We thought we were doing well temperaturewise on Saturday when we drove north past a sign in Ashton announcing 15 degrees.
But when we got out of our car at the Harriman State Park headquarters, it felt much colder. Clearly driving up the Ashton hill put us into a different chill zone.
“It’s about zero,” a park employee said when I went inside. “It’ll warm up some when the sun gets going.”
My sweetheart Julie and I took our time getting going and by the time we had started skiing, temps had climbed to about 5 degrees.
We were joining the fun at Harriman State Park during the free access day. On Saturday no entrance or grooming fees were charged.
At the Railroad Ranch there were displays set up, free hot chocolate, free snowshoe, ski and fat bike demos. The Idaho Falls Nordic Ski Patrol was giving free beginner ski lessons and park rangers were taking people on short snowshoe hikes. The warming yurt was stocked with free hot cocoa and chili courtesy of the ski patrol.
To start things off, Julie and I started skiing along the John Muir Trail. It was still early, about 8:30 a.m. The trail leads out of the parking lot near the park headquarters and follows along the Henry’s Fork River. Although it was quite picturesque with mist floating above the river, the sun rising and swans paddling around, my nose and fingers were complaining loudly of the cold.
“How much farther? I’m freezing,” Julie said.
It felt like an awful tooth ache in your fingers.
We were on our way to the Railroad Ranch area about 1.5 miles away. When we arrived, nothing was open yet, so we went to the Cookhouse building. I knew the Nordic ski patrol would be there. They let us in and we chatted with the friendly patrollers while we warmed up.
By the time we and the patrol left the Cookhouse, the temperatures were more tolerable.
With recent snows, the trails at Harriman are in good shape.
The park grooms the trails every Monday and Friday depending on the weather. There are trails for classic cross-country skiing, skate skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking.
I personally like the trails that pass along the river and take me through the forests. Most of the trails are a treat for the eyes. We paused for a time to watch the tiny ducks disappear under water to eat things off the river bottom. The long-necked swans nearby would just reach the bottom without leaving the surface. I wondered who named the swans trumpeters, because to me they sound more like saxophones. But then the name saxophone swans doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely.
Harriman has about 24 miles of trails to explore. There are streams with nice bridges, the stunning Henry’s Fork River, two lakes and historic buildings.
Interpretive ranger Morgan Smith told me that the locals (eastern Idahoans) visit the park more in the winter than summer. If you go in summer, bring your mountain bike and a fly rod. The trails will have a different personality without the snow.