Cross-country ski and snowshoe trails across Southwest Idaho lead to some of the most beautiful vistas around. No — make that the most beautiful picnic spots.
And you don’t have to feel guilty about having a wine, cheese and chocolate party when you’re burning more than 400 calories an hour snowshoeing or skiing.
It’s the perfect activity for taking in the scenery, and sitting in a Crazy Creek chair or on a lightweight space blanket, basking in the sun and snow, and celebrating the mountains with food and drink.
Many groomed trails lead to high ridgelines, lakes, creeks and meadows, perfect places for a noontime stop, or even to lodges with warm fireplaces.
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The makings of a snow picnic don’t weigh that much and can easily fit in a daypack. Foods are getting more convenient for the trail, and even sparkling wine comes in a can for easier and safer storage in a daypack.
Going through a snow-ladened campground with picnic tables? Use your avalanche shovel to clear away the snow and have a comfortable table and chair.
Trekking and having a picnic in the snow gets better and better in late winter and early spring when there’s more sunshine and warmer weather. Gone are the gray, dreary days of winter, with snow and sleet flying in all directions. How about skiing near Bull Trout Lake in April in a T-shirt and shorts? Been there. Done that. Don’t forget the sunscreen.
Plan now for a snowy picnic. It’s only going to get better.
Here are a few of the best places for your adventure:
Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area’s Nordic Trail System has a wide range of trails and a wide range of little, hidden picnic spots along the main trail called the Nordic Highway. The trail is a relatively flat trail and an easy place to try out a snow picnic for the first time.
The scenery off the Nordic Highway and other loop trails in the Bogus trail system is breathtaking almost anywhere you look.
Want a strenuous trek to really burn off the calories? Head 4 miles up to Shafer Butte Picnic Area on a groomed trail and take in the scenery on the backside of Bogus. Yes, there are picnic tables but they may be buried.
Just remember when you head out 4 miles toward Shafer Butte that you have to return 4 miles to the trailhead.
Want to ski or snowshoe and have a picnic without a daypack? Leave your picnic lunch at the Frontier Point Lodge and trek a mile or so. Head back to the lodge and dine next to the fireplace in the upstairs loft. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Trail prices: Adults and children 12 and older, $14 full day, $11 half day, $8 night; children (7-11) and seniors (70 and older), $7 full day, $5 half day, $3 night; 6 and younger, free. Adult snowshoe trail ticket: adult, $7 full day, $5 half day and night; child, $5 full day, $3 half day and night.
You’ll have to leave your ski dog at home. Bogus Basin doesn’t allow canine cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Getting there: Drive 16.5 miles up Bogus Basin Road, and go past the Simplot Lodge on your right and the tubing hill on your left.
PONDEROSA STATE PARK
The best picnic spot at Ponderosa State Park has to be Osprey Point, which is on a rocky point at the end of a long, groomed trail system.
The view of Payette Lake and the 1,000-acre park, which is on a peninsula in the lake, is unforgettable no matter which direction you look. Also unforgettable is the 5-mile round trip to Osprey Point from the park’s trailhead, so pack a big lunch.
The park has a lot of variety in trails and usually has about 13 miles of groomed Nordic ski trails and a little more than 3 miles of designated snowshoe trails in mountainous terrain.
By the way, if you’re not up to a 5-mile trek to Osprey Point, there are numerous little picnic spots along the shoreline of frozen Payette Lake off the groomed ski trails.
Groomed ski trails can be used by snowshoers, too. Got a dog? Rovers Round-About is a pet-friendly trail in the park.
Trail prices: A Winter Access day pass is $5 per person, per day. Park users entering in a motor vehicle must also pay a $5 fee unless they have an Idaho State Parks Passport sticker (a great deal at $10 a year).
Getting there: Drive 102 miles north of Boise on Idaho 55 to McCall. Turn right on Railroad Avenue. Follow the signs to the park.
BANNER RIDGE PARK N’ SKI TRAIL
It takes a little effort to get to the best picnic spots on the Banner Ridge Trail, northeast of Idaho City.
