City of Rocks National Reserve
By: Daniel Taylor
Posted On: 2015-02-14
City of Rocks National Reserve is a protected area in southern Idaho that was established on November 18, 1988. Encompassing over 14,400 acres, City of Rocks NR is a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts who like an adrenaline rush. Feel free to join the tens of thousands of annual visitors for a romp around the rocks any time of the year.
Admission to the reserve (not to be confused with the nearby Castle Rock State Park) is free, however those planning to spend the night will have to pay for a campsite.
The notable feature of this reserve is undoubtedly the granite. Rising above the rugged mountains in tall spires, xenoliths, panholes, arches, tafoni, and joints, the granite appears all over the property. It is the victim of long-practiced erosion, but is still strong enough for climbing. Even more than that, however, it provides opportunities for stunning photography and somber reflection.
The most attractive granite features in the reserve, if I had to pick one, would be the enormous Twin Sisters in its southwest region.
City of Rocks NR is definitely a place where the rugged go to play. Here are a few of the most common reserve activities.
Climbing – clearly, the geological formations at City of Rocks NR are alluring to climbers. In fact, these formations are internationally recognized by many in the climbing community. With over 600 routes available, you can find a climb no matter your skill level. Routes vary in height from 60-300 feet and in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.14. Climbing is free, requires no permits, and is available on established routes or elsewhere, though bolting new routes takes explicit permission.
Hunting – during designated hunting seasons, visitors to City of Rocks NR are permitted to carry firearms and hunt the indigenous wildlife, assuming that they follow all required regulations. Contact the reserve directly for questions about seasonality and firearm use.
Mountain biking – there are a few roads in the reserve that are entirely off-limits to vehicles, leaving mountain bikes as the only wheeled vehicles permitted to use them. The best biking routes in the reserve is the Tea Kettle Trail, located directly off of Twin Sisters Road. Take it up to the famous geological formation known as the Bread Loaves near the western boundary.
Scenic driving, birding, camping, horseback riding, and hiking are also great options.
Though not a distinct feature of the park, I would recommend taking the opportunity to hike a few miles on the California Trail. The California National Historic Trail starts out from several trailheads along the Missouri River and leads into California. It follows some of the many popular westward routes that were blazed on the hunt for gold after the Gold Rush of 1849. In all, the trail’s many paths cover over 5,000 miles.
Hiking it from east to west, visitors to City of Rocks NR can see one of the many landmarks that served previous passersby as inspiration on a long journey.
Three entrances – one on the west, one on the east, and one to the south – service City of Rocks National Reserve.
The most common route takes visitors south from Oakley or north from Utah. Either way, one must take Birch Creek Road (known as Junction Valley Road, south of the Utah state line) to one of two exits. From the north, the most immediate entrance to the reserve is on City of Rocks Road to the Emery Canyon Entrance. From the south, the quickest way in through the Junction Entrance on Twin Sisters Road
Coming from the other side, visitors must also take Twin Sisters Road west through the Almo Entrance.