Welcome to the latest edition of our Trail Town series; this time more appropriately dubbed a “Trail City.” Boise, ID has a population of 226,570 people and nearly 750,000 in the greater metro area known as the Treasure Valley. This edition of our Trail Town series is written by Bob Pollmann, father of ATRA Project Associate and Nike Trail Running pro Tayte Pollmann.
It’s been said that when French-Canadian trappers came over the mountains and gazed down upon the tree lined Boise River, they exclaimed “La rivere boisee,” loosely meaning “wooded river.” The term wood morphed into tree and Boise became known as The City of Trees. Boise is the capital of Idaho, situated in the southwest portion of the state in Ada County. Boise sits at an elevation of 2,730 feet and the climate in southwest Idaho is defined as a high desert, receiving only around 12 inches of rain per year. According to the March 1, 2018 article from Forbes magazine, Boise is the fastest growing city in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau notes that Idaho is the fastest growing state in the country largely—over 50%—due to growth in just two counties, Ada (Boise) and neighboring Canyon County (city of Nampa).
Despite the larger population than your typical Trail Town from our previous editions, Boise has that “city with a town feel” because it’s so easy to get away from it all on the approximate 190 miles of trails in the Boise Foothills trail system, most of which is buffed out single track and a host of forest service roads. A large area of the trails one can access are pretty exposed, speckled with sagebrush, adorned with a multitude of wild flowers and seasonal plants throughout the year, so many users prefer to get out early in the summer months when it is routinely in the 90s and 100s. One can escape the heat and get into the forests atop the ridge line and up at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area during the inevitable heat of our summers.
A favorite of many runners and mountain bikers on the ski mountain is the Around the Mountain trail, an approximate 10 mile loop that literally goes around the mountain giving users a number of gorgeous vistas along the way.
Depending on which neighborhood one lives, many trail systems can simply be accessed straight out your door, as I am so fortunate to do, or by biking to a trailhead, or, at most, a short drive. I can’t think of a trailhead that doesn’t have ample parking and most have a clean bathroom available, to boot. There are a myriad of loops that can be accessed so users can choose distances for that given day’s run/ride/hike. Since the vast majority of the system is interconnected, it gives one the ability to piece together runs of greatly differing distances and/or terrain and elevation changes, allowing the user to enjoy large swaths of what the Boise Foothills has to offer! It’s also not unusual to come across any number of wild things out there, such as herds of elk, deer, foxes, badgers and snakes (rattlers, too!). Birds of prey are routinely spotted soaring overhead, as well, such as osprey, hawks, golden eagles and owls. Owls are especially found perched in the eerie looking trees along the aptly named Owl’s Roost Trail.
A good trail system doesn’t just happen and Boise trail users have been so fortunate to have a city government that constantly is looking to preserve these areas and actively pursues the acquisition of more lands to create additional miles to add to the trail system. A number of associations that are responsible for what we have and will hope to only improve what exists currently are in no particular order: Land Trust of Treasure Valley, SWIMBA (Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association) – A rider focused advocacy organization dedicated to building and preserving a world class multi-use trail network in SW Idaho and Ridge to Rivers. Ridge to Rivers has a great website to peruse for trails with an interactive map. This organization also posts information on trail conditions alerting users when NOT to be on the trails to prevent trail damage; mostly due to wet/muddy conditions that are often the case after the winter thaw.
Boise, as alluded to earlier, is one of the country’s fastest growing cities in part due to a recent uptick in the tech field. Longtime home to Micron and Hewlett-Packard, other smaller startups have found their way to the city as of late. Healthcare is also a major employer in the city with St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospitals employing thousands of people in the city and their multiple regional hospitals and clinics. Being the capital city of Idaho, Boise also employs thousands of governmental workers.
Although Boise is home to Boise State University, the city does not have the feel of a college town, at least in this writer’s opinion. Don’t get me wrong, there are thousands of rabid Boise State Bronco football fans and you’ll see people donning the blue and orange on any given day of the week, not just game day. What interests me more as a runner is the recent success of both the men’s and women’s cross country teams, both currently ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division I. The women ran to a second place team finish at the prestigious Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin earlier this season, where the NCAA National Championships will be held in less than one month from now. Boise State’s coach, Corey Imhels, regularly has his teams running workouts in the Boise Foothills, realizing the gem of a training ground that they have available. It’s not uncommon to run into Bronco harriers on a Saturday morning when they aren’t competing somewhere. They also frequently head up to Bogus Basin for some higher elevation runs.
