I took a quick mountain bike trip up to the Bennett Hills on Saturday August 22nd, 2008. From the time I left my house in Mountain Home, Idaho to climbing on my old Cannondale took about 30 minutes or less. It had been a long time since I had ridden on any dirt so I didn't expect I'd get very far. I wasn't disappointed by the ride, scenery or how much fun I had.
Smoky Day in the Hills.
Heading north on Highway 20 out of Mountain Home, I could see there was a lot of smoke hanging over the mountains/hills. This was a surprise because the on-line wildfire and smoke plume website I visited didn't indicate there would be much smoke in the air. As you can see from the above photo gallery the air was pretty thick. (http://www.firedetect.noaa.gov/viewer.htm)
As I drove down the graveled Tollgate Rd / Immigrant Rd the dust plume behind my truck indicated there was very little wind. And my thermometer showed the temperature was around 80F. Not bad 1:00PM conditions for a mid-late August day in Idaho.
I was a little hesitant to ride up the jeep trails off the main road as I have been told by a number of people that the Bennett Hills have a heavy rattlesnake population. I was careful while riding and walking about taking pictures but I never saw one snake. Not that I haven't encountered rattlesnakes while riding but it's not my favorite type of animal to encounter.
Crowds – Or Lack There Of
I only spent about an hour and a half riding and never saw another human nor any cars/trucks. This was a surprise to me as the day was quite nice and being so close to Mountain Home, I expected to see at least a few people out exploring the area.
4430 Feet Above
The first jeep trail I road on headed south off of Tollgate road and up a ridge line overlooking Mountain Home and the Snake River Valley. According to Google Earth, the little saddle I rode up was at an elevation of 4,430 feet.
I will likely head up to Tollgate Road for some more riding. While not the most scenic area in Idaho, it is close enough to enjoy after work or when time is limited. This place is not a place an “in shape and experienced mountain biker” would frequent as there are likely many other better places to enjoy. But for an out of shape old guy, this is a great place to work yourself into shape while enjoying a small piece of Idaho mountains. The one semi-disappointment was the amount of trash left up in the Bennett Hills.
Little bits of trash scattered about almost every stopping point
There appears to be 4 or five different side jeep trails that one could explore off of Tollgate Road. Obviously the trails/dirt roads that head south from Tollgate will be short as they end with a long steep semi-cliff of what I'll call the Bennett Hills Front. But there are two trails/dirt roads that head northward and these look rather interesting as they head into the Danskin Mountains. The only problem with these trails is determining who owns the property. One road is gated but I certainly wouldn't mind exploring this one.
How to Get There
The easiest way is to head out of Mountain Home and take Highway 20 northward. Once you pass the Historic “Rattlesnake Junction” pull off, you'll drive about 4 miles north on Highway 20. There will be a dirt road with a green street sign for Tollgate Road on the left/west side. It's easy to miss if you are not watching for the road. Once you get on this gravel/dirt road you can park anywhere you think is safe and ride from there.
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