GLENNS FERRY — Not up to tent camping in the cold? The rustic log cabins at Three Island Crossing State Park offer a compromise: a taste of roughing it, but with the comforts of a roof and an electric heater.
It’s an excellent winter getaway: Roast a hot dog at the fire ring out front, snuggle into a sleeping bag, then watch the sunrise over the Snake River from the cabin’s wooden porch swing.
Of the six cabins available year-round at Three Island Crossing, five look out over the river from a grassy lawn with fire rings and picnic tables.
To make the most of this setting, bring your walking shoes or a bicycle. The park’s lovely, tree-filled grounds look like they’ve recovered from the extended power outage that interrupted irrigation this summer. And this time of year, the park is blissfully quiet — dominated in the late afternoon by the chirping of birds.
Need to know
During winter, water is shut off throughout most of the park. That means no showers are available, it’s best to bring your own drinking water, and the only restroom with running water is farther from the cabins than you’ll want to walk in a hurry. A vault toilet is nearby, though.
Each 12-by-12-foot, one-room cabin can sleep five people on bunks and a futon — if they don’t mind feeling crowded when the futon is laid flat. Realistically, you’ll find it more comfortable for just two or three people, because you’ll probably want to double up the thin mattresses. Bring your own sleeping bags and pillows.
The cabins have electric lights indoors and on their porches, but bring a flashlight for after-dark trips to the toilet.
Also inside each cabin: a small table, two log benches, an electrical outlet, lockable door and windows, and a heater-air conditioner that some might find too noisy to leave on all night.
All your cooking must be outside the cabin, so bring your camping gear — whether that means firewood and roasting sticks or a propane burner. The park sells firewood for $6.50 a bundle, but only when staff is on duty.
No pets are allowed in the cabins.
What else to do
Bring your binoculars, because Three Island Crossing is an excellent location for California quail and — in the swift, open water of the Snake River — for waterfowl. Winter birders are likely to spot bald eagles, as well.
With peak-season crowds gone, the paved roads winding through the park’s lawns and through swaths of sagebrush offer quiet walking and biking, and the park’s main trail rings the developed area.
At the north end of the park, you’ll find the start of the Glenns Ferry Recreational Trail. This wide gravel trail leads through the vineyard of Crossings Winery, past a golf driving range, over a wooden bridge and into the city of Glenns Ferry. (Tip: The appropriately named Fudge Factory Grill & Ice Cream is on Commercial Street.)
Inside the park, an 18-hole disc golf course is playable year-round. The original nine holes wind through trees, past the cabins and near the edge of the Snake, where Oregon Trail pioneers made their treacherous — and often deadly — river crossing. The back nine holes, added in 2014, take you out into difficult terrain of sagebrush and Russian olives.
In the park’s Oregon Trail History and Education Center, you can get a self-guided lesson on pioneer and Native American history. It exhibits life-size replicas of Native Americans, wigwams, cowboys and wagons, and your approach triggers the displays so voices tell their stories. Some interactive displays are hands-on, such as basket weaving, primitive trap setting and a pioneer role-playing game that’s popular with kids. And you can watch a short film about the Oregon Trail, tribes and the role this site played in pioneers’ journey.
The Oregon Trail History and Education Center’s winter hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, but it has frequent closures. It’s best to call ahead (208-366-2394) or check the park’s Facebook page if you want to be certain the center is open when you visit.
Even if it isn’t, Three Island Crossing is a good place to explore Oregon Trail history. You’ll find an outdoor display of old wagons just north of the center; from there, a walking trail parallels the historical wagon ruts. And from the riverside cabins, a footpath follows the river downstream to an old ferry, then to the emigrants’ Three Island river crossing site.
Reserving a cabin
The park handles all of its reservations through Reserveamerica.com, but it’s easiest to navigate the reservations by starting on the park website.
On Parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/three-island-crossing, click the “Cabins” link, then “Click to reserve.” Scroll down to click on “Three Island Crossing State Park,” then click on “Cabin Camper.”
You’ll see eight cabin names listed; the five overlooking the river and available all year are Juniper, Oak, Aspen, Elm and Dogwood. Oak, positioned nearest to the parking, is handicapped-accessible. Juniper is closest to the vault toilet, which also is handicapped-accessible, but all five cabins are nearby.
Hilltop, in the park’s Wagon Wheel Campground, is also open during winter.
What you’ll pay
The $50 nightly cabin rate advertised on the park website doesn’t tell the whole story.
Theoretically, you can show up and rent a cabin without a reservation, but park staffing is less than predictable in winter. If you gamble on arriving without a reservation and find someone on duty, you can get a walk-in cabin price of $53 if you have the Idaho State Parks Passport, or $58 if you don’t. That includes the tax and one motor vehicle entrance; if you come in two cars, you’ll pay a $5 entrance fee for the second one.
Those prices are for Idaho residents; out-of-staters pay more.
Reserving online costs more, but it’s a sure bet. Including tax, vehicle entrance and an online reservation fee, Idaho residents pay a total of $63.60 if they have the Idaho State Parks Passport or $68.60 if they don’t. Park employees will leave your cabin unlocked for you if they won’t be around, and you’ll find the key inside.
From Interstate 84, take Exit 121 at Glenns Ferry and head south into town. Take a right onto Frontage Road, then a left onto Commercial Street, then a right onto Madison Avenue, which leads to the park entrance.
On Madison, take a few minutes to stop at signs overlooking the Snake River. One describes attractions on the Main Oregon Trail Back Country Byway, which starts here and follows the route of the pioneers as they crossed the Idaho desert toward Mountain Home and Boise. Another sign features an excerpt from an 1851 emigrant diary and an explanation of how some determined wagon travelers managed to use the Two Island Crossing site here instead of the usual Three Island Crossing site two miles downstream.