The Treasure Valley sky slowly turned from blue and yellow to a deep red-orange as the sun dipped below the dark outline of Boise’s skyline.
Nick O’Bryant, a Boise runner, made his way up the trail on the southwest-facing slope of Military Reserve as nature’s ever-changing evening artwork exploded in rich colors.
“The sunset up here is pretty amazing,” said O’Bryant, rounding a bend on the trail and turning back to take in the evening colors.
He regularly runs trails in the Boise Foothills because they are only five minutes from town. One of his favorite times is at the end of the day, when he has seen incredible sunsets on several trails across the Foothills.
Late fall and winter offer more vivid sunsets over the Treasure Valley. The days are getting shorter, the sun’s angle has changed and the sunsets glow with reds, pinks and oranges. They are especially vibrant when storm clouds are lingering over the Owyhee Mountains across the valley.
Also gone is the haze in the air of summer, which often mutes the colors of sunsets. In fall and winter, the air is more crisp and clear, making the colors of sunsets more vibrant.
Another surprising phenomenon is the location of sunsets in winter. During the summer, the sun is seen setting way to the northwest of the Idaho Capitol in Boise. In winter, it’s southwest of the iconic building.
You never really think about this until you start watching sunsets.
“As we enter the autumn season, the Earth moves to a position around the sun that has us tilted more away from the sun. This peaks on the first day of winter,” said Scott Dorval, chief meteorologist with KIVI-TV. “The further we get tilted away from the sun, the lower the sun appears in our sky.”
Since the arc or path of the sun gets narrower at its peak, which is the top of the arc at midday, the points at which the arc starts (sunrise) and ends (sunset) get closer to each other moving toward winter, Dorval said.
“This causes the sunrise to move from northeast in the summer to the southeast in the winter and the sunset to move from the northwest in the summer to the southwest in the winter as the sun cuts out a smaller arc across the sky,” Dorval said.
Because of this, the sun will rise north of true east and set north of true west during summer, and during winter, the sun will rise south of true east and set south of true west.
Enough science — a really good reason for sunset watching in the winter is the convenience. The sun sets earlier. Sunset hiking makes a great after-dinner or before-dinner activity. How does a hike in the Foothills and then dinner downtown sound?
It’s also a great way to wow holiday visitors with the beauty of the Treasure Valley.
Check out ridgetorivers.org for an overview of Boise Foothills trails and start exploring for sunset vistas. However, here are five of the best places to view sunsets in the Boise area:
Table Rock area
The Table Rock area, which is easily accessible off Warm Springs Avenue near the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise, has a variety of trails that climb quickly to vistas overlooking the valley. It is one of the largest trail systems on the Boise Front with lots of hiking and lots of places to get different angles on sunset watching.
Table Rock Trail: Table Rock Trail No. 15, which is a main artery for the area, takes off from the Old Penitentiary to the top of Table Rock. It offers amazing views of the valley, the Owyhee Mountains and sunsets. From there, the trail connects to Table Rock Loop No. 16 and the Table Rock Quarry Trail.
But hikers don’t have to go that far and high to catch a sunset. Perch on a rock just above the Old Pen or the Idaho Botanical Garden.
One thing to note: The hike back to the parking lot can be a little spooky going by the daunting Old Pen in darkness.
Castle Rock: The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Loop (No. 19) is also accessible from the Old Pen parking lot. It ascends to a prominent point just to the west and provides nice views for minimal effort. It’s a good, quick hike to take in sunsets and also a place where those who can’t hike very far can get a look at the southwestern sky.
Tram Trail: The lower end of Tram Trail No. 14, which is also part of the Table Rock system, goes across open slopes with clear views of the valley. It is a moderate hike that takes off from a trailhead across from Warm Springs Golf Course. It climbs 1.2 miles up to the Table Rock Quarry Trail.
Military Reserve, which is a 460-acre natural area close to Downtown Boise, is undoubtedly the best place to see the sun set over the Idaho Capitol.
The Reserve has plenty of room to explore a variety of trails and vistas for sunsets. The easiest and best spot for sunsets is the Eagle Ridge Trail No. 25 and Central Ridge Trail No. 22. Trail No. 25 is an easy hike and offers wide-open views of the city skyline.
Go past the dog park on Mountain Cove Road and continue around the curve to the first trailhead parking lot. From there, a nearby trail goes southwest through a creek bottom and up a ravine to the top of the ridgeline.
Camel’s Back Hill
The top of Camel’s Back Hill is an excellent spot for sunset watching and very close to town. The views of the city skyline at sunset are incredible.
However, the area is closed for construction. The project is being done to stabilize Camel’s Back Chute because heavy use and weather have eroded the sandy soils. The project includes the installation of stairs on the upper portion of the sand chute to stabilize the soils.
Trails in the area are closed for safety and the contractor will use flaggers when crossing open trails.
Because of construction, keep this spot in mind for late December or early January when the project is expected to be complete. There will still be enough winter sunsets to see.
The Corrals Trail offers expansive views of the Treasure Valley and is an excellent hike at sunset.
It’s an easy two-track road and hikers only have to go 100 yards from Bogus Basin Road to get a clear view of the valley’s lights and fading evening light.
The views extend all the way to the Owyhee Mountains and to the rock outcroppings of Eastern Oregon’s desert skyline. This is a good stroll for those who might have difficulty walking on steep terrain or any great distance.
Drive about 3 miles up Bogus Basin Road from its intersection with Hill Road. Don’t go all the way up to the Miller Gulch Trailhead. The valley is hidden in a gully on the first part of this trail.
Instead, stop at the original location of the Corrals traiIhead, which is about an eighth of a mile before Miller Gulch. It’s easy to spot with a parking area on the left side of the road for a few cars.
Hike out the road to the best knoll for views.
The main hiking trail near the visitor center at the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge offers great sunset photo ops and hiking. The nature trail loops about a half mile for a casual hike.
Sunsets take on a different look over the lake with the sun’s rays bouncing off the water. There’s also an observation tower along the trail for even better views.
The refuge is open from dawn to dusk, so watch the sunset and head back to the car before the refuge closes.
Getting to the visitor center is complicated. Take Karcher Road (Idaho 55) south out of Nampa. Follow Karcher Road about 3.5 miles to Lake Avenue. Turn left onto Lake and drive about 2.5 miles to the intersection with Roosevelt Avenue. Turn right onto Roosevelt. At Indiana Avenue at the top of the hill, turn left into the refuge and follow the road to the visitor center.
Pete Zimowsky (aka Zimo) has been looking for great sunsets (and sunrises) in Idaho and the Northwest for more than 50 years. A longtime outdoors writer for the Idaho Statesman, he enjoys hiking and biking throughout the Treasure Valley.