As you head north from the town of Ketchum, Idaho, you can't help but notice all the wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities waiting for you on both sides of the road. A wide array of groomed cross-country tracks and well-marked snowshoe trails hug Highway 75 as you head north toward the stunning Galena Pass. Just 8 miles from the heart of town sits the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Visitor Center and its nearby North Fork Trails. This easy-to-access snowshoe route is great for people of all ages and most physical abilities thanks to its flat terrain and relatively short loop. The trail starts just outside of the visitor center (where you can purchase your day pass) and hugs the groomed cross-country track, taking you alongside the North Fork of the Big Wood River and briefly along Murdoch Creek. You'll hike through willow chutes and under large pine trees as you meander through the woods, surrounded by sloping hillsides with larger mountains in the distance. Several meadows and open stretches give this quick loop a decent level of variety for hikers and photographers. One great treat is the ability to bring up to two dogs per person along with you to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Everyone seems to truly enjoy having such a great trail system so close to town.
As a part of the greater Blaine County Recreation District, the North Fork system is just one of many trails you can access with snowshoes for $5 per day, per person. Annual passes can be found on their website at a variety of prices depending on what you are looking for. This is truly a phenomenal trail system that stretches from the town of Hailey all the way to the Galena Pass, and it includes well over 100 kilometers of trails for all skill levels. The weather changes quickly, so make sure you are prepared; you can expect small snowstorms and blue skies all within an hour's time. Keep your eyes peeled for potential wildlife, and if you are lucky you might see animals such as elk, mule deer, moose, or coyote roaming around.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.