I’ve got a soft spot for Ritter Island in the Thousand Springs region near Hagerman.
More than 20 years ago, I visited the island for the first time, when a Nature Conservancy official offered to take me canoeing around the island. The conservancy was working on raising funds to buy the island, and later, it turned the park over to Idaho Parks and Recreation for everyone to enjoy.
I remember seeing that pure spring water for the first time, running my hands through it, and listening to the gentle water flow in a channel next to the island. It’s possible to canoe, stand-up paddleboard or kayak on that channel and do circles around the island while enjoying the springs cascading from the Snake River cliffs, the outlet for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
Ritter Island is a sweet place to visit this time of year as the weather warms up. The springs are flowing, spring plants and flowers are blooming and it’s an easy place to access for spring hiking and sightseeing for the family.
Ritter Island is one of five units in Thousand Springs State Park. It’s easiest to access from the Wendell exit on Interstate 84, but also accessible from Highway 30, the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway. Look up the park-locator map on parksandrecreation.idaho .gov for driving directions. The park is about 1.5 hours from Boise.
Many people think of Ritter Island as the central feature of the Thousand Springs region because of the springs that flow there. One of the last remaining natural springs in the Thousand Springs complex is Minnie Miller Springs, named after an enterprising Utah woman who built a successful dairy farm on Ritter Island in the early 1900s.
A walking trail leads to Minnie Miller Springs from the old dairy barn. It might be a quarter-mile to the springs, where you can have a lunch by a bench or picnic table and enjoy the sounds and sights.
There also is a grassy hiking trail around the island, and there’s a hiking trail from the park entrance to an area called “Bonnieview,” named after Minnie Miller’s daughter. Bonnie liked to hike out to the Snake River and enjoy the views, where the clear spring channel meets the river.
These are kid-friendly hikes on mostly flat ground.
While you’re at the park, you have to tour the dairy barn to soak in the history.
“Minnie Miller’s goal was to find the purest Guernsey dairy cow she could find, and have the purest and No. 1 herd in the nation,” park manager Dave Landrum notes. “She created this barn that was way ahead of its time, and she reached her goal.”
In September, Ritter Island hosts a popular Arts & Crafts Festival, something to keep in mind for late summer.
In the meantime, enjoy the island. There’s RV camping and hotels in Hagerman if you’d like to stay overnight, and some great places to eat. Try the Snake River Grill (great local fresh fish).
Ritter Island is open year-round, Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call (208) 837-4505.
Steve Stuebner is a longtime Idaho outdoors writer. He will write occasional columns for Playing Outdoors.