Biking adventures can be found nearly anywhere in the Magic Valley and in northern Nevada. Just look at a map, plan your route through the many hiking and biking trails, gravel roads and forest roads, and go. Whether you choose to pedal in the South Hills, explore and camp among the sagebrush fields outside Jackpot, Nevada, or follow forest roads in search of strange rock formations near Oakley, Idaho, mountain biking and gravel biking are two popular activities bringing smiles and enjoyment to many almost year-round.
Gravel biking is becoming popular throughout the U.S. but can be limited due to location. Folks living in southern Idaho and northern Nevada are blessed with thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management ground with a massive network of gravel and dirt roads leading all over the countryside.
With mountain biking, trails around the Magic Valley and Nevada aren’t as prevalent. But biking doesn’t have to be a traditional single-track ride. By using your imagination and sense of adventure, you can turn it into a double-track or forest road journey that will take you to places you’ve never thought to visit on two wheels.
Among the forests of the Cassia Mountains (South Hills)
The Third Fork of Rock Creek in the Cassia Mountain Range, also known in Idaho as the South Hills, along with the subsequent trails that make up part of a broad area of trails around Magic Mountain Ski Resort, is a path not to be taken lightly. The trail starts steep and loose at 5,200 feet in elevation and climbs steadily for another 1,400 feet over 5.2 miles. Creek crossings span the lower sections before connecting to Upper Third Fork, A-H Creek and Pike Mountain trails. Take your time in the spring and summer months by viewing the arrowleaf balsamroot blooms dotting the sea of sagebrush during the climb for the first couple of miles.
Farther down the trail, aspen tunnels shade you briefly in a short flat section before opening up to meadows and more climbing to the top. Before reaching the Upper Third Fork, a few more trail options appear. Four miles into the ride, A-H Creek trail descends nearly 900 feet northwest, connecting Walhstrom Hollow and Pike Mountain trails to Third Fork. The left-branching Martindale Fork trail at the top of Third Fork will connect you back to the parking lot via Cotton Ridge and Second Fork for a fast descent. Continuing past Third Fork, Little Fork connects Upper Third Fork and Trapper Peak trails to complete either the out-and-back Little Fork ride or the 19-mile Trapper Peak loop.
Third Fork Trailhead is a 45-minute drive south on Rock Creek Road. From downtown Twin Falls, take U.S. Highway 30 east to Hansen, then turn south on Rock Creek Road (3800 East) and drive south until you reach the Third Fork Campground. Turn left and park at the trailhead about 0.1 miles off the road.
Gaining a different perspective
The small hamlet of Oakley, Idaho, (population 800) is nestled between Middle Mountain and Cache Peak and sits at the far southern end of the Snake River Plain. The town is the gateway to Trapper Creek Canyon and the eastern Cassia Mountains. The plethora of forest roads and double and single tracks branching from off the road leads to rides of every skill level.
Drive a mile west out of Oakley, then take Goose Creek Road south. Take note of your odometer as you pass the intersection of 600 West and 2200 South. Skirt the north side of Goose Creek Reservoir, and the road will become Trapper Creek Road (forest road 533). More than a dozen miles in, you’ll find various trails to ride, including the Phantom Falls Trail, and the trail to TeePee Rocks formation, pyramid-shaped ash deposits — “tuff” — left over from explosive eruptions in the Twin Falls volcanic field between 8 and 10 million years ago.
Words of caution: Carefully plan out any ride in the Cassia Mountain Range ahead of time. Many have become lost in these mountains, which can be unforgiving no matter the weather. Please consult with the National Forest Service when planning a trip. Downloadable PDF maps of the Sawtooth National Forest are available from the Avenza Map Store for your GPS enabled mobile device.
Gravel rides are more fun with friends
Have you ever ridden a gravel bike? You should! They are becoming more popular every year, and southern Idaho and northern Nevada are two places you can explore with one. A gravel road ride doesn’t have to follow a certain route either.
