A Mountain Playground in the Pacific Northwest
Video & Words: Tory Powers
Riders: Braydon Bringhurst, Nicole Bringhurst
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You’ve seen what Boise has to offer here
, but what else lies within a short trip from Boise? Our next must-see location was McCall, a quick two-hour jaunt up from downtown Boise. We packed up the car and headed on a beautiful drive through the canyon in Boise National Forest. The whole drive is outstanding, with views of the Payette River and the rolling hills outside of Boise that slowly transition into a true taste of the Rocky Mountains.
McCall may look like a tourist town at first impression with its nostalgic storefronts, but there’s so much more to McCall than fudge shops and pristine views of Payette Lake. If you thought the riding scene in Boise looked all-time, McCall has a completely different style of riding and so much more to offer to the state of Idaho and the world of cycling.
The vibe in McCall felt very quaint and welcoming, even though we (or at least myself) were far from locals. We stayed at the Scandia Inn - a Scandinavian-renovated drive-in motel that totally fit the bill. I mean come on, they have a waffle truck out front on Saturdays... McCall felt very Pacific Northwest with its pine trees and wet climate, so naturally we knew this was going to be a blast.
Jug Mountain Ranch
Our first stop in McCall was Jug Mountain Ranch. McCall is worthy enough to travel to just so that you can ride Jug, in my opinion. About 15 minutes outside of McCall is this little paradise built on private golf course land. In the Ponderosa forest lies 17 miles of trail with maintenance supported by the Clubhouse Restaurant and Bar just down the road. Now, 17 miles total might sound underwhelming until you realize that these trails felt like a private lift access bike park.
An easy pedal to the top via fire road leads you to trails of all skill levels, from beginners looking for a fun and flowy descent to expert riding with massive wood features, rock gaps, and pure speed.
My personal favorite was Berm and Ernie, a blue trail that was full of flow and you guessed it, berms.
This was Braydon's playground. He knew all of the local lines, hucks, and flow.
If you’re looking for something a bit more tame, head to the top of Jug to ride around the stunning Jug Creek Reservoir.
The Shoreline Trail was an absolute blast. We were all on mid-travel enduro bikes and the constant up and down of this loop was actually pretty refreshing. It’s chock full of fast loam (we got absolutely amazing conditions with some rain that rolled in right before we arrived), some long meandering wooden bridges over streams, smooth rock gardens and even some roots. This loop had it all, and it’s a great way to get some mileage in between downhill laps.
A couple other notable mentions are Exfoliator, a jump trail with big wood features and rocks, and Vandalay, a nice, easy blue.Jug Mountain biking trails
The next day we visited Goose Creek in the morning just northwest of the Brundage Mountain Resort trails. Braydon and Anthony were making fun of my jaw-dropped response to the approach while we drove up through the clouds. Being from Colorado, I’m not used to low clouds, but I think that these photos speak for themselves. I had the window down and my camera out practically the whole ride as we had received another awesome evening shower the evening before.
This is where I really first noticed how similar Idaho really felt to the Pacific Northwest. Damp dirt that was just the right consistency, air with just a slight bite. My geographical realization was partly my own stupidity with its close proximity to Washington and Canada, but you never really hear anyone talk about Idaho this way; so I needed to do it some justice.
I've spent my fair share of time in the PNW but either without a bike, or during the intense wildfires and drought of Crankworx 2018, so unfortunately I've never truly experienced the feeling of the world famous pristine dirt. It's incredible to finally understand what I've been missing out on all of these years living in Colorado.
Goose Creek was a must if you’re looking for a mini adventure. The ride started out with a pretty large river crossing before it started descending back below the clouds.
At each turn before we got deep into the Ponderosas was another textbook view with wet rocks and clouds dissipating as the sun rolled in.
As we got lower in elevation, the rocks became more intermittent and were replaced with roots and fresh loam.
We didn’t see a single rider nor hiker on this 12 mile out and back ride, and boy did everyone else miss out. As you approach the “end” of the ride, you get to a beautiful bridge going over, you guessed it, Goose Creek.
At this point, it’s definitely more of a river, as this area has multiple decent sized waterfalls and pretty heavy water flow. You can actually access the same road we used to get to the trailhead and utilize it as a shuttle location if you’ve got a willing soul to take you back to the top. This would be a blast to shuttle because it’s definitely a long, tough climb after already experiencing a solid 6 miles of riding. Unless you're Braydon, (and even he had a few times off of the bike,) expect to hike a good portion of the technical riding.
After a pretty intense mileage and elevation accumulation over the past 24 hours, we were relieved to learn our last two zones were more on the mellow side.
