.org/parks-locations/parks/ greenbelt for a map and more tips.
Find the bridge
A variety of loops can be done along the Boise River Greenbelt because of streets and footbridges. Check out the Greenbelt website at parks.cityofboise.org/parks-locations/parks/ greenbelt for a map and more tips. Then find some of these bridges for accessing your own customized loops:
East ParkCenter Bridge
Baybrook Court Footbridge
West ParkCenter Bridge
Bob Gibb Friendship Bridge
Eighth Street Trestle
Americana Boulevard Bridge
Trestle Bridge (near Main Street)
Footbridge at Whitewater Park
Veterans Parkway Bridge
West Bridge (north of Eagle)
Eagle Road Bridge