The land of many waters.
Day 1: Park City to Elk Bend
As a state, Idaho may be the underdog of the American West. To the extent, I found myself wondering how the state’s director of tourism still has a job, or perhaps such a position is yet to even exist. Had several of the locales we ventured to been in Utah, or God forbid, Colorado, there’d be crowds of people, and a giant human footprint left behind. Instead we found some of the most amazing spots we’ve ever traveled to with desolation and tranquility still intact. For this reason, I will not be disclosing directions or any information beyond what I’ve already provided in this report. With a little sweat and exploration, I’m sure you can find such destinations for yourselves, but if or when you do, please travel throughout with the utmost respect and keep such details your own little secret; as these natural resources are some of the last of their kind.
Driving through the Snake River Plain, the term strange haze takes on new meaning. The forecast reads clear & sunny, yet visibility is little more than a couple of miles as the sky is thick with dust and smoke. Passing through Atomic City & the Idaho National Laboratory, mutant prarie dogs wouldn’t necessarily seem out-of-place and billboards clearly affirm that you are responsible for your own safety in such lands. While we were somewhat intrigued by what the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 Atomic Museum had to offer, we thought it best to keep moving. The strangeness only continues as you pass north through Arco, birthplace of nuclear energy, as well as home to the USS Hawkbill known affectionately as the “devil boat” due to the giant 666 on the haul.
Motoring north on 93, the feeling of impending doom lessens as you wind through the Salmon River Valley on the Peaks to Craters scenic byway. Thanks to a series of thunderstorms that have been filtering through the Sawtooths all afternoon, the haze has subsided and since been replaced by sharp peaks, volcanic rock, and cascading rivers. We arrive outside Elk Bend around 5pm with another storm looming on the horizon as we prepare for the pack in. We opt to wait it out, and head north towards Salmon. Twenty minutes later the skies clear and we return to start the pack into the springs.
After a couple miles, we stop to setup camp. Our timing was perfect as we get the tent staked right before the last storm of the day hits. If you’ve never hung out in a tent in the rain next to a flowing creek, you’re surely missing out on something special. Once the rain passes, we cook up our burritos and make the final leg of the journey into the springs.
Words don’t even begin to do this spot justice, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. The springs come complete with a west-facing infinity pool, and hot waterfall massage. Someone described these springs as the hot springs you talk about when you go to other hot springs. And after visiting, I can certainly see why.
Day 2: Frog Lake Loop
The next morning we packed camp and continued on to the next leg of the trip. I’d narrowed in on a ride between Elk Bend and Stanley. After reading about various ride options, it was clear that mountain biking in Idaho offered up some of the best backcountry style riding around. Trailheads were often an hour or more from town, and most loop options were in the 20-25 mile range on technical bits of trail that weren’t exactly built with bike-riding in mind, which in this case, was exactly what we were looking for.
The route. Frog Lake Loop isn’t in itself an official trail, but instead is made up of two other trails (Little Boulder Creek & Big Boulder Creek), which when ridden together make for a 25 mile loop. The advised route was to park at Little Boulder Creek Trailhead, ride the forest service road 6 miles to the start of Big Boulder Creek Trail, climb Big Boulder Creek and descend Little Boulder Creek finishing at the car after clocking 19 miles on singletrack and nearly 4,500 feet of elevation change. The trail follows Big and Little Boulder Creeks for the entirety of the ride as well as passes through a chain of alpine lakes, from which the loop derives it’s name. In addition to it’s lakes and rivers the ride offers majestic views of the Whitecloud range and Castle Peak which measures in at 11,815 ft.
There’s something to be said for backcountry riding. Throughout the entire 25 miles, we only saw 2 others; a pair of backpackers who were setting up camp near the top of Little Boulder Creek. When you’re a solid 12 miles from the car, and another hour from the car to phone service or medical aid, you tend to dismount more frequently and simply enjoy the view.
Frog Lake Loop dished out a fair number challenges, from water crossings, loose chundery rocks, to steep technical ascents and descents. Needless to say we were more than ready to see the car waiting for us at the end of the ride as we faded into a post-ride endorphin crashing stupor that demands only a place to sit, red meat, and beer. Making our way to Ketchum, we found such comforts in Stanley, where we were treated to riverside dining with towering views of the Sawtooths.
Day 3: Ketchum, Idaho
Day three was a well-earned rest-day in the resort town of Ketchum most famously known for it’s proximity to Sun Valley Resort (fun fact: Sun Valley is the oldest ski resort in America). We’d met up with some friends the night before, and were equipped with some local intel, a necessity for navigating any resort town as they are notorious for trapping tourists in sub-par establishments. For the record, we had nothing but excellent food in Sun Valley, which puts Park City’s food scene to shame. I know with Salt Lake’s burgeoning foodie culture, it’s only a matter of time before more quality food hits Park City, but it can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned as the current options are few and the rest are downright shameful. For those visiting Ketchum, be sure and check out The Kneadery, Velocio, Big Wood Bread Co, Java, & the Rickshaw. All are excellent options.
Day 4: Prairie Lake to Miner Lake Loop
If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the word Idaho comes from the Nez Perce language and means “Land of Many Waters”. Which after spending 4 days there seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation. Every trail we were on was never more than 50 yards from a rushing river, creek, hot spring or alpine lake.
Prairie Creek was a ride that came recommended from the shop guys at Sturtevants Cycle and was advertised as having “excellent swimming options.” So after a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast, we loaded up the cars and made the trek 20 miles north of town to check it out.
Pro Tip: cool down by skinny dipping with hot babes. For one of the most conservative states in the union, Idaho offered up a fair amount of opportunities to ditch the clothes. And when the thermometer is consistently reading 90+, the crisp alpine lake water is provides the equivalent energy boost for the weary bike rider as a mushrooms do for the Mario Bros. The ride itself again proved to offer plenty of difficulty. The ascent was packed with steep technical climbing, the kind of which requires a precise mix of balance and power. The beauty of modern full-suspension bikes is that as long as you can keep the pedals turning, the bike will motor through and over just about anything. The route consists of climbing up Prairie Creek, a loop around the Miner Lakes, and then back down Prairie Creek making for a fun lollipop of a ride. While we were sweating the steep rocky sections on the way up, we were looking forward to blasting back down them. Miner Lake Loop combined with the Prairie Creek downhill offered up the most fun and technical downhill of the trip. Post-ride, we reconvened at the trailhead for some much needed calorie replenishment therapy. In addition to the being the land of many waters, Idaho also proved to be the land of many beers, leaving us plenty tired, but never thirsty.