City of Rocks: Idaho’s Silent City

hole rock at Idaho City of Rocks

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By HOLLY ENDERSBY

Showcasing some of the oldest exposed rocks west of the Mississippi River, Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve and neighboring Castle Rocks State Park boast over a thousand climbing routes, attracting 60,000 sport rock climbers a year from all over the nation. But rock climbing is only one activity visitors can try here. 

Hiking, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, biking, birding, fishing, horse back riding, 3-D archery, and hunting are all available, depending on the season. 

According to Wallace Keck, a state park employee who is the Superintendent of the Reserve and Chief Ranger of the state park, snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience the area. 

“We rent snowshoes at the Visitor Center,” Keck said. “Ranger-led snowshoe hikes are very popular and a great way to learn about the Reserve.”

Cross country skiing is an on-your-own activity, but there are miles of closed roads to travel although none are groomed. 

“In winter it really becomes the Silent City,” said Keck. “You might be one of only a few visitors in the 14,000 acres, and all you hear is your own heartbeat.”

During this quiet time of year, visitors might see moose, bighorn sheep, and large herds of mule deer—up to 80 deer at a time—moving throughout the park. 

Spring through fall means birds, and lots of them. Some birds are residents while others visit while migrating. 

“This area has some of the best birding in all of Southeast Idaho,” Keck said. “We’ve identified 178 species in the Reserve and state park. The Crossbill is an endemic bird only found here. And, we have a lot of species that stop here at the northern edge of their range.” 

If fishing is your thing, then Castle Rock State Park has a stocked pond with nice-sized rainbow trout just waiting to grab your lure. 

“This is a year-round activity,” said Keck. “We see a lot of ice fishing in the winter, and in summer it’s the perfect place for a kid to catch her first fish.”

If you’ve ever wanted to try archery, the state park has a 3-D archery range with life-sized game targets. 

“We have a thriving bow hunting crowd that hunts here after Labor Day, and we’re hoping to set up some mini tournaments in the near future,”said Keck. 

For visitors with mobility issues, the park offers an auto tour route from April to October. A $5 trail guide from the Visitor Center tells about the sites along the 7-mile route. 

“There is a lot of history explained along the auto tour, which was a major immigrant route leading to Oregon and California from 1843-1882, said Keck. “The stories rangers tell really add to the experience.” 

Hiking is a popular activity in both parks. Backyards Boulder Trail, a 2-mile loop, and Castle Rocks Trail, a 5-mile loop, get top marks in Castle Rocks State Park. In the Reserve, Window Arch Trail, Bath Rock Trail, and Creekside Towers are all short paths. The Geological Interpretive Trail is a 1.2-mile loop, and Flaming Rock is only .76 miles, but it is quite strenuous. 

Whether for a quiet trip in winter to experience or for the wildflowers in spring, there’s something for everyone, any season, in this silent corner of Idaho. MSN

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