Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route Q&A

November 14, 2013

I recently sat down with Adventure Cycling Cartographer Casey Greene to chat with him about the project that has been occupying his time for much of the last year, the development of Adventure Cycling's exciting new Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. Maps for the new route will be available in early 2014.

Photo by Casey Greene

Describe the route in just a few sentences, what can cyclists expect overall?

The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route will guide riders over and through the breathtaking landscape of central Idaho. From blue ribbon trout streams to big sub-alpine terrain and cozy mountain towns, they will pass through some of the most spectacular country the West has to offer. In total, there will be just over 500 miles on the main route with the possibility of 150 extra miles of singletrack riding.

Why did Adventure Cycling choose to create this route now?

From our first route, the TransAmerica Trail, through our mapping of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the longest off-pavement mountain bike route in the world, Adventure Cycling has always been on the cutting edge of long-distance bicycle routing in North America. The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route continues this trend by incorporating backcountry singletrack options into a route, which is a first for us. It’s also something that our members have been asking for, and with the innovative new bikepacking gear and techniques that have surfaced over the past 10 years, it seemed like the perfect time to develop a route like this one.

How many hot springs are on the route and what should riders expect from them?

The route will feature over 50 hot springs. Amenities will range from developed resort-style springs to remote natural pools.

Photo by Casey Greene?

Do riders need to be expert mountain bikers to ride and enjoy this route?

Riders will need to have a basic understanding of mountain-bike technique, but by no means will they need to be experts to ride the main dirt-road route. However, the four singletrack options will be more challenging and riders will need to know their own ability when attempting to ride these sections. Some parts of the singletrack sections are expert-only riding. On those stretches, most people will choose to walk their bike — that’s what I did when I was researching the route.

Do cyclists have to ride singletrack on this route?

While there will be four different multi-day singletrack options for those who wish to partake, riding singletrack will not be mandatory on the route.

What kind of bike setup should a rider use?

I wish there was a simple clear-cut answer to this question, but there’s not. Here are some basic suggestions: For the main dirt road route, I would go with a hardtail mountain bike with tires in the 2.2” range. It doesn't have to be a brand-new bike, but make sure all the components are in good working order. Rim brakes and mechanical discs are prefered over hydraulic. For the singletrack sections, a full-suspension bike is ideal.

All that being said, if you’ve toured dirt roads on your cross bike, and are setting out to ride the main route, use your cross bike. Fatbikes? Sure. 26-inch-wheeled, rim-braked, no-suspension singlespeeds? That’s what I rode to research all of the singletrack sections.

Just like there is no right bike for the job, there is no correct packing system. Personally, I prefer bikepacking bags to panniers, and panniers to trailers. There are limitations to all of these. Know them, and choose accordingly. Climbing is harder with trailers and they are costly to ship to the start of a tour. Panniers require racks which can be a pain to install on modern mountain bikes. They also are a drag in a head wind. Bikepacking bags offer a limited amount of space, and the space they do afford can be awkward to pack larger items.

For singletrack, I would not suggest anything other than bikepacking bags.

Photo by Casey Greene

How big are the climbs? Do riders need to train?

There are quite a few 3000+ foot climbs on the main route and a few of those are fairly steep. On the singletrack sections there several 2000+ foot climbs that only the strongest riders will be able to pedal. I just walked those stretches while researching the route.

So yes, I would train a bit before setting out to do these rides, but nothing crazy. For the main route I would work up to a casual five-hour, loaded ride before starting the trip, and for singletrack, add some hiking and upper-body strength training. The singletrack sections are true backcountry epics. Plan for hike-a-bikes, downed trees, river crossings, and other obstacles to haul yourself and your bike over.

This is a fairly remote part of the country. Are there enough food services?

I know it seems like a remote part of the country, but there are actually many places to refuel and restock supplies on the route. The longest stretch on the main route with no services will be 75 miles. However, on the singletrack sections, there are almost no services. A rider may have to pack up to four days' worth of supplies to complete these stretches. The maps will display where services are available. 

Are there bears in Idaho?

Yes, there is tons of good beer in central Ida… Oh, you said bears. Yes, there are bears in Idaho.

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 or wolves. Both of which have healthy populations over the entire route. There are mountain lions out there as well. Prepare accordingly.

Photo by Casey Greene

What is the best way to access the route from out of state?

There will be a 30-mile spur route to guide riders from the Boise airport to the main route. The singletrack sections are accessed from the main route. A secondary option would be to fly into the Sun Valley airport, and hook up with the route in Ketchum via a 15-mile bike path. Though we will not have it mapped out, it’s fairly straightforward if riders want to use it. However, flights into Sun Valley are generally a more expensive option. 

What is the best time of year to ride the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route?

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. This would mean sometime between late June and late July. If you're planning your trip six months in advance, shoot for this window.

