One of the extraordinary geological sites on earth, the City of Rocks National Reserve, remains one of Idaho’s major attractions. The reserve, managed by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation under a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, encompasses 14,407 acres of south central Idaho just north of the Idaho/Nevada border. About one-quarter of the acreage is privately owned. Established as a National Reserve in 1988, the site is known for its scenic, geological and historic significance.
The “rocks” that give this extensive area its name are granite rock formations dating back as far as 2.5 billion years, making them some of the oldest formations found in the United States. This is not just a bunch of rocks. There are scores of granite columns reaching up to 60 stories tall, looming dramatically above a sagebrush-covered basin that features the backdrop of the colorful Albion Mountains.
The granite outcroppings have been shaped through the years by wind and weathering. Some visitors see faces, buildings and animal shapes in the rocks. What they see is limited to their imaginations.
City of Rocks was an important landmark for those pioneers traveling west on the famed California Trail. Pioneer diaries from 1843 described the rocks in detail as “a city of tall spires”, “steeple rocks”, and a display of “all manner of fantastic shapes”. Be sure to take a walk to see inscriptions on the spires written in axle grease by travelers passing through on the California Trail.
The rock formations are adjacent to lush mountain meadows and pinion-juniper and mountain mahogany tree stands. Arrowleaf Balsamroot and other wildflowers are present beginning in the spring and lasting through late fall. Recreational opportunities include hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, photography, horseback riding, mountain biking, and picnicking. Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are popular during the winter months.
Rock climbing is the favorite activity. City of Rocks in one of the finest granite-face climbing sites anywhere in the world. Some 700 climbing routes have been developed. One hundred to 300-foot rock spires provide most of the climbing opportunities, but spires up to 600 feet high are available for the more skilled adventurers. Privately published climbing guides are available for sale at the Reserve headquarters and at the City of Rocks Visitor Center located nearby in the small town of Almo.
One of Idaho’s many scenic routes, the 49-mile long City of Rocks Back Country Byway passes the site. This Scenic Byway begins at the little town of Albion on Idaho State Route 77. Heading south, the Byway passes the Pomerelle Ski Area and the Lake Cleveland Recreation Area. The route passes through the small communities of Elba and Almo before reaching the City of Rocks National Reserve.
From the Reserve, the Byway follows Birch Creek to the city of Oakley, where it meets up with Idaho State Route 27. The entire town of Oakley is on the National Register of Historic Places. The town features Idaho’s largest concentration of old wood-framed and stone buildings. This Byway drive takes about 1.5 hours and makes a great combination experience with additional time spent at the City of Rocks Reserve.
Primitive camping is available at Howell Canyon and City of Rocks. R. V. parks are available in Oakley and north of City of Rocks at the Interstate Route 84 Interchange on the Snake River.
On a visit to Idaho, make sure to include a visit to City of Rocks National Reserve. Don’t forget the camera!
Granstrom, an Idaho resident, published and manages a website listing Idaho’s many adventure opportunities for visitors. See his site at http://www.idaho-insider.com