TUTTLE — Drivers who whiz by on Interstate 84 miss the astounding spectacle below: the swollen Malad River raging through its narrow gorge and crashing into Devil’s Washbowl.
“The water’s crazy right now, and I don’t see it slowing down,” said Eric Whittekiend, a Thousand Springs State Park ranger.
Late April and early May usually are a prime time to enjoy the state park’s Malad Gorge unit — after upstream Magic Reservoir starts releasing water to fill irrigation canals, he said, but before the first hot weather initiates irrigation diversion in earnest.
But this spring, with floodwater swelling all the upstream systems, the Malad Gorge display is extraordinary.
The 12-mile Malad River, formed when the Big Wood and Little Wood rivers converge near Gooding, never topped 1,000 cubic feet per second last year and spent most of the spring at less than half of that flow, U.S. Geological Survey records show.
But this year, the Malad exploded at more than 3,000 cfs in early February, then, after several smaller surges, started a serious climb near the end of March. After reaching nearly 5,000 cfs in early April and setting new records, it settled down to about 2,000 cfs by mid-April — still enough to awe.
It’s easy to drown in the numbers, but Whittekiend puts it simply: “There’s more water than’s been seen for a long, long time.”
And word is getting out.
On the first Saturday in April — when park managers might usually expect to see 25 or 30 vehicles at Malad Gorge — about 175 came through.
“It’s comparable,” Whittekiend said, “to a great big holiday weekend.”
How to enjoy it
It doesn’t take a big investment in time or effort to marvel at the Malad.
The Malad Gorge unit of Thousand Springs State Park is a self-guided auto tour, with four of its six overlooks offering views of the river. The first is the iconic footbridge 175 feet above Devil’s Washbowl, beside the bridges that carry I-84 over the gorge.
But even a little walking opens up a perspective you can’t get from the footbridge; take the short paved trail on the other side of the gorge to see the Malad crash down its 60-foot waterfall into Devil’s Washbowl.
The driving tour follows the deepening gorge downstream on the Malad’s journey toward the Snake River. You’ll learn about the aquifer-fed springs that flow from the basalt of the gorge; the volcanic activity that formed this spot and the rest of the Snake River Plain; and the mighty cutting action of water.
The Malad Gorge park unit doesn’t offer camping, but you’ll find a grassy day-use area with picnic tables, toilets and a playground. A gate beyond the day-use area controls vehicle access to overlooks No. 2-6; the gate is open 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. But you can walk the road during daylight any day of the week.
From Interstate 84, take Exit 147 at Tuttle. You’re almost there. Just follow the signs: west on 2350 South, then north on Ritchie Road to the Malad Gorge unit’s entrance.
A daily $5 motor vehicle entry fee is required year-round — unless you have the $10 annual Idaho State Parks Passport. Bring cash for the self-pay envelope in case the entrance booth isn’t staffed.
As you enter, pick up a brochure that includes a map to the other units of Thousand Springs State Park; your $5 daily fee covers them all.
Information: 208-837-4505 or parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/thousand-springs