Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route

Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route
Idaho City, ID to Idaho City, ID
2 Map Set (745.0 mi.)
GPS | Overview | Buy
MAIN ROUTE - Idaho City, ID to Idaho City, ID (517.6 mi.) Detail |Addenda
SINGLETRACK OPTIONS - (227.4 mi.) Detail |Addenda

Mountains, and Hot Springs, and Bikes, Oh My!

The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route guides riders over and through the breathtaking landscape of central Idaho. From blue ribbon trout streams to sub-alpine terrain and cozy mountain towns, riders will pass through some of the most spectacular country the West has to offer, with the opportunity to indulge in the highest concentration of soakable hot springs in North America.

The route is divided into two maps. The Main Route Map contains routing for the main dirt road loop, the paved Lowman Cutoff, which divides the main dirt road loop in half, and the Boise Spur, which guides riders to and from the Boise Airport. The narratives for all routing on the Main Route Map are bi-directional.

The Singletrack Options Map contains routing for four unique singletrack options. The Singletrack Options Map is a supplement to the Main Route Map, and you will need to purchase both if choosing to incorporate any of the singletrack offerings into your adventure. The four singletrack options are not bi-directional. If you choose to ride them with the main route, you should go in a counter-clockwise direction.

A wide variety of road conditions exists along this route. Surfaces range from pavement, good gravel roads, four-wheel-drive roads, singletrack, and old railroad beds. Opportunities to spot wildlife such as black bears, deer, elk, eagles, osprey, and other birds and animals are in abundance on this route. The area is also rich in history with ghost towns, deserted mines, forgotten homesteads, and even the first ski lift erected in the country. The route features over 50 hot springs. Amenities range from developed resort-style springs to remote natural pools. The route passes near several designated wilderness areas, including the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return, which form the largest wilderness complex in the lower 48 states. No bikes are permitted in any designated wilderness area.

Temperatures tend to be chilly at night and warm-to-hot during the days as you are in mountainous regions most of the way. Snow, hail, and afternoon thunderstorms can be a factor. Medical help is often a long distance off of the route, so riding within your abilities and being aware of dangers is a must. Mosquitoes are a fact of life during certain times of the year — bring repellent.

Photo by Casey Greene

The part of central Idaho that the route traverses is defined by big mountains that form the Idaho Batholith and the rivers that run through it. While names such as the Main Salmon, South Fork of the Salmon, and North Fork of the Payette conjure up images of major rapids and serious rafting, rivers such as the South Fork of the Boise and the Big Wood are some of the West’s most storied fly-fishing waters. The route passes all of these while sometimes climbing high into the mountains from which their headwaters are formed.

Because of this terrain, you will be either gaining elevation, or descending, for the entire route. The elevations are lower near Boise and Crouch — building up to the highest passes near Ketchum and Stanley.

Planning

In the Northern Rockies, the best time to plan for a mountain bike tour is that sweet spot after the snow has melted up high, but before wildfire season starts. In central Idaho, this would mean sometime between late June and late July. If you’re planning your trip six months in advance, shoot for this window. Concerning the other end of the cycling season in Idaho, plan on being off the route by late October. Keep in mind that heavy snows can start accumulating as early as late September. Regardless of when you strike out or how long you intend to be there, pack along rain gear and cold-weather clothing. Light snow and cold rain are possible any day of the year at some of the elevations encountered, and hypothermia is an ever-present possibility.

We discourage you from attempting to ride this route solo. In fact, a minimum group size of three is strongly recommended. If a rider is debilitated in the backcountry, you will want to have at least one person to stay with the injured/sick rider, and another to go for help. A growing number of backcountry travelers are carrying cell phones for such emergency situations, but be aware that reception is still very spotty along much of the route.

Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent site, and that can easily be $10-$20/night. This route goes through national forests and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

Tough on Equipment

The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route is extremely hard on equipment. The weight of your gear exponentially multiplies the stress of riding steep, fast, rough downhills. Wheels, tires, and drivetrains (chains, cassettes, bottom brackets, chainrings) take a lot of abuse and may even need replacing along the course of the entire route. Suspension equipment on the bicycle helps to mitigate the abusive nature of the terrain. That said, nylon pivots of some full-suspension bikes wear out extremely fast and are not recommended. Suspension seatposts, good handlebar grips, and front-suspension forks help smooth out the many miles of washboarded and chuckholed roads. On the Main Route, weighting a suspension fork with panniers works well, evens the weighting of the bike, and adds a little extra stress to the fork. Trailers would also work well on the Main Route and lighten the rear triangle of the bike.

Well-made camping gear is essential for the many nights of high-elevation cold, dew, and rain. Sleeping bags should be rated to at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, and a sleeping pad or inflatable mattress is recommended to add comfort and warmth. A lot of effort must be taken to keep your possessions dry. Pannier covers, dry bags, and plastic freezer bags all work well to keep the rain and dew off clothing and gear. 

High-quality water treatment is mandatory. Advisably, carry one water-treatment system per person. Be it a water filter, chlorine dioxide drops, iodine tablets, or a UV water-treatment device, surface water should be ingested only after employing one of these proven water-treatment methods.

Singletrack Route Options

The nature of riding backcountry singletrack means dealing with the possibility of rough, steep, technical, and unmanicured trails. Plan on encountering all of these while riding any of the four singletrack sections detailed on the Singletrack Options Map. Riders using the Singletrack Options Map should prepare for hike-a-bikes, downed trees, and river crossings. Most of the hike-a-bikes and problematic water crossings are described in the Singletrack Options Map, but one may come across new and variable conditions at any time. Because of these conditions, we strongly suggest riders DO NOT use single-wheel trailers or low-riding front panniers to carry their gear on singletrack. It is illegal to ride with a two-wheel trailer on most singletrack. Packing your gear away from your wheels and maintaining a slim profile to avoid snags is important. We recommend riders use lightweight, bikepacking-style gear and frame bags. We also suggest riders prepare their bodies accordingly for these extreme physical conditions, and significantly lower their expectations on daily mileage. There are very few food services on the singletrack options. You may have to pack up to four days worth of supplies.

Bears

While there has not been a confirmed sighting of a grizzly in this part of Idaho in over half a century, it would not be improbable to find a straggler from the Teton range roaming the eastern extent of the route, which is part of their historic range. A rider will be much more likely to encounter black bears, wolves, or mountain lions, all of which have healthy populations along the entire route. We recommend that you carry bear repellent, available at outdoor sports shops along the route, and become familiar with its safe and proper use. Always be bear-aware, and follow these rules when camping:

  • Store all food, garbage, and other attractants in a bear-resistant manner, well away from your tent. This can include hanging them in a stuff sack from rope slung over a high, isolated tree branch, or storing them in a bear-proof container provided at some campgrounds.
  • Attractants such as food leftovers, fish entrails, and bacon grease should not be buried or burned in campfires. Leftover food and waste should be placed in a sealed bag or container and packed out with garbage. If leftover food or other attractants must be burned, do so in a contained fire stove or in an appropriate container over a campfire, then pack out the ash.


  • 40 undeveloped backcountry hot springs.
  • 11 developed hot springs.
  • Idaho's famous rivers, including the South Fork of the Salmon, East Fork of the Salmon, Secesh, Big Wood, South Fork of the Boise, Middle Fork of the Boise, South Fork of the Payette, Middle Fork of the Payette, North Fork of the Payette, and the Main Salmon River, also known as the River of No Return.
  • Numerous mountain ranges and sub-ranges, including the jagged precipices of the Sawtooth Range, the massive White Cloud Mountains, and the Lick Creek Range which some locals refer to as the "McCall Alps".
  • The friendly small mountain towns of Ketchum, Stanley, McCall, Cascade, Crouch, Placerville, Idaho City, Featherville, and Atlanta.

More Route Resources