On the Snake River, spread out over 484,000 acres in southwest Idaho, the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA) preserves habitat for majestic creatures like eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons. These raptors spend their time in the Snake River Canyon nesting in the cracks and crevices of the cliffs and soaring in the warm air currents chasing their prey.
While viewing the birds is one of the main draws of this NCA, there are also plenty of other opportunities to spot animals. When you've exhausted all the options for wildlife viewing, you can go hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and picnicking. All this without leaving the BLM land and under an hour south of the major city of Boise.
In 1993, Congress established the NCA for the protection of the highest concentration of nesting raptors in North America. In 2009, the BLM property's name was changed to Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area to honor a man who dedicated his life to protecting the birds and their habitat. Since 1940, Morley Nelson documented the birds of prey on film, emphasized their importance, and petitioned the government for special protection.
When visiting the NCA, RV camping is a popular overnight solution. The BLM offers one main campground with facilities as well as two primitive campgrounds for tents, trailers, and motorhomes. It's a great place to spend a few days exploring this picturesque region. You can easily head to nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument or the Sawtooth National Forest to round out your RV road trip.
Most visitors to Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area come via Boise. The drive south is on city roads and interstates that are large and paved with most of the journey being through the city suburbs. The road is straight and easy to navigate in an RV or motorhome. The roads can be subject to traffic during rush hour and the busy summer season.
Once at the NCA, most roads are also paved, although occasionally you'll encounter gravel and dirt roads as well. The campground at the Cove Recreation Site consists of gravel roads that are easy to use in a big rig. The area is open and flat, so visibility is good.
If you're visiting Snake River Birds of Prey NCA in the winter, snow can be expected. Check weather reports before heading out and allow extra time in poor weather. Carry winter tires, scrapers, and other winter gear to be on the safe side.
RVers will have no trouble finding suitable parking at the NCA. All the recreation areas within the BLM land have designated parking areas.
At the Snake River Birds of Prey NCA, the Cove Recreation Site Campground is the only one with facilities. Situated on the C.J. Strike Reservoir, this campground boasts 28 RV sites and a few more tent-only sites. The campsites have direct access to the reservoir or a view of it, making this a popular camping area. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A unique feature of this pet-friendly BLM campground is that each of the RV sites has a large shelter. Enjoy protection from the rain and hot summer sun, as well as an efficient wind block from the clear walls. Although there are no hookups here, campers can enjoy many amenities to make their stay pleasant, like vault toilets. A dump station is also available for campers' convenience. Fishing is a big draw here demonstrated by the small fishing dock and boat ramp. Easy access to hiking trails and a swimming beach will keep the whole family happy.
If you're heading to Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and prefer more rustic camping, two spots are ideal for you. There is a primitive BLM campground near Swan Falls. The other one is close to the visitor center and Celebration Park. Don't expect any services at either location, but at least the camping is free. No reservations are available at either location.
Lovers of archaeology should consider staying at Celebration Park. The area has a rich history as the wintering grounds of Paiute Indians and features art from over 12,000 years ago.
The Swan Falls Campground offers five riverfront designated sites, upriver from the Swan Falls Dam. It's close to Dedication Point for campers doing any wildlife viewing. Access is via a dirt road, and although there are sites for larger RVs, space is limited.
Campers staying at the Cove Recreation Site on C.J. Strike Reservoir can catch several different types of game fish. The constant water level is conducive to fishing by boat or from shore. No matter your favorite fish, the odds are good you'll find it here.
Popular catches in this reservoir at Snake River Birds of Prey NCA include both small and largemouth bass, trout, yellow perch, crappie, and channel catfish. Your efforts may also yield bluegill, bullhead, or sturgeon. Most of these game fish are found in the Snake River as well, along with Chinook Salmon.
It's obvious from the name of this NCA that bird watching, specifically raptor watching, is the cornerstone of what makes this area special. You can find birds of prey in the Snake River Canyon year-round, although certain activities can only be observed at specific times during the year. Watch out for spectacular flight displays by the eagles in March and the young raptors taking their first flights around June.
The main draws at Snake River Birds of Prey NCA are eagles, falcons, owls, and hawks. In all, there are hundreds of breeding pairs. The BLM property has from 150 to 200 breeding pairs of prairie falcons alone, highest in the world.
One of the best places to watch, photograph, and film these awe-inspiring birds of prey is at Dedication Point. The quarter-mile trail takes you to an overlook on the Snake River Canyon. You'll also find informative interpretive signs about the raptors, geology of the area, and other wildlife.
The weather in the Snake River Canyon is generally five to ten degrees warmer than the surrounding area. If you spend time here bird watching, hiking, or biking, you will need to cool off. The Snake River is welcoming, although all swimming here is unsupervised.
The C.J. Strike Reservoir is another great place for a soak. There is a small beach for campers and day users near the cove and swimming here is also done at your own risk.
Hikers have an extensive trail system to explore at Snake River Birds of Prey NCA. The Halverson Lake Trail System is a favorite on the west side of the NCA. If you can invest the time, one of the best ways to see the BLM property is by hiking a loop to all the attractions. Spot wildlife along the way and take in the gorgeous scenery.
The ideal loop has hikers starting at the Initial Point Observation Deck with views of the Owyhee Mountains from the lava butte. Next, head to Dedication Point for raptor viewing, and then on to Swan Falls Dam. End your hike at Celebration Park. Allow three to four hours to do the entire tour.
One of the main reasons so many majestic birds of prey frequent the Snake River Canyon is the abundance of prey animals to hunt. Visitors can catch a glimpse of ground squirrels and jackrabbits, the common food source for the raptors.
The BLM property is also a habitat for larger animals worth photographing. Hikers along the river can see coyote and deer on the river banks or spot river otters and beavers in the water.
Always be alert when traveling through the area and have your binoculars, camera, and wildlife guides handy.
Snake River Birds of Prey National Recreation Area offers ample locations ideal for spring, fall, or summer picnic. Take a blanket and set up your meal in the Snake River Canyon. Pick a spot by the river and keep an eye out for soaring raptors above.
For more official picnic facilities, head to the Swan Falls Picnic Area, near Dedication Point. There are picnic tables here and a large, reservable group picnic shelter. You can also take advantage of the restrooms, fishing docks, and equestrian facilities.