Boise Daytrips

Malad Gorge State Park - Overlooked in Every Sense of the Word

Would you believe that you can drive right over one of Idaho's natual wonders? It's true. In fact, if you've ever driven from Boise to Twin Falls on I-84 you've done just that and probably never realized it. That's the interesting thing about Malad Gorge. The road takes you right to it, yet most folks have no idea it even exists.

Technically, Malad Gorge is now one of the five units in Thousand Springs State Park, but we prefer to call it by its old name, Malad Gorge State Park. It's easier that way. When the government complicates something, we try to simplify it. That's how we roll. Whatever you decide to call it, this 652-acre park is about seven miles southeast of Bliss, with easy access at the Tuttle exit. All told, the park is about 97 miles southeast of B-Town, making it about an hour and a half car ride. If you don't have to stop at the Pilot in Mountain Home so your small-bladdered spouse can open the floodgates, so to speak, you'll probably get there in an hour and twenty minutes.

You can't see much of Malad Gorge from Interstate 84. A canyon stretches to the south, but otherwise there is nothing remarkable, especially when you're zooming by at 75 miles per hour. The truth, however, is that the I-84 bridge that crosses the Malad River is directly over the most impressive feature of the park, a large waterfall and plunge pool called the Devil's Washbowl. You'll have to exit the Interstate and circle back to see it though. And since the place is in the state park system, you'll have to pay a $5 day-use fee, but there's enough stuff in the park to make it worth it. Plus, the day-use pass is good at all the other Thousand Springs units, as well as any other state park you can get to before the sun goes down.

After entering the park, take the right turn and head toward the parking lot near the big bridge. When you get over how close you are to the Interstate -- and how loud the passing traffic is -- meander over to the nearby interpretive display, which is nice and shady and has a few benches so you can sit a spell and read all about the area's geological history and early inhabitants, along with background information about the nearby springs and gorge. There's also quite a bit of information about the Kelton Road, which was once the main stage route from Boise to the railhead in Kelton, Utah. The old road is just on the other side of the Interstate bridges, and you can still see the wagon ruts that were worn into the rock.

If you've forgotten how to read common longhand English due to excessive texting and tweeting, you can skip the potentially boring historical stuff and go straight to the metal pedestrian bridge spanning the gorge. Stop about halfway across and enjoy the view. At this point you'll be about 150 to 175 feet above the river, and if you look under the Interstate bridge, you can see the Malad River carving away the gorge and spitting whitewater to and fro.

The real attraction, though, is directly below you, so you'll need to cross the bridge and walk a bit of the paved path before you can look back and start enjoying the view. If you take the paved trail all the way to the end, there is a formal overlook where you can see the Devil's Washbowl in all its glory.

It's also interesting to see the 18-wheelers go right over the top of this spectacle, never realizing the neat juxtapositon they are creating.

At the end of the paved path is a dirt trail that keeps going along the rim of the canyon. This trail takes you where you can get a better view of a second waterfall, which occurs when the overlfow from a pond on the other side of the canyon reaches the canyon edge and plunges all the way to the river below. While it's not as impressive as the Devil's Washbowl, it's still good to gawk at it and take pictures with it in the background.

All that tramping around and sightseeing is bound to make you thirsty and tired, so the park's picnic area comes in handy. You'll probably want to drive to it from the overlook parking lot, even though it's not that far away. This picnic area contains nice shade trees, green grass, a picnic shelter, horeshoe pits, bar-b-que grills, toilets, playground equipment, a water spigot, and some not-so-cautious marmots.

What it does not have are vending machines or a taco truck, so you'll want to make sure you pack a cooler with plenty of beverages and Cheesy Poofs. Be careful, though -- them marmots love Cheesy Poofs, and they've been known to take small children hostage in order to swipe a mouthful of those cheesy concoctions of puffed rice and corn.

If you've still not had your fill of the Malad Gorge area, hop in the car and drive the interpetive loop. It stretches south from the picnic area and has five marked stops. The first one provides a great view of the Devil's Washbowl. A second gets you close to the smaller waterfall. The third stop points out a concrete diversion canal visible above the river. This canal actually diverts most of the water in the Malad River toward two Idaho Power generators. There are so many springs in the area, however, that the river is instantly recharged and empties into the Snake River 2.5 miles downstream. The other stops provide information about the area's geology, rare plants, and a dry cove that once had a waterfall the same size as the Devil's Washbowl.

All that ain't half bad for an area people usually drive over or by. If you still don't think it warrants a special trip, combine it with other units of Thousand Springs State Park or even Three Island Crossing, which is about 30 miles to the west. Then you can feel like you got your gas money's worth.

Destination: Malad Gorge State Park, AKA the Malad Gorge Unit of Thousand Springs State Park
Where: 97 miles southeast of Boise. Take I-84 East to the Tuttle exit, then follow the signs.

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Park Hours: Dawn to dusk, year round
Cost: $5 day-use fee
Website: State of Idaho Parks & Rec
Fun fact: If you're curious and willing to stop and look around, you'll keep finding gems like this place.