City of Rocks offers unique landscape, recreational paradise
Independence Lakes near
the City of Rocks are a great place for a backpacking trip.
ALMO, Idaho -- Imagine that you are traveling the California Trail through the barren landscape of southern Idaho in the summer of 1843.
For miles you have picked up your heavy feet over and over. As you reach the top of a small, sagebrush-covered hill you notice a peak to the west that is still covered with snow. Your eyes follow the horizon to the south, and there you see miniature stone mountains rising out of the valley floor. You've made it to the City of Rocks.
"We encamped at the city of the rocks, a noted place from the granite rocks rising abruptly out of the ground," wrote one of the first wagon travelers, James Wilkins, in 1849. "They are in a romantic valley clustered together, which gives them the appearance of a city."
By 1843 the City of Rocks was a landmark for travelers on the California Trail and Salt Lake Alternate. Because of the region's geological and historical values, it became the City of Rocks National Reserve in 1988. The National Park Service and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation cooperatively manage the park.
People no longer stop on their way to California, Salt Lake or anywhere else. They come for the unique landscape and a recreational paradise. Perhaps the City of Rocks isolation is its most alluring feature.
The City of Rocks is used by many recreators.
"This is my Disneyland," one climber said.
The rock forms draw climbers from across the West. It's not uncommon to see vehicles from four states parked at some of the more popular routes. There are nearly 20 miles of hiking and biking trails within the reserve. People also come to this area for studying natural and cultural history, hunting, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and camping.
There are 78 pay campsites on the reserve. Most of these sites have a picnic table and fire ring, but they do not have on-site water or toilets. Vaulted toilets are throughout the reserve, and there is one potable water source. There is a small visitor center in Almo, Idaho.
If you can't live without taking a shower, the Almo general store (Tracy's) charges $2.50 for a hot shower. The store also sells gas, sandwiches and groceries. The inside of the store is full of antiques and you may have to look out the window to make sure you haven't stepped back in time.
The snow-covered peak mentioned earlier is Cache Peak, at10,339 feet, it is the highest Idaho peak south of the Snake River. Forest Service road 562 will take a four-wheel drive vehicle from the City of Rocks nearly to the top of this peak. There are four alpine lakes, known as the Independence Lakes below the northern side of Cache Peak's rocky ledges. These lakes have the appearance of those found in the high Uintahs or Wind River mountain range of Wyoming.
The City of Rocks is about 120 miles from Logan. To get there take I-84 north to Snowville and then west on Routes 30 and 42. There are signs, but you need to be watching for them. For more information contact the City of Rocks National Reserve at (208) 824-5519.
The sun rises near Logger Springs Trail at the City of Rocks in southern Idaho. The campers' and hikers' paradise is "my Disneyland," says one visitor. / Photo by Paul Kendall
Archived Months:September 1998