Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fourth of July: Time to get outdoors

Valley and surrounding area offer a wealth of activities

Express Staff Writer

Paragliding off of Bald Mountain offers views like no others in the Wood River Valley.
Photo courtesy of Fly Sun Valley

    With trails mostly clear of snow and river levels moderating, the Fourth of July weekend is the traditional beginning of outdoor summer activities in the mountains.
    Mountain wildflowers are about at their peak at mid elevations, so the weekend is a great time for hiking.  Some popular local hikes with dramatic views are:

  • The Adams Gulch loop, just north of Ketchum on the west side of the valley. This half-day hike through aspens, firs and open areas is studded with wildflowers.
  • Pioneer Cabin Trail, which starts at the end of Corral Creek Road, east of Sun Valley. This full-day hike gains 2,400 feet in elevation. Small patches of snow are reported near the cabin, but otherwise the trail is clear.
  • The Kane Lake Trail, on the east side of Trail Creek Summit. The seven-mile round-trip hike gains 1,600 feet in elevation to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.

    The Sawtooth Botanical Garden will host the next in a series of free wildflower walks on Thursday, July 10. The walk will be titled “Wildflowers and Mushrooms,” with one of the garden’s wildflower experts and nationally known mushroom expert Kathy Richmond.
    The Beaver Creek Fire last summer burned several good mountain biking trails in the Greenhorn and Deer Creek drainages, on the west side of the Wood River Valley between Hailey and Ketchum. However, most of the area’s vast network of trails remain intact and are open for the summer.
    One of the easiest trails in the area is the Harriman Trail, which runs for 18 miles beginning at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters eight miles north of Ketchum. The trail runs parallel to state Highway 75, so access is available at numerous locations, but much of the trail is out of clear sight and hearing of the highway.
    Other easier trails in the area include the Shadyside Trail in Adams Gulch, just north of Ketchum; Oregon Gulch, just south of the SNRA headquarters; and Corral Creek, off Trail Creek Road about three miles east of Sun Valley.
    Lift-serviced mountain biking on Bald Mountain’s many miles of biking trails opened July 1. The Saddle Up Trail, built last summer on the upper half of Baldy as the mountain’s first biking-specific “flow trail,” opened this month for its inaugural rides. The four-mile trail starts near the Lookout restaurant and winds down through the Grandma’s House area and Central Park, across Limelight to Wolverton Bowl and ends at the base of the Christmas chairlift. The 4- to 6-foot-wide trail has rolls and banked curves.
    Riders can do laps on the trail using the Christmas lift, then take the Warm Springs or Bald Mountain Traverse trails to either of the mountain’s base areas.
Golfers can take advantage of the long early-summer days to play for reduced “twilight” rates at Sun Valley Resort golf courses. For those who begin after 2 p.m., 18 holes on the Trail Creek course costs $99, a substantial reduction from the normal $169; nine holes is $69, down from the usual $89. On the nine-hole White Clouds course—up in the clouds on a hilltop above the resort—nine holes is $59 and 18 is $99 (the view is free!). A cart is included on both courses.
    Experienced fly-fishers expect local streams to have dropped to a wadeable level by the Fourth of July.
    “We’ll be hitting the window when you can fish the Big Wood all the way from Bellevue to north of the SNRA headquarters,” said Cody Catherall, a guide at Lost River Outfitters.
    Big Wood anglers typically catch rainbows in the 12-inch to 14-inch range. Before heading out, acquire a copy of “Fishing in the Wood River Valley,” a map and guide published by the Blaine County Recreation District.
    Other recommended streams are the Silver Creek Preserve and the Big Lost River, east of Trail Creek Summit. Silver Creek, a nationally famous trout fishery, has been experiencing unusually low flows this year, but Sturtevants fishing guide Hans Vieser said conditions are coming back to normal.
    Local outfitters offer fly-fishing lessons for those who have never cast a line. Catherall recommends a three-quarter to full-day lesson.
    “By the end of the day, you’ll be casting proficiently and catching fish with the rest of us,” he said.
    Though there’s never a guarantee of warm weather at any time in central Idaho, Fourth of July traditionally marks the beginning of pleasant days for river rafting on the upper Salmon River downstream from Stanley.
    “Get out and get wet,” advises David Denning, owner of The River Co. “Come do a raft trip and then go to Redfish Lake and get the whole Sawtooth experience. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day.”
    Outfitters on the upper Salmon run two sections—one class III-IV section for people 14 and older that includes Shotgun and Sunbeam Dam rapids, and another class II-III section suitable for all ages.
    The Salmon drainage got considerably more snow this winter than the Big Wood drainage did, and outfitters are predicting good flows for the Fourth of July weekend, at least for the lower run, and say there may still be enough water for the upper section.
    Doug Fenn, co-owner of White Otter Outdoor Adventures, said the trips appeal to family members of all ages.
    For those who want a bird’s-eye view of the valley, early summer typically marks the start of excellent paragliding conditions, and Fly Sun Valley in Ketchum offers tandem flights for people of all ages.
    “We’ve taken people from 3 to 93, so far,” owner Chuck Smith said.
    “This is a world-class flying site here,” Smith added. “Bald Mountain is attracting pilots from all over the world.”
    A pilot last summer took advantage of Baldy’s height and the updrafts created by surrounding mountain ranges to fly to a spot 240 miles away near Helena, Mt., setting the North American paragliding distance record.
    Of course, flights for the uninitiated don’t need to be anywhere near that long to be exciting. Smith said summertime tandem flights from the top of Baldy to the valley floor can easily last a half hour to 45 minutes.
    “I think it’s the prettiest way to see the valley, particularly in the evenings,” he said.

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