A cool, refreshing breeze comes across the ridge at the summit of Brundage Mountain Resort. Grab a light jacket.
The temperature cools down with every gain in elevation as the chairlift makes its way to the 7,640-foot summit.
The views of the Salmon River Mountains are incredible but that’s just part of it. The cooler temperatures make for superb hiking and mountain-biking conditions.
Mountaintops are nature’s answer to air conditioning, and bikers and hikers should take advantage of it in the heat of summer — even late summer.
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When the heat is in the 90s in Boise, you can count on mild 70s at Bogus Basin. Even in mountain towns there’s a big difference in temperatures between the valley floor and a nearby summit. It could be 80 in McCall but expect it to be in the high 60s on the summit of Brundage. In Sun Valley, 82 in town can mean 62 on Baldy.
Heat can linger at low elevations in southern Idaho in August and September, and some of the best mountain biking and hiking is at high elevations. Mountains around Sun Valley, McCall, Stanley, and even north of Boise around Bogus Basin, can offer excellent biking and hiking.
There’s still plenty of time to plan treks or rides, too, because Idaho’s late-summer and fall hiking season can extend well though October even at higher elevations. It’s also the time to relish the changing season’s fall colors.
Here are some ways to enjoy hiking and biking in Idaho’s mountains:
The easy way
The quickest and easiest way to get to the top of a mountain is in a chairlift, and several ski areas in southern Idaho offer chairlift rides through Labor Day weekend. It’s a way to get a workout at high elevations without the long climb to the top. And you can end the day with a burger and brew at the resort’s lodge.
Here’s a look at what’s going on at ski areas during the summer:
The mountain, just 16 miles north of Boise, is available for mountain biking, hiking, disc golf and picnics in summer. Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area offers free public trail systems in the 6,000- to 7,000-foot alpine environment. Trails and ski cat tracks wind around the mountain offering views of the Treasure Valley on one side and the Boise Mountains on the other. On a very clear day you might even get a glimpse of the Sawtooths through a bluish summer haze.
The J.R. Simplot Lodge is open 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 6. It offers soups, sandwiches and salads in addition to a full bar, billiards and darts.
The Deer Point Chairlift will operate for scenic rides and mountain bike transport from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. Cost for an all-day pass is $25. Single rides are $10.
In the meantime, a bike shuttle service runs from Simplot Lodge to Pioneer Lodge during the summer from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Cost is $25 per day for unlimited rides or $10 for a single ride. Tickets are available at Simplot Lodge. See bogusbasin.org.
Brundage Mountain Resort, north of McCall, is open four days a week (Thursday through Sunday) for scenic chairlift rides, lift-served downhill mountain biking and disc golf through Sept. 6 with bonus days on Sept. 7 (Labor Day), Sept. 12 and Sept. 13. Food, snacks and beverages aren’t far from the trails. Smoky’s Bar & Grill is open during the same times as the lifts.
The resort boasts more than 20 miles of “hand-built” single track trails, and it only takes a 12-minute ride on the BlueBird Quad to get to the top of the 7,640-foot summit and the beginning of those trails.
Not into mountain biking? Views from the summit are impressive and worth the chairlift ride even if you’re only going to gaze at the scenery. Long Valley, Payette Lake, West Mountain and the Seven Devils Mountains can be seen from Brundage’s summit.
If you’re just getting into mountain biking on a resort’s trails, Brundage has its Triple Play Skills Park in the base area. It’s a practice playground for greenbelt riders who want to transition into downhill mountain bikers and offers rolling terrain, wider trails and well-spaced bank turns. Lessons are also available.
Scenic chairlift rides are $12 for one ride (ages 15-69) and $5 (7-14 and 70 and over) with children 6 and under free.
A full-day ticket is $32 (15-69) and $20 (7-14 and 70 and older).
A one-ride lift ticket for you and your bike is $16; $12 (7-14).
Full-day mountain bike rentals, including a lift ticket and helmet, are: $99, downhill package with pads (downhill bikes are built for speed and agility for downhill riding); $89, cross-country package; and $55, youth-sized bike package.
See brundage.com for more information.
Tamarack Resort near Donnelly has an array of trails for scenic bike rides and hiking across meadows plus downhill biking on the slopes.
West Mountain, which towers over Long Valley and Lake Cascade, is impressive for hiking. Hikers can access trails from the end of Discovery Road at the resort to get views of meadows and Lake Cascade. Those looking for more advanced forested trails can take off from the base area or top of Whitewater Drive.
A shuttle service for mountain biking to midmountain runs is offered Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 6. Prices are $36 for a full day and $26 for a half day. Reservations are needed. Call (208) 325-1000.
Bikes, including helmets, for all sizes and abilities are available to rent inside the resort’s Sports Dome. They include: adult cross country, $30 half day and $35 full day; junior cross country, $25 half day and $30 full day; adult downhill, $45 half day and $55 full day.
For more information, see tamarackidaho.com.
There’s nothing like a comfortable gondola ride to the Roundhouse Lodge or a chairlift ride to the top of 9,150-foot Bald Mountain at Sun Valley Resort, where you can see a 360-degree view of the Smoky, Boulder, Pioneer and Soldier mountains. Talk about chilling down at that elevation. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket on your ride or hike.
There are about 34 miles of biking and hiking trails on Bald Mountain and five miles of trails around the White Clouds Golf Course, so plan several days for exploring the area.
