A Weekend in Thousand Springs State Park [Tips for Camping, Kayaking & Hiking]
After growing up the majority of my life in Southern Idaho, I’ve been to Thousand Springs State Park many times. However, visiting as an adult was a totally different experience, and getting to show Jack (my fiance) my old stompin’ grounds was so much fun! It’s definitely called the Magic Valley for a reason!
In this blog, I’m going to share with you everything I know about Thousand Springs State Park in hopes it helps you have a wonderful adventure.
First of all, let me preface this blog post by saying that Thousand Springs State Park is confusing! It’s not your normal state or national park where you pay your entry, see signs everywhere, and easily know where to go. This is a large park expanding over many different ‘units’ connected by towns and public roads. So don’t expect everything to be inside what you think of as a “park”. It’s is a bit different and a bit complicated!
The 6 Park Units
There are 6 or 7 (depending on where you look) different parts or ‘Units’ of Thousand Springs State Park. All of them are named here: Malad Gorge, Kelton Trail, Billingsley Creek, Ritter Island, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, and Niagara Springs/Crystal Springs. Some sites don’t combine Niagara Springs and Crystal Springs/Lake, but I’m combining them here which leaves us with 6 total units.
You can do all of the units on your trip, or you can just stick to a few sections. I’ve been to most of these units, but for my last trip to Thousand Springs, we just focused on kayaking the Snake River to see Blue Heart Springs and Ritter Island. While we didn’t have to pay to enter into the park this time, there are some areas where you’ll be asked to pay a $5 fee so keep that in mind as you drive through.
How to get to Thousand Springs State Park
The best way to get to Thousand Springs State Park is through Twin Falls. Jack and I drove over from Boise on a Friday night (about 1.5 hours) and while you can drive straight to Thousand Springs without stopping in Twin Falls we opted to go into town for dinner and then head to our camping spot at 1000 Springs Resort.
The closest airports to Thousand Springs are Boise and Twin Falls. From Salt Lake City it would take you about 3 1/2 hours to drive. If you come from Boise, try taking the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway on your way home or way there to see the prettiest views.
I recommend adding stops into your Google Maps so you know where everything is as you drive to your main destination.
If you do decide to stop in Twin Falls, I recommend:
Driving to Perrine-Coulee Falls halfway down to Centennial Park.
For this particular trip, we took a Suboverland (a Twin Falls-based company that turns Suburbans into adventure vehicles) before heading to Thousand Springs. We then stopped to pick up our kayaks from my friend (@idahobucketlist) before heading on.
From Twin Falls, the drive is about 35-45 mins to Thousand Springs State Park depending on where you’re heading. If you drive through Buhl on your way, try stopping at the CloverLeaf Creamery for amazing ice cream.
Where to stay in the Thousand Springs Area
If you don’t feel like staying in the Thousand Springs area, you can always stay in Twin Falls or make it a day trip. However, there are a few places I recommend staying in the area.
Jack and I stayed at 1000 Springs Resort and it worked out well for us. The word ‘resort’ is a bit deceiving because it doesn’t look like it’s been updated since the 50s. however, they have a lot of camp spots and RV hookups right on the river. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived and our camp spot had a dock on the Snake River! This proved to be wonderful for our kayaking trip.
Our camp spot was $30/night, but you can find updated prices here. I saw they also have little cabins, but based on how outdated the entire place was, I wouldn’t probably step foot in those unless I’d really like to rough it. There is also an indoor hot springs pool here. Again, it didn’t look super updated, so just keep that in mind.
Many people really like staying here because there are two hot springs included! Miracle Hot Springs has actually been remodeled more recently so I’d say it’s nicer than Banbury, but still a fun way to spend a weekend. Plus, Miracle Hot Springs has alligators! They also have nice campgrounds and it’s a great choice if you want to camp and kayak or paddle to Blue Heart Springs or Ritter Island because they have kayak and sup rentals as well. Their accommodation options include; camping, RV hookups, cabins, and glamping domes, and all costs are listed here.
Ritter Island homes
This is a new option, but you can now rent out two of the homes on Ritter Island near the historic dairy farm. One of them is the main Rock House and the other is the Yellow House. I would love to do this sometime, but I think they go fast, so check out the linked sites if interested in this!
I stayed in this Airbnb in Twin Falls and it was wonderful! Plus, it’s located very close to the canyon which is great if you want to get up early for kayaking, a sunrise, or want to go on a hike. Most of the hotels in Twin Falls are chains and nothing special but are always an option if you can’t find anything in the Thousand Springs area. Here’s another cute spot to stay in Twin Falls!
