Wednesday, October 24, 2018

City of Rocks National Reserve - Almo, Idaho

City of Rocks National Reserve is a strange collection of massive granite rocks in the southern part of Idaho near the border with Utah and Nevada. The scenery can be enjoyed by anyone of any skill level. There are a number of hikes ranging in distance throughout the reserve. The rocks themselves are popular with rock climbers.

Location: City of Rocks is located near the border between Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. The nearest town is Almo.  The nearest town you may have heard of is Burley which is 50 miles to the north.

Cost: Entrance to the Reserve is Free.  Camping is $12.72 a night with a $10.60 reservation fee.  Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and during the summer months.

Operating Seasons and Hours:  The Reserve is open all year long.  However the roads are gravel and may not be accessible during winter months. The Visitor Center is located in the town of Almo and is open every day from mid April to mid October and open Tuesday through Saturday from mid October through mid April.


Date of Visit: Tuesday and Wednesday, March 20 and 21, 2018

My family decided that our 2018 Road Trip should help us get acquainted with our new home state of Idaho. City of Rocks National Reserve would have been the first stop of the first day of our Idaho Road Trip, but we decided to check it out during Spring Break about a month and a half before the actual road trip.  We very well could have made this the first stop after leaving Pocatello. and then continued on with the rest of the trip.

I read about City of Rocks in my copy of  the Idaho Travel Guide.  The pictures of a landscape dotted with giant boulders intrigued me.  I wanted to see it in person. City of Rocks was close enough to do an overnight camping trip. My youngest had been asking to go camping since the beginning of February and I'd been telling her that we would "go in the spring." Eventually that turned into "We'll go camping at City of Rocks during Spring Break."

I made that promise when the weather was nice, but then it started snowing again and I started to have second thoughts. I figured that we could make up our minds when the date got closer. By Tuesday the weather was still iffy. Brandon and I couldn't rule out the possibility of snow. But we'd also spent a lot of time packing and the kids were hyped beyond the point of no return. Brandon and I decided that even if the weather was terrible it was just an overnight trip and we could live through it.  So we were going camping no matter what.

We decided to leave for the camping trip when I got off work at 5:00.  Brandon and the kids went grocery shopping and packed the car so all I had to do when I got home was change my clothes. 

We drove from our home in Pocatello to Almo, Idaho. The drive was a little over 100 miles and took about an hour and a half. Mostly we passed through farm land.  About a mile south of Almo the road turned to the west and became a gravel road.  Almo was pretty small to begin with, but leaving the paved road made me feel like we were going completely off the map.  

Within a little while we were passing huge boulders.  We had arrived in the City of Rocks.  It was even better than the pictures! It's hard to get an idea of the scale of these rocks when you are looking at a small picture.  It's a whole different experience when you are looking up at the rocks. The rocks were massive outcroppings of granite.  They were strewn about as if some giant had left a haphazard pile of gravel.

This time of year the campground only has walk up campsites so we couldn't make reservations. Part of me was a little nervous about that. This place is pretty popular with rock climbers. I imagined we'd arrive to find the area full of college students enjoying their spring break. But I also knew that the odds of it being completely full on a weekday in March were pretty low. It turns out that I didn't need to worry at all. We were the only ones in the whole area. Later we did see headlights off in the distance, but they turned down another road and we didn't see the owners of the car until the next morning.

We drove around for a little while looking for a campsite. There were so many to choose from, but we needed one with a big enough spot for our giant tent. Our oldest finally spotted the perfect one. For future reference this was site 14. By this time it was after 7:00 and we started putting up the tent before it got dark.

A few things to keep in mind if you are planning to camp in the City of Rocks.  There isn't water available inside the reserve and gathering firewood is not allowed.  So plan to bring your own water and firewood.  There are vault toilets located throughout the campground.

After the tent was up we were able to explore a little bit.  There were large rock outcroppings everywhere.  This slanted one was right by our campsite.  The kids had fun climbing up it and sliding down.
We all went for a little walk to the top of the outcropping above our campsite. Everything was so still and peaceful.
When we came down off the rock we found another good campsite that was located right next to us.  The fire pit was under a large boulder with a cleft in it.

We went back to our own campsite and built a fire at our own fire pit. We'd recently invested in new camp chairs for everyone. The kids finally fulfilled their dreams of having kid sized chairs.

