Winter Recreation

Grab some snowshoes and hit the trail to explore Idaho’s winter landscape

A group of snowshoers from the Treasure Valley soaks in the view from the trail system northeast of Idaho City.
A group of snowshoers from the Treasure Valley soaks in the view from the trail system northeast of Idaho City. ccripe@idahostatesman.com

Restoration and logging efforts stemming from the Pioneer Fire continue to affect the availability of winter trails in the Idaho City Park N' Ski system.

The two best available snowshoe hikes this winter are Stargaze Point (more on that below) and the loop available from the Banner Ridge parking lot. The Banner Ridge snowshoe loop is a 2-mile hike with a view of Lowman.

There are also snowshoe loops available on each side of the road at the Gold Fork parking lot.

Idaho Parks and Recreation expects to have about 15 miles of marked trails this winter — still well below the peak total of 54. Many of those unmarked trails are available for use this year but won’t be marked until the logging operation is completed, so you’d have to know your way around the forest.

Parks and Recreation will have an Avenza map on its website (parksandrecreation.idaho.gov) soon that will display only the marked trails and allow you to track where you are by GPS. All of the parking lots will be plowed this winter.

Other places to consider snowshoeing this winter include Ponderosa State Park in McCall, Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area north of Boise, Galena Lodge between Ketchum and Stanley, Lake Cascade State Park in Cascade, Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall, Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Brundage Mountain near McCall, Activity Barn in McCall and Sun Valley Resort.

Here are a few snowshoe trips I wrote about last winter:

Stargaze Point

Our group found acres of untouched powder and spectacular views.

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, non-motorized trails coordinator for Idaho Parks and Rec.

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 last winter. “It is beautiful up here — big, open slopes, lots of powder.”

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 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.

Upper Dry Creek

One free option close to Boise is the Upper Dry Creek trail system. The old logging roads on private land have been a popular winter destination for years. The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, in partnership with the city of Boise and Grossman Company Properties, installed gates to make the trails non-motorized only. The easiest access is through the trailhead 12.2 miles up Bogus Basin Road from Hill Road. There’s room to park several cars.

“From an overlook surrounded by trees you can see Downtown Boise, so it’s a pretty unique, cool opportunity,” said Tim Breuer, executive director of the Land Trust.

Sun Valley Resort

When I visited Sun Valley last winter, the hilly White Clouds loop was closed. That left the Bridges and Hemingway trails as our best options. And while I initially was concerned that the flatter trails wouldn’t be as much fun as the adventure of hiking up and down large hills, we still enjoyed the peaceful, serene walk through the woods and (several times) over Trail Creek.

The trails are on the same property as the Trail Creek golf course (Sun Valley’s traditional course) and are supported by the golf clubhouse. Snowshoe passes are available in the clubhouse.

We set out going northeast along the Bridges trail, which is a loop. But we added the short jaunt to the Hemingway Memorial, which is about a half-mile round trip add-on. That includes a short but steep climb to the monument honoring writer Ernest Hemingway, who died in Ketchum in 1961. Much of the monument, including a stream that runs in front of it, was buried in snow but someone had cleared the front of it, revealing most of the words: “Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills the high blue windless skies ... Now he will be a part of them forever.”

Back on the Bridges trail, we walked on a path that was about 2 feet below the top of the snowpack and was still soft in spots because of the heavy recent snowfall in the area. Much of the trail sits about 100 feet below the clubhouse, so there was a bit of a climb on the way back, but not much. Our round trip was 3.1 miles with 275 feet of total elevation gain. There is a ski trail called Short Cut that you could use to shorten the loop. The first half of the hike has the most enjoyable setting.

SNOWSHOEING TIPS

Pack well: You’ll work harder than you think, so make sure you have plenty of water and food for the day. Among the items you should carry: a second pair of gloves, whistle, headlamp with extra batteries, sunscreen, maps, sunglasses, GPS to mark your starting location, lighter, fire starter and handwarmers. Good leg gaiters also are necessary if you’re going into the powder. And don’t forget your poles.

Dress in layers: If you dress for the cold, you’ll be peeling off clothes quickly.

Don’t go alone: I went on one group outing on which two people fell into deep snow and needed assistance getting back on their feet. Simple incidents like that can become serious if nobody else is around.

Powder is where the fun is: Snowshoe trails, Leo Hennessy of Idaho State Parks and Recreation explains, are for climbing. Powder is for downhill. On gentle slopes, try running with short, choppy steps like you’re riding a bicycle. For steeper slopes, you’ll need to slide — put one foot forward, toe up, and shift your weight back. If you’re good, you’ll slide. If not, you’ll fall on your rear and slide like a kid. Either way, it’s a good time. Also, going downhill, fresh tracks are slick. Make your own trail. When you’re on flat ground or climbing, rotate trail-breakers to spread the considerable workload and follow in your friends’ footsteps. Try to avoid wet, heavy snow and make sure you know where the groomed trails are so you don’t get lost.

Buying: “First of all, I’d buy a brand name, a common one,” Hennessy said. “And I wouldn’t buy the lowest-quality one in any of the brands. I’d buy the middle or the upper. If you can put a snowshoe on without taking your gloves off, it’s a pretty good snowshoe. ... If you’re buying, maybe get the medium size. If you’re going to rent them, if there’s big powder, go for the bigger size. They have better flotation.”

Chadd Cripe

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