These sister parks are iconic locations in the state of Idaho with a combined acreage of nearly 17,000 acres of towering granite spires, hiking trails, and breathtaking views. City of Rocks National Reserve is both a unit of the National Park System and a state park. The state and federal lands that make up the Reserve are managed onsite by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Castle Rocks State Park is partially included within the National Historic Landmark. While all these designations might be confusing, they are an incredible draw for rock climbers, hikers, birders, and campers alike.
Between the two there are 112 campsites, a historic lodge, and a highly sought-after glamping yurt, each with a unique and scenic view of 25 million-year-old granite monoliths.
The parks are situated at over 5,500 feet in elevation and are made up of a diversity of ecosystems and plant communities. Within the park’s boundaries, five distinct ecosystem/plant communities are present depending upon elevation, soil type, and moisture availability. These include pinyon-juniper woodland, sagebrush-steppe, aspen woodland, riparian scrub, and wetlands.
The single-leaf pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla) is the keynote species of the park. The Albion Mountains contain the northernmost range of the single-leaf pinyon pine. The edible pinyon pine seed provides important proteins and fats for wildlife, serve as an important food source for indigenous people, and is gathered by local residents. This pinyon pine is native to the United States and northwest Mexico. It is the world’s only single-needled pine.
It is a fantastic place for birding as a myriad of a species pass through the park including northern flicker, black-billed magpie, raven, mountain chickadee, dark-eyed junco, Cassin’s finch, nighthawk, rock dove, mountain bluebird, and dozens more!
Alongside a wide array of bird-sighting opportunities, wildlife abounds in this unique area. Bobcat, moose, cottontails, bighorn sheep, and of course the famed mountain lion, a solitary predator and rare sighting for anyone in the Gem State. As always, we want to remind all our park visitors to respect wildlife and leave them be if you encounter them.
The area is also famed for being on the route of many historic emigrant travelers. With several obvious wagon rut sites and signatures from passers-by that date over a century old, Castle Rocks and City of Rocks are a destination location for history buffs.
Many emigrant diaries have since been discovered with elegant descriptions of the City of Rocks’ one-ofa-kind landscape. The following quote was written by Helen Carpenter in August 1857:
“There was perhaps an acre of partially level land with a good-sized stream flowing through it. On this level, and the hills which encircle it, were the most beautiful and wonderful white rocks that we ever saw. This is known as the City of Rocks and certainly bears a striking resemblance to a city. To be sure it was a good deal out of the usual, for the large and small houses were curiously intermingled and set at all angles but it only made the place the more charming.”
Directions: From Boise, take I-84 to Exit 216 for ID-25/ID-77 toward Declo/Albion. Follow ID-77 to 3400 Twin Sisters Road. Turn right onto ID-77. Turn right onto S. Elba Almo Road. Turn right onto 3075 S/E City of Rocks Loop Road. Turn left onto 3400 Twin Sisters Road.