Thousand Springs Scenic Byway is a magical drive through Southern Idaho that will lead you to gushing waterfalls, hidden springs, and ancient fossil beds. This road trip which begins in Bliss follows the Snake River all the way to Twin Falls.
The 67 mile journey takes motorists to extraordinary landscapes that will leave you awestruck. In our opinion, this is one of the best and most scenic drives in Idaho.
As you make your way along Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, you’ll soon see how the road got its name. The Snake River Canyon which Highway 30 winds through, is literally bursting with natural spring water which gushes out of the steep canyon walls throughout this entire area.
The spring water originates in the Craters Of The Moon area where rivers flow over the extensive lava fields and sink underground due to the porous volcanic rocks. It creeps through an area of several thousand square miles known as the Snake River Plains Aquifer before emerging two hundred years later from the cliffs here.
Note that there aren’t actually one thousand springs here, perhaps there once was, but now due to dams and irrigation much of the water has been diverted and only a fraction of the springs remain. However that doesn’t make these lands any less impressive.
Minnie Miller Springs across from Ritter Island is one of the largest remaining natural spring complexes in the Thousand Springs area and the best place to see this unique geology first hand.
Road Trip Details
Region: Southern Idaho
Where To Begin Road Trip: Begin this road trip in Bliss, Idaho. Coming from Boise take the second Bliss exit (#141) onto US-26 to get on US-30. Alternatively, you can begin this road trip from Twin Falls.
Why Drive Thousand Springs Byway?
There are dozens of beautiful waterfalls, refreshing spring pools, and soothing hot springs to visit! While hiking in the area is limited, the endless water activities more than make up for it. You won’t need your own equipment either as there are several places to rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.
If fishing is your preferred recreational activity, you’ll be pleased to know this area has great trout fishing! There is a national and several state fish hatcheries in Hagerman which are responsible for producing seventy percent of the nation’s trout and as you can imagine, the rivers, lakes, and ponds here are well stocked.
You can also visit all of the units that make up Thousand Springs State Park each of which offers a unique experience. These units contain impressive chasms, surging springs, and lovely swimming holes.
Southern Idaho is an agricultural area and this road trip is a good opportunity to sample local produce. There are several places we recommend to dine and drink along this byway and none of them involve potatoes!
When Is The Best Time To Drive Thousand Springs Scenic Byway?
The ideal time to take a road trip along Thousand Springs Scenic Byway is between June and September, although if you don’t enjoy scorching hot temperatures avoid visiting in July and August. During the middle of summer Southern Idaho temperatures soar above the nineties however don’t let this deter you as there are plenty of places to cool off!
If you can’t visit during summer don’t despair because a trip through the Thousand Springs area in fall or winter means soaking in the hot springs will be a much more enjoyable experience.
Best Stops Along Thousand Springs Scenic Byway
Hagerman is a quiet little country town with a population of less than a thousand residents. This small town is big on charm and its slow paced, blissful lifestyle will make you want to spend a whole week here.
This area is most notable for the nearby fossil beds that contain over 180 different species and also for its national fish hatchery which produces over seventy per cent of the nation’s trout.
For such a small town there are surprisingly a lot of things to do in Hagerman, albeit most of the cool things to see and do are not right in town but rather nearby.
If you are still in the planning stages of your Thousand Springs Scenic Byway road trip and would like to spend a few days in the area, Hagerman is a great destination to base yourself to explore Thousand Springs State Park and all of the other attractions along Highway 30.
There are two fantastic RV parks here; Hagerman RV Village and Rustic Edge RV Park & Cabins. Both are located on the main road (Highway 30) in downtown Hagerman and within walking distance of cafes, restaurants and bars.
If you intend to complete Thousand Springs Scenic Byway as a day trip, Hagerman is still worth a stop to stroll the main street, visit the museum, and try some of the best BBQ in Idaho! Here are a few can’t miss attractions in Hagerman:
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument & Thousand Springs State Park Visitor Center
The new (as of April 2022) combined Visitor Center for both Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Thousand Springs State Park is a must stop if you plan to visit the state parks or national monument.
Not only can you pick up maps and brochures for all of the parks here, but it is also the only place where you can see Pliocene fossils from Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument on display. There are no fossils at the actual park.
At the Visitor Center you can take a glimpse into this area’s past when mastodons, saber-toothed cats, and the ‘Hagerman Horse’ roamed these lands. There is also a small gift shop, bottle fill station, restrooms, and picnic tables.
The Visitor Center is located one mile north of Hagerman on Thousand Springs Scenic Byway (Highway 30) and open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm.
If you love barbeque meat then please believe me when I say you need to stop for lunch or dinner at Bullzz-Eye BBQ in Hagerman. This unassuming hole-in-the-wall joint has some of the best BBQ ever!
