Updated: Feb 14
At the first hint of spring, most of us start craving to get outdoors again. Warming temperatures, extended daylight hours and blooming wildflowers beckon spring hiking. Of course, the high country is still covered in snow, but the rugged topography of southwest Idaho offers plenty of opportunities to witness the return of nature from its winter slumber.
Choosing the right trail for springtime hiking can be challenging. Road access can be closed to some trailheads, creek and river fords can be dangerous and north-facing slopes might still be covered with snow. To help take the guesswork out of finding good hiking opportunities, here are six trails that exemplify the beauty of a spring hike. Each hike offers something special, whether it is an easy stroll along a serene creek or a lengthy backpack into the wild.
SNAKE RIVER NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL NEAR WHITE BIRD
For a beautiful hike in late March and April look to the Snake River National Recreation Trail. This lengthy trail—nearly 27 miles long one-way— winds through Hells Canyon over rocky slopes, along grassy canyon bottoms and under soaring cliffs. And because of the trails length, hikers can design hikes from a few hours up to a week-long backpack. The scenery is spectacular, especially in spring when the wildflowers bloom, seasonal creeks flow and temperatures are mild. The first mile of the hike is fairly level and is suitable for families.
History buffs will enjoy a visit to the historic Kirkwood Ranch, located about 6 miles from the trailhead. The defunct cattle and sheep ranch has several structures from the 1930s including the original Jordon ranch house. The area is shaded with trees and the scenic Kirkwood Creek is nearby.
Trailhead directions: The trailhead is located near Pittsburgh Landing, 19 miles southwest of Highway 95, near White Bird. From Highway 95, travel west on Old Highway 95 for a mile, cross the bridge over the Salmon River and turn left on Deer Creek Road. Follow the dirt-surfaced road 17 miles and turn left on FR 493A which leads 1.6 miles to the trailhead. Overnighters can stay at the nearby 28-campsite Pittsburg Campground.
CROOKED RIVER NEAR IDAHO CITY
In 2016, the 190,000-acre Pioneer Fire obliterated much of the forested terrain located between Mores Summit and Lowman. Unfortunately, the Crooked River was not spared. However, although many of the old-growth trees are gone, the canyon views are excellent now and the wildflower bloom in June is not to be missed. Sandy beaches, beautiful outcrops and the rushing river all add to the hikes appeal.
The trail is well-maintained for the first four miles and leads to a multitude of destinations. Families can hike to the bridge spanning the Crooked River at 1.3 miles. The trail is fairly level up to the bridge and a bit more challenging beyond this point. Depending on winter’s snowfall, the trailhead (elevation 4,800 feet) is usually accessible by mid-May.
Trailhead directions: From Idaho City, drive north on Highway 21 for 17.5 miles and turn right on FR 384. Continue 1.1 miles on the dirt-surfaced road to the signed trailhead on the south side of the road.
HAZARD CREEK NEAR NEW MEADOWS
This moderate 6-mile out-and-back hike begins on an old forest service road, eventually morphing into a singletrack trail within a mile. From here, it rises nearly 800 feet through a steep-walled canyon to a rocky overlook of the impressive Hazard Creek Falls. Most of the route parallels Hazard Creek offering several rocky perches to enjoy the scenery. Some of this area burned in the 2015 Tepee Springs Fire which actually improved the canyon views. Since the trailhead is located at an elevation of 3,600 feet, the route can be snow-free by early April.
Trailhead Directions: From New Meadows, drive north on US 95 for 15.4 miles and turn right onto FR 287 (there will be a sign “Hazard Creek Road”). Follow the dirt-surfaced road 0.9 mile to a Y-junction. Veer left and continue another 0.4 mile to the trailhead which will be on the right.
RAPID RIVER NEAR BANKS
Designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1975, the beautiful Rapid River winds through a remote canyon southwest of Riggins. In late March and April, the canyon is exceptional with green grassy hillsides, scores of colorful wildflowers and blooming flora along the river. Fresh snowmelt from the high country turns the river into an impressive waterway in late spring.
The low elevation of the trailhead (2,250 feet) guarantees snow-free hiking throughout spring. A good easy outing is to the first bridge spanning the Rapid River at 1.1 miles. A strenuous hiking destination is to the confluence of the West Fork of the Rapid River with the Rapid River at 4.4 miles. Backpackers will find lengthier destinations up the West Fork including Potter’s Flat and McCrae’s Cabin.
Trailhead Directions: From New Meadows, travel north on US 95 for 29.7 miles and turn left onto Rapid River Road. Continue west 2.9 miles to the large parking area and trailhead.
SNAKE RIVER NEAR SWAN FALLS DAM
This scenic spring hike is a must for lovers of desert hiking and birds of prey. The trail leads upriver from Swan Falls Dam along a broad canyon floor bordered by steep, canyon walls. The route parallels the Snake River for two miles and leads to a rocky knoll providing exceptional vistas up and down the wide river canyon.
The optimal time to hike is in mid-March through early June when you are likely to see birds of prey. Although many raptors live in the area year-round, the migrating raptors return during the spring months. Viewing is best in early morning and late evening. While in the Swan Falls area, also consider hiking the nearby River Canyon trail.
Trailhead Directions: From Kuna, head south on Swan Falls Road for 20 miles to Swan Falls Dam. Veer left at the dam and continue another 0.7 mile to a large parking area alongside the river. To find the trailhead, walk another 75 yards beyond the parking area to a locked gate marked with a “No Motor Vehicles” sign. The hike starts here.
SHEEP CREEK TRAIL ON THE MIDDLE FORK OF THE BOISE RIVER
The Sheep Creek area exemplifies everything wonderful about hiking near the Middle Fork of the Boise River: nearly year-round access, old-growth ponderosa pines, beautiful spring foliage, outcroppings and plenty of solitude. In spring, Sheep Creek’s flow is substantial and you could easily mistake it for a river.
The hike begins near the confluence of Sheep Creek with the Middle Fork of the Boise River and meanders south, always paralleling Sheep Creek. There are good short destinations at 1.5 and 2.4 miles, both near bridges spanning Sheep Creek. Backpackers will find the middle and upper sections of Sheep Creek—the trail is nearly 13 miles one-way to where it connects with the Roaring River trail—to be excellent long, distance backpacks.
Trailhead Directions: From the junction of Warm Springs Avenue and ID 21, drive north for 9.3 miles. Turn right on FR 268 and proceed east 29.8 miles (the road transitions to a dirt-surface at 5.3 miles) to the signed trailhead on the right side of the road.