John F. Kennedy once said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
Politics set aside, here in the Magic Valley cyclists can find opportunities in several places. One iteration is fat biking. It is not a new sport — but it is up and coming. Whether you crave carving through the ancient lava flows in the Snake River Canyon or pedaling long winding trails in the South Hills, there are copious places to visit on a bike. If exploring is your modus operandi, ecstasy is your reward.
And no matter where you go, take some friends along for the journey — and be sure to take your fat bike. The off-trail model with oversized tires can confront every obstacle. They have become popular for navigating snow and sand, bogs and mud.
Auger Falls — Within Twin Falls city limits; 23 Trails, 1 black, 14 blue and 8 green trails
The Snake River formed through several epochs. Around 14,500 years ago, the Lake Bonneville Flood event gave the canyon its depth. Today, activities ranging from paddle boarding to bicycle riding are abundant in and around the canyon. The Auger Falls trail system offers 23 trails. And the spectacular local system is only a 15-minute drive from downtown.
Single track riding is popular throughout Idaho, and the Auger system offers plenty of it. Trails such as Haunted Forest, Mattie’s and Porcupine are sandy and smooth, with a few smaller rocks, but on a fat bike you will hardly notice them.
If you are seeking more challenging terrain, Eagle Trail, Acid Trail, Rock Creek Trail and Blue Bottle offer bigger features along their routes that can be eaten up with a hard tail fatty with only moderate effort. Suspension fat bikes plow through the trails even more easily, allowing for fast laps and ample smiles.
Riders can travel the majority of the trails from east to west (out and back) from the parking lot. The Eagle Trail hugs the Snake River on the north side, and the Acid Trail and Rock Creek Trail hug the canyon cliffs on the south side. One could spend all day sessioning the trails or opt to enjoy a quick lap on a lunch break.
Indian Spring – South Hills; 25 trails, 5 black, 12 blue, 5 green, and 2 access roads
The South Hills rise prominently from the Magic Valley’s floor, where farm roads disappear and dirt trails emerge. The quiet countryside offers an expansive, sage-laden desert. As the elevation rises, the views become more awe-inspiring, as does the fat biking.
Nestled in the slopes and canyons of the Rock Creek drainage, the Indian Spring trail system is a rider’s paradise. Starting from the parking lot at 4,265 feet, trails Swami, Sugarloaf and Sweet N’ Low meander around small lava rocks, sage and greasewood bushes; the pedaling is intense from the first stroke.
Higher on the trails, larger rock outcroppings dominate the landscape as the single track bobs and weaves over and around the edifices on trails Brennan, Backdoor and Matt’s Gulch. Providing soft and fast riding with the Magic Valley below, the top portion of Indian Spring is challenging, but deeply rewarding.
Trails Hot Shot, Smitty’s and Sly Gulch crest near the top of Indian Spring Road. Don’t forget to wipe the mud from your tires for the downhill. Some sections hide from the sun and slosh mud up into the derailleurs, but the risk is worth the reward.
Indian Spring is a vast system with miles of trails to potentially get lost on, but if you point your fat bike due north, you will end up back in the parking lot eventually.
Off the beaten path
Water Canyon – Declo Hills, 1 blue trail
Driving east on the I-84 corridor, the Magic Valley countryside has abundant farms lining the valley below Mt. Harrison and Cache Peak. These two peaks precipitously rise from the valley floor, shadowing small towns below such as Declo and Almo. Traveling south from town on Highway 77, look for the left-turn at East 500 South to find a hidden gem of a trail tucked away on the southern slopes of East Hills High Point.
Meet Water Canyon trail
Note: The Water Canyon trail is on private land owned by the Skaggs family beginning from the cattle guard at the trailhead. The land on either side of the road is for cattle grazing, however the trails near the top of the East Hills High Point are said to be on public land. Beware of signs that state NO TRESPASSING and stay on the access road.
The Declo Hills trail is a fast downhill double track/gravel descent, but the climb up is arduous; bring an oxygen bottle. A nice feature of Water Canyon’s uphill death-march is that many offshoot single tracks weave along the climb.
Exploring a 5-minute detour while your buddy navigates the road tantalizes your senses as the high point comes into view around mile two. Rain runoff cuts deep fissures into the gravel road due to its steepness, but pedaling smart with good line choices rewards riders at the top with a magnificent view of the Magic Valley below.
Now comes the fun part. What takes most riders a solid two hours or more to ascend will take 30 minutes or less to descend. Cow patties and washed-out channels are the two main obstacles perhaps stopping any rider from a true downhill world record at Water Canyon.
Cottonwood Creek – South Hills, 1 green trail
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to follow North Cottonwood Creek Road 2 miles south to a right turn, then park .2 miles further south next to Cottonwood Creek. Here you will jump on your fat bike and seek out ear-to-ear smiles, smooth grassy double track and not a single soul in sight. As always, should you or any members of your biking team not have fun, nobody back at the brewery will believe where you just rode.
Cottonwood Creek trail, (not to be confused with Cottonwood Canyon), is an out and back double track offering something very different than marked trails and immense single track in the Magic Valley. The parking lot, (grass field), is your first clue that you have stumbled upon the right place. The creek is calming as your fat bike tires whisk across the dirt and grass trail; climbing is gentle to start.
Southern Idaho’s blue sky meets the green blue-grass as Cottonwood Creek trail hugs the water line for about a mile. Fat bike tires will slip some on the muddy sections, but can easily power through whereas 2.5 inch tires would have a tough time. A surprise water feature awaits the bold, a refreshing reminder that Idaho’s runoff is still ice-cold. But it's not too deep and sure to shallow as spring turns to summer.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” Warren Miller said in a ski film once, as will be the case for the fork around mile 1.5 in Cottonwood Creek. Go right; a very steep ascent leads to heaven. Go left, and follow an old cow track farther down the rabbit-hole in the canyon. Either ride leaves you giddy with excitement.
But like all good things, what goes up must come down. The right fork ride will beat your hands up some without suspension and the left fork allows your brain to function on autopilot due to smoothness. Don’t forget the river crossing! It will surprise you and your team on the descent. Nevertheless, the soft grass you floated over on the way up is not slippery on the way down.
Après after the ride
Bouncing back down dirt roads or cruising super highways, the Magic Valley and surrounding hills are unique with abundant places to ride. Twin Falls and southern Idaho are not made up of only farms and cows. The history of the outdoor lifestyle is prevalent throughout the state. So grab a fat bike, grab a friend or five, but be sure to secure an adventure — two wheels on gravel, grass, dirt and snow will take you to places you may have never imagined.