Thousand Springs State Park: Hiking, Kayaking and Geological Wonders
Thousand Springs State Park is big and geological in nature. That makes for some fun exploring and interesting photos.
State Park Overview
Overall, we give this park five stars (mostly because there is so much to do and it is so gosh darn beautiful).
There are seven areas to explore at Thousand Springs State Park: Malad Gorge, Kelton Trail, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve (or just Box Canyon), Billingsley Creek, Ritter Island, Crystal Springs and Niagara Springs. All of the sites are associated with the Snake River and although they are within a short distance to each other, you will need to drive to each one.
Interesting note: the actually springs start about 100 miles away. The “lost” rivers in Idaho (Big Lost River and Little Lost River) flow into a depression somewhere around Craters of the Moon and become subterranean. The water then travels for about 200 years before emerging out of the canyon at Thousand Springs. It is quite a sight to behold.
- Open year-round
- Loads of various activities
- Interesting history
- Cool geological features
- HOT in the summer
- Spread out
What To Do
There is a lot to do here year-round, although it can get very hot in the summertime. If you enjoy any of the following, Thousand Springs State Park is definitely for you.
- Fishing: Lots of fishing.
- Hiking: Watch out for snakes and make sure to pack a lot of water in the summer.
- Swimming: Given its proximity to the Snake River and all of the various springs, there are a lot of opportunities to get in the water. And you will want to on a hot summer day.
- Kayaking and paddle boarding: I can recommend Ritter Island for these activities, but there are a lot of options.
The park has all the usual amenities like restrooms, picnic tables, etc. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Thousand Springs State Park.
The crowd situation will depend on which area of the park you visit. The day we hiked down Box Canyon was a popular day. Ritter Island is also popular, particularly during the Thousand Springs Festival of the Arts (see below). But we only saw a handful of people at Niagara Springs and Malad Gorge and there was NO ONE at Kelton Trail. (I don’t think anyone had visited in quite a while.)
Unique to Thousand Springs State Park
Thousand Springs Festival of the Arts is an annual event that takes place on Ritter Island. With over 100 local artists, it is, by far, the most gorgeous festival I have ever been to. The views cannot be beat. The artists are very talented and there is food and live music as well. The only challenge is transportation. You must park at the top of the canyon and either take the shuttle bus or walk. The lines were super long for the shuttle, so we walked. It was a nice walk, although a little on the warm side. But I thought it was better than waiting in line for the shuttle. Either way, this festival is worth the effort it takes to visit.
A little history about Thousand Springs State Park
The park we know today is quite new (approximately 2005). However, the geological features are old, old, old. The springs are not what they once were. In fact, you may look around and wonder why it is called Thousand Springs. Much of the springs have been captured for power production and aquaculture. But that does not mean that it isn’t pretty, it just may not live up to its name.
- Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is managed by the National Parks Service. There is a visitors center in Hagerman, as well as some overlooks where you can learn about the fossils and the Oregon Trail. It is kind of a random combination, but very interesting.
- Hagerman, Idaho, is right in the thick of things. If you are looking for food or lodging, this will be an obvious stop.
- Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenns Ferry is 30 minutes away.
Our experience(s) at Thousand Springs State Park
Thousands Springs State Park was practically in my backyard growing up (although it was divided into separate state parks back then). But even with dozens of visits under my belt, we have managed to find new things to explore. Below are a couple of favorite experiences from the past couple of years.
Kayak around Ritter Island
I am lucky enough to have a cousin willing to haul some kayaks down the canyon and guide us around this unit of the park. It is a fairly easy kayaking experience and the water and views are beautiful. At some point, you will have to kayak upstream, but that’s how rivers work. The views will be worth it though, I promise.
Hike down Box Canyon
It was hot, hot, hot the day we hiked down Box Canyon. Luckily, the water was brisk. I wouldn’t recommend swimming on a mild day. But if it’s hot, you will want nothing more than to get into the water, so dress accordingly. There were a lot of people on the trail the day we hiked, but it did not detract from the experience. It was obvious that the majority of the crowd was local.
Explore Kelton Trail
This is the most random unit at Thousand Springs in my opinion. The parking lot almost looks abandoned and the trail is difficult to see. But it is not very big, so it is easy to explore. We were trying to find views of the old bridge abutments, which carried wagons traveling on the Oregon Trail. We did find them eventually, but we got a little lost first. That’s okay because we ended up exploring some really unique geological features. I wasn’t expecting much from this unit and at first glance, it lived up to my expectations. But I left feeling like we had found a neat little gem.
Take in the views at Malad Gorge
Malad Gorge is still sometimes listed as its own state park. However, it is now part of Thousands Springs. It is located right off of Interstate 84, making it an easy stop. Of course, blink, and you will miss it. The gorge itself is impressive and you will enjoy a short walk to see the Devil’s Washbowl. But there is more to this park if you have got some time.
See where Thousand Springs State Park got its name at Niagara Springs
The drive down to the springs is a bit sketchy, just FYI. But there are some beautiful views down in the canyon that are worth the drive. We saw very few people down here and it kind of felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was obviously very good for fishing, which we did not do, so we did not stay long. But I recommend a stop here for no other reason than to check out the springs, which are a National Natural Landmark.
Thousand Springs State Park has a lot to offer. It is warm(er) and fun to explore during the colder parts of the year. During the summer, there are plenty of places to cool off in the water. It is convenient to get to, given its proximity to Interstate 84, and it is beautiful. Idaho can be proud of this state park and all it offers.
Note: we visited Thousand Springs State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Quest. The quest 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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