Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Niagara Springs - Twin Falls, Idaho

Most of the canyon walls of the Snake River Canyon look the way you'd expect canyon walls to look; rocky edges tumbling down to the river bottoms with a large river flowing below.  But some parts of the canyon walls don't look like that at all. These parts of the canyon have water gushing out of the canyon wall. Niagara Springs is one of these places. Above the spring is a hill of lifeless rock. Below the spring is a lush green oasis made possible by the water that has made a nearly 100 mile journey through basalt.

Location: Niagara Springs is located on the north canyon wall of the Snake River Canyon. It is about a 25 mile drive west of Twin Falls.  It is 11 miles south of I-84 in Wendell. Niagara Springs is one of the units that make up Thousand Springs State Park.

Hiking Distance and Time: Niagara Springs is next to the road inside the canyon. The parking lot is located within steps of the springs.

Cost: Thousand Springs State Park has an entrance fee of $5, however, if you are just driving by the springs you do not need to pay the fee. The Niagara Springs Fish Hatchery is also near the springs and is free to visit.

Operating Seasons and Hours: The springs are available every day all year long.  Daylight hours are the best time to visit.  The Niagara Springs Fish Hatchery is open to visitors every day from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm.

Official Websiteshttps://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/thousand-springs and https://idfg.idaho.gov/visit/hatchery/niagara-springs

Date of Visit: Saturday, May 5, 2018

Niagara Springs was third stop of the first day of the Idaho Road Trip my family went on in May of 2018. We left the Perrine Memorial Bridge and drove 20 miles northwest to Niagara Springs.

I put Niagara Springs on my list of things to see near Idaho Falls after I read about it in a roadside guidebook and on a few websites. Everyone kept mentioning Niagara Springs as a great place to visit, but it took me a little while to figure out what the area is actually like, and honestly I didn't really understand it until I visited the springs in person. I'm going to try to explain Niagara Springs so that you don't experience the same confusion I did.

Before we talk about Niagara Springs I need to pause and do some explaining for those of us who are not familiar with Twin Falls Area geography or navigation.

1. Grades are roads that lead down into a canyon from the rim. At first I didn't understand what it meant when my directions told me to take the Niagara Springs Grade.

2. The Snake River canyon around Twins Falls doesn't just have sheer cliffs that drop directly into the Snake River.  There are certainly parts of the canyon with that topography, but in other parts of the canyon the cliffs drop down to large banks that eventually slope into the river. Before I understood this I didn't understand that the grades (roads) were down in the canyon. I thought that all the roads skirted the canyon rim.

Niagara Springs is located about 25 miles west of Twin Falls. The Niagara Springs Grade takes you down from the canyon rim to the wide bank on the side of the river.  The road is gravel, but cars, trucks, and SUV's will do just fine on the road.  The decent is a little steep, but once you are down in the canyon, the road is fairly level. The road is between the north canyon wall and the river.
After traveling in the canyon for about a mile and a half you will see Niagara Springs gushing out from the canyon wall on the north side of the Snake River. There is a small parking area and a little walkway that takes you to a view point for the springs.
Niagara Springs is notable for three reasons.  1. The water has a high oxygen content which gives it a blue color. 2. The water comes out of the ground at a constant temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit. 3. With a flow of over 250 cubic feet per second it has an astounding output of water.  
Niagara Springs isn't the only spring along the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. Eleven of the 65 highest output springs in the US are located along this section of the Snake River.  They are part of the Eastern Snake Rive Plain Aquifer. Water enters the aquifer to the east near Island Park and travels west through basalt rock under areas that include the Craters of the Moon National Monument. The water exits the rock in springs along the north side of the Snake River Canyon. 

Many of the springs along the Snake River Canyon are part of Thousand Springs State Park.  Thousand Springs State Park is made up of six different units (Malad Gorge, Kelton Trail, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, Billingsley Creek, Ritter Island, Niagara Springs/Crystal Springs). These units are not connected, but they are all within a short drive of each other. Park Headquarters are at the Malad Gorge unit, but it is not necessary to visit that unit before visiting the other units. 

Ideally, my family would have visited each unit of Thousand Springs State Park on this road trip, but there were so many interesting things to do around Twin Falls that we didn't have time for all of Thousand Springs State Park on this trip.  We were able to make it to two of the units, (Niagara Springs and Malad Gorge) and we saw the Ritter Island Unit as we drove by on the other side of the river later in the day. In subsequent visits I have been able to check out the Kelton Trail, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, and Billingsley Creek Units.

My family was very impressed by the spring water.  These are not quiet, trickling springs.  The water is literally gushing out of the canyon wall with all the speed and force of a waterfall.  Another impressive feature of the springs is the blue hue to the water.  This is an indicator of the water's high oxygen content. 
The Idaho Power Company owns the Niagara Springs Fish Hatchery that is located on the other side of the road from Niagara Springs. The spring water is used in this hatchery to raise Steelhead.  The high oxygen content and temperature of the water cause the fish to grow twice as fast as they would in regular river water.  You can take a tour of the Fish Hatchery between the hours of 7:00 am and 3:30 pm every day of the week.

Outside the fish hatchery there is a little park with picnic benches and a fishing pond. The park is free to use, but you do need a state fishing license to fish.
Thousand Springs State Park also has a day use area just a few yards up the road from Niagara Springs.  This area has picnic benches, a pavilion, and restrooms. While we were there I saw tents so I assumed this was a regular campground as well.  But in researching this post I found out that you can only camp at Niagara Springs if you meet two qualifications:  1. You have to have prior approval from the park. And 2. you have to be a group of 25 people or more.  

Niagara Springs isn't the only sight to see in this part of the canyon.  If you keep traveling on the Niagara Springs Grade for about another mile and a half you will come to Crystal Springs.  We actually didn't see Crystal Springs.  We stopped at a waterfall that we thought was Crystal Springs.  If we'd continued we would have passed Crystal Springs Lake. It's not really a lake, but it is made from the runoff from Crystal Springs.  Past that we would have come to a road that went to our left toward the canyon wall.  If we'd followed that road it would have taken us to Crystal Springs.   I'll mark it on the map down below so you don't make the same mistake we did.
The Snake River itself is also very pretty.  There is a boat ramp located before Crystal Springs Lake if you want to take a boat onto the river.  We didn't do that, but we did enjoy watching pelicans swim on the river. I used to get so excited when we saw pelicans in Texas and Alabama, I didn't know I could also see them in Idaho.
I'm glad that I was able to see Niagara Springs, but I wish I'd been able to understand more about the area before I visited. We didn't plan time to visit the Fish Hatchery and we didn't get to see the real Crystal Springs.  About a year later my family came back for a second visit and had a much better time because we understood the area better.

Recommendation: Niagara Springs is a cool geologic feature. The spring provides an oasis for plants and animals and is a picturesque stop for people.

Directions: Niagara Springs is on the North Side of the Snake River Canyon.  The most direct way there from I-84 is to take Exit 157 in Wendell and then travel south on the Rex Leland Highway to the Niagara Springs Grade which will take you down into the canyon and past the springs.

Places Nearby: Our next stop was supposed to be the Ritter Island Unit of Thousand Springs State Park to see the Minnie Miller Spring.  Before it was part of the State Park this area was known as the Thousand Springs Preserve and was owned by the Nature Conservancy.  This is on the same side of the canyon and river as Niagara Springs.

However, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a road that took us over the Snake River.  So rather than turn around we just decided to head towards Bulh where another place on my list was located.

Next Stop: Balanced Rock southwest of Buhl.

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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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