Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch

Pioneer Mountains

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch


  • Looking down Bear Gulch, one of the steeper mountain bike trails in the region. The far peak across the East Fork of the Big Wood is called Mindbender.- Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch
  • A biker hits the ridge above the steepest section of the Bear Gulch Trail.- Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch
  • Nearing the top of Bear Gulch.- Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch
  • After a brief rest and layer change, a mountain biker begins the long, fast descent into Parker Gulch.- Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch
  • Dropping into the top of Parker Gulch.- Bear Gulch to Parker Gulch
Overview + Weather
Shaded in Bear Gulch. Nice views from the saddle. Access to Johnstone Peak climb.
Steep, grueling climb. Open to motorcycles. Sections can be dusty and loose.
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Pets allowed: 
Net Elevation Gain: 
2,261.00 ft (689.15 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Biking, Horseback
Trail difficulty: 
Total Distance: 
8.30 mi (13.36 km)
Trail type: 
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,335.00 ft (1,930.91 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description


Bear Gulch follows an old road up a narrow and sparsely-forested creek bottom to a steep (13% grade) singletrack trail that climbs to the southwest saddle of Johnstone Peak. It is one of the few trails that is open to motorized use in the Pioneer Mountains, and it is typically maintained every spring by local motorcycle riders.

The Bear to Parker mountain bike ride is a granny-gear grind, one of the steepest and most consistent climbs in the valley. The descent down Parker Gulch is fast and occasionally loose. The Parker drainage faces west and tends to be hotter, drier, and dustier than Bear Gulch. About half of the Parker descent crosses open sage and grass, and the other half crosses through shady forest. The trail tends to be somewhat looser than the Bear Gulch side, so it is preferable to ride up Bear and descend Parker, but it can be ridden in either direction.

Parker Gulch was one of the epicenters of mining in the 1880s, and many old roads crisscross the steep hillsides between tailings piles. Isaac Lewis, who also founded the town of Ketchum, owned the Elkhorn Mine at the mouth of Keystone Gulch. Other notable claims up Parker Gulch were the Amicus, Parker, and Montgomery Mines. The road to the Parker Gulch Trailhead passes through several parcels of private property, so please respect the landowners.

Additional Adventures

Bikers can piece together a huge loop by beginning at the Trail Creek Trailhead and riding out the Corral Creek Trail, then out the Corral Creek Road to the Pioneer Cabin Trail.  The first descent takes the Johnstone Creek Trail down to Hyndman Creek road and to the Bear Gulch Trailhead. From here riders complete the second grueling climb over to Parker Gulch and finish on the bike path system back to their car at the Trail Creek Trailhead. It is a leg-burning 30-mile ride that climbs 5,660 feet (add 2.2 miles and 629 feet for the round trip to Pio Cabin at the top of the first climb).

Off-Trail Hiking

From the saddle on the southwest ridge of Johnstone Peak it is an easy Class 2 scramble to the summit for the most amazing panoramic view of the Pioneer Mountains. It is possible to make an off-trail loop by descending east off of the summit and then following the meandering south ridge down to the Bear Gulch Trailhead.

Reference: All content excerpted from Exploring Sun Valley - A Comprehensive Guide to the Boulder, Pioneer, and Smoky Mountains by Idaho River Publications.

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(5 within a 30 mile radius)

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(33 within a 30 mile radius)

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Published in collaboration with Idaho River Publications

Our mission is to inspire adventure with beautiful, comprehensive and waterproof map-based guidebooks.  Owner, publisher, and photographer Matt Leidecker, grew up exploring and guiding on the rivers in central Idaho.  His award winning Middle Fork of the Salmon River – A Comprehensive Guide is the standard by which other river guidebooks are measured.  Printed on virtually indestructible YUPO paper, IRP guides are truly unique all-in-one resources for adventure.  Each book is loaded with full-color maps, stunning photographs, and information on the history, geology, and wildflowers.  Visit Idaho River Publications to explore our guidebooks to the Rogue River in Oregon and the mountains of Central Idaho.

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