IDAHO Falls • Facebook friends are chattering about trips to cycle the nearby national parks, or mountain biking outings in the foothills east of town. It’s a sure sign of spring when friends are lining up hikes and climbing trips for the coming weekends.
It’s time to join the bandwagon and get out there.
Now that the temperatures are climbing into the 60s on a regular basis, there are some eastern Idaho trails and areas ready to go. Here are a few suggestions on safe bets for fun outings this time of year.
Hell’s Half Acre Lava Trail
This trail is just off Highway 20 on the south side of the highway. Drive west of town several miles until you come to mile marker 287. Go about .3 miles past the mile marker until you see a sign for “Lava Trail.” Turn south at the sign onto a dirt road and continue to the trailhead about another quarter of a mile. The trail is marked with poles standing in the rock roughly every 30 yards or so. This trail heads due south 4.5 miles to a huge vent (9 miles roundtrip) where the lava flowed out a few thousand years ago. This is a spring and fall hike. Summer can be brutally hot.
This is a fun hike to the top of a volcanic hill and offers super views of the Upper Snake River Plain. On a clear day, the views are worth the 800 feet of elevation gain. The Bureau of Land Management has a nice parking lot and toilet at the trailhead. You can see how the twin buttes (one is privately owned) altered the direction of the Snake River eons ago. This trail is only 3 miles long if you hike to the top and around the rim, and can be done as a half-day outing.
Cress Creek Nature Trail
This is another BLM trail that is great for children and starts just west of Heise. The first half is paved with benches for sitting and taking in the views of the Snake River and the plain to the west. Beyond the paved walk, the trail climbs some and offers nice views and hiking on a dirt path. Be on the lookout for poison ivy near the creek.
This awesome trail is worth the drive to Pocatello for hiking and mountain biking. The trail leaves right out of town and climbs up into the hills following a small stream surrounded by a dense foliage. Leading off the City Creek Trail are fun extensions that can add hours to the outing. This trail system is one of the most popular mountain biking areas in eastern Idaho. You’ll have to try it to find out why.
Big Southern Butte
This huge volcanic minipeak sits out on the Big Desert west of Idaho Falls near the tiny town of Atomic City. If you go early enough in spring you can still get a few ski turns in on the north side. My favorite way to hike to the top of the peak is to drive in from Atomic City and approach the north side of the butte. I pull off the bumpy road and hike up one of the north side ridge lines to the top. There is a road that winds to the top from the northwest end, but I find that approach to be long and boring.
This interesting narrow canyon on the west side of the southern end of the Lemhi Range — east of Howe — heats up early in the year. Its tall limestone cliffs attract rock climbers, and hikers will find plenty of places to explore. Some even hike all the way up to the top of Saddle Mountain.
Biking in the National Parks
Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks offer springtime cycling on roads closed to motorized vehicles. Yellowstone roads begin opening to cars April 15, while Grand Teton’s Teton Park Road opens to cars May 1. Both offer some wonderful experiences when the weather cooperates.
Rock Climbing at Most of the Area Crags
Especially Massacre Rocks, Blackfoot River Canyon and Wolf Flats area. When the temperatures top the magic number of 50 degrees, and the sun is out, it’s game on for most of the area crags. Temperatures were near perfect Saturday in the Wolf Flats area along the South Fork of the Snake River. For the Massacre Rocks area, when temperatures top 60 degrees, you’ll be seeking shady walls.
Massacre Rocks State Park
Not to be confused with the climbing area on the north side of the Snake River, this state park is accessed off of Interstate 86, west of American Falls. There are short hikes to historical features, such as the Oregon Trail, and a nice campground.
For more details about these and other areas, consult the local guidebooks, “Trails of Eastern Idaho” and “Eastern Idaho Sweet Spots,” available at sporting goods stores and Hastings.