Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Monday, February 20, 2012

Looking For A Great Place To Go Cross Country Skiing? Try Warm River, Idaho

Last Saturday we went cross country skiing at one of my favorite places in the world: the Rails to Trails Route at Warm River, Idaho.  This trail is readily accessible, beautiful, and doable for just about any skier.

This image (courtesy of GoogleEarth) shows the general location of Warm River.

To get to Warm River, drive north on Hwy 20 toward Yellowstone National Park.  When you reach Ashton, Idaho, turn right on Hwy 47, which is also Main Street in Ashton, and follow that road.  You will drive past many farm fields and then down into the river valley of Henry's Fork of the Snake River.  As you continue on Hwy 47 you will see the Warm River Campground to your right as you drive up out of the valley.  This campground is on Warm River. 

If you want to, you can access the bottom of the Warm River to West Yellowstone Rails to Trails route at the north end of the campground.  It is well marked, and is located on the west bank of Warm River.  During the wintertime the entire trail is open to snowmobiles, so there is sometimes quite a bit of activity on the trail from the campground northward.  Personally, I choose not to ski this part of the trail because the snow mobiles tend to chew up the course.  My preference is to access the Rails to Trail route at Bear Gulch.

Bear Gulch is a turnout at the end of the stretch of Hwy 47 that is maintained and plowed by the state.  This is also a popular jump-off spot for snowmobilers, most of the snow machine riders who start here do not go over to Warm River, they continue up Hwy 47 where they can really open up their machines.  We, however, pop up onto the road from the parking lot and drop down to Warm River via a well traveled trail.  Granted, this route is also accessible to snow machines, and can also get chewed up, but we were able to find pretty good snow along the edges of the main track.

I enjoy going to Warm River not only in the winter, but it is also my favorite fishing spot.  You don't tend to catch a lot of big fish there, but it's highly unusual to get blanked.  

Anyway, when we went on Saturday we got there around 11:30a or noon, and we skied up the trail for about 3 miles, as marked on the image above.  This is a beautiful place.  It was a nice day, though overcast.  The temp was not too cold, and it snowed on us on and off, with huge flakes.  A perfect winter day outing.

Here are some things you will see if you visit this area in the winter time.

This is a shot looking south, up the hill from the Bear Gulch turnout - note the trailers and snow machines.  We drive to the north end of the lot and park there.  This puts us out of the way of most traffic.  This is a nice turnout, and it has restrooms (though without running water).  It is, after all, on National Forest land.  If you look closely you will see where people have hiked up or were driven up this hill on snow machines and then skied or snow boarded down.  It beats paying for a lift ticket - at least according to some.

This is a panorama collage I put together using 6 shots taken from just down the trail from the RR tunnel.  The tunnel is visible as the dark object at the end of the trail at the left-hand end of the image.  The Warm River is visible at the bottom of the valley.  It is surrounded by pine and snow-covered hills. It's beautiful.

This is a shot of just the river valley.  In the spring, summer, and fall, there are also stands of aspen trees that you can see in the valley as well.

This is the southern end of the old RR Tunnel.   A few years ago here was a partial cave-in midway through the tunnel, and the USFS blocked both ends, and built an extension of the trail around the outer edge of the tunnel so you can still easily access the trail above the tunnel.

This is a shot of my wife and daughter on the bypass trail around the tunnel.

Once you finish the bypass trail you can look back and see the north end of the tunnel.  Well, you can actually see all the way through it...the tunnel isn't all that long.

While the section of the trail below the tunnel is scenic, my favorite stretch is above the tunnel.  Here are some shots from the trail as it travels along on the west bank of the Warm River.

This is a shot I took through a natural frame of snow-covered pines.  I love the way the snow piled up on boulders in the middle of the river.  This next set of shots were taken as we continued north on the trail.  There are places where there are volcanic outcroppings above the river, as shown below.  

The shot below shows ice cycles that form where the river water splashes onto logs that have fallen across the river.  I also really like the layering in the snow along the riverbank.

This shot shows a favorite fishing hole of mine that I visit several times each summer.  This trip though, all I'm taking are photos.  Well, actually, I am mostly a catch-an-release fisherman, so I don't tend to take that much even when I do come here fishing.

Note the large snowflakes falling with the dark water in the background.

And you will be treated to many scenes like this one all along this trail...and did I mention that you don't even have to pay any access fees!  Yeah!

Eventually it was time to turn around and head back.  Because the trail is an old railroad bed the grade is quite gentle, and when you are outbound it's not all that noticeable that you have been climbing in altitude.  But when you turn around you can tell the difference, and while you don't ski all the way down, you will find that the going is quite a bit easier.  And, you will notice that the difference in perspective of heading south gives you a different view of things you passed when you were outbound. 

And here we are, back below the RR tunnel, with Warm River in the background.  Until next time!

Oh, and when you're done and you're on your way home, don't forget to stop at Dave's Jubilee in Ashton for ice cream or a bite to eat at the deli!  Yum!

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