Memorable outdoors getaway in Idaho’s Hagerman Valley
A day trip from Boise or a longer sojourn will reward with birding, fishing and scenery year-round.
HAGERMAN, Idaho — If you’re in Boise and looking for a day trip with plenty of natural wonders, the Hagerman area is a good option because it has unique attractions that are interesting any time of year, and the weather is usually milder.
Don’t be fooled by the “banana belt” label you often hear about. Hagerman still gets cold, but it’s typically about 10 degrees warmer than Boise and outside the valley’s winter inversion layer.
Here are some places for a Hagerman road trip.
HAGERMAN WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA
This is one of my favorite places in the Hagerman area, and during winter, it’s a magnet for waterfowl.
For sake of simplicity, I refer to several areas off U.S. 30 south of Hagerman, including the rest area near the bridge over the Snake River, as the WMA.
Take a left off U.S. 30 at the sign to the WMA. You will see several large ponds. Carefully drive up to the ponds and stay in your vehicle.
There will be thousands of ducks sitting on the ponds. Try to see how many different species of waterfowl you can spot. Bring your binoculars.
Then drive over by the hatchery race ways and park. You can see the trout and giant sturgeon. It’s pretty cool to have an 8-foot-long fish swimming at your feet.
You can hike around the WMA, and one of my favorite options is to park by the Quonset hut near Riley Creek and head toward Oster Lakes. It’s fun to just wander around back there. There is lots of wildlife, and you can often spot fish in the clear water.
Go back to U.S. 30 and continue south. There’s a rest area near the bridge across the river that has a cool blind made out of steel with fish and animal cutouts. You can check which birds are resting on the ponds.
The water is so clear in the canyon it looks surreal, and a 20-foot waterfall is another highlight of the 350-acre Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, which is part of Thousand Springs State Park.
It’s the 11th largest spring in North America, according to Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Some 180,000 gallons of water per minute bubble up from the ground before pouring into the Snake River several miles away.
What makes it more unique is how dramatic the change is between the parking lot and the springs.
You’re in typical-looking Idaho agricultural land at the parking area, and there’s nothing that braces you for what you’re about to experience when you make the easy (flat) 3/4-mile hike to the overlook for the springs.
The aquamarine pool is so transparent it looks fake. Then you can hike another quarter mile to the platform near the base of the falls, and you get a whole different experience as you hear the rush of falling water.
This island has one of the best views in Idaho. What’s interesting to me is that if this scenic spot were located someplace else around the country, it would have a big scenic overlook with parking and interpretive signs, etc.
Instead, you pull onto a wide spot on a gravel road and snap a few photos, then drive down below to park and hike less than a quarter mile to the base of the falls.
You can also hike around Ritter Island by crossing a bridge and seeing the historic buildings there, and more cool stuff on the island and in the springs and river.
Finding Ritter Island can be tricky, so bring a map and be patient. It might take a few tries. I always look for the old silo covered with graffiti. It’s where I know to turn back toward the river.
WINTER FLY FISHING
Clear Lake Country Club is a favorite for winter fly-fishing. It’s also a great place for visitors from out of state because they only have to pay the $10 fee for this private lake, and no other license is required.
It’s stocked with large trout from nearby hatcheries, and some range upward of 6 pounds. Float tubing is the favorite way to fish there because there’s limited bank access.
Another option is the Malad River near Hagerman. It has a winter catch-and-release season, and since the river is mostly spring-fed, it usually stays at a temperature that keeps trout active.
Don’t expect any big fish, but it’s a fun, small river that feels like a mountain stream transplanted to the Hagerman Valley.
There are other ponds available for fishing in the area, as well as the Snake River, but make sure to check the rules and know where you’re fishing because one place may be open while another that’s within walking distance is closed.
HAGERMAN FOSSIL BEDS
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument’s visitors’ center is in downtown Hagerman.
You can learn a lot about the local geography and the ancient history of the area.
The monument’s website recommends you stop at the center to get the latest information on special programs and activities, see an introductory video, view fossils up close and get information about activities at the fossil beds.
I am confident there is more than one good place to eat in Hagerman, but stopping by the Snake River Grill is a family tradition. We like to spring for the alligator appetizer because it’s such a rare dish in Idaho. You can’t go wrong with anything made from sturgeon or catfish, both of which are locally raised.
Things left on my to-do list for the Hagerman Valley? The first that comes to mind is 1000 Springs Resort, which has a big, naturally heated, indoor pool, and also camping, cabins and other activities.
You can get more information at 1000springsresort.com.
There are also Snake River tours available on a 54-foot enclosed catamaran that operates year-round, and dinner cruises are an option. Trips usually go out on weekends, but a minimum of 12 people is needed per trip. For details, go to 1000springs.com or call 837-9006.
Hagerman is about 90 miles from Boise. Take Interstate 84 east to exit 141 to U.S. 30, which drops into the Hagerman Valley.
From there, it can get tricky because various points of interest are scattered throughout the valley, and the Snake River runs north and south there, rather than its usual east to west across southern Idaho.
Do some Internet homework before you go. Printing an area map off Google is a good idea because highway maps or atlases don’t show enough detail.
Don’t rely on your cellphone or even GPS for navigation because not all things will be listed. For example, Ritter Island didn’t show up in a search on my iPhone, but the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area did. You might also get a mailing address for someplace rather than a physical address.