The distance runners at Boise State have easy access to the Greenbelt — it runs right along campus — and a track just down the street.
Yet frequently they drive 45 minutes up windy Bogus Basin Road for their workout. The destination: Around the Mountain trail.
During the week, when there’s no time for driving, they make the short run to the Military Reserve trail system in the Foothills.
“I don’t run on pavement anymore,” Boise State track and field and cross country coach Corey Ihmels said. “The pounding on the pavement kills me. ... If I’m going to go for an hour run, I’m going to make sure I’m on the trail the whole time. It winds me up when I see people around town running on the pavement when they could be in the Foothills.”
Trail running accounted for 17 percent of users in the Ridge to Rivers system’s Foothills survey in 2015. Holly Finch, owner of The Pulse Running & Fitness Shops in Meridian, is trying to help more runners transition to dirt. She started a trail-running group aimed at beginners last year. They run two Wednesdays per month.
“Everybody thinks they’re too slow,” said Jenny Stinson, a former road marathoner who became a trail runner in 2008. “I’ve been there. The first few times, I thought, ‘I’m not a trail runner.’ A mile on the trail seems so much longer than a mile on a road.”
It’s also more relaxing, trail runners say. “Trails can take you places where roads can’t,” Stinson said.
Here are a few trails to try, depending on your fitness level:
▪ Seamans Gulch: For a sample of trail running, try the 2.2-mile outer loop from the Seamans Gulch trailhead on Seamans Gulch Road north of Hill Road. For a more gradual climb, start out going back toward town on the Seamans Gulch trail. Go right at the aptly named Valley View trail, turn right to rejoin Seamans Gulch and turn right onto Wild Phlox trail. The route is well-marked, so don’t turn where you don’t see a sign for the correct trail. “It’s short and doable by just about anybody, and it has great views,” Stinson said.
▪ Peggy’s trail: One of the newest additions to the Ridge to Rivers system, the scenic Peggy’s trail has proven a major hit with Foothills users. It’s 4.7 miles to the intersection with the Sweet Connie trail, but you can turn back at any time for a shorter run. To reach the trailhead, take Cartwright Road from Bogus Basin Road. The trailhead also offers access to Polecat Gulch.
▪ Shane’s Loop: You might find Boise State runners here because of the proximity to campus. From the Cottonwood Creek trailhead on Mountain Cove Road, take the Central Ridge trail to Shane’s trail, which forms three-quarters of a loop. Use Three Bears to close the loop and head back toward town on Bucktail. The full loop is about 9 miles. “It’s not a super-hard climb,” former Boise State runner David Elliott said. “You go up some switchbacks on the way up. There are amazing views of the city. I love running it in the spring and summer. You can see the sun setting over the entire city.”
▪ Watchman: Hit Watchman in late April or early May for the abundant, yellow arrowleaf balsamroot flowers. “It’s like you’re in ‘The Sound of Music,’ ” Stinson said. The 6-mile loop begins at the Five Mile Creek trailhead on Rocky Canyon/Shaw Mountain Road. Walk back down the road about a quarter-mile to catch Three Bears Trail for a challenging climb, turn right for a “fun run” down Watchman and catch Five Mile Gulch trail back to the trailhead, Stinson said.
▪ Around the Mountain: The trail at Bogus Basin offers panoramic views while circling around Shafer Butte. From Simplot Lodge, take Deer Point trail to Around the Mountain and turn right. At Pioneer Lodge, drop back down to Simplot (there are several options). The total loop is close to 10 miles. “It’s just different than anything in the lower Foothills,” Ihmels said. “You could be in Colorado and you wouldn’t know it. I probably shouldn’t tell people about it because I don’t want more people there, but if you’re from Boise and haven’t gone up and done it you’re doing yourself a disservice because it’s fantastic.”
▪ Polecat Loop: The 6.1-mile outer loop around Polecat Gulch features a challenging climb from the trailhead on Collister. But once you reach the top, it’s an enjoyable, twisting, single-track trail with small doses of ups and downs. The Quick Draw and Doe Ridge cutoff trails give you a chance to shorten the run or create varied loops.
Tips and resources
▪ If you haven’t run on trails, start with Seamans Gulch or some of the lower loops at Hulls Gulch or Military Reserve. “You’ve got to take it a little slower than you would on the Greenbelt,” Boise State track and field/cross country coach Corey Ihmels said. “It’s a little more challenging. In the end, once your body kind of gets used to it and you’ve done a little bit, your return is better. You’re better off being on the soft stuff than being on the hard stuff.”
▪ Run with friends or an organized group until you get a feel for the trail system. At the very least, take your cell phone. “A lot of things can happen on the trail,” trail runner Holly Finch said.
▪ Bring water. More exertion means more need for hydration — and you can’t just stop at a drinking fountain. “If you’re on the Greenbelt, you’ll be near a house,” Finch said. “I go out and run for three hours and I don’t see anybody.”
▪ The Pulse Running & Fitness Shop hosts beginner-friendly trail runs at 6:30 p.m. the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Info on The Pulse Dirty Soles Facebook page. The Pulse also holds a group run on Saturday mornings. Beginners are welcome on Saturdays, too. “I love getting people out because it’s been such a big part of my life,” said Finch, owner of The Pulse.
▪ If you prefer to go it alone, check out Steve Stuebner’s book, “Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home,” for detailed route info.