Most state parks are fairly simple. There are a few interesting features surrounded by property that is all owned by the state. You pay your fee to get in and then you can visit the interesting features while travelling on roads that are all within the park. You have an easy to read map that guides you around the park and there are plenty of signs that reassure you that you are travelling in the right direction.

That's not the case with Thousand Springs State Park in Southern Idaho.

Thousand Spring State Park is complicated and confusing.

There are six different units of the park that are all separate from each other. You have to travel on public roads past farms and homes to reach the various units. The maps provided by the park aren't very detailed. And the few signs put up for the units are all very small.

Further complicating things is the fact that the website for the state park is vague on the details about the features within the units. And google maps uses different names for the areas than what the state parks calls them - if they are listed at all.

When I planned my first trip to Southern Idaho I could not figure out Thousand Springs State Park. In fact, I wan't even aware that I had plans to visit Thousand Springs State Park. All I knew was that I wanted to visit Malad Gorge State Park, Niagara Springs State Park, and Thousand Springs Preserve. I had no idea that all three of those places were really different units of Thousand Springs State Park.

When my family visited the area in May of 2018 we were able to locate all three of the places on my list. But there were a lot of questions and wrong turns in the process.

Even with that frustrating first experience I really enjoyed visiting Thousand Springs State Park. In fact, my family ended up moving to Twin Falls in 2019 - in part because of that initial visit to Southern Idaho.

We've visited Thousand Springs State Park a few times since that first trip. I still don't feel like an expert on the state park, but I feel confident enough to pass on some insights that will make your first visit easier than mine.

Location

First, let's talk about where this Idaho State Park is located. In a general sense, the park is located in Southern Idaho. It is 100 miles southeast of Boise and about 25 miles west of Twin Falls.

The six sections of the park are spread out over almost 30 miles. Each unit is within a short drive of the other units, but expect to do some back tracking if you want to visit them all in the same day.

All the units are located on the northwestern side of the Snake River canyon.  Three units are down in the canyon by the river while the other three units are located on the flat lands above the canyon rim.

The town of Hagerman could be considered the closest town. It is only 6 miles from the most northern unit of the park. Wendell, Idaho is also fairly close to some of the units.

Two units are located almost literally under I-84. One unit is visible from across the river on Highway 30 (Thousand Springs Scenic Byway). Another unit is fairly close to Highway 30.

Where does the name come from?

This area of the Snake River canyon has many natural springs. I don't know if there are a thousand, but there are easily hundreds. 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.

Cost

As with all Idaho State Parks admission to this park costs only $5 per car. That $5 will get you into all six of the units - as long as you visit them on the same day. Each unit should have a fee drop box where you can pay your fee and get an envelope stub to put on your car windshield.

If you are an Idaho resident you can get a State Park pass for only $10. The pass is good for 12 months. You can buy the pass at your County DMV office when you pay for your vehicle's registration or other times throughout the year. The pass is a window decal that you'll attach to the windshield of your vehicle.

If you are not an Idaho resident you can still buy a state park pass, but it will cost you $40. We had to do this when we first moved to Idaho because we still had out of state plates. Even $40 is a great deal compared to other state park pass prices in other states.

Hours

All units are open from dawn to dusk. None of the units have campgrounds. Though there are two houses you can rent at one unit, and a group camping area for groups with special permission at another unit.

Several of the units are technically only open during summer months. However, you can generally visit the areas all year long. There just wont be staff or facilities available.

Unit Names and Details

Listing off the names of the units is quite the mouthful.  The six units are named: Malad Gorge, Kelton Trail, Billingsley Creek, Ritter Island, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, and Niagara Springs/Crystal Springs.

Let's go over these units in detail. We'll start with the northernmost unit and work our way south.

Malad Gorge AKA Malad Gorge State Park
Park headquarters are located at Malad Gorge, but it is not necessary to visit this unit in order to visit the other units.

The feature of interest is the Malad Gorge, a 255 deep canyon carved by the Malad River. You can walk over the gorge on a sturdy metal bridge and look down to see where the river has carved a deep chasm. It's a very impressive sight.

A large bridge carries I-84 over the Malad Gorge and Exit 147 is just south of the gorge so it is very easy to stop at this unit if you are travelling between Twin Falls and Boise.

Other features of interest are ATV trails, overlooks into the canyon, and a nice day use area with picnic tables and a playground.

I should also note that this area is 175 miles away from Malad City, Idaho and so is not related or connected in any way.

Read my full post about Malad Gorge.

Kelton Trail 

This unit is located on the other side of I-84 from Malad Gorge. This is the only unit I haven't visited yet. From what I can tell it is basically a trail to an overlook of the Malad Canyon. The Oregon Trail passed through this area so there are some sights related to that.

I'll make sure to update this space after I've visited the Kelton Trail Unit.

Billingsley Creek AKA Billingsley Creek Wildlife Management Area
Billingsley Creek is northeast of the town of Hagerman and west of the Canyon Rim. The water in the spring fed creek is narrow, shallow, and slow moving. This area is primarily for fishermen and birders. I have also heard it is a relaxing place for kayaking and canoeing.