However, my favorite time to bicycle tour to hot springs is in the autumn. The air is cooler, which makes the hot springs more inviting. For a fall excursion, shoot for early September to mid October. Keep in mind: fires could burn well into October and the snow could start flying in late September.

When will the maps be available?

There will be two maps in this series, one for the main route and a supplemental map for the singletrack option. Both will be available in early 2014.

Photos by Casey Greene.

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


Coast Bike Parts February 5, 2019, 10:07 PM

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John M March 20, 2018, 7:56 PM

Looking for suggestions for 1 way transit from Ketchum/Sun Valley to McCall. Plan to ride E side of route and return to car

Rusty Knorr September 17, 2014, 2:18 AM

I just did a write-up on our failed attempt at this route. Check it out here-

Casey Greene February 25, 2014, 9:14 AM

The maps are in stock. You can order them now.

Ginger Jui February 23, 2014, 9:27 PM

Casey! Awesome to hear the maps are ready! Do we pre-order on Cyclosource?

Casey Greene February 18, 2014, 4:05 PM

Just wanted to let everyone subscribing to this post to know that I just talked to our sales folks, and we are going to start taking orders on Feb 25th. Even if the maps come in early, we are still not taking orders until the 25th. If the maps come in a few days late, we will be taking pre-orders on the 25th.

Josh Cobb February 17, 2014, 7:51 PM

Why do you prefer rim brakes over hydraulic

Casey Greene February 18, 2014, 3:20 PM

For normal mountain biking I much prefer hydraulic (Shimano being the best I’ve used) over mechanical discs, or rim.

But, for remote bikepacking/mountain bike touring, I’ll take either mechanical discs (Avid BB7s), or rim brakes (Paul Components or old Shimano XTRs) over hydraulic discs for the simple reason that if you rip a line or do something catastrophic to your hydraulics, your SOL. If you do the same to a rim brake or mechanical disc you A) probably won’t have a problem because they are more durable; and B) they have a better chance of handling field repairs if something does go wrong.

For me, durability and versatility win over weight savings and performance. Although, having said all that, I have toured with Shimano XT hydraulics and they performed flawlessly.

Nick Bell February 8, 2014, 3:12 PM

I am excited to see this route.. I probably wouldnt be able to do the whole 500mile route due to time constraints, but a smaller 200 mile section would be something that I could do.. Excited to see what the route is.. I watched that other video of yours many times already..

Casey Greene February 18, 2014, 3:23 PM

Right on. I'm excited for you! The maps will be available to order on Feb 25th.

Casey Greene February 4, 2014, 8:33 AM

They were sent to the printer yesterday. So we are about 3 week out from having them available to purchase. I'll post up here when they are available.

Petey February 1, 2014, 6:42 AM

My first adventures with Mt Biking were all through the Sawtooths. I am so excited to see these maps; finding the places we use to go and discovering the ones we missed. Is there a release date soon :)

Jeff B. January 20, 2014, 8:15 PM

Some friends want to go on this route while I ride, but not have to ride the entire way - can a 4WD support vehicle follow the route? Any gates/private land where they aren't permitted? Any advice is welcome - don't want to upset riders or others with the vehicles.

Casey Greene February 4, 2014, 8:37 AM

You will have a tough time following riders on the Singletrack Options, but the rest of the routing should be doable. There still will be a couple spots though, where the motor vehicle will have to use an alternate path, but those instances will be few and far between on the Main Route, Lowman Cutoff, and Boise Spur.

Winona Bateman January 9, 2014, 12:26 PM

Hi Andreas,

You should contact us once the maps are available. We will be announcing their availability sometime in February, and then you will be able to purchase them from our store. Thanks so much!

Winona Bateman January 6, 2014, 6:07 PM

We will have maps sometime in February.

Andreas January 8, 2014, 10:34 AM

We are making our initial plans and have every intention of doing at least 2-weeks worth of this route this June/July. Who should I contact regarding the maps once available? Thanks!

Tim Field January 4, 2014, 3:57 AM

When will the maps be available ?

Roo November 19, 2013, 9:23 AM

Looks awesome! The Salt Lake City area Bike Touring / Bikepacking group is already talking about a potential trip for next summer! We mostly do one or two-night, loaded touring trips. Anyone interested in trips in Utah or nearby (ID, w CO, n AZ, etc.) is welcome to join us.

Karen Ballard February 26, 2014, 4:05 PM

Let us know if you need any help in planning. We are happy to get a group rate if you access through Boise.

Pete Staehling November 14, 2013, 1:04 PM

Definitely on my list for 2014, I am very excited about this route.

Erica Murphy November 14, 2013, 12:31 PM

I'm drooling! Can't wait to go ride this! Thank you for putting this route together!!

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