I always feel an extra shot of adrenaline the morning before mountain biking to Loon Lake near McCall. It's a super fun, 10.5-mile ride from Chinook Campground that takes you to a gorgeous high mountain lake, where you may see moose, loons or other wildlife.
That's part of what gets me pumped up. But the other part is looking forward to riding numerous challenging obstacles on singletrack tread (think maneuvering around rocks and roots), anticipating fast and smooth downhill sections that put the fun meter into the red zone, and riding the loop with good friends.
The Loon Lake Loop is an advanced ride that can be conquered by strong intermediate riders. It is what I'd call an "Idaho classic," comparable to other Idaho classics such as the Fisher-Williams Loop near Stanley.
To get there, go north from McCall on Warren Wagon Road about 30 miles on mostly paved road. You go past the junction to Burgdorf Hot Springs and then watch for a sign for Chinook Campground on your right. Park by the trailhead where a bridge crosses the Secesh River.
There is a fair bit of debate about which way to ride the Loon Lake Loop. Some people like to start by riding downhill along the Secesh River because it's easier to navigate the rocks and roots. But then you have to climb (and hike-a-bike) up a really steep hill to reach Loon Lake. I prefer to do the ride in the opposite direction to avoid the hike-a-bike section. You cross the bridge and ride overland to Willow Basket Trail, and bob up and down to Loon Lake, before zooming downhill to the Secesh River and then riding back to the campground on a slightly uphill cant along the beautiful salmon-bearing stream.
The ride usually takes about around three hours, which allows time for a leisurely lunch at Loon Lake, where you also can go swimming or just hang out and enjoy the stupendous postcard view of the lake framed by two mountain peaks on the opposite shore. The lake is quite shallow in the north end, meaning it warms up much quicker than deeper lakes. There also is an old bomber crash site you can visit--it's a great survival story.
Be sure to watch out for other folks on the trail--it's a popular spot. You may encounter backpackers, day hikers, mushroom pickers, motorcycles or horseback riders. Keep your speed down around blind corners and be sure to yield to other trail users.
So when you plan a trip to McCall this summer, gear up for riding the Loon Lake Loop. Expert riders will want to ride the longer version of this ride, starting at Ruby Meadows.
After logging 80 of the best mountain bike trails throughout Idaho for the Falcon Guide Mountain Biking Idaho, Boise-based author Steve Stuebner knows the best rides in the state. The Loon Lake Loop is featured in the all-new third edition of Mountain Biking in McCall, which was just released on May 1.