Perhaps you’ve pitched a tent in the shadow of Bath Rock or pondered the pioneer signatures on Register Rock. Now, it’s time to come back to City of Rocks National Reserve with your skis or your crampons.
Here, five reasons to visit City of Rocks in the winter:
California Trail emigrants called it “the silent city,” and the name stuck for decades: “Silent City of Rocks.”
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Profound silence is something worth experiencing.
Download a printable map of City of Rocks at Nps.gov/ciro.
In winter, when the international crowd of climbers is gone for the season and the campgrounds and picnic tables are mostly deserted, you might have the 14,407-acre park to yourself for hours at a time. And snow hushes any noise that remains.
“There are times that not another sound can be heard except the wind through the pines or a raven,” said Wallace Keck, City of Rocks superintendent.
“Sometimes it’s so deafening, you can hear your heart beat.”
Climbing with crampons
Snow that accumulates on the rocks — then melts and refreezes — transforms this world-class playground for rock climbers into something more treacherous and more challenging.
Climbers with crampons, ice picks and other special gear can climb ice columns, ice-covered sport routes and entirely new routes created by the ice.
City of Rocks sees about a dozen ice climbers every winter. If you’re interested in joining their ranks, get connected with experienced climbers in one of the regional climbing alliances, or contact City of Rocks’ visitor center (208-824-5901) for a list of professional guides and outfitters permitted to operate in the park.
“Get to know other climbers, because it’s not a sport for beginners,” Keck said.
The park doesn’t offer training to climbers during winter.
Ski in solitude
City of Rocks doesn’t groom cross-country ski trails, but most of the camping road loops remain unplowed and make ideal Nordic routes. For a good beginner experience, Keck suggested going to the Circle Creek Overlook trailhead and skiing out to Stripe Rock. Expect a 3- or 4-mile round trip.
More experienced cross-country skiers have made it to the top of 8,867-foot Graham Peak — the park’s highest point — or the 10,339-foot summit of nearby Cache Peak. Here, you’ll ski in a silent, wild place with soaring hawks and eagles for company.
“If you’re looking for a social activity in the outdoors, City of Rocks in the winter is not the place,” Keck said.
Take the photos nobody else has
Some spots in City of Rocks have been photographed again and again: Window Arch, the Morning Glory Spire overlook, Twin Sisters. But your photograph will be unique if you capture it in winter.
Share it on Facebook, Keck said, and your friends will gush: “I’ve never seen it like that.”
Among these rock formations, snow creates shadows and patterns you don’t see in summer. The sun is lower in the sky, and pink tones show up in the snow.
“When you get a foot and a half or two feet of snow and it’s drifted, every shot is different,” Keck said.
Another reason to bring your camera: wildlife photography. Moose and elk move into lower elevations; mule deer congregate in big herds; snowshoe hares and black-tailed jackrabbits clamor over the rocks. You even have a chance of photographing fresh cougar tracks or bighorn sheep.
Stop in at the visitor center — open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturdays — where rangers can point you to the best spots for photography based on current conditions. You won’t have to hunt around for the best snow or be surprised by impassable roads.
Learn your birds
Birders of all ages can join the reserve’s Great Backyard Bird Count on Feb. 12-15 to help create a real-time snapshot of where birds are.
Watch for details on the City of Rocks bird count at Facebook.com/CityOfRocksNPS.
City of Rocks will host counts at the visitor center Friday and Saturday. Bird feeders will be well stocked and binoculars provided. Rangers will teach bird identification skills, use of field guides and techniques for beginners. Sightings will be submitted through eBird.org, and visitors can participate through live tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts.
The event is free, and all bird guides will be discounted that weekend.
Visit City of Rocks
Getting there: Take Interstate 84 east past Twin Falls. Take Exit 216 at Declo. Go south on Idaho 77 to the Conner Creek Junction stop sign, then turn right (west) on Idaho 77 Spur to Almo. The visitor center and park entrance are south of the town’s post office and businesses. Depending on the weather, it’s a 3- to 4-hour trip from Boise.
Getting in: Admission is free year-round, but campers pay a fee