Jug Mountain Ranch Is Central Idaho’s Country Club for Mountain Bikers

Heading down Berm and Ernie with a shuttle in the background.
Heading down Berm and Ernie with a shuttle in the background.

I was gearing up to ride at Jug Mountain Ranch in Central Idaho last summer and talking to David Carey, who runs the resort/golf course that also has mountain bike trails. He mentioned they had built a new trail called “Berm and Ernie,” and the name made me laugh. It sounded like a great starter trail for riders wanting to experience the qualities of a flow trail without dealing with big jumps or drops.

Carey said the trail was about a mile long, and I assumed that a mile-long trail with a cutesy spin on Sesame Street characters wouldn’t be one of Jug’s rowdier trails. Midway down Berm and Ernie, my assumptions and mind were both blown.

“Will this ever end?” I asked myself as I carved another tight, perfectly-bermed corner that shot me into a sculpted jump and left me sucking air and praying I stuck the landing before careening through next series of berms, jumps, and drops on the longest mile I’ve ever ridden.

This summer, Jug Mountain Ranch added DoeJoe, which could be Berm and Ernie’s casual cousin. It’s less rowdy than B&E and suitable for all levels of riders, but it’s also an absolute blast on an all-mountain bike. While the jumps might not be as steep or the corners as tightly bermed, absolutely no one will be bored on this loamy luge run.

If you look solely at Jug Mountain’s stats, you may overlook, or underestimate, the most unique and under-the-radar mountain biking destination in Central Idaho, and possibly the West.

Jug Mountain offers some black diamond downhill trails.
Jug Mountain offers some black diamond downhill trails.

According to conventional wisdom, mountain bike trails at Jug Mountain Ranch shouldn’t exist. It’s an upscale housing development with an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse in a stunningly-scenic part of Idaho. It’s not a place that would typically find dusty, scuffed and possibly scraped mountain bikers who think drivers pilot shuttle vehicles and duffers are old, slow riders.

But the Carey family, who owns the 1,400-acre ranch near McCall, about 90 miles north of Boise, understands that Valley County has a “come as you are” attitude. They’ve extended that attitude to mountain bikers during summer and fat bikes during winter on the resort’s cross country ski trails.

They used a large tract of timberland above the golf course as a blank canvas for Jug’s trail network, many of which were designed and sculpted by a crew of talented local builders.

Because the Careys own all the land, they don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do anything, and they’ve created something unique, fun, and exciting, and with a few surprises.

Boardwalk and forest on Jug Mountain's trails.
Boardwalk and forest on Jug Mountain’s trails.

Take a dirt road climb into the forest and a (mostly) mellow spin on Shoreline Trail around the upper reservoir, which could easily pass for an alpine lake, and you will see a seemingly out-of-place shipping container that the Careys converted into an overnight rental. It has a deck that’s cantilevered over the water, making it a perfect place to relax and enjoy post-ride beers. Inside, they’ve crafted a dwelling that looks like a cross between a mountain cabin and a Pullman rail car.

Lake-front lodging for the cost of a decent motel room.
Lake-front lodging for the cost of a decent motel room.

From Shoreline Trail to the clubhouse is about 650 vertical feet, and with the total singletrack trail network measuring 20 miles, it’s a compact and quirky trail collection that will make beginners smile and give gravity riders an adrenaline boost (check below for a video).

If all that doesn’t seem possible in a place with such modest stats, you need to experience it first-hand to understand. Crank your way up to the top for multiple runs, but don’t be surprised if your legs are burning more than you’d expect. You will be building lactic acid going uphill and down.

If you’re taking the family for a spin, or want to maximize your gravity time, the Careys make that experience memorable by offering shuttles from a small motor pool of military-surplus vehicles. The fleet includes a bike rack-equipped Humvee that looks like it did tours in the Middle East, or an over-sized Mercedes truck with bench seats in an open bed. It’s $20 for three hours of shuttles, and reservations are recommended by calling (208) 634-5072. Shuttles run until the snow flies, which in Central Idaho is typically in November.

Your ride is here. Shuttles are $20 for three hours.
Your ride is here. Shuttles are $20 for three hours.

Jug Mountain also offers Pivot mountain bike rentals for $45 for a half day and $60 for a full day, as well as Borealis fat bikes if you ride during winter, or just want to ride a fat bike on dirt.

One price you won’t find is the cost of a trail pass. That’s because there isn’t one.

As Jug’s website explains: “Our trail system at Jug Mountain Ranch is free of charge, however, we invite you to finish your day at the Clubhouse Restaurant and Bar (yes, we love our dust-covered bikers!) in support of continued trail building and maintenance.”

The riding may be what attracts you to Jug Mountain Ranch, but the clubhouse and its spacious and scenic patio will bring you back. Finishing a ride with a thirst-quenching beer or cocktail and a burger, shrimp tacos, or smoked prime rib (for prices comparable to any place you will find locally) is the finale that caps the awesome riding experience.

Finish your ride with a cold beer and tasty burger at the clubhouse patio overlooking the golf course and scenic Valley County.
Finish your ride with a cold beer and tasty burger at the clubhouse patio overlooking the golf course and scenic Valley County.

So the final unanswered question: Is it worth a road trip to Jug Mountain if you live far from Central Idaho? The short answer is “yes.” With lots of backcountry riding in the McCall area, as well as two ski areas (Brundage and Tamarack) within a half hour’s drive that offer lift-served mountain biking, you will not be wanting for places to ride.

Sore from too much riding? That’s another matter.

For more information, go to Jug Mountain’s website: http://www.jugmountainranch.com

See videos of Berm and Ernie

More video of Jug Mountain Ranch trails:

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