Galena Lodge, 23 miles northwest of Ketchum, has long been a mecca for Nordic skiers bent on scissoring their way around a tidy web of manicured corduroy Nordic trails.
Now it’s becoming a mecca for mountain bikers, thanks to an almost-finished 47-mile system of single-track trails designed for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people during summer since we started building the trails three years ago,” said Erin Zell, who co-manages Galena Lodge. ”We easily have twice as many as we used to, many coming from places like Boise and Salt Lake City. On weekends, it’s like a busy winter day. We sell 200 lunches.”
The trails were designed in part to offer something for beginner and intermediate mountain bikers—something that’s difficult to find among the 400 miles of single track that ring Sun Valley.
The trail system is a stacked one, meaning that easier mountain bike trails ring the lodge. The advanced trails with steeper grades and rockier terrain are farthest out.
“The idea is that you can have a group of friends come up, and they can fan out over the trails based on their skill levels. Then they can all meet back at the lodge for a drink or lunch,” said Jim Keating, director of Blaine County Recreation District.
The Galena Trails Project started in 2006 when the Big Wood Backcountry Trails, an all-volunteer user-coalition, enlisted the BCRD board and Galena Lodge managers Don Shepard and Erin Zell to ask Sawtooth National Recreation Area officials about developing a master plan for trails expansion.
“We weren’t sure it would fly,” said Chris Leman, the BCRD’s Wood River Valley trail coordinator. “Big Wood Backcountry Trails hired IMBA Trail Solutions (International Mountain Bicycling Association) to help get community input and create a master plan. When our group lost a little momentum, the BCRD picked up the ball and ran with it. I’m super-stoked to see how the project has turned out and how popular the trails are.”
The BCRD spent the past three years building the trails, using a 36-inch-wide trail-dozer to cut trails across hillsides. Two mini excavators followed, moving rocks and tamping down the surface with their mechanical arms. Human workers came behind, snipping roots, moving big boulders the excavators couldn’t move and raking the trails. Workers finished up the Big Wood Loop on the west side of Highway 75 just as the snow began to fly in late October.
“We pulled our machines off that trail and brought out the snow groomers the next day,” said Keating.
The BCRD has a little finish work left before it holds a ribbon-cutting party in August or September, said the BCRD’s development director, Megan Stevenson.
The trails on the west side of Highway 75 across from Galena Lodge were designed with equestrians in mind. They’re relatively flat with no banked corners. The trails on the east side of the highway are a mountain biker’s delight with banked corners and rollercoaster dips. There is no charge to use the trails. Dogs are allowed on all of them.
“A lot of kids are out there, and they’re bringing their parents because it’s such a safe, positive experience,” said Zell. “I took my 7-year-old nephew through Senate Meadows, which is one of the easier ones, and we had a blast.”
It’s difficult to know how many people use the trails since there’s no cost to use them, said Keating. But the BCRD estimates 20,000 summer visits last year based on infrared trail counters set up along some trails.
That compares with 25,000 visitors counted at the Adams Gulch Trailhead in 2005. The BCRD estimates 65,000 skier days on its Nordic trails. But that includes trails ranging from Croy Canyon in Hailey to Galena Lodge.
Already, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association has held a race on the Galena trails. “We had 400 racers racing on the trails,” said Keating. “That’s no small thing. We’re talking a mini-Boulder Mountain Tour.”
Keating’s favorite trail is Spring Creek, just east of the North Cherry Creek and Cherry Creek Nordic trails. It offers several view sheds in an area that has rarely been accessed during summer until now.
The seven-mile trail, considered intermediate, starts off at Rip and Tear and heads south and east to Highway 75 where Spring Creek crosses Highway 75 in the vicinity of Owl Creek. There, riders can return to the lodge via the Harriman Trail.
Keating’s not alone in his love for that trail.
“It’s awesome,” said Ketchum mountain biker Laurie Leman. “I like it because of its rollers.”
A Snapshot of the Galena Trails
The most used trails are the Pioneer, Senate Meadows and Galena View trails for beginners. The Senate Meadows trail takes riders through beautiful open meadows filled with purple penstemon and yellow buttercup flowers with views of surrounding mountains. Pioneer Cemetery and Galena View Loop take riders through heavily wooded area shaded by lodgepole pine.
Rip and Tear is a very popular intermediate trail with swooping switchbacks.
The Outhouse Trail sports rollercoaster-like hills, berms and banked trails.
Old Toll Road on the west side of Highway 75 is a beginner-intermediate trail that takes users 6 miles from the lodge to Galena Summit with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.
Enid’s Trail on the west side of the highway is a 2.15-mile trail with 638 feet of elevation gain and some nice views looking toward Galena Summit. It was named for Galena’s “sporty girls,” a sanitized name given to those who ran Galena mining camp’s house of ill repute in the late 1800s.
Grinder, one of the most advanced trails, has steep pitches, rocky stretches and great views. Bikers can access Galena Peak from the 6-mile trail.
The Bureau of Land Management plans to begin scoping its BLM Wood River Valley travel plan this summer. The travel plan involves nearly a hundred miles of proposed trails for mountain biking, primarily in the Hailey and Bellevue area. There will be opportunities for the public to comment, said John Kurtz, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM’s Shoshone Field Office. The BLM began working on the plan a few years ago but had to set it aside to deal with sage-grouse issues.