This Road Trip Through Idaho's Canyon Country Is Absolutely Awe-Inspiring
For most of Idaho, this year’s spring has been blessedly mild, adding a few extra weeks to road trip season before the sunshine and temperatures get kicked up a notch. Woohoo! If you’ve been following our articles up until now, we’ve introduced you to a few of Idaho’s biggest, deepest, and boldest river canyons a few different times – but today, we’re rounding them up into an epic road trip that will show you the true beauty, magnificence, and diversity of the Gem State in the best way possible: up close and personal. Ready?
You can check out a general
Google Map here (for planning purposes).
Hells Canyon, Riggins
Despite being 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, and boasting the title of the deepest canyon in North America, Hells Canyon is often overlooked because its rugged walls don't have the sheer, fear-inducing charisma of its Arizona counterpart. But while most of the canyon isn't easily accessible, determined hikers can explore multiple overlooks (such as Hells Gate and Pittsburgh Saddle), hike down to the base of the canyon, or continue the hike upwards into the Seven Devils Mountains.
Here, towering cliffs of black and green basalt hang high above the Snake River and its sandy beaches, but for those who want the experience without the grueling hikes, the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway starts in Oregon and gives visitors and epic taste of this magnificent gorge. During the warmer months, take a guided jet boat tour down the Snake River and be prepared to learn some unique history about pioneers and navigating this breathtaking canyon in the old days.
More info and directions
Jump Creek Canyon, Marsing
A short and sweet hike takes you to a pretty little cascade in the Owyhees, complete with a watershed pool perfect for swimming. But while the 60-foot waterfall gets the most attention, the dramatic, red-rock lined canyon is positively spectacular as well. Secret nooks and crannies dot the walls, allowing for exploration and a hint of wilderness adventure without diving into the recesses of Owyhee County. The main waterfall flows from the overhead Sands Basin and the surrounding canyon boasts chiseled outcroppings that rise hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. Since this is one canyon that is day-use only, Jump Creek Canyon is the perfect warmup to a long day of road tripping.
Malad Gorge, Hagerman
Thousands of years ago, immense flows of water from alpine sent waters cascading through the Snake River Canyon directly into the Snake River. Weak points in the basalt walls gave way to these crushing waters at the mouth of Malad Canyon, concentrating the water into a narrow channel – increasing the pressure and intensity of the water, which even today can be seen in the white water-esque froth that seems to boil within the main gorge. Eventually, the pressure created not one, but three canyons before diminishing to current water levels seen today.
The Devil’s Washbowl – the pounding, churning waterfall seen to the left of the main canyon walkway - is much smaller than it was thousands of years ago, but even a glimpse over the bridge’s edge showcases the power of water to shape and mold rock. A noticeable "devil face" outcropping is one source of the waterfall’s name.
Bruneau Canyon, Bruneau
Under the sponsorship of Senator Frank Church of Idaho, Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
More than 25 miles of Sheep Creek are designated wild, from the confluence with the Bruneau River to the upstream boundary of the Bruneau-Jarbidge Wilderness.
Snake River Canyon, Twin Falls
Two types of volcanic rock make up the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls: Rhyolite from explosive volcanic eruptions, dating back to when Magic Valley was located over the Yellowstone volcano, and basalt from slower-moving lava. Mind you, this only applies to the canyon near Centennial Park and Shoshone Falls. It's actually incredibly different when you go upstream or downstream!
The Snake River Canyon existed before the ancient Bonneville Flood, but was much more shallow. As Lake Bonneville, centered in what is now Utah, began spilling over, the huge rush of water filled the canyon to the brim and excavated it even deeper. Every now and then new volcanic eruptions and lava flows have continued to change the river’s course. The result? And spectacular canyon in South-Central Idaho, a
City of Waterfalls
, and more natural wonders than seem possible for such a seemingly barren area.
Black Magic Canyon, Shoshone
This unusual canyon north of Shoshone was carved over thousands of years by the Big Wood River, leaving twisting, almost supernatural lava rock sculptures behind. It's a natural, volcanic sculpture garden at its finest - crossed with an exhilarating canyon hike. But it's not for the faint of heart. The black surface is a draw for rattlesnakes, and the likelihood of the canal company releasing the river floodgates at any time makes it imperative for willing hikers to call the company first. But if you get the chance to experience this intense, otherworldly canyon firsthand, definitely do so!
More info and directions
Salmon River Canyon, Salmon
What is there to be said about the canyon carved by one of the wildest and most scenic rivers in the lower 48? The Salmon River is a true Idaho treasure, a formidable force that challenged historic pioneers and scouts, and is enveloped by breathtaking beauty that combines the best of both Southern and Northern Idaho.
Moyie River Canyon, Moyie Springs
While not a plunging, rocky gorge like many of Idaho's other canyons, the Moyie River Canyon is spectacular for plenty of lush, green reasons. And endless sea of trees seems to swath this beauty in rich, woodsy beauty, while the might river below is a true testament to North Idaho's still-primitive landscape. While getting down to the base of the canyon is a dense hike that most will find too challenging, the Moyie River Bridge offers a fantastic view of the canyon itself - and is only a few feet shy of the treasured Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls.
Wow! Idaho’s beauty is simply incredible, no matter which way you turn!
Can you think of any other breathtaking, overlooked canyons we should explore in the Gem State? How many of these have you been to?
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