Ponderosa State Park
That same evening we checked out Ponderosa State Park, which sits on the peninsula that rests inside Payette Lake. This area was perfect for a post ride… ride. The most technical trail here rates as a blue, but holy moly it was a blast. Truly, you come here to get some mileage in and check out the views when you reach the high point, which coincides with the tip of the peninsula. You can rack up 8 unique miles here and it’s perfect for the whole family. The green trails feel a bit more like bike paths, but if you sneak onto Huckleberry Bay Loop, you’ll actually catch some nice singetrack with some fast, snappy turns.
Trust me when I say that the view here is worth checking out alone.
We got a solid final night of rest in McCall so that we could get up bright and early for a sunrise lap at the Payette Rim Trail. Ponderosa State Park mountain biking trails
Payette Rim Trail
Another 6 mile trail, this one meanders through what I’d call foothills right alongside the Payette Lake. As you ride north, the sun rises right over the lake and creates some amazing light. Payette Rim Trail can be as fast as you want to make it, or as relaxing as any Sunday stroll.
No extreme elevation gain, mileage that you determine... a perfect hardtail or short travel pedal. We were lucky to experience the fall foliage and light amongst the dirt that was miraculously maintaining its composure from the storm a few days earlier.
This area is perfect for yet another easy ride with the family or a post-ride lap before dark. You can also connect this area to a multitude of other zones, extending along Payette Lake, a quick pedal down the dirt road to Brundage, and also even closer to Bear Basin, which is potentially the easiest access to mountain biking you can get out of McCall. We only checked out Bear Basin for a quick test, but this is another great area right off the main road that you can get your tires dirty and get some cardio in.
Well, Idaho, you stole my heart, and potentially my next travel plans. It’s just close enough to a lot of cycling hot spots for a road trip, so don’t think twice if it’s on your list. I’ve had the pleasure to check out a lot of unique riding spots I wouldn’t normally think of in the past couple of years and Idaho is officially at the top of my list. The progressive way that they have been developing ample riding that is both safe and pushing boundaries made me envious. I hope that other states can learn from what Idaho is doing as a whole, both in Boise and McCall.
McCall mountain biking trails
Local KnowledgeGetting here:
If traveling by air, McCall is most accessible after arrival at the Boise Airport (BOI). From Boise, make your way north on Highway 55, the Payette River Scenic Byway
. The mountain town of McCall sits on the shores of Payette Lake and is a year-round vacation destination. The Climate & Wildlife:
McCall has mild summers and cold, snowy winters. But don’t worry—it still has four breathtaking seasons. With fantastic weather and a mountainous ecosystem comes diverse wildlife. Located within the Payette National Forest
, the McCall area is home to over 300 species of wildlife including beavers, foxes, river otters, deer, moose and elk. Birding and fishing are also popular draws for visitors and Idahoans alike. Bike shops and repairs:
If you’re looking to rent a bike, grab some gear or need a tune-up before hitting the trails, stop in at a local bike shop like Gravity Sports
or McCall Sports Exchange
. Another popular option, Home Town Sports
, has been around since 1979 and provides gear, rentals, repairs, servicing and local knowledge. Local Mountain Biking Clubs:
In 2015, the International Mountain Bicycling Association
(IMBA) recognized McCall as a Silver Ride Center for its community support and maintenance of trail systems. Central Idaho Mountain Bike Association
(CIMBA) works to keep trails in pristine condition while supporting local events like the annual Mountain Bike Festival and scheduled rides. Food and Drink:
No matter where you’re shredding, good food is always a must. Before heading out on a ride, get your caffeine fix at Fogglifter Café
or Mountain Java
. A local go-to is the Pancake House
(which also doubles as a year-round Christmas shop). Here you’ll find mammoth-sized pancakes served with piles of fresh toppings like huckleberries. The Pancake House serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with breakfast available all day.
For a fine dining experience, visit Rupert's
at Hotel McCall for pan-roasted sea bass and steamed local yak dumplings. Then mosey on over to the bar for a variety of signature cocktails like the Huckleberry Breeze.
For panoramic views of Payette Lake during dinner, head to The Narrows Steakhouse
at Shore Lodge. Indulge in the signature lobster bisque and a selection of steaks topped with an array of sauces and compound butters, like a blackberry cabernet reduction or a honey thyme Rogue River blue cheese. Must Dos:
If you can’t get enough trail action, head to Brundage Mountain Resort
and enjoy a scenic summer ride with chairlift access. Tamarack Resort
to the south near Donnelly offers ziplining for an adrenaline experience above the trails.
A McCall staple, Ice Cream Alley
has been serving up mountain-sized scoops for 40 years. Choose from 20 flavors with heavenly spoonful’s like Huckleberry, Lemon Pie or Espresso Explosion.
And of course, if you want to ditch the dirt for a day or two in favor of some water, Payette Lake offers a variety of activities including swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. For another round of water activities, spend the day paddling the whitewater of the Payette River. You’ll find a number of nearby outfitters and trips to match your adventure level.
For help planning your Idaho mountain biking vacation, ride on over to VisitIdaho.org
and download our Official Travel Guide