Mary McCroskey State Park: big on views and short on crowds
If you have got good clearance on your car, the views in Mary McCroskey State Park are well worth a visit.
State Park Overview
Each state park is unique. But some are more unique than others. Mary McCroskey State Park is one of the more unique parks in the Idaho parks system. You will not find the usual list of park activities. Instead, you will find a forest worth getting lost in and amazing views.
- Pretty views
- Small crowds
- Great access to Palouse country
- Limited activities
- Road conditions don’t play nice with large RVs/trailers and family cars (this could also be a pro)
What To Do
- Take in the views along Skyline Drive.
- Camp. Spots are limited, which means you will have a peaceful experience.
- Make use of the trails. You can hike, bike or ride a horse.
The park has very few amenities. But you’ll find vault toilets, picnics tables and limited campsites. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Mary McCroskey State Park.
You will probably not see many people during your visit. You won’t necessarily have the park to yourself, but if you are looking for solitude, you will find it.
Unique to Mary McCroskey State Park
The park is named after Mary Minerva McCroskey and it is the only state park in Idaho to be named after a woman. The man responsible for this park, Virgil T. McCroskey, named the park in honor of his mother. She was a pioneer woman who, along with her husband and children, established a homestead in nearby Washington. When the park was dedicated in 1955, it was done so in memory of her and other frontier women and the hardships they endured.
A little history about Mary McCroskey State Park
Of all the state park histories in Idaho, Mary McCroskey State Park has to be my favorite. We can all thank Virgil for his foresight and dedication. Without him, there would be no McCroskey State Park.
Virgil was a pharmacist and conservationist who bought up 4,400 acres of land endangered by the logging industry with the hopes of preserving it. He basically became a one-man park system. He built a road, cut out viewpoints, built picnic areas and planted flowers all in the hopes of attracting visitors and establishing a state park.
Unfortunately, the Idaho legislature did not share Virgil’s vision. However, they were willing to negotiate and they agreed that if Virgil could maintain the park (at his expense) for the next 15 years, they would accept his gift. Although Virgil was in his late 70s, he accepted the terms. Amazingly, he maintained the park for the next 15 years. Just a couple of weeks before his death at 93, he fulfilled his obligation to the State of Idaho. He also donated $45,000 in a trust to be used for park maintenance. Thank you, Virgil. Thank you.
- The Palouse. This region is so beautiful and very unique.
- 30 minutes to the north is Plummer, Idaho, and the start (or end) of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. And just past that is Heyburn State Park.
- Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is about an hour to the north. You can visit Coeur d’Alene Parkway State Park while you are here.
- Moscow, Idaho, home of the University of Idaho, is about 30 away. This is a fun town to explore. It is also a good place to stop for food, lodging and supplies. R and I are big fans of the Moscow Food Co-op.
- Spokane, Washington, is home to the nearest major airport and is about 1.5 hours away.
Our experience at Mary McCroskey State Park
A picnic followed by a nature walk
Our most recent experience at Mary McCroskey State Park was short and sweet. It consisted of a short drive, tasty food and a nature walk. First we picked up lunch from the Moscow Food Co-op. Then we headed to the east entrance of Skyline Drive off of Highway 95. We drove several miles until we found a picnic table. Lunch was enjoyed amidst the sounds of nature.
After lunch, we headed down a nearby trail. You cannot call what we did hiking. We just enjoyed a nice stroll. But it was great to stretch our legs and enjoy the trees. We saw very few people and for the most part, it felt like we had the park to ourselves.
Camping at Mary McCroskey State Park
R and I no longer camp, except under unique/unavoidable circumstances. But before we made this decision, we had ourselves a camping experience in this state park. It was a car camping experience, to be specific.
We drove along Skyline Drive for several miles before finding a road-side camp spot (road-side camping is permitted in this state park). After enjoying a picnic dinner, we continued to explore on foot. Unfortunately, the exploration ended when we thought we got into some poison ivy. The plant turned out not to be poison ivy, but by then, we had lost our adventurous spirit and decided to call it a night.
I have no idea how long we slept before we were awakened by one of the fiercest thunder and lightning storms I have ever experienced in Idaho. It was intense and sleeping in a car at the top of a mountain ridge was darn near impossible. Needless to say, it was not a great camping experience and probably contributed to our decision to stop camping altogether.
The best thing about Mary McCroskey State Park: Skyline Drive
However, that camping experience did not diminish the experience of driving through the park. Skyline Drive is an 18 mile-long, dirt road with beautiful views of the forest and Palouse country. Warning, this road is rough and you are going to want some clearance. It is also not recommended for large RVs and trailers. But if you have got the right vehicle, the drive is spectacular and I highly recommend it.
Mary McCroskey State Park is quite the unique park. Its Skyline Drive and views of Palouse make it worth a visit if you are ever in central Idaho…and have a suitable rig for driving some rough road.
Note: we visited Mary McCroskey 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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