Order the cowboy or cowgirl which is a sample dish of all their meats and try out the juicy brisket, tender tri-tip, smoked pulled pork, and smoked jalapeno sausage. All of it is killer! We fell in love with the mac and cheese here which is some of the best we’ve ever had.
Bullzz-Eye BBQ is open Thursday to Saturday from 8am – 8pm and Sunday 10am – 4pm.
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is a significant place because it protects the world’s richest known fossil deposits from the late Pliocene era. No other fossil beds preserve such varied land and aquatic species from the Pliocene.
More than 180 species of animals and plants have been found here, eight of which have not been found anywhere else in the world.
Some of the species paleontologists have found here include mastadons, saber-toothed cats, and the famous ‘Hagerman Horse’, a zebra-like ancestor of today’s horse.
The ‘Hagerman Horse Quarry’ has the largest deposit of horse fossils on earth and produced twenty complete skeletons thus far.
To get to the monument you will need to drive about five miles south of Hagerman and cross the Owsley Bridge to get on the south side of the Snake River. From the other side of the bridge take Bell Rapids Road to Hagerman Fossils National Monument.
Be sure to stop at the Snake River Overlook and Oregon Trail Overlook on the way to see sweeping views of the Snake River Valley.
Malad Gorge State Park
At Malad Gorge State Park you’ll witness an impressive 250 foot deep canyon which you can walk across on a frighteningly high steel footbridge that spans the gorge.
On one side of the footbridge you can peer down into the canyon and see the turquoise colored Malad River meandering over giant basalt rocks on its way out to the Snake River and on the other side you can view a thundering sixty foot cascade known as the Devil’s Washbowl.
When you first enter Malad Gorge State Park you’ll see a vast ocean of flat grasslands and more than likely think to yourself how could there possibly be anything of interest around here. But it won’t be long before you are amazed at the huge slice in the earth’s crust that you will stumble upon shortly after parking your vehicle and walking only a few short steps away.
Getting to Malad Gorge from Hagerman will require some back tracking and driving down back farm roads. An alternative to this route is to visit Malad Gorge first on this driving itinerary which would mean you could drive straight down the I-84 from Bliss.
Ritter Island State Park
Ritter Island is where you will first get a glimpse of why this area has been dubbed Thousand Springs. At Ritter Island you can view pure spring water bursting out of the Snake River Canyon walls creating what appear to be stunning waterfalls.
The most impressive ‘waterfall’ at Ritter Island is Lemmon Falls which you can reach along a short trail on the canyon floor. This trail offers serene views of the Snake River as you walk along beside it.
Ritter Island is a terrific summer destination perfect for swimming, kayaking, canoeing and paddle-boarding in the fresh spring water. If you don’t have your own gear you can rent canoes and kayaks from Banbury Hot Springs and paddle across the Snake River to Ritter Island.
If you have time bring a picnic lunch (and possibly some wine) and spend a few hours relaxing on the shores of the river and soak up the serenity.
This place has a fascinating history beginning with the arrival of French trappers in the 1800s followed by pioneers on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. The property was purchased in 1919 by Minnie Miller, a businesswoman from Salt Lake City who turned the place into a dairy farm. Visitors can see Miller’s original barn on the island during park open hours.
Ritter Island is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Weekend, Thursday to Sunday from 10am – 3pm, and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Even when closed you can still visit Lemmon Falls and enjoy the green space across from the island for picnicking and swimming.
Detour: Eagle Tree
If you are driving the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway in winter, be sure to take a short detour to the Eagle Tree between Ritter Island and Box Canyon. For some reason, every year from December through March, dozens of eagles come to perch in this tree from dusk to dawn. Even if you have seen American Eagles before it’s still interesting to witness this weird natural phenomenon that happens here. Sometimes there are up to sixty birds that sit in this tree and other times you might be lucky to see ten. The tree is on private property about 100 yards away so binoculars or a zoom lens is helpful to get a good look.
Box Canyon State Park
Box Canyon State Park is another unit of Thousand Springs State Park. If you only have time to visit one of the state parks that make up Thousand Springs, Box Canyon is the one that should not be missed!
Hidden amongst the flat farmland and dairy pastures you will find this secluded canyon where crystal clear water seeps from rock walls into a brilliant blue pool. This spring-fed pool is the eleventh largest spring in the United States and flows at an astounding 180,000 gallons per minute!
Visitors can peer down at the Caribbean blue waters of Box Canyon from an overlook at the top of the canyon rim. It is an incredible sight to see especially because the tropical looking water and lush vegetation is such a stark contrast to the featureless agricultural fields that surround it.
For those of you who enjoy adventurous activities, you will be pleased to know there is a hiking trail that leads down to the canyon floor where you’ll find a hidden waterfall that is the icy blue of glaciers.
