GLENNS FERRY • A flash of blue streaks across the gray-green sage and aspen landscape along southern Idaho’s Bennett Mountain Road. You can’t miss it.
“There’s nothing like that color blue,” said Pam Swenson of King Hill, who helps maintain bluebird boxes along the back roads between Glenns Ferry and U.S. 20 on the Camas Prairie.
Because volunteers clean and maintain hundreds of bluebird boxes in the area, it’s one of the best places to see Idaho’s state bird, even on a simple summer drive.
The birds show up in spring and start claiming territory. You’ll see them buzzing nesting boxes and sitting on fence posts.
“They hang around until fall. They have a least two batches of eggs,” Swenson said.
That makes Bennett Mountain Road bluebird central during summer — a great place to see or photograph the birds without even getting out of the car. The road is also on the Elma Goodman Mountain Bluebird Trail, a well established bluebird nesting area. The nest boxes attract bluebirds annually.
The Bennett Mountain Road is also designated a motorized part of Idaho’s Centennial Trail, in case you want to chalk up that item in your bucket list. Birders and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game also list the road as part of Idaho’s Birding Trail.
The Elma Goodman Mountain Bluebird Trail has been around for more than 40 years and boasts beautiful mountain scenery: evergreens, aspens and meadows. It’s also a good place to see tree swallows and wrens in native habitat.
The bluebird boxes attract other birds, too, said Swenson, who has been helping maintain bluebird nesting boxes here since the early ‘80s and knows the birds’ habits.
Depending on the time of the year, the Bennett Mountain Road also can be a hot spot for seeing big game animals such as pronghorn antelope, mule deer and elk.
North of Glenns Ferry, the southernmost part of the road passes Blair Trail Reservoir, which Fish and Game says is one of five short-season reservoirs that are containments for snowmelt from surrounding mountains.
Birds of prey can be seen in the area year-round. Red-tailed hawks and rough-legged hawks can be found here in winter. During summer, prairie and peregrine falcons and kestrels can be spotted, depending on the reservoir’s level.
Don’t get discouraged when starting out on Bennett Mountain Road. The first part, just north of Interstate 84, crosses dry cheatgrass terrain, and it can look pretty bleak as you drive north toward the canyon rims. The road rises in elevation from 2,561 to 6,000 feet and the terrain starts to change from the cheatgrass flats, to rocky canyons with dried creek beds, to lush meadows with aspens and evergreen trees.
That’s where you start to see bluebirds.
The sign designating the Elma Goodman Mountain Bluebird Trail is at the intersection of the Bennett Mountain and Hill City roads. Some birders prefer to continue north on Bennett Mountain Road to U.S. 20, go east to County Line School Road near Hill City, then head south and hook up with Hill City Road for more opportunities to see bluebirds. Then, loop back to Bennett Mountain Road and head south toward Glenns Ferry.
Depending on how much gravel road driving you do, you can rack up more than 70 miles in the backcountry.
Another loop opportunity: Continue on U.S. 20 to Fairfield and then to Idaho 75, then head south to Shoshone.
Although everything from heavy-duty four-wheel-drive pickups to Volkswagens can be seen on Bennett Mountain Road, most of it is gravel that can be hard on tires. It’s good to have stout tires for desert gravel roads, not wimpy street tires, if taking the drive.
Expect to see other vehicles. Expect a lot of dust. The road is also well known by locals as a shortcut from Glenns Ferry to Pine. It comes out at about milepost 126 on U.S. 20.
In the heat of summer, it’s best to take the drive early in the morning, when wildlife watching is best and it’s more comfortable to be out in the mountain air. Start heading home in the hot afternoon.
If you stop for a picnic or hike, be mindful that most property along Bennett Mountain Road is private.
From Twin Falls, take I-84 west to Glenns Ferry. From Glenns Ferry, hook up with the Bennett Road north of the freeway. There is an Oregon Trail interpretive site along Bennett Road where you can see wagon ruts going up a mountainside. It’s hard to believe the pioneers climbed that hill.
Continue on Bennett Road until you come to the cutoff for Bennett Mountain Road. Keep an eye out for it, because it’s easy to miss. If you do, you’ll end up near Mountain Home.
The Bennett Mountain Road is straightforward and easy to follow. You might want a Delorme Map on the trip to see details on landmarks, such as 7,438-foot Bennett Mountain, or to see how the road cuts from the Snake River Plain to the Bennett Hills and then on to Camas Prairie. It traverses a lot of different kinds of terrain and offers a glimpse into the area’s complex geology.
One thing about the drive: There’s nothing like that color blue in the mountains to grab your attention.