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The City of Rocks National Reserve, which was officially established in 1988, is not only an Idaho geological wonder but also an important part of the country’s history. The City of Rocks was a popular stopping spot for pioneers and settlers traveling along the California Trail between 1843 and 1882. Because so many caravans sheltered among these rocks, a temporary tent city was established here, allowing people to replenish their supplies and trade for goods.
The steady flow of caravans carved out deep grooves into the bedrock that are still visible today. Many travelers also signed their names in axle grease on rocks along the trail, essentially indicating that “I was here.” These historically-significant examples of graffiti are still visible today (visitors to City of Rocks National Reserve are asked to not touch these signatures to help preserve them).
The closest large town is Burley, ID, which is just under 50 miles to the north. In addition to a variety of shopping and dining option, it has a small hospital that is equipped to handle most health emergencies. Burley is a “young” city, established in the early 1900s. Much of its economy is centered around outdoor recreation, and it’s well known for its annual “Spudman Triathlon,” which regularly has over 2,000 participants. It is one of the largest triathlons in the country. Rent an RV and prepare to embark on a memorable RV camping trip of a lifetime in Cassia County, ID.
City of Rocks National Reserve sprawls across 14,400 acres of some of Idaho’s most rugged terrains. Save for a few months in early spring; water is extremely scarce. The land is rolling, blanketed by desert-hardy plants like sagebrush and bitterbrush. Jags of rocks poke through the earth like splinters. Because the terrain is grueling and challenging to navigate, hikers and horseback riders should be experienced at orienteering.
There are over 22 miles of hiking trails, many of which lead to unusual geological features like pillars, spires, fins, and arches. Hikers and horseback riders can go off-trail into the backcountry. Bringing extra water is highly recommended, and though this isn’t bear country, practicing basic food storage likewise is recommended. Small critters like rabbits and chipmunks are notorious for chewing through soft containers to get to the food.
Due to an abundance of unusual rock shapes, the City of Rocks National Reserve is an extremely popular rock-climbing destination. There are over 600 established routes ranging from 5.6 (very easy) to 5.14a (extremely difficult). To put it in perspective, the hardest route in the world is rated 5.14d. Note that establishing new permanent anchors and bolts requires permits to be obtained from the park office, and drilling new bolts without permission carries a hefty fine. The park office operates introductory classes currently Monday through Sundays between April and September.
At a glance, City of Rocks National Reserve might seem like a barren wasteland. On the contrary, it teems with life. At night, in particular. Most animals avoid extreme heat by resting during the day and foraging at night. Photographers and nature lovers, bring low-light cameras and night-vision binoculars to enjoy moose, mountain cottontail, jackrabbit, and mule deer. There are coyotes and mountain lions in the area, but they tend to be difficult to find.
Being far from a motel, it’s practically a requirement to rent an RV to enjoy the City of Rocks National Reserve to its fullest. City of Rocks National Reserve RV campground has 64 sites, all of which are accompanied by fire rings and picnic tables. There are vault toilets, too. Though the campground does not have running water, there is drinking water available in the picnic area. Reservations are recommended.
Should space run out, which is common during the peak season, Smoky Mountain Campground in Almo, ID, has 38 sites with electric and water hookups. Most sites have parking pads, and also has flush toilets and showers, which is an unheard-of luxury in remote Idaho wilderness.
As enticing as City of Rocks National Reserve is, the small towns scattered across southern Idaho too are full of charm and history. Rupert operates Minidoka County Historical Museum, which has on display over 600 antique bottles and glass jars left behind by pioneers, rifles, and guns used by settlers in the late 1800s, Native American artifacts, and even fossils that were found locally. Also nearby is the Historic Wilson Theater, which was built at the height of Roaring 20s. In addition to hosting entertainment acts, concerts, and musicals, the venue also is open to tours.
Pomerelle Mountain Resort is one of the oldest ski resorts in the western USA. The small family-run facility has 24 runs that are designed to delight everyone from beginners to expert skiers alike. The facility is also open in summers. Ride a lift to the top and tackle the slopes on a mountain bike or on foot.
At the end of a long day of adventuring and exploring, retreat into a camper rental and enjoy the sounds of nature as you drift off to sleep, as you find your bliss in Idaho.