What to do in Thousand Springs State Park
Malad Gorge [Unit 1]
Malad Gorge is a deep canyon that has been carved out by the Malad River. There’s a bridge that goes over the canyon that you can walk over and peer into. It’s pretty cool to stop and check out and is located on the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway if you’re coming or going from Boise to Twin Falls.
Kelton Trail [Unit 2]
I haven’t been here yet, but from this trail, you can see a portion of the Oregon Trail. You can also see larger portions of the Oregon Trail if you visit the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, another interesting sight to see near this area.
Billingsley Creek [Unit 3]
This is a popular creek to stop if you’re into fishing! We stopped and took a look at the creek, but it’s probably a drive-by if you’re not going to stop and fish (in my opinion).
Ritter Island & Thousand Springs Nature Preserve [Unit 4]
Ritter Island is awesome! It’s actually a gated portion of the Thousand Springs State Park accessed by driving down a steep grade called the Thousand Springs Grade. I don’t recommend driving down the grade if you’re in a motorhome or something that can’t take steep climbs. Ritter Island is an actual island that can be accessed by a little bridge.
You can visit the island to check out the historic dairy farm and learn about the history of the island or visit the annual art festival. Many people also park near the Idaho Power plant and picnic or float or kayak around the island. I explain more about how to paddle around Ritter island here.
Kayak, Canoe, or SUP the Snake River (to Blue Heart Springs or around Ritter Island)
When Jack and I came, we stayed at 1000 Springs Resort, kayaked to Blue Heart Springs, and then came back and kayaked around Ritter Island. It was a really fun day! 1000 Springs Resort is also right across the Snake River from Ritter Island if you’d rather just paddle over to it from your camp spot. If you do kayak or canoe, read this post to see how we did it.
Hike to Box Canyon Springs [Unit 5]
I used to hike Box Canyon quite a bit as a kid with my family. It’s a wonderful hike starting at the top of the canyon and going down into spring-fed pools. There are cables to help you out during the steeper climb, but it’s pretty doable for most fitness levels! The hike is about a 4.3 miles long loop and you’ll hike through a few different types of scenery to the oasis pools at the end. The water is cold, so just be warned, but it’s refreshing if you’re hiking on a hot day.
You’ll also need to pay the $5 State Park fee to park in the parking lot or you can park outside of the gate to avoid the fee. The hike is technically a loop, but many people, including me, like to go to the pool and then hike back up the same way. You can find more details on the hike here on AllTrails.
Niagara/Crystal Springs is actually fairly easy to find because you can see it from the road. It’s pretty awesome because there are so many springs coming out of the rock and the water is a bright blue. If you want to get out of the car and check out the springs, there’s a viewpoint. You can also visit Crystal Lake which is a great fishing area near Niagara Springs.
Visit Some Hot Springs
This is a great area for hot springs! All of them have been commercialized, so you won’t find any (that I know of) out in nature, but the three most popular in the area are Miracle Hot Springs, Banbury Hot Springs, and 1000 Springs resort (formerly named Sligers). Of the three hot springs, I recommend visiting Miracle Hot Springs because it’s been the most recently updated, has private pools, and massages!
Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center & the Hagerman Horse
Hagerman fossil beds are actually a National Monument and not located within Thousand Springs, but happen to be nearby. Here, you can either go to the visitor center or go straight to the actual fossil beds. If you want to see the Hagerman Horse, Idaho’s State fossil, you can check it out at the visitor center. If you stop here, the park rangers know this area well and can give you more details on what to see and do if you need more ideas.
Niagara Springs or Hagerman Fish Hatcheries
Niagara Springs Fish Hatchery is known for its steelhead farming and can be visited by the public. They have an observation room so you can get a look at how the hatchery works. The Hagerman Fish Hatchery is also in the area and you can go and get tours of the facility. Visitors can also walk the hatchery ground and check out a pond that has rainbow trout, sturgeon, tiger muskies, and more.
Check out Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock is a bit out of the way, but if you want to check out a rock balancing on itself, this is a fun one! Here’s what it looks like so you can decide for yourself if you want to stop!
I recommend adding these spots to a map so you know where you want to stop on the drive! Many of these stops are close to Hagerman Valley on the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway with a few detours, so it’s a good idea to save them so you don’t miss out.
I’d love to hear in the comments if you’ll be planning a trip to Thousand Springs State Park! If you’ve already been, is there anything I’ve missed and should check out next time I go? No matter what, I hope you have a great trip to this little gem in Southern Idaho!
Welcome to the Traveling Spud! I’m Katie, a 30 something from Idaho who quit her marketing job in San Francisco, California to travel the world for a year. After a trip around the world, my heart chose Idaho. I'm addicted to outdoor adventures, photography, and inspiring others to get out of their comfort zones and cross experiences off of their bucket lists. Let's explore together! Read more here.