This past weekend, the family hit the highway with the fifth-wheel and headed four hours east to Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park, roughly 12 miles from the Utah border. The weekend got off to a less than promising start as no sooner had we parked and unhitched the trailer when the skies opened up, and a mini monsoon was unleashed, followed by hail.
After about 20 minutes, the rains let up, the skies began to clear, and we were treated to a double rainbow. The rest of the weekend stayed in the upper 80s, 15-20 degrees cooler than back home in Boise.
We stayed in Smoky Mountain Campground, which features 32 sites with water and electric hookups, roughly a third of them pull-thru sites. (There is also an equestrian loop with a handful of additional sites.) Our pull-thru site was a bit more challenging to maneuver that others as the arc of the site was pretty sharp and required a few tries to get the trailer situated. Our site had a bit of shade, but most of the pull-thru sites are more open, with the shadiest sites being back-in. Shadiest, however, is a relative turn as none of the sites is fully shaded. This is high desert, after all.
Smoky Mountain is fairly well laid out. A few of the sites are almost on top of one another and would serve best for a group of friends, but most of the sites have decent spacing between them. The campground also has flush toilets and showers on site, as well as garbage and recycling service although, oddly enough, I did not see a recycling container for cardboard or paper. They do, however, collect glass for recycling.
As enjoyable as the campground was, though, the highlight of the trip was City of Rocks National Reserve, part of the national Park Service but administered by Idaho Parks and Recreation. The reserve is a popular location for rock climbers and features close to 70 mostly tent-only campsites. A park ranger told me the area was packed in June. With the warmer weather, the areas was not as crowded, though it was still busy.
The unique rock formations are vaguely reminiscent of the Badlands of South Dakota and the hoodoos of Utah, although the coloring is not as vivid. Just after you enter the reserve, there is a turn-off to the right that leads to an overlook where there are several hiking trails (also open to horseback). The road warns against taking anything longer than 20-feet up the road, though we handled it easily in our F-350 dually.
There are numerous picture-taking opportunities, along with a handful of hiking trails interspersed throughout. BLM land is also part of the mix, so it was not unusual to see cattle grazing or walking along the road. Although some of the youngsters were a bit spooked by our presence, most of the older cattle had seen enough vehicular traffic to ignore us as we drove past.
While not as well-known as the Oregon Trail, the area does have some historical significance in terms of the settling of the West. The California Emigrant Trail, widely used between 1845 and 1869, passes through here after breaking off from the Oregon Trail. An alternate trail from the Salt Lake area joins the California trail here. This trail also served as a stage route between Utah and Boise up into the early 1880s. If you are into old ruins, there is also the remainder of an early 20th-century house within the reserve. The Circle Creek Rock House was built by a rock mason and house builder in 1905 and used 18-inch thick rock walls for insulation.
There were two downsides to our weekend at City of Rocks and Castle Rocks State Park. One, it was much too short. I could easily see spending a week or more exploring the area in and around the park. The second downside was all of the gnats and small flies we encountered. There may also have been the odd mosquito, but with all of the other nearly microscopic flying insects I kept waving off, it was hard to tell. Despite that inconvenience, this is an area I want to visit again. Next time, though, I’ll stay longer. I’ll also remember the insect repellent.