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6 State and National Parks to Visit Near Eastern Idaho

Idaho is no stranger to beauty. The gem state has such a diverse landscape that it draws people in from every corner of the world to witness it. Idaho is known for some of its geologic wonders, open landscape, and snow capped mountains. If you are in the eastern Idaho area, be sure to check out one (or all!) of these state or national parks during your stay.

During the current pandemic, please familiarize yourself with federal and state laws in regards to these parks. You can learn more about COVID-19 openings and closures for national parks here.

City of Rocks National Reserve & Castle Rocks State Park

From 1843-1882, the City of Rocks and Castle Rocks were a beacon for people migrating from the east coast to the west on the California Trail. You can still see the initials and names of some of the travelers who wrote their names in axle grease on the rocks. If you are a fan of rock-climbing, the silent City of Rocks is the place to go. The granite rocks make for excellent routes, which is why there are hundreds in the area. The routes vary in difficulty, so there is something for every level of climber. If you are climbing, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the view as you climb higher and higher.

Whether you are climbing, hiking, or enjoying the scenery from a picnic table, the City of Rocks and Castle Rock parks are an excellent place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Their nickname as the “silent city” will help you to relax in the quiet and appreciate the history and steadiness of nature. Even after just one visit, you’ll understand why the City of Rocks was a beacon to travelers.

COVID-19 Update: As of May 2, the City of Rocks parking areas, trailheads, and trails have been reopened, along with the vault toilets. Picnic and camp areas may be used during the day but are closed to overnight use until May 30. Camping at Castle Rocks State Park is also prohibited until May 30. The visitor’s centers will be closed until further notice.

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Harriman State Park

Harriman State Park is beautiful all year round, and for those who enjoy winter activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or fat-tire biking, there is something to appreciate about Harriman all year! Harriman State Park has many groomed trails for visitors to use during the winter months, plus you can even reserve a yurt to stay in--though these go fast, so be sure to reserve one quickly.

The groomed trails help visitors explore more than 24 miles of the state parkland where you will hopefully see some moose, elk, and swans. The park is open all year long and offers activities for each season. If you visit during the summer, you can hike or horseback ride through the gorgeous, forested trails, or maybe even go fishing in the Henry’s Fork River. Harriman State Park is much less crowded than Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone, so if you are looking to enjoy a day outside without the massive crowds, this may be the place for you. If you are headed through the Island Park area, at least stop here for a picnic lunch to appreciate the calming, picturesque views of Harriman State Park.

COVID-19 Update: The trails at Harriman State Park are open for day use, but camping is prohibited until May 30.

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Craters of the Moon National Park

Before you visit, you might think that Craters of the Moon is a strange name for a national park. That may be true because the geological features at the park aren’t craters and you aren’t on the moon… but the landscape is uniquely similar. The volcanic formations found sprawling over the park reflect the surface of the moon and its craters and tunnels. These formations were useful in helping astronauts prepare for their trip to the moon in 1969 and Nasa research continues at the national park today. The Junior Ranger program at the park is the only one with a Lunar Ranger badge. If you have kids, be sure to take them to the visitor’s center at the park to get them started on the Junior Ranger Program which will help them learn more about the unique history of the land.

Another unique aspect of Craters of the Moon is its lava tubes. These lava tubes make for great spelunking, or cave exploring adventures. Indian Tunnel is one of the more popular caves to explore because it is taller and brighter from places where the tube has collapsed. There are more places to explore and trails to hike, though you might feel like you are on a different planet. If your dream is to go to the moon, start with Craters of the Moon National Park.

COVID-19 Update: The visitor’s center, loop drive, caves, and campground at Craters of the Moon National Park are closed until further notice. Be sure to check the national parks website for updates. However, the loop road is open for pedestrians and cyclists. Dogs on leashes are also allowed.

