Are there polecats in Idaho? What is a polecat, anyway? I had to Google the word, having only a vague sense that it was not in the same category as a mountain lion or a bobcat. An internet search revealed that a polecat is similar to a weasel, and despite its name, is more related to a dog than a cat. In any case, there may or may not be polecats in Idaho. But there is a place called Polecat Gulch Reserve with around 7 miles of trails that are great for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. The trails are not too hard but have enough grade to get in a good workout. You can bring your dog, too! I hiked Polecat Loop Trail in spring and found rolling hills, great views of the city, and high desert springtime flowers.
Why I Love This Hike
The amazing thing about Boise is, there are tons of trail literally right outside of the city. It took me only 15 minutes to drive from my house in Boise’s North End to Polecat Gulch Reserve. Polecat Loop Trail has diverse views and high desert landscape. And, I was so excited to do this hike because I’d finally found a place to live in Boise after looking for two months. I could finally stop the house search and start exploring Idaho! House hunting and winter weather had sidelined me from hiking. Polecat Loop Trail was a good way to get my hiking mojo back, because the terrain is easy-to-traverse packed sand, and the grade not too strenuous. Also, even for a Sunday, the trail was not crazy busy.
Post-Hike Hops: Sun Ray Cafe in Hyde Park
Polecat Loop Trail Hike Details
Polecat Loop Trail is the longest trail in Polecat Gulch Reserve at around 6 miles. There are several shorter loop options in the reserve. Check out the Ridge to Rivers website for more details and an interactive trail map. You can access Polecat Loop Trail from two parking lots, Polecat Trailhead on Cartwright Road and Collister Trailhead at the end of Collister Road. For my hike, I started from Collister Trailhead. The trailheads don’t have trail maps you can take with you, but the reserve is small and trail markers are prevalent.
- Hike Distance: 6.4 miles
- Duration: 2 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Low-High Elevation: 3,145′-3,494′
- Dogs Allowed? Yes, on leash
- Bikers Allowed? Yes
- Horses Allowed? Yes
- Entrance Fee: None
- Driving Directions to Polecat Gulch Reserve: Google Maps
- Who Maintains Polecat Gulch Reserve? The Ridge to Rivers association (a partnership of local, state, and federal agencies) preserves and maintains the Boise Foothills and trail system.
- Trail Map: Ridge to Rivers
- Outhouses: The only outhouse in Polecat Gulch Reserve is at Collister Trailhead.
- No shade! Polecat Loop Trail is 100% exposed with no shade. I hiked in early May and even at a mild 70°F mid-morning, I could have used a break from the sun. Bring a hat, lots of water, and sunscreen and plan to avoid the high heat of the day. A sunrise or sunset hike of Polecat Loop Trail would be awesome.
My Polecat Loop Trail Route
You’ll drive through a housing community, to the end of Collister Road, to reach Collister Trailhead. The parking lot is small and unpaved with an outhouse. There is only one trail leading out of the parking lot so it’s easy to figure out where to go. I arrived midmorning on a Sunday and there was still room in the parking lot.
Start the Gradual Climb
From the Collister Trailhead, walk a short way, just past a farmstead. Then you’ll come to Polecat Loop Trail where you can stay straight or turn left. I turned left. The trail cuts through the high desert grass and brush in a gentle ascent to the top of the reserve. The first mile is the steepest, with a 450 elevation gain. After that, the rest of the hike hovers around 3,400 feet with mild dips and climbs, until a descent the last mile.
Hugging the Hill
After about half a mile, Polecat Loop Trail hugs the hillside. It’s fun to get a different perspective of the trail you were just hiking, from above.
Near the top of the reserve, the view goes on forever, stretching far beyond Boise.
Atop the Boise Foothills
At the top of the reserve, the Boise Foothills stretch out in front of you. There are miles and miles of trails in the Boise Foothills, and Polecat Loop Trail is a good example of the trail system. Well-maintained, rolling hills, sandy trails, and wide open spaces (not many trees) characterize the trail system around Boise.
The Brewery is That Way
About a mile and a half in, you hit a crossroads. Polecat Loop Trail continues left. Doe Ridge Trail turns right, through the middle of Polecat Gulch Reserve. On my hike, there was a group of mountain bikers catching their breath at this junction. Looking a little road worn, one of them helpfully informed me, “The brewery is that way,” pointing west towards Boise. I said, “Awesome, thanks, that’s good to know!” and continued east on Polecat Loop Trail. (A beer really did sound awesome already.)
Heading To the South Side
Polecat Loop Trail reaches the northern tip of the reserve, then takes a sharp right around to the south side. The landscape changes up a bit then, with wildflowers, steeper drops, and mountain views.
Another Loop Option
Doe Ridge Trail connects to Pole Loop Trail, another opportunity to cut through the middle of the reserve.
The Road Calls
Rounding the corner on the southeast edge of the reserve, you are treated with a view of Boise, the mountains, and the open road. For some reason, this vista stirred up my urge for a road trip. Maybe it was the long stretch of road running along the foothill, disappearing around the bend?
Across the road, you’ll see another trail connecting to the east side of Polecat Gulch Reserve. Peggy’s Trail links to Sweet Connie Trail and is popular with equestrians. I love that all of the Boise trails connect together.
The Last Mile
Polecat Loop Trail takes another sharp turn, this time toward the west. You have one more loop option, Quick Draw Trail. I headed on to the trailhead, the brewery calling my name.
What are your favorite trails right near your home city? And by the way, what IS a polecat? Please share in the comments! And if you liked this post, click here to get an email next time I post!