Shafer Butte Picnic Area and Mores Moutain - Picnic, Hike, and Camp on Top of Boise
When most folks in these parts think about getting away from the city for a high country picnic and walkabout, places like Idaho City or the Sawtooths come to mind, and for good reason. But what if you could get the same piney-fresh air and mountain views without ever losing sight of the Treasure Valley. Sound intriguing? Well there is such a place, and it's called the Shafer Butte Picnic Area.
Most people have heard of Shafer Butte, which at 7582 feet is the tallest point you can see from Boise. But just in case you've never looked up that way, it's the one with all the radio towers and other neat contraptions on top of it, and the Bogus Basin Ski Resort is nestled snugly on and around it. Right behind Shafer Butte is Mores Mountain, which is a mere 346 feet shorter but doesn't have all the unsightly ski lifts and maintenance roads. It also doesn't have any lodges, cabins, or cafes, which means you'll have a much better chance at fooling yourself into thinking that you're roughing it. There's a saddle between Shafer Butte and Mores Mountain, and it's on that saddle you'll find the Shafer Butte Picnic Area along with a small campground and the Mores Mountain Trailhead.
Getting up there is easy and doesn't take a lot of time. Just drive Bogus Basin Road all the way to the ski resort, follow the road to the Nordic Lodge, and keep going past the gate on the dirt/gravel Forest Service road that has plenty of nice washboard but is easily navigable by any family sedan that wasn't made in Mexico. You'll know you're on the correct road when you see the light posts used in winter to illuminate the groomed road for nighttime Nordic skiing. The road goes in a northerly direction, winding here and there until it gets to a signed T-intersection. Turn right and go up the hill for a mile until you get to the sign for the picnic area.
As a pleasant reminder of the commercialization of our public lands, the first thing you'll be greeted by is a self-service fee station that indicates it's $10 per night to stay in the semi-primitive campground or $5 per day to picnic, hike, bird watch, meditate, fornicate, mountain climb, take photos, or do just about anything else you can dream up. That's flat-rate pricing at its best. Across from the fee station is the facility's host, which is usually an older volunteer couple who park their RV or camper there for the summer and keep the campground and day-use areas nice and clean for visitors in exchange for a summer of free rent and fresh air. No matter what you think about the day-use fee, don't even think about skipping out on it, because the hosts also check your windshield for the little pink receipt that indicates you've paid the man.
There's no need to fret about the fee, really, because the $5 buys you the right to use one of the State's fine picnic tables, get some water out of their deluxe spigot, or drop a load or two in their top-notch pit toilet, which the hosts keep stocked with toilet paper and pine tree-shaped air fresheners. On the morning after taco night at the campground, they've even been known to hang up two air fresheners. Now that's what I call service.
There's a nice picnic table in the shade behind the outhouse, but more than likely you'll want to head to the group of tables out in the sun. These tables have great views of the Boise Mountains and Sawtooths to the east. They also have fire grates if you're really serious about your mountaintop picnic. Just make sure you stay on Smokey's good side and keep that fire under control, Grillmaster.
For those interested in a little hiking, the Mores Mountain Trail starts at the first parking lot in the day-use area. If you stay to the left, the trail goes up through some very large trees, some of which are large enough to be considered "old growth" in my book. Try looking for spotted owls as you go under them. It's almost as fun as snipe hunting, and you don't have to deal with anyone from the South.
You'll pass a few rocky outcrops good for climbing and you'll have great views of the ski runs on the back side of Shafer Butte. When the tough part of the climb is over, you'll traverse some rolling hills covered in wildflowers before you get to the very top of the mountain. Stop and enjoy the view. On a clear day you can see Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis burning twenty-dollar bills over in Sun Valley.
After the summit, the trail winds around the other side of the mountain and goes back into the timber before looping back to the day-use area. There are a few mini loops off the main trail that you can take if you're so inclined, and you needn't worry about getting lost. They all end up back at the main trail.
If you follow the road through the day-use area, it goes down and around and terminates at the camping and group-use areas. The campground has seven tent sites under some nice trees. The sites are reservable via www.recreation.gov, and just so you feel like your money is well spent, the aforementioned hosts even rake your tent spot so it's nice and flat. What's more, some of the tent areas are even framed, which gives off a nice feng shui vibe when combined with the fantastic raking. The campground has its own outhouse and water spigot, so at least you don't have to lug big jugs of water up the mountain or walk down to the day-use area to get water to boil your potatoes.
Up the hill from the campsites are two group-use areas, each of which can handle up to fifty people. After you take a look around you'll see why. There are collections of benches and tables everywhere, with enough fire pits, grills, and water spigots to keep everyone happy. This area also has its own first-rate brick pit toilet, so go ahead and have that extra shrimp cocktail or two; the US Government has your back.
It's hard to beat the Shafer Butte Picnic area when it comes to convenience. If you want to spend an afternoon picnicking and wandering the trail, this place will let you get away from it all without getting too far away. That means you'll be back with your good friend Mr. Facebook before you know it. For some people, that's daytrippin' at its best.
|Destination:||Shafer Butte Picnic Area and Mores Moutain|
|Where:||20 road miles north of the Boise city limits. Take Bogus Basin Road and then Forest Road 374, then look for the sign.|
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|Hours:||Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. Vehicles can generally get up there from June-October. Lots of folks like to ski in during the winter.|
|Cost:||Day Use: $5
Camping: $10 per day
Sasquatch Hunting: Free
US Forest Service
|Why we love it:||When Yogi and Boo Boo attempt to steal your pic-in-ic basket, the nearby cell phone towers will allow you to call Ranger Smith.|