Winter Recreation

Add Nordic skiing, snowshoeing or fat biking adventure to your Winter Carnival trip

Some cross country skiing trails allow dogs; others don’t. Be sure to find out if you can take your dog before you go.
Some cross country skiing trails allow dogs; others don’t. Be sure to find out if you can take your dog before you go. Special to the Idaho Statesman

With the Winter Carnival in full swing, it’s important to know where you can go cross country skiing, snowshoeing or fat biking in the McCall area to burn a few calories before diving into the beer garden full-force or cruising around town to check out the world-class ice sculptures.

Fortunately, it’s super easy to tap into cross country ski, snowshoe and fat biking trails that are every bit as world class as the ice sculptures.

[Related: Boise Nordic family to ski Half-Boulder Mountain Tour together]

1. Ponderosa State Park: Located close to downtown McCall, Ponderosa State Park has 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) of groomed cross country ski trails and 3.5 miles of marked snowshoe trails that will be nicely packed from recreation use until we get more snow. There’s also Rover’s Roundabout, a 1-mile groomed trail loop for dogs near the park entrance.

It’s a beautiful experience skiing at the park because of the huge ponderosa pine trees that tower over the groomed trails. The classic day trip is to ski up the main trail to Fox Run, climb Fox Run and take that around to Lakeside, turn right and climb up to Osprey Point, a sweet overlook of Payette Lake. That’s about 6.2 miles (10k) round trip.

My favorite snowshoe loop is to walk around Meadow Marsh. When you’re halfway through, if you’re feeling strong, you might take the Lily Marsh trail to Fox Run and retrace your steps. If that’s too easy, stay on Lily Marsh to Ridgeline and climb to the top of Osprey Point for the view.

Getting there: Take Railroad Avenue off Main Street, heading east. Follow signs to Ponderosa State Park (entrance and trail fees can be paid at the entrance).

2. Bear Basin: We like Bear Basin because it allows dogs on all of the cross country ski and snowshoe trails, and the trails there have a little more diversity and length. The grooming is frequent and well done, as it is at Ponderosa. Bear Basin has 18.6 miles (30k) of cross country and skate ski trails, and 6.2 miles (10k) of marked snowshoe trails.

Beginning cross country skiers or skaters can do a 2-mile (3.2k) loop right out of the parking area on a green trail called “Just Right.” You can change things up and add more distance and challenge by doing the Polar Express Loop (1.4 miles/2.3k), Mack’s Loop (1.3 miles/2.1k) and Lyle’s (1.9 miles/3.1k). If you do all three of those intermediate to advanced loops, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten your workout for the day.

Snowshoers will find a number of loops in the woods close to the trailhead, and then, of course, you can travel more distance by making your own trail or following the cross country trails wherever you wish to go.

Getting there: Take Idaho 55 west of McCall to North Club Hill Drive at the top of the hill before you come to the Little Ski Hill. Turn right. Go a quarter mile to the Bear Basin Trailhead on your right. There is a restroom, yurt and parking by the trailhead. Be sure to pay your trail fees before you ski or snowshoe.

3. Activity Barn/North Valley Trail: Located south of McCall, the Activity Barn is the go-to place for lift-assisted tubing. Kids love it. There’s also 3.1 miles (5k) of groomed cross country ski trails open to snowshoeing and fat biking as well. You can connect to the North Valley Trail, which is groomed out to Heinrich Lane, about three miles one way from the Activity Barn. The bonus of all of these trails is that they’re open for free, courtesy of Brundage Mountain and Valley County Pathways.

Getting there: Take Mission Street south of McCall to Moonridge Drive. Turn right and follow the road less than a mile to the Activity Barn parking lot.

4. Jug Mountain Ranch: Jug has awesome cross country ski/skate trails, plus it’s the go-to spot for fat biking in the area. There are 15.5 miles (25k) of groomed cross country ski and skate trails at JMR, and the trails are also open to fat biking and dogs. The classic trip is to ski or ride Mainline trail up to South Boundary and Mainline up to Upper Jug Creek Reservoir. Enjoy the pretty setting of the lake, with Jughandle Mountain looming above, and then cruise downhill, retracing your steps.

JMR also grooms fat bike singletrack on the South Elk and North Elk trails, which are definitely worth riding, and it has a couple of new fat bike trails between the Midmountain and South Boundary trails. If you don’t have a fat bike, JMR rents them at the clubhouse.

Getting there: Take Idaho 55 to Lake Fork. Go east on Lake Fork Road to the entrance of JMR. Check in at the clubhouse before you ride or ski to pay your trail fees.

Steve Stuebner is an occasional contributor to Idaho Outdoors. He writes a weekly blog called Stueby’s Outdoor Journal and appears on 94.9 FM The River on Friday mornings.