best mountain bike trail
If you're a mountain biker who likes a good downhill, then the Fisher Creek Trail in the White Cloud Mountains is sure to please.
Photo by Willy Cook
The valley's favorite mountain-bike ride shines on the downhills.
On the map, the Fisher Creek bike ride doesn't look especially promising. It starts off with a two-mile stretch of state Highway 75, then continues with six miles of dirt road that culminates with a steep climb. But once riders catch their breath at the top of the hill, they're at the start of one of the best stretches of single-track in Idaho.
"It's so popular because it's got such long, continuous, flowy downhills," said Mark Deffe, owner of Sun Summit Ski & Cycle and one of the first people to ride the trail, in the mid-1980s. "We've done it with a lot of people. Everybody always ends it with a big grin on their face."
The trail was voted Best Mountain Bike Trail in the 2015 Best of the Valley contest. Situated in the Sawtooth Valley south of Stanley, the trail in the White Cloud Mountains is not actually in "the valley," but it's certainly been adopted by Wood River Valley riders.
"If people come here to mountain bike, they've got to ride Fisher Creek," said Deffe's brother, Steve, who used to own a bike touring company called Sun Valley Single Track.
The 17.8-mile loop gains a total of 1,500 vertical feet over its three climbs and three descents.
"Everybody always ends it with a big grin on their face."
Mark Deffe, mountain biker
"The middle downhill is what I think everybody wants," Steve said. "For the little effort that you've put in to climb it, it goes a long, long way."
The great downhills, which begin at the junction of the Pigtail Creek trail, can be reached by starting at several other trailheads, but those routes all involve longer and more strenuous climbs.
A wildfire started by a careless person burning trash on a windy day in September 2005 swept through nearly all of the trail's route in the Fisher Creek, Warm Springs Creek and Williams Creek valleys. The fire burned hot, scorching 40,000 acres of lodgepole pine forest and aspen groves before it was contained about two weeks later.
Mark and a group of friends ventured into the area shortly after.
"We put out spot fires while we rode through there, then notified the Forest Service that there were still fires there," he said.
The U.S. Forest Service spent $1.7 million on burned-area rehabilitation, including dropping straw mulch on 1,900 acres and treating 25 acres for noxious weeds.
Ten years later, the landscape is very different from its pre-fire condition, but, the brothers say, it's still beautiful.
"The fire opened it up," Mark said. "It's a different ride now—you can see the vistas. And the flowers are fabulous."
The fire also improved the area for wildlife. About four years ago, Mark was riding up Fisher Creek Road and saw a set of wolf tracks, heading his direction. Then he saw that another set of tracks had joined the first, and then another. He continued to follow the tracks as he began the downhill from the top of the road.
"Then I started seeing elk tracks everywhere," he said. "I never saw the wolves, but I'm sure they saw me."
More recently, Steve said, he and his riding partner came upon a dead deer, still warm. They never saw the mountain lion that they assumed had killed it, but they, too, had a sense that they were being watched.