Three Southeastern Idaho Summertime Must-Dos

For most of the two-plus decades that I have called Utah home, my consideration for Idaho really didn’t extend much beyond its most famous ski area, the posh Sun Valley Resort, and the non-Utah half of Bear Lake. Lately, however, I’ve gotten to know the Potato State a little better, particularly its rural southeastern corner—a beautifully rugged landscape ripe for adventuresome nature bathing. Following are highlights of three must-do and-see Idaho summer destinations just over Utah’s northern border: Maple Grove Hot Springs, City of Rocks National Reserve/Castle Rocks State Park and Minnetonka Cave. All of these destinations are reachable within a three-hour drive from Salt Lake City.

Springs Eternal

Tucked along the Bear River’s Oneida Narrows Reservoir, Maple Grove Hot Springs & Retreat Center (maplegrovesprings.com) is 45 acres of nature-infused tranquility. There, you’ll find summer camp-chic accommodations, sweeping mountain-meets-river views and, of course, the natural, mineral-infused hot springs: two swimming-pool-sized soaking pools just outside the River House check-in/locker room building and three smaller, stone-lined pools, situated along lit, flagstone walkways. Besides soaking, things to do at Maple Grove include swimming or paddling in the river, working out the kinks in a yoga class or, as part of the owners’ mission to raise mental health awareness, taking part in the center’s monthly suicide prevention trainings.  

Surreal City

On the bucolic approach to City of Rocks National Reserve/Castle Rocks State Park (nps.gov/ciro), sweeping sageland gives way to fairytale-like valley filled with granite spires that reach toward the sky like giant gnarled fingers. Though these side-by-side recreation areas are a climber’s mecca—just shy of 1,000 rock-climbing routes have been established there—non-climbing families will find plenty to do in the surreal and stunningly beautiful landscape there. Dirt roads throughout both “The City,” as it is known for short, and Castle Rocks lead to trailheads accessing hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails that wind through and around the rock formations, including a section of the California National Historic Trail. Pitch your tent at one of the many campsites inside the Reserve ($14 per night); larger sites suitable for both tent camping and RVs, can be found at Castle Rocks’ Smoky Mountain Campground ($31 per night) which also features paved roads, a shower house and flush toilets. Advance and same-day camping reservations for both areas can be made at reserveamerica.com. Day use in The City is free and $7 at Castle Rocks. After the sun goes down, be sure to look up. Earlier this year, City of Rocks received full certification as an International Dark Sky Park. 

Almo Attractions

The super-cute ranching town of Almo offers the closest services to The City/Castle Rocks. Get your bearings at the City of Rocks National Reserve Visitor Center, located in the center of town (208-824-5901, open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily). Other attractions along the Almo’s main drag include the Durfee Hot Springs (durfeehotsprings.com), the wood-fired pizza and HUGE canned beer selection at Rock City Mercantile (208-824-5510) and homemade pie at The Outpost Steakhouse (almoinn.com). Though a few other restaurants eke out an existence there, be sure to bring plenty of food with you for your stay. Almo eateries can get crowded on summer weekends (the closest grocery store is about an hour away).

Over-The-Border Spelunking 

Idaho Summer
Hiking inside Minnetonka Cave at St. Charles. Photo courtesy of visit Idaho.

What’s better than dipping a toe in Bear Lake’s cool, blue waters on a hot summer day? Taking a tour of the nearby Minnetonka Cave, one of the largest and most impressive karst limestone caves in the U.S. This mind-blowing natural wonder (that stays at a constant 40 degrees all summer long) features nine separate chambers, all beautifully lit, including the 300-feet-wide and 90-feet tall Ballroom. 

While every part of the cave’s 90-minute tour is impressive, particularly memorable features include the dense set of slender stalactites called the Soda Straw Ceiling and an enormous stalagmite trio dubbed The Three Sisters. 

When you go, bring a jacket and comfortable walking shoes and be ready for a workout: though the distance you’ll cover in the cave is only about half a mile, you’ll climb up and down a daunting 888 stairs in the process. 

Minnetonka Cave is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, weather permitting. Make tour reservations in advance at recreation.gov.  

Getting there

Maple Grove Hot Springs & Retreat Center is 47 miles north of Logan in Thatcher, Idaho. Take S.R. 91 north from Logan to Preston. From there take S.R. 36 to N. Maple Grove Road and Oneida Narrows Road to the retreat center. 

City of Rocks/Castle Rocks State Park: take Interstate 15 north from Salt Lake to Tremonton. There, head west on I-84 to Sublette exit 245 and go west toward Malta, Elba, and Almo. (Google maps may suggest a route along 27 through Oakley, Idaho, which requires driving more than 20 miles on a dirt road.) 

Minnetonka Cave is about 90 minutes from Logan through Logan Canyon and past Bear Lake. Take S.R. 89 north to St. Charles. There turn west onto Minnetonka Cave Road and follow it for 8 miles to the lower cave parking lot.  

Take the Party Elsewhere

Photo courtesy of maple grove hot springs.

Unlike some other hot springs that attract soakers into tying one on, at Maple Grove, relaxation, reflection and wellness take center stage. Drinking is not allowed in the pools, and neither is nudity. After-dark quiet hours require conversations to diminish to a whisper, both at the pools and around campfires. There’s no cell phone service at Maple Grove and the number of daytime and overnight guests is limited. It’s simply one of those few, rare places where you can go to reboot, immerse yourself in nature and find peace.  


Melissa Fields
Melissa Fieldshttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Melissa (O' Brien) Fields is a contributing editor to Utah Bride & Groom magazine and a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine. She is an accomplished freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience.

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