Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ritter Island - Hagerman, Idaho - Re-visit


Ritter Island is an interesting feature along the shores of the Snake River west of Twin Falls, Idaho. The waters of the Snake River surround one side of the island. The other side of the island is surrounded by runoff from Minnie Miller Spring - one of the many natural springs along this section of the Snake River. The island and some of the surrounding shoreline is part of Thousand Springs State Park.

Location: Located about 5 miles southwest of Wendell, ID at approximately 1205 Thousand Springs Grade, Wendell, ID.

Hiking Distance and Time: There are several trails in the Ritter Island Area. The trail around the island is just under 1.5 mile round trip. There trail that runs upstream on the Snake River is a little over 1 mile one way. The Trail Map can be found here.

Cost: $5 per car or free with your Idaho State Park Pass

Operating Seasons and Hours:
Memorial Day Weekend 10:00 am until 3:00 pm and then Thursday through Monday until Labor Day weekend.

Helpful Websites: https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/ritter-island-history and https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/thousand-springs

Date of Visit: Saturday, May 5, 2018, Saturday February 16, 2019, and Saturday April 6, 2019

This section of Thousand Springs State Park was the fifth stop of the first day of the Idaho Road Trip my family went on in May of 2018. We left Balanced Rock and then drove north on Highway 30. We were heading to Hagerman, but we were pleasantly surprised to see the Ritter Island Unit of Thousand Springs State Park from Highway 30.



My family went on our Idaho Road Trip in May of 2018, but I didn't really start to write about the places we saw until that winter. I wrote a post about Ritter Island, but it was a different post than I usually write.  We hadn't actually made it to Ritter Island on that road trip. We'd gotten a little lost and ended up on a different route. We were able to see Ritter Island and Minnie Miller Spring from the other side of the Snake River, but that was it. So when I wrote about Ritter Island it was more of a "things I'd wish we'd been able to see" type post.

As I wrote the post I realized I wanted to do a proper visit to Ritter Island. In February of 2019 my husband and I went to Boise to visit one of the places where he was interested in working.  On our way back to Pocatello we stopped in the Thousand Spring Area and went to Ritter Island.

This was easier said than done. We didn't have a good map of the area and I was just relying on memory. There aren't a lot of signs leading to Ritter Island.  And much of the area surrounding the Snake River is flat farm land.  Even though I knew there was a huge river canyon nearby it was impossible to see.  We ended up driving around with only the vaguest idea of where we were going.

Eventually we found the grade that took us down into the canyon. As we drove on the road we passed small springs. The run off from the springs was directed into a channel that ran along the side of the road.
There is a small parking lot at the bottom of the grade. We parked there and then walked across the bridge to Ritter Island.  This was actually pretty unusual. Normally the island is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but for some reason the gate was open this day in February.

Before I show you things on the island I feel it's important to re-share some things I wrote for my original post about Ritter Island.  This will help you understand the area. (Trust me, it's took me  some time to sort all this out.)

Thousand Springs Area - This is a section of the Snake River Canyon where many natural springs burst out of different areas of the canyon wall.

Ritter Island - An island ringed by the Snake River water on one side and run off from natural springs on the other. This was formerly the Thousand Springs Nature Preserve. Now it is part of Thousand Springs State Park. The name comes from a family that owned the island.

Thousand Springs Nature Preserve - This was a section of the Thousand Springs Area that was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1986. It included Ritter Island and about 2 miles of land along the northeast bank of the Snake River Canyon. This area has several natural springs and is an important habitat for birds and other animals. In 2006 the land was donated to the State of Idaho and became the Ritter Island Unit of Thousand Springs State Park.

Thousand Springs State Park - This is an Idaho State Park that 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. Thousand Springs State Park includes sections of the Thousand Springs Area.

Minnie Miller Spring -
the largest spring near Ritter Island. The spring is named after a businesswoman who owned the island in the 1920s and 30s and turned it into a dairy farm. Many of the structures on the island date back to Minnie Miller's time on the island.

Feel free to refer back to these descriptions if you get confused while reading this post.

There are a few notable structures on the island.  One is the rock house.  This was constructed back when the island was privately owned. Now that this is a state park you can rent the house and stay in it.
Another notable structure is the barn.  This island was a dairy farm for several decades.  Behind the barn you can see some things constructed by Idaho Power to contain the run off from most of the springs in the area.
 There is one spring that is not touched by Idaho Power.  Minnie Miller Spring is the only spring along this section of the Snake River where the water goes directly from the canyon walls to the Snake River without being diverted. Most of the springs in the area have water diverted for fish hatcheries or agriculture.
 The island is very flat and there are few trees.  So it's easy to walk around and see the views.
There was a man-made waterfall near the southern end of the island. My husband and I posed for a picture, but we didn't walk close to the waterfall.  I wasn't wearing good walking shoes and we were also getting a little worried about the weather.
A few months later in April we came back to Ritter Island with our children after another visit to Boise. On this visit the gate to the island was closed so we went for a walk along the canyon wall to the waterfall.
The waterfall was very pretty, but I've since heard that it is no longer there.  I'll have to go for another visit to Ritter Island to check it out.  If you know what happened to the waterfall please leave a comment. 


Recommendation: Last time I wrote about Ritter Island I couldn't give a recommendation because I hadn't actually been there.  This time I can say that Ritter Island is a charming place to visit. It's not exactly a "high adventure" place, but it is a great place to go for a walk.  The springs in the area make the area feel rather exotic even though you are still in Southern Idaho. 

Directions: Ritter Island is hard to find without a map.  There are small signs for the island on only a few of the roads.  Here are the directions, but I suggest either using your GPS or picking up a map of the area at either Malad Gorge or the Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center. Whether you are coming from Hagerman or Wendell, you'll want to find 2900 South (from Hagerman it's called the Vader Grade.)  Turn south onto 1300 East.  Drive south on 1300 East. You will pass 3200 South. Immediately after 3200 South you will see a road to your right. This is the Thousand Springs Grade. It will take you down to the parking lot for Ritter Island. 


Additional Information: For an excellent description of how to enjoy the water around the island follow this link.

Places Nearby: 1000 Springs Resort is across the Snake River from Ritter Island. My family stayed there on our April 2019 visit.

Next Stop: Our next stop on our 2018 Idaho Road Trip was Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Visitor Center. Our next stop on our April 2019 visit was Earl M Hardy Box Canyon Spring.

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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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