The Thousand Springs Area is Scenic and Interesting
Part of the beauty of living in the Treasure Valley is its proximity to so many cool places. Within a couple of hours, you can be deep in the Owyhee Desert canyons or lakeside in the Sawtooth Mountains.
While we tend to dial back the road tripping because the mountains are buried in snow and the desert can be tough to access, the Hagerman area is a fairly short drive, and it also has a climate with warm, sunny days during the winter.
But what’s really cool about the area is the variety of things to do there, from feeding trout at the Hagerman Hatchery to eating alligator at the Snake River Grill.
You can watch waterfalls gushing from the cliffs above the Snake River or take a dip in the geothermal hot springs along its shore, take a dinner cruise on the River Mist, a 52-foot, heated catamaran cruiser or cast to trout on the Malad River or Billingsley Creek.
You can watch thousands of ducks and geese at the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area or see prehistoric fossils at the Hagerman National Fossil Beds.
And you can stay at a local motel, rent a cabin at a nearby state park or take your RV to a campground.
The Hagerman area is a patchwork of agricultural land and rocky scrub with some amazing pockets of scenery tucked among them.
Hagerman is an easy day trip from Boise and easy to find. From Boise, take Interstate 84 east about 86 miles to exit 141 and U.S. Route 30 to Hagerman.
If it’s your first trip to the area, it’s better to do it as an overnighter because there’s a lot of driving involved to see the different sights.
A great way to start your tour is hitting Thousand Springs State Park, which is a collection of sites that include Malad Gorge, Kelton Trail, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, Billingsley Creek, Ritter Island, Crystal Springs and Niagara Springs.
You can download maps of the area—which come in very handy because these little gems can be hard to find—on the Idaho Parks and Recreation website, ParksAndRecreation.Idaho.gov.
Beware of your car’s GPS because it may send you to the park headquarters.
My favorite place to start is in Hagerman. After leaving the freeway, you will drop into the Snake River Canyon and cross the Malad River, a beautiful little rocky canyon with a spring-fed river that runs crystal clear nearly year-round. You can also stop by Billingsley Creek, another spring-fed stream that meanders through a natural wetland area on public and private land.
Check out the visitor’s center for the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. The area is home to more than 200 different species of fossil plants and animals, including sabertooth cat, mastodon, bear, camel, ground sloth and more.
Swing by the Snake River Grill and get alligator appetizers or locally grown sturgeon, catfish or trout. It’s not the only restaurant in the area, but it has an interesting menu that’s well-prepared.
Shortly past Hagerman, you will see the Hagerman State Fish Hatchery and adjacent Wildlife Management Area. Stop by the hatchery and see the thousands of trout in the raceways and feed the fish at the viewing pond, which includes different kinds of fish that have been supersized by regular feeding.
From there, you have lots of options, but you will see the springs gushing from the canyon walls including the most scenic ones above Ritter Island, which will lead you on a tour of the area. Take a hike to the rim of Box Canyon, and if you’re a little more energetic, hike down into it. It’s not a strenuous hike, and it has some killer views.
From there, take your pick. The Hagerman Chamber of Commerce’s website, HagermanValleyChamber.com, is another good guide to the area’s attractions. Just don’t forget a map; they can be tricky to find, but that’s part of the fun.