Area Offers a Rugged Biking Adventure
The trails in the Wilson Creek Travel Management Area seem simple and straight forward. There's no intimidating mountains, it's mostly open country, and there's a sign board with maps posted at the parking lot.
So why does every mountain bike ride out there feel like an adventure?
Because it is.
"You need a sense of adventure," said Mike Edwards, president of the Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association.
Edwards has been riding the area since the 1990s. He and a middle-aged band of mountain bikers known as the "Silverbacks" rode mountain bikes on Jeep roads, cow and horse trails, ATV trails, etc. and pieced them into an informal network of bike routes.
"That's how a lot of those trails came into existence," Edwards said.
In 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management designated about 29,000 acres in the Wilson Creek Travel Management Area near Nampa, Idaho, with an emphasis on nonmotorized recreation, and the agency designated and mapped about 80 miles of trails for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians.
The organic origin of the trails meant they were not designed specifically for mountain biking. Throw in use of the area by open-range cattle, horses (both wild and domestic), and continuing trail work and the place is constantly evolving.
Most trails are marked, but signs are lost, blown over or trampled by cows. Riders will encounter rocks, sand, cliffs, creeks and all kinds of adventurous mountain biking.
"I would like to keep it that way," Edwards said.
Despite the challenges, the riding is still fun. There's swift, swooping trails, short, steep descents usually followed by a mirror-image climb.
There are trails along willow-lined creeks and the unique "China Wall" trail (W600) where an old aqueduct built by Chinese immigrants became a trail. There's enough trails that it will take several seasons to learn them all.
Jack Helton of Nampa, Idaho, is another "Silverback" who has ridden most of the trails in the area. He said it's a great way for people to try riding a new area and improve their skills.
"I really feel if you can ride out there, you can ride anywhere," he said.
People should not expect a Foothills trail experience. Be prepared to dial back your mileage and work harder for those miles.
"It challenges you technically, and it makes the Foothills seem pretty tame," Helton said. "It's more of a full-body experience than just sitting on the bike and pedaling. You've got to stay on your game."
Spring is the best time to ride there. The trails are firm and the temperatures mild. The area dries pretty quickly after rain, but you don't want to be stuck out there in a heavy rainstorm. The clay soil turns into a nasty paste that clings to everything and dries like adobe.
As spring progresses, daytime temperatures rise and the trails will get loose and dusty.
In the meantime, it's a good opportunity to get out and start exploring.
Helton said there are two major drainages: Wilson Creek and Reynolds Creek. He recommends riding up the Wilson Creek drainage and coming down the Reynolds Creek side.
The two drainages are divided by the Wilson Creek Road, and remember it as your bail-out route. If things go haywire, the road will take you back to the parking areas.
Getting there: From Nampa, go south on Idaho 45 and cross the Snake River.
Go west on Idaho 78 to Wilson Creek Road and south to the parking areas.
You might want to skip the first parking area and go to the second or third, which provide better access to trails.
Trail maps: Paper maps are available at bike shops, sporting goods stores and the BLM office 1387 South Vinnell Way in Boise. They're also online at http://www.blm.gov/id/st/en/fo/owyhee/recreation-sites-/wilson-creek-travel.html
Do a search for "Wilson Creek Travel Management Area."
- Watch for horses. If you meet them on the trail, it's usually best to dismount from your bike and get on the downhill side to avoid spooking horses.
- Bring tools for basic bike repairs and a few spare parts. Breakdowns are common.
- Ditto for a first-aid kit. Have something to deal with cuts, scrapes and contusions, at least back at the vehicle if you don't want to carry it on your ride.
- If your ride includes creek crossings, chain lube can quickly wash away, which leads to rough shifting and chain suck. A rag and some chain lube can prevent it.
- Body armor isn't a bad idea if you have it.
- Watch the weather. It can change drastically fast. Storms come through and drop the temperature and make it cold and wet.
- Don't overdo it on your first trip. Explore the area and experience the riding before you try a long route.
- Have fun. Don't get frustrated if you're pushing your bike part of the time. If you're not used to technical riding, it's a good place to improve your skills, but don't expect it to happen immediately. Enjoy the challenges as well as the ride.
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