The western bank of the creek is within the boundary of Thousand Springs State Park. This area used to be called Emerald Valley Ranch and was purchased by the state in 2001.

The eastern bank of Billingsley Creek is a Wildlife Management Area maintained by Idaho Fish and Game. There is also a non-motorized trail on this side of the creek.

You can access Billingsley Creek in two places. From Highway 30 turn east onto Lake Street follow that to 795 E/East Ave turn north and follow that to 2650 South. Travel on 2650 South until you reach 1050 East where you will turn north again. Follow 1050 East. The first parking area for Billingsley Creek will be in about 3/4 of a mile down that road. There are bathrooms at this parking lot. This parking lot is adjacent to the creek. You can follow the non-motorized trail for views of the creek.

The second parking lot is along 1050 East about another 1/2 mile. This parking lot is on the WMA side of the area. This parking lot is for a non motorized trail.

Another place to access the creek is a little farther north. This is slightly easier to find, however, be aware the the sign indicating the turn off for Billingsley creek is small. You will turn east off of Highway 30 onto a road approximately 0.3 miles south of Justice Grade (which also has a tiny sign.)

If you are like me, your eyes glazed over while you read the directions.  Here are links to the maps put online by the State Park and Fish and Game. These will help you to some extent. But I also recommend looking things up on google maps before you go.

State Park Map

Wildlife Management Area Map

Ritter Island AKA 1000 Springs Nature Preserve 
Ritter Island is next to the Snake River. You drive on Thousand Springs Grade from the flat land on the canyon rim down to the banks of the Snake River. A parking lot is located on the bank next to a pedestrian bridge that connects the bank to Ritter Island. The Snake River flows on one side of the island and run off from a natural spring flows on the other side. There are many springs and waterfalls flowing from the canyon wall. The whole area is very picturesque.

One of the springs is Minnie Miller Spring. It is the only spring in this area where the water goes directly from the canyon wall to the Snake River without being diverted to something like a power plant or a fish hatchery.

The island has several old buildings from when it was privately owned. There is a barn from when the island was use as a dairy farm. There are two homes that can be rented for overnight stays.

Popular things to do on the island are to hike to view points for the springs and the waterfalls, kayaking or canoeing on the water, or attending the Thousand Springs Art Festival over Labor Day weekend.

From 1986 to 2006 this area was owned by the Nature Conservancy and went by the name Thousand Springs Preserve. In 2006 the land was donated to the State of Idaho. It became the Ritter Island Unit of Thousand Springs State Park. The name Ritter Island comes from a family that owned the island.

Read my full post about Ritter Island.

Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs AKA Box Canyon Spring Nature Preserve
This area is on top of the canyon in the farm land. It's one of the few areas in the park where you need to hike in order to see the main feature. You start at a small parking lot located off of 1500 East and then walk about a mile on a wide flat road to the rim of Box Canyon. From the rim you can look down at beautiful spring fed pools.

The trail on the south rim of the canyon eventually leads down into the canyon and to a waterfall. I didn't know that on my first visit so I didn't hike that far. I'm hoping to get back there sometime this spring or summer and check it out.

Read my full post about Box Canyon Spring

Niagara Springs/Crystal Springs AKA Niagara Springs State Park
Niagara Springs is located on the northeastern bank of the Snake River Canyon. You'll reach it by taking the Niagara Springs Grade down into the canyon and then driving along the road about 1.5 miles.

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.

The spring is very easy to find - in fact it's visible from the road. There is a small parking area about 20 feet away from a viewpoint for the spring. 

If you keep going on the road another mile and a half you will come to Crystal Springs Lake. This lake is fed by another of the many natural springs in this area.
 Between Niagara Springs and Crystal Springs is a day use area, boat launch areas, and a few hiking trails. There is also a group camping area, but you need special permission from the state park to camp overnight in this area.

An additional area of interest is the fish hatchery where some of the water from Niagara Springs is diverted. Idaho Power operates the hatchery. Tours of the fish hatchery are free.

Read my full post about Niagara Springs

Directions

Here is a Google map showing where the different units of the state park are located.  It's important to note that the Kelton Trail unit doesn't even show up on Google Maps, and that Billingsley Creek is listed as "Fisheries Development." Also I've marked the parking lot for the trail to Box Canyon Spring. I hope this helps you as you try to navigate the complicated routes between the units of this disjointed state park.

Other Resources 

Here is a link to the official website for Thousand Springs State Park:
https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/thousand-springs

Also if you are in the area and find that you need a map or good directions you should visit Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Visitor Center on Main Street in Hagerman. I found the staff there to be very knowledgeable about the local area. They are some of the friendliest rangers I've ever met at a National Monument or Park. Usually they have a decent map of the Thousand Springs Area on hand.

Some Final Advise

My goal with this guide is to help you understand Thousand Spring State Park a little better before you take your first trip. I hope I haven't overwhelmed you with information or discouraged you from exploring the area. Even though this is a confusing place to try to visit, it is also a beautiful place. The features within the park are worth all the back tracking and wrong turns.  You'll be happy to made the effort to visit this area. 
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