Rock climbing is becoming quite the rage these days, now that free climbers Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell have conquered the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite. One of the best places in Idaho to watch, learn, practice and excel at rock climbing is at the City of Rocks on the California Trail in southeast Idaho near the Utah border. We visited the City of Rocks on one of our excursions while attending the 1989 OCTA Convention in Boise.
The City of Rocks National Reserve is managed by the National Parks Service in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation who also manage the nearby Castle Rocks State Park. The nearest town is Almo on a spur of Highway 77. That’s where you’ll find the Reserve’s headquarters and visitor center. The reserve offers hiking, camping, birding, auto tours, hunting, horseback riding and mountain biking as well as rock climbing. The climbing grades range from 5.0 (easy) to 5.14 (extremely difficult).
Emigrants on the California Trail 165 years ago were fascinated with the rock formations they encountered here and they gave them whimsical names such as Devil’s Bedstead, Bread Loaves, Elephant Rock, Anteater, Bath Rock, and King on the Throne. Stripe Rock is the most popular rock in a central area known as the Inner City. Some of the rocks in the reserve are 600 feet high and some are more than two billion years old. Bath Rock, Bread Loaves and Elephant Rock are especially popular with climbers.
One of the emigrants’ favorite pastimes was to leave their names and dates on places they passed. Independence Rock in Wyoming was probably the most favorite spot on the Oregon Trail to practice some 19th century graffiti. And the City of Rocks had their own Register Rock. Nearby Camp Rock also has lots of name although they are fading fast. Emigrants used axle grease to record their names and dates.
See here for more information on the City of Rocks at the National Parks Service’s excellent website. See here for a special section on their website where they list the best places in the reserve to take photographs. They also have a Facebook page with up-to- date weather and road conditions here.
Oh, one more thing: there is no admission fee at the reserve! There is a fee, though, for camping. And commercial photographers have to pay a fee of $100 to obtain a permit.