You have to earn your turns and picnic. There’s a pretty steep 1.3-mile climb on the groomed trail to get to the ridge, but once there, the terrain is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable because of the wide-open telemark skiing in open bowls and the aspen-pine forest terrain.
Again, it’s plenty worth the climb. From the ridge, skiers and snowshoers can see the canyon of the South Fork of the Payette River and Salmon River Mountains off in the distance.
The Banner Ridge system is the oldest state-run Park N’ Ski trail system in Southern Idaho and has gained a lot of popularity over the last three to four decades.
Forest fires actually created a lot of the Telemark terrain. The slopes in the area were opened up by huge fires over the decades, and since the area gets plenty of snow being on a ridgeline between 6,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation, you can count on fresh powder throughout the winter.
Snowshoers can use the groomed trails as long as they stay to the sides and don’t post-hole in the set tracks. However, the main reason snowshoers like the area is for exploring marked, ungroomed trails along open ridgelines and through aspen and pine forests.
Dogs are not allowed on groomed trails at Banner Ridge.
Getting there: The trailhead is reached by driving on Idaho 21, northeast of Boise, about 25 miles past Idaho City. It is the third Park N’ Ski area along the highway between Mores Creek and Beaver Creek summits. A restroom is available at the trailhead.
Fees: Annual Idaho Park N’ Ski permit $25, three-day permit for $7.50 (minimum number of days you can buy).
BEAVER CREEK SUMMIT
Idaho’s Park N’ Ski trail off Beaver Creek Summit offers a steep, 1-mile climb to beautiful views of the canyon of the South Fork of the Payette River in one direction and Thorn Butte in the other.
The ungroomed trail actually ends up at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation’s Stargaze Yurt, but there are plenty of places to go to avoid the yurt. Don’t disturb people who are renting the yurt.
The trail cuts across several open faces that are perfect picnic spots. Set up a picnic spot, leave your packs and tele ski the open hillsides.
You’ll even find cell service up here to send your friends selfies of your snow picnic.
The trail at Beaver Creek Summit is more conducive to snowshoeing because of its steepness and wind-blown or icy conditions. Hard-core tele-skiers skin up to gain elevation. Some snowshoe to the top of the mountain carrying their skis on their packs.
Getting there: The parking lot for Beaver Creek Summit is about a mile from the Banner Ridge parking lot.
Incidentally, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation has about 55 miles of marked trails with about 28 miles of those groomed each week in the entire Idaho City Park N’ Ski Trail System.
Dogs are allowed on most of the trails, except for those groomed at Banner Ridge.
Fees: Annual Idaho Park N’ Ski permit $25, three-day permit for $7.50 (minimum number of days you can buy).
There are so many cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities along Idaho 75 north of Sun Valley, it’s really difficult to choose a spot.
But one thing’s for sure. Trekking along the trails between the Smoky and Boulder mountains and along the Wood River is perfect for picnicking.
Just drive the highway and pull off at what you consider the most scenic spot.
If you’re not interested in throwing out the picnic blanket, head to Galena Lodge and order lunch. That way you don’t have to carry a full daypack and you can still enjoy the more than 30 miles of trails adjacent to the lodge to work up an appetite.
Galena Lodge is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can enjoy the fireplace and lunch, fresh-baked goods, espresso drinks or a house-made cocktail or a craft brew.
The North Valley trail system, which takes in the Harriman Trail, actually covers more than 70 miles of terrain, mostly in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
The main systems include the Lake Creek trails, Billy’s Bridge, North Fork Loop, the Harriman Trail, Prairie Creek Loop and the Galena Lodge trails.
Snowshoe trails can be found along the Harriman Trail at North Fork Loop, Billy’s Bridge and at Galena Lodge.
Dogs are allowed on designated trails.
Day fees: $17 adult, $5 youth (13-17), $5 dog, $5 snowshoe. Passes are available at area ski shops.
