Southern Idaho’s Weird and Wonderful National Park Properties
Southern Idaho’s national park properties are diverse and will leave you in wonder. Visit a silent city carved by wind and rain, see an ancestor of today’s horses, witness a difficult and important chapter in our nation’s history, or marvel at an ocean of black lava flows that look positively moon-like. Southern Idaho is home to four of Idaho’s six national parks and monuments, and they’re all within driving distance. Ready to explore?
City of Rocks National Reserve
On his way to California in 1849, emigrant James F. Wilkens described the dramatic geological area he encountered as a “City of Rocks.” The name stuck, as did hundreds of pioneer inscriptions, wagon ruts, and journal accounts of the nearly quarter-million people who traveled through here. They came on the California Trail from 1843 to 1859 and their impact can still be seen today. Now, the City of Rocks is known worldwide for its excellent rock-climbing routes with nearly 700 routes in all. You can also find fantastic mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing & snowshoeing. With nearly 14,407 acres of land, you’ll have plenty of room to roam — just like the pioneers.
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
Did you know that the first true horse hailed from right here in Idaho? Officially named the Equus Simplicidens, it was about the size of a modern Arabian horse. Its remains are also classified as Idaho’s state fossil. You can see this horse ancestor and more that 200 different species of fossilized plants and animals at the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Some of these include sabertooth cats, a hyena-like dog, peccary, mastodons, otters, bears, shrews, ground sloths — even camels! There over 3,000 new fossil fragments found each year, which makes it one of the most fossil-filled Pliocene-aged sites in the world. Of course, time didn’t stop once the Pliocene was over: The monument also includes a portion of the Oregon Trail.
Minidoka National Historic Site
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the placement of Japanese-American citizens and Japanese resident aliens in incarceration camps. Nearly 13,000 people lived at Minidoka from 1942-1946. Today, the camp is undergoing a revitalization. As a result, a brand new, beautiful visitor center helps honor the former residents and retell many of the stories from the incarceration camp. Walk along its 1.6-mile trail and stop at the 23 interpretive areas that describe the site’s historic structures, landscape, and the lives of the people who lived there. A historic barrack and mess hall have been returned to the site for visitors to see. In addition, the root cellar and fire station are also undergoing stabilization and rehabilitation.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
We’re just going to say it: Craters of the Moon is one of the strangest places in Idaho. Actually, it’s one of the strangest places in all of America! Eight major volcanic flows between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago created this fantastic lunar landscape. Hiking among the ancient topography really does feel like walking the surface of the moon. It became a national monument in 1924 after legendary Idaho explorer and author Robert “Two Gun Bob” Limbert championed the area in a National Geographic article. It also made history in 1970, when a portion of the park was classified as the first federally designated wilderness. It’s also a spelunker’s paradise (pick up your free cave permit first) and a great place for hikers.
In the spring, thousands of wildflowers make their way through the craggy rocks to put on a show. Craters of the Moon makes for a great get away any season. Just don’t forget to pack your water!
Ready to cross these four national parks and monuments off your bucket list?
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