Alaskan transplant, Allie Ostrander, is the Broncos’ cross country and track star, already becoming a two-time NCAA Division I Champion in the women’s steeplechase (2017 & 2018), and is a hopeful to win the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships before her eligibility runs out in a few more years. Allie has also made a name for herself as a mountain/trail runner, winning the individual gold medal at the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships in Wales as a member of the USA Junior Mountain Running Team. This was the same Junior team that ATRA’s very own Tayte Pollmann was a part of, garnering the first junior men’s team medal ever for the USA, taking the silver. She also won the “toughest 5K on the planet”, the iconic Mount Marathon race in Alaska in July of 2017.
Boise is also home to former elite trail runner, Joelle Vaught, past multi-time winner of the Sonoma 50K, among other stout trail races, before being sidelined by a bad hamstring injury. She has made a come back to running, though, and her escapades can be followed on Instagram at @dirtydogrunner. She’s rarely in the photos, but her dogs steal the show! Sadly, she’s left Boise for Pocatello, ID, but we here still claim Brittany Peterson as our own. She recently became sponsored by Nike Trail Running and has had a stellar year, taking 3rd overall in the Skyrunning series, taking the win at the final race of the series a few weeks ago in Bulgaria.
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Yesterday came together as good as it could have at the #pirinultra skyrace! Was able to capture the win (and CR) and get back to the 3rd place spot in the @skyrunning Extra Division!! 👍 I’m super excited about these results and for being able to have such a strong finish to the series, but overall, even more pleased with being able to trust the process, dare greatly and continue to challenge my own limits! 🙌 Excited for great things to come! . . 📸 @skyrunning @albertjorquera #SWS18 #skyrunning #niketrail #justdoit @niketrail.running @gauge20running @runnershighherbals
Let’s face it, the vast majority of us runners, and the majority of most humans on earth, love coffee! It’s the magical elixir that gets most of us out of the house on a work day and especially as a pre-run ergogenic aid. Boise has excellent coffee houses and there seems to be another one opening every month. So far, the market has not been saturated, as they all seem to do well. Like the beer and food sections that are to come, I have my favorites and am not shy to express my liking of them.
The Flying M Coffeehouse is a downtown Boise institution, started nearly 30 years ago on the corner of 5th and Idaho streets. It is probably best described as eclectic. Their coffee is not what coffee snobs would approve of, as they probably sell more drip coffee or espresso-spiked drip coffee called a “mondo,”‘ and they do not do pour overs. They have the usuals like latte, cappuccino, mocha, etc., but the kicker is their house baked treats like cookies, scones, muffins, shortbreads that are like ‘your Grandma used to make’ quality! My go-to is their whole wheat oat scones, usually made with dried cranberries, raisins or currants. They are a politically and socially proactive business and hold an annual “Valentines for AIDS” fundraiser where pieces of art are auctioned off to raise funds for treatment.
Finally, after years of running a coffee cart in Boise, slinging killer pour overs and espresso drinks, my friends and newlyweds, Grant and Zoe Shealy (see accompanying photo of the lovely young couple) opened their downtown brick and mortar coffee house Neckar Coffee, on 10th Street between Grove and Main Streets. The interior is a sparse, chic-looking space painted in a soft white with uber-high ceiling and exposed ductwork giving the place an urban look, but they have managed to still make it seem cozy with a single long padded bench along one wall with multiple small tables in front.
Boise, although probably not yet up to any number of other hot beer towns in the Intermountain West or Northwest, is fast catching up to places with already established reputations like say Bend, OR – home of the Bend Ale Trail. My palate prefers two places in particular: Barbarian Brewing and Woodland Empire.
Barbarian Brewing started in, and still brews their beers at their original site in next door town Garden City but in the last year opened a tasting room with over 20-some taps in downtown Boise on Main Street just off the corner of 11th Street – en face from running store, Foot Dynamics, a star regional seller of Altra shoes. Their claim to fame is barrel aged sours with amazing flavor profiles, utilizing all types of fruits, herbs, florals, etc. to make for some really awesome brews. Having said that, they make the whole gamut of beer styles to suit almost any beer drinker’s likes, from hazy New England style IPAs, Mexican-style lagers, Belgian triples, Czech-style pilsners and the list goes on! They also do seasonal styles like fresh-hopped beers.
My second favorite, by a nose, is Woodland Empire. They also make a fine line-up of beers, ranging from flavor-amped stouts, pilsners, amber ales, pales and an outstanding special series IPAs based upon lyrics from some of their favorite bands that they call the ‘mix tape series.’ I have yet to taste one of those that wasn’t stellar! A bonus at Woodland is that former food truck entrepreneur of Archies opened up shop within Woodland’s building so you can get some tasty grub delivered next door in the brewhouse. Woodland also hosts a number of special events and pop-up food events during the year.