Getting there: As soon as you start driving north out of Ketchum, you’ll start seeing ski and snowshoe trails along Idaho 75. It’s the North Valley trail system. Drive 24 miles north of Ketchum and you’ll come to Galena Lodge.
Alturas Lake trails in Central Idaho, about 3 1/2 hours from Boise, offer an up-close-and-personal view of the Sawtooth Mountains and the Sawtooth Wilderness. What a place for a picnic. It’s a 5-star picnic spot.
Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are on groomed trails going through rolling timber country along frozen tributaries of the famed Salmon River.
The trailhead is located at plowed parking along Idaho 75, about 21 miles south of Stanley in the Sawtooth Valley.
From the trailhead, it’s a quick skate over the flats into aspen and fir hills and along Alturas Lake Creek. A track is also set for classic skiing.
The main trail follows the creek to a narrow bridge that takes skiers and snowshoers out toward the lake itself.
The trail system has several routes: Alturas Lake Trail, 4 miles; Wapiti, 1.2 miles; Over the Hill, 1.5 miles; and South Loop, .6 miles. Actually, at times and depending on grooming there could be up to 8.6 miles of tracked loops throughout the area.
If you’re not into hauling picnic food on the trail, there’s an excellent place to eat at Smiley Creek Lodge, along Idaho 75, 3 miles south of the trail system.
The lodge has cabins, and skiers can make the Alturas trails a weekend getaway. It has a full restaurant, a deli for those on the go, and an ice cream parlor for the lodge’s famous homemade milkshakes. You might think it’s too cold for milkshakes. No way.
Getting there: Drive northeast on Idaho 21 out of Boise about 125 miles to Stanley and then turn south on Idaho 75 for 21 miles. Look for the plowed parking on the right. If Idaho 21 is closed by avalanches, you’ll have to drive the southern route through Mountain Home, Fairfield and Sun Valley. It’s too long that way for a day trip.
The trail system is maintained by the community-based Sawtooth Ski Club, so donations of $3 a day are appreciated.
Pete Zimowsky, aka Zimo, has been cross-country skiing the mountains of Utah, Wyoming and Idaho since the ‘60s. The only way he’s kept going is with a good picnic lunch, and of course, chocolate.
Planning a picnic
What basics you’ll need
▪ Medium day pack.
▪ Swiss Army Knife (slicing cheese and fruit).
▪ Crazy Creek Chairs or large space blanket.
▪ Water bottle.
▪ Insulated bag to store food and to prevent anything from leaking in your pack. This will also keep the meat, cheese and fruit from freezing. Plastic food storage containers also work.
Make it simple
▪ Pack a couple of small cans (about 6 ounces) of sparkling wine, cheese, sliced apples and crackers or artisan bread. Don’t forget a chocolate bar for dessert.
If you don’t want it that simple
▪ A 32-ounce insulated growler is just the right size for a daypack. Fill it with beer from your favorite craft beerhouse or growler station. (A 64-ounce growler is too heavy for most people and packs.)
▪ Bring hot soup in a Thermos. Hot soup is always welcome. But it means you have to bring a couple of lightweight plastic mugs. Make your own soup at home or stop at the grocery store deli for a variety of soups. Pack a large plastic bag to store messy cups and spoons.
▪ Sandwiches, made at home or purchased ready to eat, are easy for a picnic.
▪ Sliced veggies and dip are easy to eat on the trail.
▪ Bagels and cream cheese don’t take very much preparation.
▪ Small stoves weigh just ounces and fire up easily for heating tea or dried soups. It’s a little more effort but it sure tastes good to have freshly heated hot beverages.
▪ You can also bring along dehydrated backpacking meals for a hefty lunch.
▪ Totally fun, especially for kids: Take a package of hot dogs (stored in a food-storage container) and boil them in a pot on the backpacking stove. After the hot dogs are cooked, add a small can of sauerkraut to the pot and let it heat. Add mustard and buns, and you’ve got hot dogs on the trail. Pack out leftovers in the food-storage container.
▪ Your dog will be working hard running through the snow and will need extra water and snacks. Take a small plastic food-storage container and use it for water and food.