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Southern Idaho’s Weird, Wonderful National Parks and Monuments

In Southern Idaho’s national parks and monuments, you can 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

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 on the California Trail from 1843 to 1859. Now, the City of Rocks is known worldwide for its excellent rock-climbing routes — nearly 700 in all — as well as fantastic mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and skiing. With nearly 14,407 acres of land, you’ll have plenty of room to roam — just like the pioneers.

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Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Hagerman, Idaho

Did you know that the first true horse hailed from right here in Idaho? It was called Equus Simplicidens and 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, including sabertooth cats, a hyena-like dog, peccary, mastodons, otters, bears, shrews, ground sloths — even camels! With over 3,000 new fossil fragments found each year, it’s 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.

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Minidoka National Historic Site

Minidoka National Historic Site

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing 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. Walk along its 1.6-mile trail and stop at the 23 interpretive signs 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, and a root cellar and fire station are undergoing stabilization and rehabilitation. For a deeper dive, check out one of the site’s guided tours, the Junior Ranger program, or visit a small exhibit at the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Visitor Center.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon

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! This fascinating lunar landscape was created by eight major volcanic flows between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago, and 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 a spelunkers 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. In the summer, Craters of the Moon makes for a great backpacking get away — just don’t forget to pack your water!

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Ready to cross these four national parks and monuments off your bucket list?

Check out the latest news, events, and can’t miss info about this spectacular region. You’ll find everything you need to know to plan your trip, including lodging information, the Southern Idaho Adventure Map, trip itineraries, and visitor information.