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Massacre Rocks State Park

Massacre Rocks State Park is a famous spot along the Oregon and California trails. The area was known as a spot where migrants feared being attacked by Native Americans. A few fights between the two groups did break out in the area, leading to its eventual name of Massacre Rocks. Don’t let the name scare you, the land is now featured as a state park, and the area offers a variety of recreational options including biking, boating, and disc golfing.

If you enjoy disc golfing, the park has an 18-hole course for disc-golf fans and is ranked number eight in the state. The course will lead you all over hillsides overlooking the Snake River. You can enjoy the views as you try to get your discs in the basket. The next time you visit Massacre Rocks, bring your discs with you!

At Massacre Rocks State Park, you can also camp. You’ll have to make reservations and only camp in designated areas, but camping will allow you to enjoy a different aspect of the parks from being in them at night. Be sure to study the rules of camping in the state park before you go. Massacre Rocks State Park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and have fun.

COVID-19 Update: The park is open for day use but camping is prohibited until May 30.

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone spans across parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, so if you go to Idaho, you should try to make it to Yellowstone. The sites will truly amaze you, especially if you are a fan of geology. Yellowstone National Park is home to the famous Old Faithful Geyser which people come from all over the world to see. The geyser goes off about every hour, but come early if you want a front-row seat to see the action. It will amaze you how many people will gather to watch the geyser erupt. The sight of Old Faithful going off, along with other majestic Yellowstone spots will truly amaze you.

Another spot you can’t miss is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There are many lookout spots for people to admire the canyon, but be warned, if you look straight down, you are bound to experience some vertigo. However, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is truly breathtaking, and the surrounding scene makes for a picturesque view.

Another fun spot to see is the Grand Prismatic Spring. You’ve probably heard that the geologic activity at Yellowstone makes a lot of the sights smell like rotten eggs--this spot is especially bad. The sulfur in the water makes the water boiling and extremely foul, but the view is worth the smelly walk. The Grand Prismatic Spring is astounding. Microbial mats around the mineral-rich water produce a rainbow of orange, red, yellow, green, and blue.

Yellowstone is a must-see spot if you are in the Eastern Idaho area.

COVID-19 Update: Yellowstone National Park will remain closed until further notice. Be sure to check the national parks website for updates.

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Grand Teton National Park

Although Grand Teton National Park is in Wyoming, it is only about a 45-minute drive from the Idaho state border. The Tetons are known for their beauty, so why not take a couple of minutes from exploring eastern Idaho to get a closer look at the Teton Mountains. If you are a fan of wildlife photography, Grand Teton National Park is a great place to go. With the Tetons as your backdrop, you are sure to snap some incredible photos. You might even spot some wildlife such as deer, elk, or even moose!

There are many different hikes in Grand Teton National Park that will give you spectacular views of the mountains along with other beautiful landscapes, like Taggart or Jenny Lake. Taggart Lake features an easy 3.3-mile round trip hike which is suitable for all ages and gives amazing views of the Tetons, making it a popular hike for families. Inspiration Point is another shorter hike and is great for younger children who still want a spectacular view of Jenny Lake and the famous mountain range. You are sure to find something beautiful to admire when you visit Grand Teton National Park, so bring your camera along with a picnic lunch and spend the day exploring the beautiful land.

COVID-19 Update: Grand Teton National Park will remain closed until further notice. Be sure to check the national parks website for updates.

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Each one of these parks is protected so people can visit them and learn more about their history. They are all unique and offer different activities for their visitors. As you visit Idaho, stop and enjoy these historical and geological landmarks. There is something for everyone and we promise you will be amazed by the beauty of the gem state.

What's your favorite park in East Idaho? Suggest an idea for us to write about or leave a comment below!

Hannah Anderson

About the author

Hannah Anderson

Hannah Anderson, a Nevada native, moved to Idaho four years ago to study at Brigham Young University-Idaho where she earned a bachelor's degree in communication. She enjoys spending time with her husband, reading, and exploring all that Idaho has to offer.

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