best snowshoe trail

the frosted splendor of Billy's Bridge
Trail north of Ketchum voted place to go snowshoeing.
Peter Jensen

The Wood River Valley isn't lacking for mountainous terrain waiting to be conquered by hikers or snowshoers, but few areas offer quite the wintry majesty of the Billy's Bridge trail loop north of Ketchum.

At roughly two and a half miles in length, the trail loop offers relatively slight challenges for snowshoers, but has an immediate payoff the entire span features the towering peaks of the Boulder Mountains as a backdrop. The trail was voted the 2015 Best Snowshoe Trail in the valley by Sun Valley Guide readers.

Starting out along the Big Wood River at a turnout on state Highway 75 about 17 miles north of Ketchum, the trail crosses Billy's Bridge and juts east toward the mountains, which defines the experience of showshoeing it, said Janelle Conners, trails assistant for the Blaine County Recreation District.

Easley, Silver and Boulder peaks rise up more than 11,000 feet, and it's easy to get sucked in to staring at their raw grandeur, no matter the season.

"It sits right under the Boulder Mountains," Conners said. "The view itself is spectacular. There's just something special about it. Having that backdrop of the Boulder Mountains is really special."

Conners notes that the trail's popularity is not just a product of spectacular views, but also the proximity to Ketchum and Sun Valley, along with the comparative ease of traversing it.

It also winds through stands of aspen trees, and boasts opportunities to catch glimpses of wildlife. Foxes, moose and mountain goats can be seen in the area, along with chipmunks, small rodents and a variety of birds.

If seeing the actual animals proves elusive, the snow should still provide a chance to see any tracks left behind, Conners said.

The mountain goats' white fur will make them tough to spot in the winter, but there's an area near the trailhead with mounted telescopes for anyone who wants to try. Below the cliff face and across a meadow, the goats live in rocky, craggy terrain that allows them to feed on alpine plants and shrubs while still being at high enough elevation to escape predators.

The trail also is over mostly open terrain, giving it ample sunlight year-round, as opposed to trails that run through more densely wooded areas like the Harriman Trail, which runs along Highway 75 opposite Billy's Bridge, Conners said.

The trail is also open for dogs, unlike the Harriman Trail, which adds to the appeal of Billy's Bridge, Conners said.

Being close to Ketchum and Sun Valley affords an opportunity to hop out at lunchtime or early in the evening without too much difficulty, and oftentimes it stays light out late enough that snowshoers can get out and back before sundown.

"In the scheme of things, it's not that far up to Billy's," Conners said. "It does stay light up there. It's not super hard, but it's probably intermediate."

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