I feel that one could visit these two places over and over again and never go to another spot in Boise and not be let down…ever. But, I will give a shout out to some other fine breweries. Boise Brewing on Broad Street between 6th and 5th Streets is doing some good things, already receiving accolades with a bronze medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the Imperial Red Ale category for their beer called Jagged Shard. They also play host to the now annual ‘Hoptober Freshtival,’ a beer bash celebrating fresh hopped beers.
Sockeye Brewing is sort of the granddad of the Boise brew scene and has a restaurant to go with their beers. Payette Brewing is also a keystone brewery in Boise and was probably the first to expand widely throughout the region, giving their product high visibility and recognition. They also built a large beer hall just off downtown a few years back with outdoor lawn for extended seating and games.
The essence of Boise is the downtown and a few mile radius around it as well as other pockets of unique neighborhoods. The core of downtown Boise is definitely on 8th Street, on just one city block, between Bannock and Idaho Streets, unofficially known as “restaurant row.” Oddly enough, or not, three of the restaurants, including the most recently opened Diablo & Sons Saloon, are owned by Boise stalwart restaurateur, Dave Crick, who also owns the wildly popular, always solid Bittercreek Alehouse, featuring damn good brewpub chow and excellent wait staff. They probably could have also been featured in the beer section of this piece as they have over 40 taps, featuring any number of local Boise beers and other selections from throughout the Northwest, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and rotating beers from Europe. Sister eatery right next to Bittercreek is Redfeather Lounge, Crick’s more upscale restaurant, though still very approachable $$-wise.
Pizza is high on the list of almost any endurance athlete’s chow choices after a long run or race, so here are some of my choices for a slice or pie: Guido’s Original New York Style Pizzeria or more tersely and belovedly referred to simply as Guido’s. This place is hoppin’ with the weekday lunch crowd and area business people finding it very convenient to stop in for a slice or two…or three for lunch, as well as the multitudes of ravenous high schoolers with open campus privileges walking down for some ‘za. By today’s standards it’s still inexpensive with slices as big as your head for under $3.00!
A relative newcomer to Boise, The Wylder, also has killer pizza. In my estimation, probably the best, but it’s not as fast and convenient as Guido’s. The Wylder isn’t just a pizzeria but a complete restaurant and bar. They start their pies with a sourdough starter that have been passed down the family tree for over 50 years. With an array of awesome toppings, it’s hard to beat!
Pie Hole is also a good by the slice pizzeria, also on 8th Street, and has a nice street-side patio for good people watching. Their motto is, “Serving pizza 7 days a week, 365 days a year until the wee hours of every morning in Boise, Idaho.”
You should expect that a city the size of Boise has some good ethnic food choices, and we do! Due to multiple factors including the business community, healthcare systems, Boise State University and refugee influx, Boise surprises those unfamiliar with our city a number of great ethnic food options. A host of Middle Eastern restaurants should satisfy anyone’s yen for hummus and baba ganoush, ful and housemade flatbreads. Goodness Land is my choice for Best of Boise in this category. Trail runners can eat like the endurance running kings of East Africa at Kibrom’s Ethiopian. Kibrom is actually Eritrean himself, but puts out authentic Ethiopian dishes like a native son. Their house made injera is made with 100% teff procured from a local farmer!
Tasso is THE best place for a killer sandwich in Boise ever since the amazing Bleubird closed its doors to open a new venture Petit4, an homage to the French bistro style. Tasso goes the extra mile when creating their sammies. The not so usual toppings totally work with the meat filled combinations and they use local bread from ACME Bakeshop and a few veggie options are available. Happy hour(s) offer FREE refills on your pint of beer, too!
The Funky Taco, another place that began as a food truck, is situated a stone’s throw down the street on the corner of Bannock and 8th. They are, as the name states, purveyors of ‘funky’ tacos. Theirs are not your typical Mexican style taco—NO pork carnitas, NO barbacoa, NO typical pollo, but think sushi grade tuna with wasabi, soy sauce on the TNT taco or a Thai-style chicken thigh taco called the Thaico Taco, or special rubbed brisket on the Macho Taco. They also cater to vegetarians and have live music many nights of the week.
