Land of the Yankee Fork State Park: mining and ghost towns galore
Head to Land of the Yankee Fork State Park for a taste of Idaho’s mining history and a chance to explore some cool ghost towns.
State Park Overview
If you enjoy history, mining, the great outdoors, or all of the above, this is the park for you. Land of the Yankee Fork State Park focuses on central Idaho’s mining history. There are three ghost towns you can explore: Custer, Bonanza and Bayhorse. You can also see the Yankee Fork Dredge. On top of that, the countryside is beautiful.
This park also has the best name of any state park. It’s really fun to say.
- Great Idaho mining history
- Beautiful scenery
- Clean restrooms at the interpretive center
- Limited access in the winter
- Extra fees apply at the interpretive center
- Lots of driving on rough roads
What To Do
- Tour a ghost town..or three. You can learn a lot about old mining and the way of life back then at Custer, Bonanza and Bayhorse.
- Check out the interpretive center and visit the Challis bison kill site.
- Go on a hike or get on an ATV and explore. There are a lot of trails in this area and there are not a lot of people on them.
The interpretive center had some of the nicest restrooms of any state park we visited. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Land of the Yankee Fork State Park.
You will run into a few people at some of the ghosts towns, but this is a remote area and the crowds will be sparse. In other words, we love the crowd situation at this park.
Unique to Land of the Yankee Fork State Park
Pan for gold! This was actually closed while we were there, but it would have been something unique and fun to do. They let you keep two flecks of gold…assuming you can find those flecks amidst all of the sand and gravel.
The interpretive center has a nice gift shop and I was able to purchase a cute pair of earrings with some gold flecks in the design. I would have preferred to pan for my own gold, but a cute pair of earrings was a nice consolation prize.
A Little History about Land of the Yankee Fork State Park
Land of the Yankee Fork State Park was selected as Idaho’s Centennial Park in 1990, with the purchase of twenty acres two miles south of Challis, Idaho. The interpretive center is located on those twenty acres.
- Challis, Idaho, is just five minutes from the park. It is not a big town, but it will be your go-to for lodging, food, a grocery store, gas, etc.
- Stanley, Idaho, is one of my favorite places on the planet. It is cold, cold, cold in the winter, but stunning no matter what time of the year you visit. It is about one hour from the state park.
- Mackay Museum. What a gem! About 50 minutes south of the park is a small town with a great little museum. Hours are limited, so do your homework before you go. But you won’t regret it.
- The Salmon River. You can explore the Salmon River right in Challis, Idaho. If you want to float the river, we can highly recommend Rawhide Outfitters in Salmon, Idaho (about one our north). We have done several floats with these folks and we love them.
- The Challis Hot Springs is a nice place to camp or just stop by for a soak.
Our Experience(s) at Land of the Yankee Fork State Park
For the past 15 years, I have made the trek to Challis, Idaho, to attend a music festival in August. I feel like I have done everything Challis has to offer at least a dozen times. Ironically though, I had never visited the Land of Yankee Fork State Park interpretive center. So it was fun to find something new to do in Challis.
The center is nice and has very clean restrooms. It is a really good spot to stop, stretch your legs and learn a bit about the area. However, I will warn you that they have a museum and video that cost extra. Not a lot, but it is something to be aware of. The interpretive center also has a fun little gift shop.
Challis Bison Kill Site
I’m not going to lie, this site is not the most impressive thing you will see in the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park. There also seems to be some debate as to how often it was used. If you stop at the interpretive center, it is worth a look. There is a short path to the site and if you are really lucky, you may spot a bighorn sheep or two.
Custer Motorway through Land of the Yankee Park State Park
This road is beautiful. It is also rough. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, I recommend you take it and enjoy the views. If you are in your car, I recommend you think twice. I was very glad to be driving it in my truck. If you do drive the whole Custer Motorway, I recommend you have a copy of the Challis-Yankee Fork Ranger District – Custer Motorway Guide handy. The history and descriptions are great. The map is a little rough, but still helpful.
Bonanza, Custer and the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge
You can reach Custer and Bonanza using the Custer Motorway via Highway 75 near Sunbeam, or via Challis. These ghost towns are awesome! They are in great shape (for a ghost town) and provide a good look into mining life during that time. I believe they do reenactments sometimes, but that was not happening when we visited. We walked around and peaked into old buildings. It was all so fascinating.
The dredge is located between Custer and Bonanza. It is massive and quite a site to see in the middle of the mountains. You can tour the dredge, but I have not had a chance to do that yet.
Bayhorse is an old mining town located about 20 minutes from the interpretive center in Challis. The road is also a little rough, but you can get there in a car if you drive slowly. There is a nice parking lot and a ranger on duty. So you can ask questions or simply wander about and look at the old mining infrastructure. It is all rather fascinating.
Land of the Yankee Fork State Park is a unique park full of history and beautiful scenery. It is remote and requires a lot of driving, but the views and experiences are worth it. Just make sure to take your trip when the weather is warm. Most of the park is inaccessible when the snow flies.
Note: we visited Land of the Yankee Fork 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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