Winter trail tips

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It's quite wintery out here & we've got more snow in the forecast. When the winter weather rolls around I'm always looking for ways to get some fresh air, but sometimes I'm intimidated by the trails. Are they useable? And if so, which ones are the best for hiking? How muddy is too muddy? And how snowy is too snowy?

Soo I sat down & asked all of these questions to my friend Scott Eisele, who is the Ridge to Rivers Lead Trail Ranger and an avid trail user. He gave me some great tips to share with y'all.

Enjoy the read & then go enjoy the trails!

We all know the mantra: stay off muddy trails. But how muddy is too muddy?

A good rule of thumb is to look back at your track. If you're sinking down and leaving a deep boot print or tread from your bike – it’s probably too muddy. If you look back and it’s just tacky and you can see your boot print, but it's not sinking down – you’re probably fine. Also look at the bottom of your boot or down at your tires. Are you picking up mud? Is a bunch of mud sticking to your boot? If so, it’s probably too muddy. Also if you are sliding in mud, it's too muddy.

Sometimes I'm out there on my bike doing a patrol and looking at conditions, and I ride through a section and I‘m like, was that too muddy? And normally, if you have to ask yourself that, it probably is too muddy.

Ok, so say you get to a section of trail that seems too muddy. What do you do?

The best thing to do at that point is just turn around. Don’t try to make it a loop. Chances are, the first time you hit mud is not going to be the last time. Our trails are not one continuous aspect or soil type. You're always crossing over different parts of the mountain or the hill and over different soils, and certain types of soil hold more moisture or parts of the trail get more sunlight than others. So it’s going to be variable.

I encourage people to reimagine what hiking and biking and running the trails in the winter is. For some reason, as humans, we really like loops versus out and back, and sometimes it feels like we have to make it a loop or else it's not worth it. But in the winter, maybe instead of doing one long big loop, maybe you're going out and then, you know, hitting mud, turning around and coming back trying a different trail and coming back and trying again. You're still getting good like mileage and exploring all the different routes.

What about when it snows? Does that affect the trails differently?

There’s kind of two situations with snow.

When it’s cold out and you have a fresh layer of snow, go for it. There is no damage done by hiking on snow, especially when you are just packing it into the trail and you can see it’s not damaging the soil below. Snow can make for a really cool trail experience, too. I definitely would encourage some yaktrax or some sort of traction, because inevitably there's gonna be some slippery layers, whether it's ice or just slippery snow.

When it’s sunny and snow starts melting, it starts to mix with the trail below and becomes mud. That is when to avoid the trails, turn around when you encounter muddy snow, or make sure you get out early in the morning while it’s still cold and frozen.

What happens when people do use muddy trails?

Widening is one problem. That happens when people try to bypass mud by going around it, which just ends up making the trail super wide. Table Rock is an example of this, it's super wide and bumpy.

The other problem is leaving deep boot prints and ruts from tire tracks. When the trail dries it leaves those shapes and becomes very distorted and uneven. And oftentimes it dries so hard that there's not a lot you can do to reshape it back to smooth. The trail crew can repair some of that, to an extent. But the trail crew also has a lot of other things that need to get done first, like routine maintenance and clearing out drainage features and seasonal pruning. And sometimes it's just not repairable.

It also becomes a hazard and changes the whole experience of using that trail. We pride ourselves on our very smooth single track with not a lot of obstacles – and that's not because we made it that way. It's just the nature of our foothills. Basically the damage you do unrepairable. If you leave these deep treads in mud, the trail dries to be uneven and difficult to navigate.

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We have some all-weather trails. What exactly does that mean?

An all weather trail has two things: a certain soil material and a specific shape. The soil is a layer of imported material that is kind of like a road mix of gravel and sand. It’s really durable and can really hold up to wet conditions. It’s also shaped in what’s called a crown, which is convex or rounded so that when water comes in it flows off of the trail surface instead of gathering on the top of the soil.

What are some all weather options?

Eagle Ridge Loop is a new all weather trail that was just resurfaced this summer by our trail crew. I rode it on my mountain bike last week and it was in awesome shape when everything else was frozen or muddy. And it has an outer loop that is two directional and one section through the middle, so you can make a lot of different routes out of it.

Some other all-weather trails:

What’s your favorite winter trails?

I have different faves for biking or hiking.

For winter mountain biking, 8th Street is definitely my pick. It's kind of a tough climb as in it requires effort going up, depending on how far you want to go. Also you can make it a big ride or just like up to the parking lot or not even that far. It's scenic; there's good views the whole way. Not a ton of traffic from cars in the winter – you still see some cars up there but the upper part is closed to cars. It's just a good reliable go-to for the winter. The downhill is not as fun, but that leads me to my other favorite: Hull's Gulch. You can ride up 8th Street and take Hull's Gulch down (on odd days of the week).

Hull's Gulch is so sandy, so it drains super well and it almost always dries out first. That said, it can be icy because there are shady spots. But there's so much wildlife in there and it's great for both hiking and biking. Just make sure you take note of the day of the week (odd days of the month are open to downhill biking only).

For winter hiking, I really like the inner loop of Polecat. The outer loop gets really muddy on the backside. Take the main Polecat Trail up through the draw to connect with Quick Draw. Everything up to that point is super sandy and south facing so it stays pretty dry when other trails are snowy or muddy. It's shorter, like 3 miles. You can always do it twice if you need more milage.

Anything else people should know?

During the winter it's best to get out there early. We recommend being off the trail by 10am. If you can get out there that early, almost every trail will likely be useable conditions.

Some other trail resources:

Ridge to Rivers has an amazing interactive trail map, and new this year they have the current trail conditions listed on the map. These are updated daily!

You can also check for daily trail conditions on the Ridge to Rivers website and Facebook page. These are updated every morning.

Thanks for reading & happy winter hiking/biking!

With love from Boise,


PS Scott also makes real groovy tunes - have a listen.

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