Connecting both areas are miles of paved trails, part of the Wood River Trail System, referred to as the “bike path”
Trekkers can hike the Bald Mountain Trail or ride the Roundhouse Gondola to the Roundhouse Lodge and continue to the top of Bald Mountain on the Christmas Lift.
You can bring your own bike or rent a mountain bike at Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports.
And don’t worry about packing a lunch. Just head down to Roundhouse Lodge, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an outdoor grill and bar service.
Prices include: Adult sightseeing and hiking single ride, $23; mountain biking all day, $35. Child (3 to 12) and senior sightseeing and hiking, single ride, $19; mountain biking all day, $25.
For more information see sunvalley.com.
Moderate and invigorating
Sun Valley area
Harriman Trail: One thing you’ll never run out of in the Sun Valley area is hiking and biking options. There are nearly 400 miles of single track and 30 miles of paved, car-free trails ranging from fast and smooth to technical and challenging.
The Harriman Trail, which runs right along Idaho 75 north of Sun Valley, offers several trailheads along the 19-mile route. Elevation varies from 6,200 to 7,200 feet with easy riding for beginners or long distance for advanced riders. You can also take a stroll anywhere along the trail, which follows the Wood River.
Stop at Galena Lodge at the northernmost end of the trail for a gourmet lunch and craft beers. Galena Lodge also has a trail system in case you want to stick closer to the lodge.
An excellent side trip from the trail is the trail to Norton Lakes in the Smoky Mountains. You can hike two miles to the lakes and then branch out into other alpine areas. Drive north of Ketchum on Idaho 75 for 15.5 miles and turn left on Baker Creek Road No. 162. At 6 miles, turn right onto Norton Creek Road, and the trailhead is in 1.3 miles.
Titus Lake: Here’s a moderate hike to an alpine lake and makes for the perfect first-time, serious trek for beginners or children. The trailhead is just up Idaho 75 from Galena Lodge at Galena Summit. It’s about 5 miles round trip from the highway to Titus Lake and back.
Bridal Veil Falls: This trail, just past Stanley Lake, northwest of Stanley, is a perfect trail for youngsters and beginner hikers. Parts of the trail are also designed for wheelchairs. Hike 2 miles or more for opportunities to see the Sawtooths up close and also picturesque Stanley Lake Creek. There’s not too much of an elevation gain. This trail is part of the Centennial Trail.
Redfish Lake Creek Trail: A good way to get into the Sawtooth Wilderness for a day hike is on the Redfish Lake Creek Trail. The trailhead is across the lake from Redfish Lake Lodge, so you’ll want to take the shuttle boat across the lake. It cuts about five miles off the hike to the wilderness trailhead.
Redfish Lake Lodge caters to hikers with the boat shuttle, which costs $10 one way or $16 for a round trip for adults. For more information, go to redfishlake.com and click on Marina. Redfish Lake is about 7 miles south of Stanley off Idaho 75.
McCall and Cascade areas
Ponderosa State Park: The state park located on the shore of Payette Lake is ideal for hiking and mountain biking. The giant, hundreds-of-years-old ponderosa pines and Lily Marsh will wow kids for sure. The Meadow Marsh Trail is 1.4 miles and a good bet for hiking because it’s only open to foot traffic. The Lily Marsh Trail is about a mile and also for hiking only. Trails go through a variety of terrain and are easily accessible in the park. For more information, stop by the park’s visitor center. If you want a good mountain biking workout, head from the visitor center on park roads to Osprey Point overlooking Payette Lake. See parksandrecreation.idaho.gov and look under Ponderosa State Park.
Blue Lake: This is one of the best beginner hikes, especially for children. It’s easily accessible off Idaho 55 about 7 miles south of Cascade. The 1-mile in and 1-mile out trail goes downhill to stunning Blue Lake, offering views all across Long Valley and well into the Warm Lake area. Side hikes to the top of the ridge of West Mountain also offer views of Council valley. There is a lot of cross-country hiking on the ridge line, but make sure you have your map and GPS. Get there on Idaho 55 about 9 miles north of Smiths Ferry. Turn left on Cabarton Road and go 2 miles to the Snowbank Mountain Road and drive about 10 miles to the trailhead.
Boulder Mountains: There are a lot of trails leading into the peaks in this mountain range north of Sun Valley with incredible views of several mountain ranges. The Upper North Fork Wood River area offers lots of basins to explore.
You’ll have to hike at least 3 miles to get to the first meadow on the Upper North Fork Trail and at least 4.5 miles to get to timberline. From there you can climb 10,000- to 11,000-foot peaks such as Glasford, Ryan and Kent.
Get to the trailhead by driving 7 miles north of Ketchum to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters and head up Forest Road 146 to the end of the road.
Pioneer Mountains: The East Fork of the Wood River area offers trails that go to 11,000- and 12,000-foot peaks in the beautiful Pioneer Mountains. It’s rugged country and takes 4- and 5-mile hikes to get to mountain basins. Highlights are Pioneer Cabin, Hyndman Peak, Johnstone Pass and Cobb Peak. Be forewarned: This is strenuous hiking.
You can get to the area by driving 6 miles south of Ketchum on Idaho 75 and turning east on the East Fork Road. Drive to the end of the road to a trailhead.
Pete Zimowsky, a retired Idaho Statesman journalist, has been writing about the Idaho outdoors for nearly 40 years. He loves to hike and bike — especially with his grandchildren.