The trails that wind through the Boise Foothills are a huge boon for outdoors lovers who can quickly leave the urban landscape escape into the natural word. There you’ll find a broad swath of habitats from shady, riparian woodlands to sandy red cliffs where great horned owls nest.
Ridge to Rivers maintains this network of trails. Here’s what newcomers — and longtime users — should know about the organization and how to use this Idaho treasure.
No. 1: Ridge to Rivers
In the 1980s, no one managed the trails, and it was difficult to know whether you were on private or public land while using a trail. Then, in 1992, several public land agencies founded Ridge to Rivers. They work with landowners and the public to maintain the system.
At that time, a group of trail users, land activists and organizations, such as the Boise Front Coalition, took their concerns to the city of Boise and the Bureau of Land Management, which owns much of the Foothills land.
The agency oversaw just 90 miles of trails at the time. Today, it manages about 200 miles of trails, according to David Gordon, manager of the Ridge to Rivers trail system.
2) Trail etiquette
Most of Ridge to Rivers’ trails are used by hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, people with dogs and more. The key to all these groups getting along is following trail etiquette, Gordon said.
“You’re on a shared trail system,” he said. “So no matter what, everyone has a right to be there. So be friendly. All the other etiquette messages fall in line if you accept that.”
The message behind Ridge to Rivers’ Happy Trails pledge encourages users to be friendly and kind to those they encounter.
5 rules for etiquette
- Stay on official marked trails. Going off degrades the habitat.
- Don’t use wet, muddy trails. The sandstone soils are delicate.
- Downhill cyclists must yield, with one foot on the ground, to uphill traffic.
- All cyclists must yield, with one foot on the ground, to walkers, runners and people on horseback.
Find more etiquette rules online.
No. 3: Rules for dogs
Boise’s trail system is incredibly dog-friendly but Gordon reminds trail users that there are dog-specific rules in place to protect the habitat and other users.
“We don’t have any trails that are off-leash,” Gordon said. “All our trails are on-leash or what we call ‘controlled off-leash.’”
That means your pup can run free on many routes, but they must be no more than 30 feet from you and under voice command. If you call your dog once, they should come back to you, Gordon said.
Even if you plan to let your dog off-leash, you must carry a leash with you.
The vast majority of trails are controlled off-leash. The ones that require leashes are often high-traffic or near sensitive habitats that roaming dogs could disturb, Gordon said. That’s why it’s important to keep Fido close to you.
“A six-foot leash is what’s required, not a retractable 30-foot leash,” Gordon added.
And no matter what, plan to carry waste bags with you — there are already hundreds of pounds of dog poop left behind in the Foothills each year.
No. 4: Plan your hike
There are dozens of trails in the Ridge to Rivers system, so it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. There are a few ways to get started and find routes at your ability level.
Ridge to Rivers recently launched an interactive online trail map that lets users filter trails by difficulty, use and dog regulations. It also offers a 3D look at trails so you can assess the terrain before heading out.
Want some additional background on a hike? Idaho Statesman assistant editor Chadd Cripe chronicled several of the Foothills trails during his time as an outdoors reporter. His introduction to the trail system is on our website, where you can also search for specific trails and find photos and directions to the trailhead.
No. 5: Five trails to try
“There are a lot of really neat trails that provide different experiences,” Gordon says.
- Table Rock, a challenging hike that takes users to a scenic overlook of the city. Gordon suggests the Table Rock Quarry trail, which goes around the back of the mountain, to avoid crowds on the main trail and get a different view of the trek.
- The Face takes you across the face of Shafer Butte in the Bogus Basin area, where the Foothills give way to forests. Try this route when snow melts from the mountains.
- Five Mile Gulch is “a very unique, shady trail,” according to Gordon. It follows a stream through mature cottonwoods and locust trees northeast of Boise.
- Camel’s Back starts at Camel’s Back Park on 13th and Heron streets. From there you can ascend up to the hump of the camel’s back. The view from the crest of the hill will take your breath away — or was that just the steep climb to the top? Try the trail about the back of the hill for a gentler slope, and explore the connecting trails into nearby Hull’s Gulch.
- Harrison Hollow trail leads to the heart of the Harrison Hollow Reserve, right off of Hill Road in the North End. Hike the whole trail to make a loop with Harrison Ridge, or head out on one of the other trails through the reserve.