Places to play outside this time of year

Cyclists gather for the first Monday evening group bike ride from Dave's Bike Shop in Idaho Falls. (Jerry Painter photo)

It’s a sure sign that the season is changing when the first group bike ride of the year is held.

Monday marked the first group road bike ride from Dave’s Bike Shop. Other rides will follow, including the Wednesday evening rides at Bill’s Bike and Run and eventually the Thursday evening mountain bike rides held by the Snake River Mountain Bike Club.

Although there is still plenty of snow in the mountains for skiing, the kinder weather tends to turn people’s thoughts toward spring and summer activities. This is the last weekend for bicycle-only traffic on certain roads in Yellowstone National Park. The park will open roads to cars on April 21. During May it’s still not bad cycling in the park because traffic is light until after school lets out.

Meanwhile, Grand Teton National Park will have its Teton Park Road closed to cars and open to cyclists through the end of April.

Mountain bikers will find most trails are still closed in the Kelly Canyon area because of snow and mud or because of a wildlife closure (particularly the Stinking Springs/Sidewinder trails) until April 30. It’s good to stay off muddy trails to keep from tearing them up and preventing excess erosion. The mountain bike trails in Pocatello’s City Creek system are good to go when dry and offer a super riding experience.

If you want to get out hiking, there are a few prime trails right now in the Big Desert. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is great this time of year. During the warmer months you’ll have to rise extra early to avoid the scorching sun. I like the trail out to Echo Crater. Check at the visitor center for information on caves. Many are closed until snow and ice have melted.

The Lava Trail at Hell’s Half Acre is also great this time of year. The 9-mile round-trip hike out to the vent is fascinating hiking. Even though it is mostly flat, it will work you out because of the broken up nature of the terrain.

A third option out in the desert west of town is Big Southern Butte. This giant dead volcano cone is a great hike on a clear day. There is a long road that you can hike up to the top in a few miles, but I think it’s more fun to bushwhack up one of the mini-peak’s northern ridge lines. The going may be steeper, but you’ll find patches of large trees and interesting rock formations. The access road is from the tiny community of Atomic City. This time of the year, you’ll also run into patches of snow higher up.

During spring, rock climbers will find places such as Pocatello’s Ross Park and Massacre Rocks near American Falls offer great sport climbing when the temperature tops 40 degrees — especially on sunny days. Other climbing areas to consider this time of year include Pointless, South Park, Blackfoot River Playground, Midget Widget and Box Canyon.

I know some people can’t resist the City of Rocks and Castle Rocks State Park near Almo, but I wouldn’t recommend going that far until the temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. I have eager friends who have made the 5-hour round trip drive only to be rained or snowed and/or frozen out. It seems the area is a magnet for nasty weather.

Most of the above hikes, rides and climbs can be found in one of two guidebooks: “Trails of Eastern Idaho” by Margaret Fuller and Jerry Painter and “Eastern Idaho Sweet Spots” by Jerry Painter and Matt TeNgaio. These books are available at the Post Register and other outdoor shops in town.