About the wonder

November 26, 2006 

Name: Snake River.

Location: The river starts in Yellowstone National Park, runs through East and South Idaho, cuts Idaho’s border with northern Oregon and southern Washington, and joins the Columbia River’s journey to the Pacific Ocean. Size: 1,038 miles long. What to see: Head east, south or west from Boise, and you’ll eventually run into the Snake River. The river’s terrain differs from start to finish, and you could spend a lifetime seeing every stretch.

* The Henrys Fork, Island Park and Harriman State Park: The Snake and its tributary creeks form a fly-fisherman’s paradise. Get there on U.S. 20 northeast of Idaho Falls. See it in your waders from the edge of thigh-deep waters.

* Mesa Falls: At 110 and 85 feet, the upper and lower Mesa Falls are the only major falls in Idaho free from dams or power plants. Get there on the 29-mile Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, which heads northeast from Ashton.See it from the accessible paths and viewing areas.

* Palisades Reservoir and the South Fork: Great fishing, beautiful scenery and plenty of moose await on the South Fork. Get there on U.S. 26, east from Idaho Falls. See it in a drift boat dropped below Palisades Reservoir.

* The Idaho Regatta in Burley: If speed is your thing, check out these high-powered boat races the last weekend of every June. Get there on Interstate 84 to Burley. See the races from a camping chair with a cooler full of your favorite beverages.

* Shoshone Falls, Perrine Bridge and the canyon: A trip to Twin Falls offers some of the best scenery on the Snake. Look upriver from the 486-foot Perrine Bridge to see the ramp that launched Evel Knievel almost to the other side. Get there from I-84 and U.S. 93 to Twin Falls. See it from the accessible Shoshone Falls Park and the Canyon Rim Trail.

* Thousand Springs Preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy: Thousand Springs looks like a movie set of Eden, with falls flowing from the cliffs and crystal-clear water surrounding an accessible island with historic buildings from a 1918 dairy. Get there on the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, U.S. 30, between Bliss and Wendell. See it from a canoe paddle around the island during the annual festival, with music, art and food on the last weekend of September.

* Three Island Crossing State Park: Emigrants on the Oregon Trail braved this treacherous ford to avoid the longer and drier route on the south of the Snake. Get there on I-84 to Glenns Ferry. See it during the annual re-enactment of the crossing on the second Saturday of every August.

* Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area: The Birdman of Boise, Morley Nelson, helped preserve this nesting spot for falcons, hawks, eagles and other raptors. Get there on Swan Falls Road south of Kuna. A quarter-mile loop trail takes you to Dedication Point, a great raptor viewing site about 400 feet above the river. See it in February and March, when the birds are establishing territories and are likely to be flying, and from May to June, when fledglings are hatching and learning to fly.

* Swan Falls: The dam here was built in 1901, and water-rights deals based on this spot of the river have helped shape the development of South Idaho. Get there on Swan Falls Road south of Kuna; just keep going after Dedication Point. See it: with a sense of awe — Swan Falls is a linchpin in Idaho’s history and future.

* Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge: Established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1909, Deer Flat includes 101 islands on 113 miles of the Snake River in Idaho and Oregon. Get there on Lake Avenue, off Karcher Road past Nampa. Follow the signs and drive over the dam to the visitor center, which is open most daylight hours weekdays and Saturdays. See it from horseback, hiking trails, your car or the visitor’s center observation deck — all provide good wildlife viewing.

* Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: Maybe the best place in the world to see bighorn wild sheep, which scramble, play and butt heads in the cliffs that surround this deep canyon — some 9,300 feet from the top of He Devil mountain to the canyon floor. Get there on Idaho 71 west from Cambridge to see the dam and access the upper canyon. Head south of Lewiston, through Clarkston, Wash., to Asotin, Wash., to the jet boat tour operators. A few rough roads into the Idaho side of the canyon are open seasonally. See it from an adventurous raft trip down the river from the dam, or from a jet-boat tour that can get you in from either end of the canyon.

* Dug Bar and the Nez Perce National Historic Park: One of 38 sites in the park that commemorate the history and culture of the Nimiipuu, Dug Bar sits in Hells Canyon. Get there by boat or on a poorly maintained road in Oregon. See it with a history book. This is where Chief Joseph led his people across the river before the 1877 Nez Perce War.

* The Port of Lewiston: Idaho’s only seaport — and the most inland port in the West — ships out clay, grain, paper, chickpeas and more, thanks to the slackwater provided by the controversial lower Snake River dams. Get there on U.S. 95 to Lewiston. See it from a fishing boat during salmon season, which doesn’t happen every year.

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