Sitting around the fire was so much fun. Everyone was in good moods and we were all laughing together. I told Brandon, "this makes me want to figure out how to go on vacation full-time." He replied with, "we already did that."

It got cold so it was time to move into the tent. We made a big bed for the kids to share. They had a thick flannel sleeping bag under them and then each kid had a sleeping bag, a large blanket and a small blanket. They were also each in two pairs of pajamas. I knew they would be warm.

Brandon and I had the air mattress, a flannel sleeping bag under us, a sleeping bag over us and a big quilt on top too - or did we. As I started setting up our bed I realized that we were missing the big quilt. We'd left it at home. I briefly considered stealing one of the kids' blankets, but they didn't have one to spare.

So when Brandon came in the tent we braced ourselves for a cold night. Brandon had brought thermal underwear for both of us, and we each had hoodies. I also had a small flannel blanket. I hoped it would be enough. But I spent a long time shivering. At one point we got out of bed and flipped our sleeping bags so that that flannel lined bag was on top. That helped things get warm enough that I could fall asleep.

During the night I could hear what sounded like rain drops falling on the tent. But they were too quiet to be rain. My sleepy brain could not figure out what I was hearing. In the morning, about 5 minutes before I really woke up, I realized what it was - it was snow! I opened my eyes and saw the tent sagging under the weight of snow.

The kids were a little worried when they saw the tent sagging, but Brandon and I assured them that this was not the first time we'd been snowed on. (We'd been snowed on in May of 2011 when the twins weren't even 1 yet.) Brandon went out and shook the tent. The kids liked that.

I had to go to the bathroom and my son was antsy so I took him with me to the restroom. We were both so impressed by how pretty the landscape was. He had a ton of energy and I was in the mood to explore so after using the bathroom we set off on a long walk to Bath Rock. This is where the pay station was so I took a check with me to pay the $12.72 for our campsite.

Bath Rock was really neat so after breakfast I wanted everyone to see it.  We all got into the car and drove down there.  This is one of the features that is popular with rock climbers.
There is a loop trail around the rock so we went on a hike around that.
 We also walked down the road to the trail head for Window Arch.  The trail isn't very long - I'd say about 500 feet. From pictures I had seen I expected Window Arch to be bigger, but really it is about the size of a large window.

We were all really cold from all the walking in the snow so everyone was happy to get back into the warm car.  The kids announced that they were done hiking and took their shoes off to prove the point.  So we just drove around and looked at things after that.

This outcropping is another popular spot with Rock Climbers.

I'd hoped that the weather would improve as the day went on, but that didn't seem to be the case. It started snowing again and we didn't see an end in sight. So we drove back to the campsite. Brandon and I took down the tent while the kids stayed in the car and had access to all the snacks. They were just fine with that situation. We got everything into the car and said goodbye to City of Rocks. We will definitely be back.

But we weren't quite done exploring yet. Castle Rock State Park is to the north of City of Rocks. We drove there to check it out.  We had our Idaho State Park Pass that I'd ordered ahead of time so we got into the park for free.  Otherwise we would have had to pay $4.00

Castle Rock State Park is smaller than City of Rocks National Reserve and doesn't have a campground.  But there were some promising looking trails and picnic areas. It's also at a different elevation so there wasn't any snow on the ground.  Unfortunately the kids made it clear they were done with hiking for the day. Next time we make it back to this part of Idaho I want to plan some time for a visit to Castle Rock State Park.

Recommendation: There are those who would say that City of Rocks is just for rock climbers, but that is not the case.  Anyone of any ability can enjoy the unique scenery in this hidden part of Idaho.

Directions: City of Rocks National Reserve is located 5 miles west of Almo.  The most direct route is to take Highway 77 from Interstate 86 and then travel south on the Elba-Almo Highway. In Almo you'll travel West on City of Rocks Road.  That will take you into the reserve.

Places Nearby: Durfee Hot Springs is located along the highway in Almo.  They have three pools of various sizes and boast that the waters are the perfect complement to hiking and climbing in the City of Rocks.

Next Stop:  When we officially started our Idaho Road Trip we started at Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls. We very easily could have camped at City of Rocks and then continued on to Shoshone Falls the next day.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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