Ada County’s Oregon Trail Recreation Area provides a different perspective of Boise and the Treasure Valley.
First, the views — a unique look straight down the Boise River valley along the Foothills to the Downtown Boise skyline. Use the trail system in the evening and you might get some dramatic sunset lighting, too.
Then, the history — with interpretive signs placed at several locations on the property explaining the history of American Indians, settlers and wildlife in the Boise area.
It’s not the refined trail experience of the Ridge to Rivers system. The non-motorized Oregon Trail property doesn’t have a formal trail, rutted former roads provide most of the surface and weeds will put foxtails in your socks.
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What it lacks in polish, it makes up for with the unique vantage point.
“It’s one of the first views that those emigrants on the Oregon Trail saw of the valley,” said Scott Koberg, director of Ada County Parks and Waterways. “As they sought water down in the valley — it was hot coming across the Snake River Plain — they finally found access to the river. That’s pretty interesting, to see it from their eyes.”
Koberg recommends avoiding the property on summer afternoons when it’s hot and dusty — but that’s also when you’d get the best feel for what the emigrants faced. An interpretive sign says most Oregon Trail users crossed the area in August.
“The choking dust of the dry desert and long stretches without water made travel extremely unpleasant,” the sign reads. “Seeing the Boise River valley gave them hope.”
Stats: My walk covered 2.65 miles and about 100 feet of elevation gain. I went to the left of the large interpretive center at the trailhead and followed the canyon rim for the views, eventually reaching Columbia Road. I followed roughly the same route back, but there are several options to mix it up.
Getting there: Trailhead access is on the south side of Idaho 21 in Southeast Boise, directly across from Lake Forest Drive. Dogs are allowed.