The Box Canyon hike is a lot of fun and highly recommended for hikers of all fitness levels. The trail is only 4.3 miles out and back and although there is a steep descent to the bottom of the canyon, it is short-lived, and the entire trail will not take up much time out of the day.
If you only want to visit the waterfall at the bottom of Box Canyon, put aside one hour for this hike. However you could easily spend half a day here as there are multiple places along the stream bank to swim and enjoy the refreshing cool waters.
Niagara Springs State Park
Next up on this road trip is Niagara Springs State Park, yet another lush oasis where fresh spring water pours out of the canyon walls. At this state park you’ll see what appears to be a gushing tropical waterfall that cascades over grass covered rocks.
This waterfall isn’t actually a waterfall. It is dozens of springs percolating beneath the earth and surfacing here as surging water beneath the cliffs of the Snake River Canyon.
The water spills into a beautiful blue pool below the cascade which visitors can view from a viewing area not far from the parking lot.
The water comes out at 250 cubic feet per second at a constant temperature of 59 degree which is the perfect temperature for raising trout. This is why there are several trout hatcheries in the area, one of which relies on Niagara Springs.
If you are willing to drive a little bit further, you can continue from the parking lot down a graded road for about 1.4 miles to reach Crystal Springs, another series of ‘waterfalls’ which flows into Crystal Springs Lake.
The lake is very pretty and a good spot for picnicking. Crystal Springs Lake is stocked with trout so you may see fisherman down there trying their luck. If you’ve brought your fishing poles you may want to try your luck too.
Getting to Niagara Springs involves driving down a very narrow and steep road that will have you ascend 350 feet into the Snake River Canyon. Motorhomes and other wide vehicles are not recommended to drive down this road.
From Niagara Springs State Park you can either head back to Hagerman the way you came to continue driving along the stretch of Highway 30 you missed, or head straight into Buhl. To get to Buhl from Niagara Springs take the Niagara Springs Grade Road back to E3600 and turn left. Head straight along this road until you reach S1700E and take a left which will take you over to the south side of the Snake River and into downtown Buhl.
You can also back track along Highway 30 from Buhl. However there is no need to unless you want to kayak out to Blue Heart Springs or visit the hot springs at Banbury Hot Springs and Miracle Hot Springs. All of these places are worth visiting if you have time. If you don’t want to go back, explore the city of Buhl before heading into Twin Falls.
Blue Heart Springs
One of the most magical places in all of Idaho is Blue Heart Springs. This incredible oasis has the clearest tropical blue water that will have you wondering how on earth is this place in Southern Idaho!
The secluded lagoon can only be accessed by boat or other watercraft which makes this hidden spring an exclusive location that only the most adventurous travelers make the effort to visit.
If you would like to visit Blue Heart Springs you don’t need to have your own kayak as you can rent one from Banbury Hot Spring and paddle up the Snake River to the secret destination.
Getting to Blue Heart Springs will require you to set at least three hours aside. It takes approximately 45 minutes to paddle to the springs and a little longer to paddle back because you will be paddling against the current. But it is well worth the adventure!
Buhl is a small farming community that Thousand Springs Scenic Byway runs straight through. Since you will be passing by, you may as well stop and discover some of the wonderful things this place has to offer and support local businesses while you’re at it!
In Buhl you’ll find farm to table hard cider, all natural homemade ice cream, fresh and creamy chocolate milk, and top notch beer made using locally sourced ingredients.
Surrounding Buhl are apple, plum, and quince orchards, lavender farms, and dairies too. So you see, Idaho is not all about potatoes. Here are my recommendations on where to dine and drink if you have time to stop in Buhl.
Magic Valley Brewing
One place you definitely shouldn’t miss in Buhl is Magic Valley Brewing! This nano-brewery handcrafts small batches of high quality beer that caters to every type of beer drinker. They’ve got IPAs, pale ales, red ales, stouts, and porters.
Some of the standouts that you should try include the El Diablo Corral Jalapeno IPA which has a slightly spicy pepper flavor, and the Basalt Stout, a foreign extra dry stout with a coffee flavor.
They also have a range of seasonal beers and if you are lucky enough you might get to try their Sagebrush Ale or Lemon Wheat.
If you don’t drink alcohol you still have a good reason to stop by because this brewery also specializes in making root beer, ginger ale and cream sodas using only natural ingredients.
Not only is the beer and soda great here, but the food is amazing too! You’ll no doubt have a hard time choosing from the varied menu that includes pretzels, sandwiches, burgers, Po-boys, Meatballs, Chicken Pot Pie, Fish and Chips, and more.
Our favorites here are the Irish Mac & Cheese which is topped with corn beef, sauteed onions, and peas, as well as the Hog Heaven BBQ Fries, a delicious beer battered fries dish covered in smoked pulled pork. You can view their menu here.
