Southern Idaho Waterfall Roadtrip Pt 1: Bonneville, Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Malad State Park, and Ritter Island Thousand Springs (and the waterfalls that weren’t)
(Forewarning: This is basically a giant collection of pictures from our first two days!)
You know those times when you think you have a really great idea, but once you put it into action its a disaster? Yeah. That was our Idaho Waterfall Exploration Roadtrip this April. Apparently our home state has one of the most impressive waterfalls in the country, which tops Niagara Falls in both height and runoff, and its actually relatively close to us in Southern Idaho. My mom found an article about the Ultimate Southern Idaho Waterfalls Roadtrip, and as we’re trying to take advantage of H’s youth and get out and explore more of what this state has to offer, we decided pretty last minute (AKA: the day before) to go out on an adventure!
Turns out, you should probably plan more than a few hours in advance, both for the route, and what you may (or may not) need for the short journey. The total travel time to drive straight though without stopping according to Google Maps was 10 hours and 10 minutes, with a total distance of 418 miles. What was supposed to be a super fun and relaxed trip to admire around seven of Idaho’s most beautiful waterfalls turned into a giant cluster-you-know-what of chaos and disorganization.
Regardless of all of our mishaps along the way, we not only took H on his first camping trip, but we broke in the Volkswagen Camper Van for the year as well. H also laughed and giggled a vast majority of the time, played with every rock and stick and grain of sand he could find, and we all laughed at a lot of our mistakes (at least in the beginning!) so there were some victories!
Deadman Falls in Glenns Ferry, Idaho.
Trying to make our way to the first Waterfall, Deadman Falls in Glenns Ferry, we took a little side road that tempted us with its “Historical Site” and “Geological Marker” signage. Apparently we were lead to Bonneville Point, an Oregon Trail Interpretive site, that had the perfect surface for H to drive his trucks over (aka: signage on what made the area one of historical significance), and a few great trails with beautiful mountainous scenery.We walked around explored a little before heading back to the van to make our way to Deadman Falls. Or so we thought…
We got back on our route towards Deadman Falls in Glenns Ferry, but spent the next 3 hours driving on a crazy road on what was supposed to be a 30 to 45 minute drive from the start of the turnoff to the waterfall ended up – all to find nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true. We did see a small peek of the Falls, we think, but it was from the window in the car looking down over a super steep precipice, so we didn’t get much of a look.
The drive along the cliffs was absolutely gorgeous, and we did feel like we were on top of the world, which was pretty cool. It had rained pretty recently, so all the colors were bright and fresh and it was a scene to behold. I didn’t take any pictures, on this waterfall-less part of the drive, because it literally felt like if a gust of wind had blown our way, we might, in fact, be blown off the super skinny road.
After the multiple hour drive along the sketchy road, we decided to admit defeat and head towards Mountain Home, Idaho to reclaim some semblance of a ‘win’ for the day. Funny thing about trying to find a restaurant in Mountain Home at 6 o’clock at night – there aren’t many options and you can’t trust Google Maps… We drove to eight different restaurants before finally finding one that was open. We literally had tears in our eyes from laughing so hard at how much of a fail the day had been.
Dinner was a bust, and so rather than head towards our next Waterfall, we made the plan to change things up a bit and camp out at Bruneau Dunes State Park so that we could wake up to the beautiful sandy scenes the next morning. What should have taken us 10 minutes to pull out the bed, pop the top, and get comfortable took us an hour due to our inability to figure out how the back bench seat turned into a bed. With no service, we finally decided to get smart and pull out the manual, and lo and behold, we had a bed.
My mom had to wake both H and I up the next morning at 9 to get us started, but we were all happy to be at Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park. We drove over to where the Sand Dunes are and hiked around for about an hour that morning. If you live in Idaho, or the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend taking the drive over to the Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park – it is absolutely amazing to walk around and see. There were all sorts of animal footprints and snake tracks in the sand, as we were quite obviously the first people who had been there that day.
Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park
It’s pretty amazing to look to the left, look to the right, and then at these huge Sand Dunes in the middle. They are surrounded by a small lake and all this green. Nothing else is sandy like the Dunes, it almost looks like someone transported the two mounds there years ago and has been maintaining them ever since, but that’s not the case at all. The thought is that the dunes started because of the Bonneville Floods, and they are apparently pretty unique in that they don’t drift, thanks to a pretty even wind flow from each direction. To add to that, one of the Dunes is supposedly North America’s highest single structure sand dune, which is pretty cool!
The sky was perfectly blue, which made the perfect backdrop for the white sands of the Dunes, and it was nice to finally get out and hike around. After enjoying the sand, we started on our way towards Hagerman and the Malad State Park for our next waterfall.
Getting lost… again.
Keeping with this trips apparent direction, we again got lost and couldn’t find our first waterfall of the day, despite following three different sets of directions to the T. We conceded once again to moving on to the next one, but not before stopping to satisfy a Frozen Snickers craving (yours truly), and “ooh” and “aah”ing (guess who?) over some giant trucks that were outside of the gas station in Hagerman.
Thousand Springs Highway
We drove the scenic Thousand Springs Highway up and down twice, before stopping at the Fish Hatchery to ask for directions to the hiking trail so we could see it up close rather than across the river. The Highway is littered with waterfalls, some bigger than others, and it was hard to focus on driving because of what an amazing natural phenomenon it was. A kind man and his wife gave us the insiders information on the crazy (and very hidden) route to take to get to the Ritter Island waterfalls, and we finally made it to our first official waterfall of the trip! Hooray!
Day two, hour one million into our trip and we finally got up close and personal with some gorgeous Falls. Victory was ours! Even though it was rainy and foggy outside, we threw on our jackets and got out to look around.
Ritter Island in Gooding County, Idaho
Ritter Island has an adorable visitor center that’s accessed by a bridge, and both a residence and an old Barn that have been historically maintained. The Island doesn’t technically open until Memorial Day Weekend, so we were about a month early for tours, but we were able to let ourselves into the barn and H had a great time running around the stalls.
It is a beautiful setting, surrounded by the Snake River and very lush, but also very bizarre at the same time. When you’re driving down the access road to the island, the first thing you come to right before Ritter Island is a huge Idaho Power facility, so we actually thought we had taken a wrong turn. If you’re headed there on a road trip – keep going down that road! The Island and several Falls are just a minute down that direction.
We were able to hike over to a set of Falls and almost all the way to Mini Miller Falls before the rain set in. We decided to take a few quick pictures and head back to the car to stay dry. Trying to balance your camera on a picnic bench that is quite the ways away from where your group will be standing does result in some pretty hilarious half-running, mid-giggle pictures, but it totally captures our joy at finally crossing a waterfall off our list!
We stopped for dinner at The Riverboat in Hagerman before driving to Twin Falls to stay for the night so we’d be closer to our next stop. The fish and chips were really fresh tasting without all the grease, so as long as you can get over the smoke smell (the bar is separate, but connected), I would recommend stopping in there for lunch or dinner!
To say we were happy to be in our beds on night two would be an understatement. We had our first big victory and saw our first waterfalls unclose, but it had been an exhausting day of driving around for hours before we finally found our way. H loved the waterfall, and kept gasping and “woaaah”ing every time he saw them. I know he just likes to get outside and run around in the grass and rock and dirt, but it did feel pretty dang good to finally deliver on our promise to him of seeing some pretty cool stuff.
The next time we go to Hagerman, we’re planning on staying for a few days so H can experience some of the fun activities, like fossil hunting, that the area has to offer, and we can hopefully get out and explore more of the Thousand Springs Falls!
Have you ever had any road trip blunders due to poor planning?
Make me feel better and tell me about them below!