“The lake is just over that ridge, right?” Our exchange consisted of only a few words, and lasted only a few seconds, but we both took off laughing in separate directions. We were both surprised to see other people this far in on a remote trail, especially this early in the day and season. These would be the only other trail users we’d run into over the course of our ~20 mile ride – they had a long way to go, especially on foot.
Today, we’re mountain biking (and at times hiking) Warm Springs Trail. There are quite a few “Warm Springs” in Idaho, but this one is new to me. A double black on MTB Project, there are minimal signs that this route is ridden by mountain bikers, and even fewer ratings on the true difficulty. With that, there was only one way to find out if it would live up to it’s rating.
Mainly ridden by motorcycles, Warm Springs Trail starts from Highway 21 near Bonnevile Hotsprings and traverses the mountainsides of several creeks and drainages that ultimately converge with the South Fork of the Payette River. The hikers were tackling it the more “traditional way,” and ending at the lakes, whereas we opted to drop a vehicle at the top.
We didn’t know exactly what we’d be in for on a ride of this nature, and at camp the night before we spotted a mountain towards our ride still completely covered in snow that casted a slight doubt of the amount of snow-slogging we’d be doing the next day.
Waking up exactly one minute before my 5am alarm, Cody and I both questioned whether we were still good for our “alpine start” commitment. After coffee and breakfast, we made our way out of camp and to Bull Trout Lake Road.
With the sunrise colors fading, we started down the road happy to not need a headlamp to hunt for the trailhead. Even with plenty of light, we somehow still managed to miss it on our first attempt. We were joined by one of the many Elk spotted on the drive up the night before, sprinting across the road in front of us. With one final drivetrain adjustment at the trailhead (remember to tighten your cranks all the way…), we started the first of many climbs.
Dead Man Creek
After a short climb to a ridge, we rode across the small remaining snowbank and the dirt-surfing began. Steep, loose, washed-out hillsides featured only questionable rebar to stop you from entering Dead Man Creek hundreds of feet below.
The gravel-sand-loam mix had me riding my brakes like a beginner, and I was certainly happy to have a new rear tire that offered as much grip as possible. Tunnels of growth hid softball to volleyball size chunder waiting around each corner. Ducking and leaning to escape the whips of branches tested your balance, and the occasional pedal strike was, well, expected. Stream crossings were cold and challenging – I quickly became accustomed to soaked shoes.
After Dead Man Creek, we made our way through the meandering meadows of Warm Springs Creek. “Only a few more sections of red,” Cody would say (red being anything over 10% grade climb on the MTB Project app).
While this route seems straightforward with ~1400’ gain and ~3000’ loss, the red sections really catch you off guard. While the inclines seemed manageable from a distance, it spinning out in loose or being thrown off by a large obstacle was inevitable.
As with most hike-a-bike situations, there’s always a payoff. We traveled the last few sections of red and were ready for the downhill reward. We heard motorbikes climbing the nearby Link Trail and knew we were on the final downhill stretch.
This was a perfectly time ride – loose but not dusty, and only a single snow patch. Wildflowers were just starting to bloom, and despite freezing temperatures at sunrise it was a perfect cool day for riding. It’s difficult to time a backcountry trail well with varying snow levels from each winter, but Cody’s advanced planning worked out perfectly.
Warm Springs Trail is a grand, pedal-powered tour through the heart of the Boise National Forest and the Salmon River Mountains.