The gravel roads weaving around the two states’ countrysides are rather remote and lightly traveled, offering adventures both unique and easily accessible. The large land area southwest of Twin Falls and northeast and northwest of Jackpot hosts a network of gravel roads with ample opportunities to explore buttes, creeks, sage fields and open grasslands.
One can easily piece together a ride from Elko, to Twin Falls with a few nights’ worths of camping equipment and food, and a spare tube or six — the route is your adventure and the bike is your horse.
One ride outside Twin Falls is the Magic Hot Springs Road to Basin Road loop. Starting just south of the Nat Soo Pah Hot Springs and Campground and east of U.S. 93, the ride allows bikers to pedal across quiet and scenic roads, down to the Nevada/Idaho state line, all while experiencing gorgeous views of Gollaher Mountain, Nevada, a fast descent of Deep Creek canyon and long and straight sections through the sea of sagebrush in Shoshone Basin. The length of the ride can vary in mileage depending on the route selected, however, starting at Nat Soo Pah and following Magic Hot Springs Road, Basin Cutoff Road, Basin Road and Shoshone Road, with a 10-mile round trip extension to visit the Nevada/Idaho state line, totals 86 miles. Creating a route that suits your ability is advised and numerous versions of this ride can be done with a good plan and GPS unit.
From downtown Twin Falls, take Blue Lakes Boulevard south for 12 miles and continue right for 2.2 miles before taking a left onto 2700 East. Travel south for 1.9 more miles to reach Nat Soo Pah. Parking on the road just south of the campground is a great place to start.
Camping from your bike is very 21st century
Nevada has roughly 48 million acres of public land according to the Bureau of Land Management. The Elko district has 12.5 million of those acres and is split into two subdistricts (Tuscarosa and Wells), giving northeastern Nevada plenty of space for various recreational opportunities, including bikepacking. These open lands are a smorgasbord of opportunities for cyclists who like to camp, explore new places, and sleep under the desert skies simultaneously.
Jackpot is the place to start your adventure. The road you need to pedal down is the California Trail National Back Country Byway. You will need simple bike gear suitable for dusty roads and camping in the high desert — or gear advanced as you want — but carry in only what you feel comfortable carrying out.
Located 2.6 miles south of Jackpot on U.S. 93, the CTNBC Byway starts you off with a grand view of the sage country looking east of the highway — appearing to carry on forever. Middle Stack Mountain to the south and Gollaher Mountain to the east are points of interest and beauty, but the ride along the road is the real treat.
The CTNBC Byway will become Jackpot to Little Goose Creek Road after approximately 7 miles, and eventually will take you all the way to the Utah/Nevada state line. Instead, take a right turn onto a gravel road approximately 3 miles from U.S. 93, then veer left at the fork another mile south and begin a slow ascent towards Middle Stack Mountain and Trout Creek. One more fork in the road will appear; simply veer left and follow it south-southeast, venturing deeper into Trout Creek Canyon. Dispersed camping is abundant on either side of the road after approximately 17 miles or more into your ride. Plotting out your route ahead of time is recommended and use of a GPS unit is too.
Calling all astrophotographers! Bringing a camera and tripod along is highly recommended since the skies outside Jackpot are very dark. From wherever you camp, mountain formations on either side of the creek frame any photo of them and the Milky Way together beautifully.
A couple of other things to consider when bikepacking in this area are the copious amounts of side trails branching off the main roads and the bike you bring. Some private property is scattered throughout the area and you should be aware of fences and signs that say so. Yet, depending on where you have chosen to camp, double-track and single-track trails host several options for mountain bike rides and playtime away from base camp. Riding a hardtail with front suspension suits all needs best, yet either a full suspension or fully rigid gravel bike can perform well also.
Take only memories, leave only bike tracks
Taking a biking adventure with either one friend or several creates memories that last a lifetime. Southern Idaho and northern Nevada have an abundance of outdoor and biking users who value their public lands. Keeping our public lands beautiful for future adventurers is also our duty while enjoying them in the present.
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