Castle Rocks State Park: rocking climbing and trails in Idaho
Off the beaten path in southern Idaho is a playground of rock formations. Castle Rocks State Park is weird and wonderful. Go here to explore Idaho geology at its finest.
State Park Overview
In addition to very cool geology, you can see remnants of Native American pictographs, the California National Historic Trail and 20th century ranching at Castle Rocks State Park. But mostly, people come here to rock climb, hike and explore.
The park is located near City of Rocks National Reserve. You might ask yourself why this is a separate park (we certainly did), and I do not know the answer. I can tell you that Castle Rocks State Park is a smaller park, which means less to explore. But it also means that there are less crowds, so I prefer it over its larger neighbor. If you are in the area, you might as well visit both parks.
- Really cool, really unique rock formations
- Small crowds
- Hiking trails of all lengths
- Open year round
- Hot in the summer with limited tree coverage
- No cell phone coverage
- Services in the immediate area are limited
What To Do
- Climb some rocks. I am not a rock climber, so I cannot vouch for…well…anything. But there were various climbing parties enjoying themselves while we were there. And one was clearly a beginning group. I have read that Castle Rocks State Park is a great place for new climbers.
- Go on a hike. There are different paths to choose from, so just pick what works best for you.
- Camp. There is also a lodge you can rent out.
- Snowshoe and cross-country ski. We did not do this because, summer, but I think it would be really cool to explore this park with snow on the ground.
- Fish. There is a small (emphasis on small) fishing pond with trout.
- Shoot some arrows. We did not see the archery range, but it is open year round.
They have restrooms (no flush toilets, unfortunately) and the usual picnic tables and such. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Castle Rocks State Park.
Welcome to the land of limited crowds. Unlike City of Rocks National Reserve down the road, you will see few people. You may have to fight for good climbing spots, I don’t know. But I know there were a lot less people here, which made exploring relaxing.
Unique to Castle Rocks State Park
Native American pictographs. I’m going to be honest, the pictographs are not all that impressive. But they are unique and worth a quick look. They were identified in 2003 by a park ranger and have been professionally documented. At this time, the originators, age and materials used are still unknown.
A little history about Castle Rocks State Park
The state park itself is not very old. However, the dramatic geological features date back 2.5 million years. We do not have a lot of manmade history in Idaho, but we are rich with natural history.
The Castle Rock Ranch Acquisition Act was passed in 2000 and a private ranch at Castle Rocks was purchased by the National Park Service. The lands were then exchanged with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation for some other lands and in 2003, Castle Rocks State Park was born. In 2007, the park was expanded by 200 acres.
- 20 minutes away is the City of Rocks National Reserve.
- Burley, Idaho, is about an hour away. It is your best bet for lodging and restaurants.
- For limited services and the visitors center, Almo, Idaho, is just 10 minutes away.
Our experience at Castle Rocks State Park
Visit the visitors center
The first thing we did at the park was get lost when we accidently blew past the actual entrance to the park. In our defense, we found the sign to be a bit confusing. Basically, it states that the geology portion of the park (a.k.a. park entrance) is one direction and the visitors center is the other direction. We unintentionally headed to the visitors center. This was not necessarily a bad idea, but it meant we had to backtrack to the actual park.
The visitors center is located on the southern edge of the tiny town of Almo. It acts as the visitors center for both Castle Rocks State Park and City of Rocks National Reserve. There is a restroom and helpful rangers about. The geology part of the park IS the park and this is where you will want to spend your time (no offense to the visitors center).
Hiking at Castle Rocks State Park
R and I explored different trails at Castle Rocks State Park. She went on an official trail, the Backyard Boulders trail. I opted to wander freestyle-like and take whatever path suited my fancy. I was less interested in a hike (as usual) and more interested in trying to capture the unique rock formations with my camera. I’m not sure a picture will ever do this place justice. It is definitely the kind of place you have to see in real life to understand and appreciate. So you should do that! Plan a trip and head to this unique part of Southern Idaho.
We very much enjoyed our time at Castle Rocks and would recommend you make the effort to visit, especially if you like geology and rock climbing. And be sure to check out City of Rocks National Reserve while you are there. Between the two, you will have your fill of places to explore.
Note: we visited Castle Rocks State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!
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