HAGERMAN • Driving beneath a cloudless sky through the desert toward Thousand Springs State Park, an ice-cold dip in a peaceful pond seems like the perfect prescription. Good news: It’s closer than you think.
Thousand Springs is home to a few great swimming spots, including some you might not hear about in guidebooks. As the summer crawls on in stifling heat, you can take advantage of those spots if you know where to look.
The park isn’t promoted as a swimming spot, Thousand Springs manager David Landrum said, and all swimmers do so at their own risk as there are no lifeguards. Swimming is not prohibited, though.
“We don’t promote it, but we don’t go chasing people out either,” Landrum said.
These four swimming spots are in the park, some in better-known places than others.
First, a quick note on etiquette: Swimming holes are often unofficial destinations, which means officials can’t always dedicate the time for a lot of upkeep. It’s up to the visitors to take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves.
Be a good swimmer — and a good neighbor — by bringing a trash bag and picking up your own garbage and any litter you see. A few minutes of your time can improve the next visitor’s experience, so don’t be stingy with your courtesy.
Box Canyon Springs
In the flat land surrounding Box Canyon, only the grass flourishes, short and golden yellow like paintbrush bristles. The stripped skeletons of sagebrush reach up from the dust like gnarled fingers from a grave, baked to chalk by the pounding sun. Dark rocks jut out of the dry dirt like headstones.
But just a few hundred feet away, wide green leaves crowd a trail. Ivy wraps rock walls and pours from the branches overhead. Lush green water plants sway like hair in the current beneath a 20-foot waterfall which showers passersby with a cool mist in the trees’ shade.
All that separates these two worlds are the ragged, dark-brown cliffs of Box Canyon. For the determined swimmer, however, there are more obstacles ahead.
The hike to Box Canyon is short but grueling in the summer sun, from which the dirt track from the parking area features no relief. The trek pays off at the canyon rim, which drops nearly straight down a dizzying distance into glistening pools fed by Box Canyon Springs.
The view itself is worth the walk, but the promise of cold, clean spring water is irresistible. Don’t get too excited — there’s still a long way to go to get to that swimming hole.
The access is a steep, rocky hike at least a half-mile down to the canyon bottom.
The trail is not groomed, so children and less able hikers should be careful. The Eden-like greenery and waterfall at the bottom, complete with a wood platform to rest on, make for a peaceful and invigorating resting spot, but for the trip upriver to the swimming spot, you’re on your own.
Along with the shady trees and brush along the banks, the spring also feeds stinging nettle and poison ivy. Those dangers — plus the rocky sides of the canyon — make for a tough hike upstream toward the pools.
Landrum has never ventured that direction, but he’s seen visitors brave the trip. The site does offer exclusivity, but mostly because only a few people will trudge through the brush to get there, he said.
If you’re up for the challenge, be sure to cover up — stinging nettles are plentiful and unavoidable. If you get there and decide it’s too tough, don’t worry. The hike into the canyon is entirely worth the trip.
Here, the cliff-side road clinging to the canyon wall at first seems like a wrong turn. Chain-link fences and no-trespassing signs line the way, and structures from the hydroelectric plant are hubs for power lines strung high above.
Don’t turn back — a great family swimming destination is just ahead.
The Ritter Island swimming spot is much more developed than the other swimming holes on this list. Picnic tables and well-kept grass make for a great picnic locale, and Ritter Creek’s gentle current is a soothing accompaniment.
The park boasts a great view of towering Minnie Miller Falls, but to get a better view you’ll have to venture into the frigid waters of Ritter Creek. You can see straight through the flowing water to the bottom, though the creek never really gets too deep.
Easily accessible with no hiking required, this swimming hole is perfect for a quick trip with the children.
Vardis Fisher Lake
A local favorite for generations, this swimming hole is commonly known as Hidden Lake. Nestled beneath the remains of famed Idaho writer Vardis Fisher’s cabin, the lake offers a cool swim off the beaten path.
Besides the obvious draw of cool, clear water on a summer day, this swimming hole holds a lot of history. Visitors can explore Fisher’s cabin, now just ghostly remains of the writer’s secluded abode after it was burned years back. Landrum said local folklore says the fire was intentional to keep teens from partying in the decaying cabin, but he doesn’t know for certain.
The more personal local histories are in the water itself.
“People who are there now,” Landrum said, “their grandparents went there. And the grandparents still like to go.“
You won’t find signs to Vardis Fisher Lake or anything directing you to the cabin. As always, the best way to find local secrets is to ask local folks.
Just be sure to call it Hidden Lake.
Blue Heart Springs
Steve Meckler goes to Blue Heart Springs about 15 times each week. He’s visited the spot for 17 years. He’s still not tired of it.
This cove off of the Snake River near Box Canyon was carved by a whirlpool in the Bonneville flood, about 15,000 years ago. The only practical access to the crystal-clear pool is by water — good news for Meckler.
Meckler is the owner of 1,000 Springs Boat Tours, which carries visitors on the Snake River from Banbury Hot Springs to some of the highlights of Thousand Springs State Park. He guides his 50-foot boat into Blue Heart Springs on each trip to let visitors survey the fish beneath the pristine surface of the water and the wild rock formations caused by the ancient whirlpool.
“You can see the circle,” Meckler said. “All of a sudden, there’s like a half-moon dug out. You can see how it was.“
The cove is wrapped by canyon wall and brush. Bubbles burst from the sand at the bottom as the springs rise from the earth. While this sounds perfect for a swim, don’t jump in just yet.
The water is at a constant 58 degrees, and the spring is mostly covered in shade, Meckler said.
“They jump in, and they’re out pretty quick,” he said, laughing.
This swim is for the daring — the type of folks who think polar bear challenges look fun.
If you don’t think you’re up for the challenge, it also presents a great opportunity for a prank: Meckler said that weeks ago some local people were showing the spring to a friend from Arizona and told him the water was warm. Luckily, he was a fan of frigid swims.
BONUS: Malad Gorge
Word is spreading of the Tuesday parties at Malad Gorge.
Landrum said that every Monday evening part of the area is flood irrigated, leaving a couple of feet of water on Tuesday. While not exactly a swimming hole — unless you’re a foot tall — this is a nice spot for young children to play and parents to cool their feet.
Landrum said that as the popularity has grown, he’s even seen some older teens there. So don’t count yourself out.