PETE ZIMOWSKY | Times-News

 Spring came early to a lot of southern Idaho’s high desert, and it’s prime for exploring on ATVs and side-by-sides. With drought conditions and a lack of snow, many two-track roads and trails are already open for off-highway vehicle use.

 “We’ve been riding all year,” said Stan Mai, a member of Magic Valley ATV Riders, a group that promotes responsible trail riding. “There’s no snow.”

 Areas from the Owyhees to Twin Falls, and even north to Magic Reservoir, opened earlier and afforded ATVers lots of places to go before they could normally ride. Besides the early season, another spurt in off-highway vehicles is fueling a lot of the riding this spring. The recent advent of the new side-by-side trail vehicles is getting a lot more couples out because they can ride together in one machine instead of on separate ATVs.

 “My wife and I have ridden together with motorcycles and ATVs, but the Razor (Polaris RZR) is much easier to drive. It’s just like driving a Jeep,” Mai said. He says it’s the coming thing and so does Troy Elmore, Off-Highway Vehicle program manager for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. The agency oversees a lot of motorized trails in Idaho.

 Side-by-sides or ROVs (Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles) are the fastest growing segment of the off-highway vehicle market nationwide. Idaho defines them as utility type vehicles (UTVs). Basically, the biggest differences between an ATV and an ROV are the ROV’s non-straddling seating, steering wheel and side-by-side seating. Currently in Idaho, there are about 140,000 registered OHVs (including trail motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs). About 68 percent are ATVs, 23 percent are dirt bikes and 9 percent are UTVs or ROVs. The number of UTVs has doubled in the past five years, Elmore said. Mai and many members of the Magic Valley ATV Riders have gone to ROVs. Because of their suspension, they provide a lot more comfortable ride — like in a pickup truck except, as Mai puts it, “You don’t beat the tar out of your truck.”

 No matter what off-highway vehicle riders choose, now is the time. Here are a few spring places to ride, suggested by the Magic Valley ATV Riders and other ATV groups:


Magic/Thorn Creek

Getting there: From Twin Falls, go north on U.S. 93 to Shoshone, then north from Shoshone about 18 miles on Idaho 75. Turn left on West Magic Road and go 5.5 miles until you see Dam Road on the right. Turn left, go past the corrals and that’s the start of the ride.

Trail: Late-spring or fall ride depending on trail conditions. Do not ride if muddy. High desert with good views of the mountains. Lots of elevation changes. Ride in and have lunch at Thorn Creek Reservoir.

Length: About 45 miles.


Grindstone Butte

Getting there: From Buhl, follow U.S. 30 toward Hagerman. Just before crossing the Snake River, turn left on River Road to Bell Rapids. Follow the road along the river and up the hill. At 5400 North, turn left and go about five miles until the corrals on the left. This is the starting point.

Trail: You can ride here all year depending on conditions. It’s very hot and dry in the summer.

Length: Many different routes can be followed.


North Rim/Clay Cave

Getting there: Trail riding very close to Twin Falls. From Twin Falls, go north on U.S. 93, cross the Perrine Bridge and continue for 1/4 mile to a stoplight. Turn right and go onto U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.

Trail: There’s lots of land for riding on various trails. Clay Cave, a long lava tube, is one of the places to aim for in a ride. If you go into the cave, take good flashlights and take care not to damage the cave. This area is a convenient place to ride after work or if you have only a few hours on the weekend. Many ATV dealers take customers out here for test rides. The area can be ridden most of the year, but it’s very hot and dry in the summer.

Length: Several routes to follow.


OVERNIGHT CAMPOUT RIDES

Owyhee Uplands National Backcounty Byway

Getting there: Take Interstate 84 west from Twin Falls to the main exit for Mountain Home (the one with the truck stops). Head south on Idaho 67 to Grand View, then go south on Idaho 78 for about a mile to Mud Flat Road. Head out on Mud Flat Road until you find a good spot to unload or camp.

Trails: The byway is 103 miles long from Grand View to Jordan Valley, Ore. There’s plenty of riding on the gravel road but lots of two-track roads going off into the high desert. The byway makes for a great overnight camping trip. Set up a base camp and go exploring. The byway offers high-desert scenery from expanses of sagebrush and grasslands to sheer, red-walled river canyons.

Length: Unlimited.


Cow Creek/Jordan Craters Road

Getting there: Take I-84 west of Twin Falls to Idaho 55 (Karcher exit) and head south on Idaho 55 to Marsing. Continue on U.S. 95 to about eight miles north of Jordan Valley and turn right on Jordan Craters Road.

Trails: The main road goes almost 30 miles to Jordan Craters, and ATVers like to ride it to places like the craters or the Birch Creek recreation site on the Owyhee River. Plenty of two-track roads head out into high desert areas with expansive scenery, including Oregon’s Steens Mountain.

Length: Unlimited.

To connect with Magic Valley ATV Riders, go to Mvatvr.org. The club promotes the sport and teaches the safe and proper use of ATVs on public lands; brings together riders who enjoy meeting and riding with others; and represents ATV riders with local, state and federal lawmakers and land-management agencies to keep lands accessible.


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