An hour-and-a-half drive south and a climate zone away, waterfalls burst out of dramatic lava cliffs overlooking the wide Snake River. In Hagerman, a secret paradise where asparagus grows wild in the spring and more than a hundred species of birds return home each year, spring comes early and fall arrives late.
This valley was formed 15,000 years ago, when the Bonneville flood carved out the dramatic canyons and left behind the hot springs and prehistoric fossil beds for which it is known. In a twist of quirkiness that seems to reflect the place, the town was named in 1892 when local Stanley Hegeman applied for a post office box, and the Postal Department spelled his name wrong.
Water is the word that comes to mind when you think of Hagerman: springs, creeks, ponds, falls, and rivers. Mild climate and year-round open water make the valley a preferred stop not only for migrating waterfowl, but for harried humans wanting to escape into the beauty of nature. When visiting Hagerman for the day, you will undoubtedly spend time on or near the water—fishing, boating, birdwatching.
To get a taste of river beauty, take a cruise down the river aboard a 30-foot motorized pontoon boat. Along the way you’ll marvel at Blue Heart—a deep crystalline pool with a turquoise-blue color and clarity you’ll never forget.
Keep your eyes peeled for an island inhabited by statuesque blue herons sitting majestically on their huge nests at the very tops of trees. A dinner cruise at sunset along the rose-tinged cliffs in these small, personal, open boats is a special treat. (Call 1000 Springs Tours at 208.837.9006.) If you prefer rafting, take a river lunch trip (Hagerman Valley Outfitters, 208.837.6100) or guided float trip (High Adventure River Tours, 208.837.9005).
For relaxation and fun, soak your weary bones in any of the local hot springs. Sligar’s (208.837.4987) is the most kid-popular, with a giant indoor pool complete with slides and a massive floating log to scramble and climb on. For a more private soak in a VIP tub, as well as an outdoor pool, you might try Miracle Hot Springs at 208.543.6002. (Where else could you see real live alligators lounging? The owners have pet alligators in pens for all to view.)
Banbury Hot Springs also has an outdoor pool and private tubs (208.543.4098).
For an up-close and personal look at one of the many spectacular cascading waterfalls in Hagerman, visit The Nature Conservancy’s Thousand Springs Preserve (208.536.6797). It is an easy quarter-mile hike to the beautiful Minnie Miller Falls, where you might catch sight of a golden eagle or a red-tailed hawk. Tour the historic (1920) Miller house, complete with a real-live screech owl living in the barn.
My favorite time to visit is during the Thousand Springs Art Festival—a two-day event in the fall (Sept 29-30), when artists and craftsmen come together from all over Idaho to show their wares. Different bands play every hour, and there is a Basque wine and lamb feed—all within view of the beautiful falls and river. A lively event full of food and festivities, the festival is also a fun place to do a little early Christmas shopping. For details, call 208.536.6797.
Continue your shopping spree by turning down the drive marked by the sign of the Snake, which announces Snake River Pottery (208.837.6527), the oldest pottery establishment in Idaho. From the quaint deck overlooking the river, visitors can enjoy a glimpse of the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Idaho, Teater’s Knoll, elegantly perched on the cliffs downriver.
Hungry yet? Stop at the Snake River Grill. A casual, friendly atmosphere invites you in to sample the local fresh fish. Try catfish, sturgeon, or trout on the outside deck, or head for the salad bar.
After lunch, archeology buffs can explore the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. In 1928, a local rancher uncovered some mysterious bones and called the Smithsonian. Thus was the 4 million-year-old Hagerman Horse discovered—the earliest horse fossil ever found anywhere! Tour the monument’s Visitor Center in town (208.837.4793) to see the Hagerman Horse and other fossils, or to arrange a guided or self-guided tour of the fossil beds, where you can see ruts of the Oregon Trail.
Another interesting stop is the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery (208.837.4896). Fish in nearby ponds for rainbow trout or visit the display pond to see the huge, prehistoric-looking
sturgeon found only in the deepest pockets of the Snake River.
If the quiet beauty of Hagerman has captured you, spend the night where Ernest Hemingway stayed—at the tranquil Rock Lodge Resort, where each room has a deck overlooking Billingsly Creek (208.837.4822). The next day, you may have time to take in the Clear Lakes golf course, the awe-inspiring view from the Malad Gorge State Park Bridge, and so much more.
Crystal Thurston lives in the Wood River Valley but has a weekend cabin in Hagerman. She is the Program Director at The Community Library and has written articles for Sun Valley Magazine and other publications.