All of the food at Magic Valley Brewing is made using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible so it’s a good place to get a taste of Idaho.
This is a top stop for lunch so be sure to save your appetite! There are two locations, one in Buhl and another in downtown Twin Falls so if you are not hungry yet you could consider stopping in at the Twin Falls location for dinner.
Magic Valley Brewing is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 11am and 9pm. Note that they are closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Cedar Draw Cider
Cider houses have been popping up all over Idaho in recent years and this particular one stands out for its more traditional drier varieties and unique fruit and herbal blends.
Cedar Draw Cider consider themselves to be a nano-cidery producing about 5,000 gallons of cider per year using locally sourced fruit. Take for instance their Sour Empress Plum Cider which is made using plums from an Italian plum orchard located on the owners property. Sounds delicious, right?!
But there are so many other beautiful blends that will have you salivating in anticipation such as the fragrant fresh-pressed apple cider infused with vanilla and lavender known as Le Fleur. A few others that might get you excited is the woodsy tasting cider called Spice Queen which is infused with cardamom, and my personal favorite, the Cherry Bakewell, a tart cherry cider made with fresh cherries and almonds.
Even if you are not a cider drinker it’s almost guaranteed you will enjoy the hard cider beverages here. We thought we didn’t like ciders until a recent trip to Door County in Wisconsin where we decided to give ciders a try at Island Orchard Cider and discovered that they are not always a super sweet tasting drink.
According to the owners, it’s not unusual for visitors who doubt ciders to exclaim that the ciders produced here are the best they’ve ever had. Hopefully this write up has made you curious about Cedar Draw Cider and that you make the decision to stop by and discover how luscious the ciders are here.
Unfortunately they are only open three days per week, Thursdays 5-9pm, Fridays 4-9pm, and Saturdays 3-9pm. But they are well worth planning a trip around!
If you are driving down Thousand Springs Scenic Byway on a hot summer day, you need to stop in at Cloverleaf Creamery for some ice cream to help cool down.
This isn’t any old ice cream shop though. The ice cream here is homemade, all natural, and the creamiest tasting ice cream you will ever have.
The fresh and creamy delicious taste is due to the way the milk is made at this dairy farm. Milk here is made using an old-fashioned technique starting with pedigree Holstein cows that graze on fresh grass.
There are about fifteen different flavors to choose from and believe me you will have a tough time choosing between them. Luckily they do double scoops and half scoops too!
We decided on the raspberry truffle, huckleberry, elk tracks, and mint chip. Scoops were huge and full of so much flavor! Besides the ice cream, they’ve also got chocolate milk, fresh cheese, and fruit pies.
Twin Falls is the last stop on this road trip along Thousand Springs Scenic Byway. If you’re trying to complete this driving itinerary as a day trip you might not have a lot of time to see all of the attractions in Twin Falls. If you are short on time, these are the top things to do in Twin Falls:
- Walk Across The Perrine Coulee Bridge
- Take A Stroll Along The Canyon Rim Trail
- See Perrine Coulee Waterfall
Twin Falls is a really fun destination to visit and one of our favorite places to spend a weekend away because there is so much to see and do. If possible, I recommend spending a day or two here at the end of this road trip or stay in Twin Falls and use it as a base to explore the Thousand Springs area.
If you have more time to spend in Twin Falls you can read this post to see 20 really cool things to do in Twin Falls.
Where To Stay On THIS Road Trip
Best RV Parks & Campgrounds
There are several RV parks and campgrounds along Highway 30. Some of them are located right on the River, some have hot springs, and some offer glamping and cabins.
Keep in mind that RV parks and campgrounds along Thousand Springs Scenic Byway are popular during the summer holidays and therefore get booked out during peak periods.
Be sure to book in advance if you have specific dates in mind. See below for a list of campgrounds from north to south.
- Hagerman RV Village
- Rustic Edge RV Park In Hagerman
- 1000 Springs RV Park & Campground
- Banbury Hot Springs
- Miracle Hot Springs
If you would prefer to stay at a hotel, there are only two in Hagerman however there are plenty of hotels to choose from in Twin Falls. See the list below for recommended hotels.
- Hagerman Valley Inn
- Billingsley Creek Cabins
- Hilton Garden Inn – Twin Falls
- Holiday Inn – Twin Falls
- Comfort Suite – Jerome
MORE ON IDAHO
- Ultimate Idaho Travel Guide
- 27 Best Things To Do In Idaho
- Best Places To Eat In Boise – Ultimate Foodie Bucket List
- 20 Really Cool Things To Do In Twin Falls
- Thousand Springs State Park: Impressive Canyons, Ice Blue Waterfalls, and Surging Springs
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