In this day and age when it seems like we as consumers are evermore likely to purchase things online, including our running gear, I believe that we need to continue to support our local businesses and that means our hometown running stores. After all, they are the ones who put on or help sponsor our local races. I have yet to see Amazon, Running Warehouse or their ilk handing out swag at a race, marking and sweeping an ultra course or otherwise putting on a race—it’s your local running stores and volunteers that you know who are doing that! Boise supports its local running stores. Mike Shuman’s Shu’s Idaho Running Company is a shining star in the Boise running community, awarded the top prize for 50 Best Running Stores in 2011. Knowledgeable staff, many of whom are current or former local high school/collegiate stars are always eager to help customers find what they need, and when Shu is in the house, you’re always going to be offered a taste of chocolate, because it’s good for your heart!
Bandanna Running and Walking is another Boise gem of a store that has been around for well over 20 years in the community. Rich Harris, co-owner with his wife Shannon, was a former collegiate track star for Colorado State in the 70s and had a post collegiate career with the famed Athletics West. He was a 1500 meter specialist at a world class level, and now is very active in supporting the local high schools programs, along with his brother, who is a cross country and track coach in the area.
Though technically not in Boise, The Pulse Running & Fitness Shop in nearby Meridian, ID needs to be included here as they are no doubt the most influential shop in the area, as far as trail running goes. They either help out or are solely responsible for putting on some of the area’s best trail events.
The Boise Foothills trail network is truly a multi-use system. The trails are used by hikers, runners, cyclists and even off road vehicles, such as ATVs and dirt bikes. Of course, motorized off-road vehicles are limited to what trails they can access, mostly the high stuff and service roads. The now ubiquitous bumper sticker, “Coexist”, and its implications is a principle mostly followed by trail users in Boise, with the few exceptions here and there as I’m sure most readers here have experienced in their own towns. You’ll always have those scofflaw dog owners who don’t have adequate mastery of their pets that are “friendly” but nonetheless bare their teeth at you or are overly friendly and jump right into you at pace thinking that you want to play. Then there is the inevitable and smelly issue of dog poop that is not picked up. Mountain bikers in Boise, in my experience, are probably THE most friendly and display the best trail etiquette of all users. Cyclists are to yield to all comers on our trails and it is a rare instance when I, as a runner, am not impressed by their manners. I feel bad for them stopping while climbing a beastly uphill, so I step aside for climbers so as to not impede their forward progress.
While out on the trail, you might even come across 3-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, winner of the women’s individual time trial at the Olympic games in 2008, 2012 and 2016 riding her mountain bike on the trails.
Boise trail runners have a number of races to choose from if they want to test their mettle against the terrain, themselves and other runners during the year. The race calendar has something going on year-round even though it may be stretching the truth a tad bit to say that all of the races are actually in Boise. Probably the most famous race in Boise is the Race to Robie Creek half marathon. This is what I call, “if you run and live in Boise, or nearby, you must run this race at some point in your life” just to say that you have because almost anyone who finds out that you are a runner will enthusiastically ask you, “have you ever run Robie?” The 2019 edition will be the 41st running of the event. It is with great curiosity that all would-be Robie entrants await the year’s announcement of the theme of the race, which is always something quite quirky. My favorite was the year that the theme was “It Smells Your Fear,” alluding that the race course itself knew how daunting it was to its runners and how they might even have a sense of dread or fear of it! A past race t-shirt depicted a wolf superimposed over a drawing of the course. Granted the race starts out with a few miles on pavement before descending into the gravel road of Rocky Canyon road, it still counts as a trail race in my book. I’ve run the event eight times myself and the after party rocks!
For the trail purists, there are also many events to enter including Les Bois 10K; The Durt Fatass 50K; Boise Front Trail Run, run at Bogus Basin ski mountain with two distance options, either a 5.3 or 10.6 mile course; Foothills XC12K, which is a fundraiser for the local youth Nordic cross country ski program; Resort to Rock another run up and around Bogus Basin ski mountain with either a 50K or 60K option.
Sadly, the last running of the Foothills Frenzy 50K was just held a few weeks ago after several years history as organizers chose to stop for reasons unknown to myself. I ran the inaugural event and the 2017 race. The course really showed off the Boise Foothills, ran on arguably some of the toughest and most spectacular trails of the entire network!
About the Author:
Bob Pollmann works as a PA at St. Alphonsus Inpatient Rehabilitation, but that is not who he is. He is most proud to be known as Tayte’s Dad and loves to be active in the outdoors mainly through trail/road running, cycling and cross country skiing. He highly recommends that everyone runs the Barr Trail Mountain Race in Manitou Springs, CO!