If you enjoy ranching history, beautiful views and/or recreational activities, Harriman State Park in Idaho will not disappoint.
State Park Overview
Harriman State Park can be credited with helping to launch Idaho’s official state park system. There is a lot of history at this park. In fact, it is on the list of National Historic Places. Of course, if you just want to enjoy the great outdoors, this park will deliver. Anytime of the year, you can find plenty of activities to keep you busy. If you visit during the warmer months, you can ride horses through the park (which makes it an instant hit with me).
Note: there is no camping in this state park. However, you can stay overnight in some of the historic buildings.
- Ranching history
- Horseback riding
- Lots to do in the winter
- Beautiful scenery
- Bear country
- No camping
What To Do
- Horseback riding: there is an outfitter located right in the park which makes horsebacking riding easy and convenient. It is also a fun and unique way to explore the park.
- Hiking: there are some great little trails around the park. The scenery is beautiful.
- Fishing: we saw fly fisherpeople all around the park. The setting looked ideal.
- Winter recreation: there are 24 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, skate skiing, snowshoeing and fat-tire biking.
- Historic tour: you can enjoy a Railroad Ranch tour, which gives you the opportunity to poke around in some of the historic buildings.
The park has restrooms (including flush toilets at the visitors center), picnic tables and meeting spaces. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Harriman State Park.
This park was not empty, but you will not feel overrun with people. We saw three people on our hike and our horseback riding crew was eight total (with two guides).
Unique to Harriman State Park
Horsebacking riding in the park. Although many other Idaho state parks allow horseback riding, Harriman has a very nice outfitter located right in the park. Dry Ridge Outfitters has been a family-run establishment for over 70 years. Rides start at $35, making horseback riding in Harrisman an affordable and fun activity. Visit www.dryridgeharriman.com for more information.
A little history about Harriman State Park
Harriman State Park used to be a cattle ranch. In fact, it was a cattle ranch until the day it was donated to the state of Idaho. Railroad Ranch became Harriman State Park of Idaho on April 1, 1977. (Not to be confused with Harriman State Park of New York.) This donation helped to create Idaho’s official park system, and we can thank the Harriman family for that.
Edward Henry (E.H.) Harriman ran the Union Pacific Railroad. He had a deep appreciation for nature and he was an outdoorsman. That is why he purchased land that would become the Railroad Ranch. Harriman made the purchase in 1908. Unfortunately, he died before ever seeing the property. Luckily, E.H.’s son, Roland, and wife, Gladys, fell in love with the ranch and visited it year after year. You can visit the log structure Roland stayed in as a boy. It is called the Boy’s House and it has been remodeled to provide meeting space.
The Railroad Ranch raised more than cattle. For a time, Rocky Mountain elk were raised and shipped to the east. They also attempted to raise bison, but it was difficult to keep them fenced in. The ranch also served as a private retreat for friends and acquaintances of the Harriman family. Frequent guests of the Railroad Ranch included Baroness Hilla von Rebay, Solomon R. Guggenheim, Marriner S. Eccles, Charles Jones, Elliot Richardson and John Muir.
- Henrys Lake State Park is located 30 minutes to the north, if you are looking for a campground or yet another place to fish.
- Mesa Falls is about 20 minutes away. Lower Mesa Falls is a lookout area with signage and restrooms. At Upper Mesa Falls, you can get right up next to the falls. The views are gorgeous! Note: this will be a busier area and you may have to fight the crowds a bit for a good photo op.
- The Ashton-to-Tetonia Trail starts in Ashton, Idaho, which is about 20 minutes south of Harriman State Park. This trail is awesome and is one of our favorites in the whole Idaho State Parks system.
- The west entrance to Yellowstone National Park is about 45 minutes away.
- West Yellowstone, Montana, is about 45 minutes away and it is a great town for food, lodging and even a bit of shopping.
- Island Park, Idaho, is also a good place for lodging and food, but this town is very spread out. However, any outdoor activity you could ever want to do in the mountains is probably possible in Island Park.
- The Spencer Opal Mines in Spencer, Idaho, is about 1.5 hours away. You can actually mine for opals there! (Assuming no Covid-19 restrictions.) The road is dirt for about 15 miles, but it is a nice dirt road. And the pretty opals are worth the drive.
Our experience(s) at Harriman State Park
Riding horses at Harriman
We called Dry Ridge Outfitters a couple of days before our trip to Harriman State Park. Luckily, they had availability on the day we wanted to ride and we enjoyed a one-hour ride through the park. They are closed on Sundays, so you might need to be flexible. It was an easy ride with well-behaved horses (for the most part). If you do not have a lot of riding experience, no worries. You will be just fine.
I love exploring places on horseback. You can breathe in the fresh air and take in all the sights without watching your feet to make sure you don’t trip. I also just love horses. This particular tour is very affordable and the hands are friendly. It will be a unique experience and way to explore Harriman State Park, so I highly recommend it.
Hiking around Harriman State Park
We took a short hike before we headed out on horseback. It was an easy loop, more like a nature walk. But it was beautiful! There are longer hiking options if you have time. Either way, I recommend getting out and exploring a bit of Harriman on foot.
Harriman State Park is a beautiful park rich in history and things to do. It is located near other great places to explore (e.g. Yellowstone), but the crowds will be significantly smaller. This park is open year-round, so do not hesitate to stop and explore it.
Note: we visited Harriman 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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