Idaho has plenty of premier parks in winter

Idaho state parks offer unique experiences during the colder months because of a wide variety of elevations

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comFebruary 13, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    Check out more details about Idaho state parks by going to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov.

Winter isn’t boring in Idaho with its diverse terrain and variety of state parks.

From sand to snow, the choice is wide open from dune sledding to snowshoeing or soaking up solitude in a cabin.

Elevations vary greatly from 733-foot Hells Gate at Lewiston to 6,210-foot Harriman in eastern Idaho, and that gives you a choice of spending a day in fairly mild winter weather or bundling up in frigid snow country.

Idaho’s state parks continue tooffer a variety of overnight stays in winter from camping to cabins and other facilities.

Here’s a look at some parks and what is unique about them in winter:

EAGLE ISLAND

The park is right smack in the middle of the busy Treasure Valley, but it offers a quick getaway for a hike, mountain bike ride or horseback ride.

“I think most people visiting the park enjoy the rural atmosphere centered in middle of the valley and the different activities that can be enjoyed with the changing seasons,” park manager Gary Shelley said.

Those who don’t want a quiet sojourn now have Gateway Parks’ new terrain park and tubing hill for thrills.

The park is located at 4000 W. Hatchery Road in Eagle.

LUCKY PEAK

The Discovery section of Lucky Peak State Park near Lucky Peak Dam makes a great winter picnic spot after a long bike ride on the Greenbelt from Boise or from other valley towns.

You can put in 7 to 10 miles from Downtown Boise on the paved path to get to the park.

A highlight of winter is seeing an eagle flying by as you hang out at the park. You might also see great blue herons in the Boise River below the dam.

BRUNEAU DUNES

You don’t need snow at Bruneau Dunes for sledding. Try sand boarding on the tall, steep dunes. To make it easy, the park rents sand boards.

Too challenging? Snow saucers slide pretty good, too, especially when the dunes are wet.

Duners also use their rock skis and beat-up snowboards to ride downhill.

If that’s too much for you, the park also is the scene of large concentrations of waterfowl that migrate through the area. You may get a chance to see mountain bluebirds and swans.

Or, you can plug in and just set up camp and watch the changing winter light on the dunes.

The park is south of Mountain Home, about an hour from Boise.

THREE ISLAND

Enjoying the quiet solitude of an overnight stay in one of the park’s cabins located along the Snake River is what it’s all about in winter, spokeswoman Katherine Pruett said.

It’s as simple as that. Visitors in winter practically have the state park to themselves. It’s only you and the birds along the Snake River.

Camp cooking? Forget about it. How about pecan crusted Idaho trout at Camela Winery a short stroll away? Have a nice Chardonnay to go with it.

The park is located in Glenns Ferry, just off I-84 about 90 minutes from Boise.

LAKE CASCADE

You can travel from the Treasure Valley in about 2 hours and have choices on how to spend the day — ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, winter camping or even staying in a yurt. There’s lots of variety for playing in the snow.

The big thing is ice fishing for perch and trout.

Snowmobilers can reach groomed trails from the park within a 10- to 15-minute drive. The more adventurous even take off across the frozen lake to hit the trails.

Lake Cascade State Park is a few blocks from the city of Cascade for dining, lodging, groceries and fuel, assistant manager Tracy Osborn said.

PONDEROSA

The state park at McCall has world-class Nordic ski trails that go along scenic Payette Lake and through a dense forest of ponderosa pines.

There are more than 12 miles of groomed ski trails and 3 miles of snowshoe trails.

The park’s deluxe cabins also make it easy to enjoy the trails.

“Wake up in one of the deluxe cabins, have some coffee and enjoy the view,” park office manager Eunice Broome said. “Before leaving out on your adventure, start a hearty meal in the slow cooker.”

THOUSAND SPRINGS

Thousand Springs State Park, southeast of Hagerman, has several different sections scattered between Hagerman and Buhl for winter hiking and bird watching.

The area is laced with waterfalls, springs and a mixture of wetlands, canyons and sage country that are all within a short driving distance of each other.

The first park section is Malad Gorge, a little over 90 minutes on I-84 east of Boise.

MASSACRE ROCKS

Massacre Rocks is unique in the winter because hikers have the opportunity to walk along the Snake River and see some of the river’s bottomlands that can’t be seen in periods of high water, park manager Kevin Lynott said.

There are 8 miles of hiking trails in the area with views of the Snake River canyon. The park’s disc golf course is also open in the winter.

Massacre Rocks is located about 3.5 hours east of Boise on I-84.

HARRIMAN

The first thing you notice when cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Harriman State Park, north of Ashton in eastern Idaho, is the natural music — the notes of the wild.

The swans are trumpeting, the pintails are meee-meeing, the mergansers are croaking and the mallards are quacking.

The park has the perfect combination of wildlife watching and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along a winter wonderland bordering the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. The park has a variety of dorms, yurts, cabins and other rentals available.

It's about 7 hours to the park from the Boise area by taking the freeways to Idaho Falls and north.

HELLS GATE

If you want to experience some of the mildest winter weather in Idaho, this state park along the Snake River at a little over 700 feet in elevation, is the place to be.

The park is the beginning point for winter hiking, trail running and horseback riding on more than 13 miles of trails.

For those who prefer bicycles on pavement, there are more than 20 miles of flat, paved, non-motorized trails that can be enjoyed beginning right from the campgrounds to nearby towns, assistant manager Jeff Smith said.

Asotin and Clarkston, Wash., and downtown Lewiston are all within an enjoyable ride along the Snake River. Restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops and museums are just 4 miles away.

The park has year-round camping and cabins.

CASTLE ROCKS

The state park offers access to some of the most unique snowshoeing (or hiking with lack of snow) trails through City of Rocks National Reserve.

Snowshoers can traverse trails through granite tunnels, around near pinnacles and through mini canyons, all with expansive views of the national monument.

The park is 45 miles southeast of Burley, and it rents snowshoes and park officials will lead hikes for groups by calling in advance at 824-5916.

Camping is available at the state park and more deluxe overnight accommodations are available at The Bunkhouse or Lodge.

PRIEST LAKE

Snowmobilers can access 400 miles of groomed trails from the park’s Indian Creek Campground.

And when it comes to snow and camping, don’t worry. The Indian Creek Campground is open year-round. Five cabins also are available. They can be reached by skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling.

The park also grooms 6 miles of Nordic ski trails, and snowshoe trails are marked.

The boat launch is plowed all winter long for the avid fisherman. Mackinaw fishing picks up in the winter.

“Where else can you have all these recreational opportunities in one spot?” park manager Lonnie Johnson said.

The park is 517 miles north of Boise, so you might want to plan a week-long winter vacation. There’s plenty to do.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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