Saturday, December 15, 2012

Trail of the Week: Three Bears Trail, Boise Foothills

Judging by the overall success of the first "Trail of the Week" feature, there are quite a few people who want to know where to ride and what they're getting into when they head out.  Today's trail review is another one of my favorite trails, one that until this year I hadn't ridden all that much because it requires a bit of commitment to aim your bicycle that direction in the Foothills.  Three Bears Trail is one of the ultimate downhill rides in the area.  It can be very high speed, but there are enough technical features to keep you alert and off the back of the saddle.  It is rocky in many places, and involves climbing up 5 or 6 miles before you plunge back down to Boise in an adrenaline filled rush.  Three Bears is on the Eastern side of the Foothills main trail sections, and is accessed through the Military Reserve area.  On the Ridge to Rivers map, you'll find Three Bears marked as trail number 26 and it is listed at 4.35 miles in length (almost all of it thrilling downhill riding).  Now how do you get there?

Gaining the top of the Three Bears Trail is no easy feat.  It is most easily accessed via the Rocky Canyon Road but who wants to ride a boring road up to the beginning of a high speed mountain bike roller coaster ride?  My favorite way to get to Three Bears involves starting at the parking area in the Military Reserve and taking the Central Ridge Spur (#22A) to the Central Ridge (#22) and then over to Shane's loop (#26A) which drops you off less than a couple miles from the Three Bears Connnector on Rocky Canyon Road.  Climbing is going to happen, so dig in for a decently long climb up the Central Ridge area until you reach Shane's.  Shane's Loop connects with the lower portion of Three Bears, but I'll get to that later...  I usually continue heading East on Shane's until reaching a signpost that directs you further East to Rocky Canyon Road.  The Shane's Loop segment offers a brief break from the climbing, and the drop down to the road is a bit technical.  Once on the road, you continue climbing for about 1.5-2 miles until you reach a steep access trail identified as the Three Bears Connector.  This is a nasty little slog up to the actual Three Bears Trail and it can be loose at certain times of year which makes it even nastier.  I usually settle in on my granny ring and drop my fork down to steepen up the head angle (one of my bike's many cool tricks) so the climb is a bit easier.  After climbing some very steep sections you finally reach the trail of the week, Three Bears.
Rocky Canyon Road

From the top of Three Bears you have a fantastic view of the valley, Boise laid out before you as the earth falls away towards the city.  In the dark morning hours of my normal riding time, this is a magical view, similar to the view of landing in a city at night on an airplane, except better because your not breathing in recycled air and stuck between two smelly passengers.  Descending on Three Bears is an exhilarating experience.  The trail never gets to that scary steep "omg" level, but it certainly keeps you on your toes.  The rock gardens are fairly regular, and braking bumps and sharp corners abound.  The descent of Three Bears is also broken up by a few uphills that are short and easy if you carry a lot of speed on the downhill sections. Throughout the entire descent, you are treated to views of Boise, if you can look up to view it with your speed induced watery eyes.  After a bit of descending, you'll come to another junction with Shane's Loop (26A).  It is here where you must decide if you want to continue down Three Bears and eventually jump onto the road that leads you back to the Military Reserve parking area, or take a left and go back to the original junction with Shane's Loop and descend via the Central Ridge trails.  I'm split on which is best, but I think I like the Three Bears all the way option the best.

Like so many trails in the Footies, the Three Bears Trail can be accessed through other options and can be linked to other trails.  One nice variation is to continue past the Three Bears Connector trail to 5-Mile Gulch (Trail #2 on the RtR map).  Once here you can climb up a more mellow grade, albeit longer, to Watchman's Trail (#3 on the map) and put together a really nice ride.  At the bottom of Three Bears you'll find a junction with trail #5, Freestone Ridge, which you can climb up (way up!) to another really fun trail called Fat Tire Traverse.  This will take you over to the more central trails like Sidewinder which you could hit and go to the Freeway and back towards Camelsback park or take a ride down Lower Hulls Gulch, or perhaps even go way over to Corrals, Bob's, or Hard Guy.  That sounds like a good one for next week..  Here's the Garmin Course Map, check out the Ridge to Rivers website as well and get out there.  Happy trails!
Screen grab from Garmin Connect...  Check out the link above for more info.

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