Don’t let the Pioneer Fire stop you from exploring the Park N’ Ski snowshoe trails in the Boise National Forest north of Idaho City.
I joined a State Parks and Recreation-led hike to Stargaze Point on Saturday, which was the annual Free Ski & Snowshoe Day for the department.
Our group found acres of untouched powder, spectacular views and no problems related to last year’s fire or the lack of machine grooming this winter.
“I loved it,” said Tara Burgess of Boise. “We’re definitely going to do the (Stargaze) yurt.”
Stargaze Point sits at 6,682 feet, on a wind-swept nob with 360-degree mountain views. The hike is about 1.5 miles one way from the Beaver Creek parking lot. The trail isn’t groomed but it’s well-marked by blue signs and was packed down for our visit by the people who have been using the nearby Stargaze Yurt.
The elevation gain is about 800 feet. Our group included two first-time snowshoers and an 8-year-old, all of whom reached the top.
“I think it’s one of the prettiest places on the Boise National Forest,” said Leo Hennessy, the non-motorized trails coordinator for State Parks and Rec and the guide for our excursion.
More terrain is open in the Park N’ Ski Area than originally expected (map here). Stargaze Point itself was on the closure list at one point.
For snowshoeing, there are two recommended hikes: Stargaze Point and Banner Ridge, which is about a two-mile hike with 600 feet of elevation gain one way. Those are the only marked trails this winter and they lead to the only two open yurts so they often will be packed down by users.
Once you get to the top of Stargaze Point, the fun begins. Hennessy likes to say you use the trail to go up the hill and then go off-trail on the way down, playing in the powder.
“There’s a lot of good snow up here to be had,” he said. “We’ve got about 5 feet of snow. It is beautiful up here — big, open slopes, lots of powder. We’ve had powder for a month up here and very few people know about it, so come up and use up the powder.”
Saturday’s trip included several people who are relatively new to the sport.
Tara Burgess and Daniel Mercado of Boise began snowshoeing last winter after reading a story about a trip I took with Hennessy to Banner Ridge.
“I like to hike a lot, so it’s like winter hiking,” Burgess said. “... I like the quiet and the snow. I used to not like the cold, but snowshoeing, I think, changed that for me. You gear up, you’re good.”
Blake and Soyoung Lester recently moved to Boise from Houston. They attended a snowshoeing basics class at REI and used Hennessy’s trip as their introduction to the sport.
“It was a blast,” Blake said. “... Definitely a workout. I think it gave us the confidence to come back out here with a group and hit the trail.”
As we splashed through a meadow full of fresh powder in a developing snowstorm on our way back to the parking lot, Caroline Bryan of Boise said: “This is why you go to the gym, so you can do stuff like this.”
▪ Getting there: Take Idaho 21 about 25 miles north of Idaho City to the new Beaver Creek parking lot on the left side of the road. The trail begins there. Follow the blue signs. Near the top, yellow signs direct yurt users to Stargaze Yurt. Stick with the blue signs to Stargaze Point. You’ll need a Park N’ Ski permit — $7.50 for three days or $25 for the season. More info at parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/activities/nordic