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Scott Marchant worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.

A snowshoe trek can be a magical way to explore winter’s striking scenery. When snow falls, the mountain trails of Idaho are transformed into an alluring world of sparkling white. Snowshoeing is fun, easy, and inexpensive—it is winter’s answer to walking and hiking.

For winter scenery, great trails, and easy access, the Idaho City Park N’ Ski Area is an excellent destination. Located northeast of Treasure Valley, the system is composed of four Park N’ Ski parking lots directly off 21—Whoop-Um-Up, Gold Fork, Banner Ridge, and Beaver Creek Summit—all dispersed along ID 21, about 30 minutes north of Idaho City. The lots are usually plowed after a significant snowfall and provide a diverse array of winter activities including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skate skiing, fat tire biking, and snowmobiling.

There are 26 miles of groomed trails—usually groomed Tuesday through Thursday of each week, during the winter months. For snowshoers, it is the marked but ungroomed trails that offer the best outdoor experience. There are a multitude of marked snowshoe trails that begin from the four lots. Three excellent and diverse snowshoe loops are the Pilgrim & Valley Trail Loop, Whoop-Um-Up Loop, and Banner Ridge Snowshoe Loop. You will need a Park N’ Ski permit to use the area. You can choose between a $25.00 annual permit or buy a one to three day temporary permit for $7.50. Both permits can be purchased online at Idaho Parks and Rec website.

View of pine trees and snow while snowshoeing.
Blue diamonds on trees mark the route making it easy to navigate. Photo Credit: Scott Marchant.

This loop connects with several trails, allowing you to configure a diverse outing. The trek includes views along the Valley Trail and lush forest on the Pilgrim Trail. If you have young children who are new to snowshoeing, you can opt for the Pilgrim Loop (0.7 mile) that is quite scenic considering its shorter length. The trailhead is located at the southeast corner of the Whoop-Um-Up parking lot, 16.7 miles north of Idaho City.

From the signed trailhead, come to an immediate junction (the trail to your left is your return if you chose to snowshoe the Pilgrim Loop). Continue forward towards the Lower Lamar Trail. The route turns east and reaches a signed junction at 0.2 mile. Turn right unless you want to snowshoe the Pilgrim Loop (see next paragraph).

To complete the Pilgrim Loop continue forward at this junction. The route leads through mixed forest of Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, and lodgepole pine, as it descends about 50 feet to a signed junction in less than a quarter-mile. Turn left on a gentle slope to where the trail levels near a vault toilet. Here, the trail splits. Continue another 50 feet to the Whoop-Um-Up lot or veer left on the Pilgrim Trail and reach the trailhead you started from in a quarter-mile.

For the longer trek, turn right at the 0.2 mile junction. You begin a gentle climb to a switchback at 0.3 mile (from the trailhead) and then veer west on an open slope. There are superlative vistas looking east over the undulating Boise National Forest. Reach a signed junction with the Valley Trail at 0.6 mile. Turn left. (If you turn right, your can extend the outing another 0.8 mile by completing the Lower Lamar Loop which returns to this junction.) You now descend 250 feet over the next half-mile through patchy burned forest. Come to a signed junction, a few yards from the Wagon Trail, at 1.2 miles. Turn left towards the trailhead, paralleling the groomed Wagon Trail. You enter beautiful Douglas fir and lodgepole forest and soon veer around the Edna Creek Campground. At 1.4 miles, reach another signed junction. Continue forward on the Pilgrim Trail as the route ascends a sloped hillside and finally reaches the Whoop-Um-Up lot.

View of pine trees and snow on a hill while snowshoeing.
The Whoop-Um-Up trek meanders through lots of Douglas fir forest. Photo Credit: Scott Marchant.

This snowshoe trek offers superlative vistas, dense forest, and more opportunity for solitude. You can extend the outing by another 0.7 mile by hiking the Upper Lamar Loop which intersects with the main loop. The trailhead is located on the west side of ID 21, directly across from the Whoop-Um-Up parking lot (16.7 miles north of Idaho City). Use caution when crossing ID 21.

From the trailhead, veer right. The route crosses the Whoop Um Up Creek drainage within 500 feet to its north side and begins a modest ascent west through open Douglas fir forest. After a gain of 150 feet, the route veers north and then gently climbs out of the creek drainage to an open area with good views at an elevation of 5,650 feet. Here, you will enter burned forest, which gradually becomes more prominent, until you reach a signed junction at 5,850 feet near a few large ponderosa pine trees at 1.3 miles.

From the signed junction, turn left. Some of the best views of the hike unfold as you veer east on an open slope. Views stretch for miles over a band of green hills and mountains. At 1.5 miles, begin a gentle descent into beautiful Douglas fir forest and reach another signed junction with the Upper Lamar Trail at 2.0 miles. (This trail allows you to extend the hike. It climbs a slope and returns to the Whoop-Um-Up Trail in 0.7 mile.) Continue forward (east), reaching a signed junction with the return of the Upper Lamar Trail at 2.2 miles. The route now levels, veers north, and reaches the signed trailhead at 2.4 miles.

View of mountain tops while snowshoeing.
Take in the inspiring view from the knoll near 1.1 miles. Photo Credit: Scott Marchant.

Of the three treks described, this outing takes top honors for “best views”. Vistas include an aerial perspective of the Steep Creek drainage and extended vistas to many high peaks in the Boise National Forest. This snowshoe can be extended since several trails intersect with the route. The snowshoe begins at the Banner Ridge parking lot, 22.2 miles north of Idaho City. The trailhead is located on the west side of ID 21, a few feet before reaching a vault toilet.

Begin with an immediate ascent of 60 feet through open forest to a signed junction at 0.1 mile. Turn left (west) at the junction. You now descend 50 feet as the trail veers north alongside a small drainage. Continue ascending through open forest and, after a gain of 250 feet, reach a scenic ridge dotted with ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees at 0.8 mile (elevation 6,050 feet).

View of a snow trail on a hill while snowshoeing.
The enchanting forest near Banner Ridge is worth the hike. Photo Credit: Scott Marchant.

The path turns right and gently ascends through forest. There are wonderful vistas looking northeast. After a modest gain of another 50 feet in a quarter-mile, reach a signed junction at 1.1 miles. For the best views, continue forward towards the Banner Trail another 750 feet to a treeless knoll perched high above the Steep Creek drainage. The views from this perch are sensational. (If you continue past the knoll, you reach another signed junction in less than a quarter-mile with the groomed Banner Trail. This trail allows you to extend your snowshoe trek and there is a good map at the junction.) To return to the trailhead, retrace your steps back to the signed junction at 1.1 miles. Turn left. The route descends 200 feet through beautiful forest and reaches the signed junction near the trailhead at 1.9 miles. Turn left and descend to the trailhead.

Published on January 9, 2024