By Steve Stuebner
City of Rocks National Reserve is nationally known as one of the top 5 rock-climbing destinations in the United States. It has over 600 technical climbing routes that draw climbers from all over the world.
Now that that weather is warming up, the climbers are coming to scale the impressive granite walls and spires and camp out at this scenic wonder in Southern Idaho near Oakley and Almo. "Camping and rock climbing are really starting to take off," says Wallace Keck, superintendent of City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park.
The wildflowers are beginning to pop at this high-elevation destination near Oakley, and that's a sure sign of spring. An expert birder, Keck catalogues the arrival of spring migrants and resident birds as they arrive. See his posts on the Birding Idaho Facebook page.
"It's really kind of magical experience when you come over the hill and see the beauty of the rocks, the aspen trees and all of that beautiful countryside," says Chris Volk, who has been visiting the area on a regular basis since the mid-80s. "It has this kind of micro-ecosystem of wildflowers and aspens -- it's just fantastic."
Volk often goes to the park to go rock-climbing, hiking and camping. For people who are just getting into climbing, he recommends starting out at Castle Rocks State Park, where the routes are easier, safer and well-planned by park staff. And then in the City of Rocks, the routes are more challenging and difficult. There are many routes to explore for all ability levels.
"If you have never been here before you are in for a treat," says a narrative about City of Rocks on rockclimbing.com. "World-class climbing awaits you no matter what your free-climbing genre."
Guidebooks on rock-climbing are available at the City of Rocks gift shop. There also are five outfitters and guides that offer supported climbing trips, and the park itself has Climbing Experience Program for beginners and kids. All of the equipment and instruction are provided. Call the park for reservations.
Castle Rocks State Park and City of Rocks also are a great place to go camping, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and birding. The area has great history, too. Settlers heading for California in search of gold passed through the City of Rocks via the Salt Lake Alternative Trail. In 1852, more than 50,000 took that route. You can still see the initials and names of emigrants who came through on a rock along the trail.
At Castle Rocks State Park, you can rent "The Lodge at Castle Rocks Ranch," a century-old brick home that's large enough to fit the whole family. The lodge has been remodeled to "blend the quaintness of yester?year with the convenience and comforts of today." It costs $159/night to rent the lodge. It's equipped with a large-screen TV, DVD player and video game plug-ins to keep the kids happy at night. There's a bunkhouse out back that sleeps up to 12. That runs $106/night. It's popular with climbers.
There's also a trout fishing pond and archery range at the park. The archery range is open year-round.
Visiting City of Rocks is free year-round, but there's a small entrance fee at the state park. If you have a $10 state parks pass, you're good to go.
To reach Castle Rocks and City of Rocks, take the Declo exit #216 on I-84 and follow signs to the park. The City of Rocks Backcountry Byway is a fun adventure by itself! You also can access the park via Oakley by taking Highway 27 south of Burley and 150E to City of Rocks.
Castle Rocks State Park: https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/castle-rocks
City of Rocks National Reserve: https://www.nps.gov/ciro/index.htm