State Park Overview
Massacre Rocks State Park can be found on the Snake River in southeastern Idaho. This dry stretch of land is full of sagebrush and rattlesnakes, but the Snake River adds variety to the landscape. History is the name of the game here, with some interesting pioneer artifacts.
- Not remotely crowded
- Cool little visitor center
- Fun rocks to climb on
- Dubious origins
- Trails aren’t well defined
- Close to the interstate
What to do at Massacre Rocks State Park
- Climb on rocks
- See Oregon Trail history
- Play disc golf in a course of sagebrush instead of trees and grass. The slogan: “This ain’t your momma’s disc golf course.”
Visitor center with a flushing toilet. Outside there are vault toilets and spots for camping and trailers. For all other details, visit the Department of Parks and Rec website.
The place was almost deserted. I don’t think they get a lot of traffic here. Across from the visitor center is a round of camping spots partially obscured by hills and sage brush, but I think all in all there were only a handful of people here while we were.
We also visited Register Rock and we saw two other parties during the short time we were there.
Unique to Massacre Rocks State Park
A little history about Massacre Rocks State Park
One thing that is tough to swallow in history is that words like ‘massacre’ stick around, even though events might not have backed up the claim. I think this is the case in the Massacre Rocks State Park. It was named thus because in 1862 a group of pioneers crossing the Oregon Trail and the Native Americans in the land had a few issues and some of the pioneers were killed. 10 to be exact. As a response to this and other interactions, the U.S. militia wiped out almost 500 Shoshone in a winter camp in 1863. That one probably deserves the title massacre. But being as massacre is a flashy word and people know the power of marketing, the industrious gentlefolk of the time used Massacre Rocks to promote the area.
There used to be a small hotel here as it was a major thoroughfare for people traveling east and west, but this was abandoned in the 1960s. When the road was widened into I-86, the rocks that used to be a narrow gap were widened significantly.
Our experience at Massacre Rocks State Park
Our first stop at Massacre Rocks State Park was to the groovy 60s-feeling visitor center. There is a nice lookout where you can see the different sagebrush-type of scrub plants local to the area. Inside the building there are some interesting replicas of wagon trains. Our next stop was to climb on some of the lava rocks outside the visitor center. I think the paths we were on were technically hiking trails, and we eventually ended up on a trail by the Snake River. We were on a little nature path and learned about the birds and other animals that live here. The trail eventually petered out so we turned around and headed back. It was pretty hot walking down to the river, so I recommend not doing this in the heat of summer days.
Our next stop was a short drive down I-86 to Register Rock. This is a little park with parking spots and some grass, but the main event is the rock that people signed on their way west to Oregon and California. It’s rad to see history like that and imagine the hearty people that went before us.
Many people drive past Massacre Rocks State Parks on their way back and forth on I-86, but it sure doesn’t seem like very many people stop in for a visit. We were glad we did; if nothing else it was a nice place to stretch our legs. I enjoyed the history lessons, even if they taught me the name of the place was a bit farfetched.
Note: we visited Massacre 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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