Boise Places Worth Seeing

Oregon Trail Recreation Area - Park Your Conestoga and Learn Something

The Oregon Trail Recreation Area just might have the best Oregon Trail monument around, but almost no one has heard of it. The reason for its obscurity is simple. It's hidden on a side road off Idaho 21 above Surprise Valley, and although there is a sign for it along the highway, you're probably looking at the scenery as you go down the hill toward the Boise River. But it's well worth seeking out, especially if you appreciate ample parking and you like to get your history lesson and exercise in one fell swoop.

It wasn't always worth visiting, though. There was always a trailhead and some Oregon Trail markers there, but in 2010 Ada County dumped some serious sawbucks into building a proper monument on the site. The result is impressive indeed, and it should make you feel that your tax dollars are being well spent by your elected officials.

Part of the reason it is so impressive is that it is made to last. In a tradition that harkens back to Boise's infancy, the builders constructed the majority of the monument out of the local Boise sandstone, just as the generations before us did for the Idaho State Capitol, the old Idaho Penitentiary, the old Children's Home, and many other buildings in the area. The permanence, brawn, and beauty of the stone give a certain majesty to the monument, one that conveys the importance of the Oregon Trail to our local and national history.

Perhaps even more impressive is the creativity that caps the monument's design. Instead of putting up a flat-roofed rain and sun shelter to cover the site's interpretive signs, the monument features a cover that mimics the rounded top of a Conestoga wagon, a commonly used symbol for the Oregon Trail journey.

The monument offers five interpretive signs you can study if you want to impress more people at your next cocktail party. The centerpiece is a sign about the Oregon Trail and the numerous cutoffs, shortcuts, spurs, and other subroutes that evolved over the life of the trail. There is also a sign dedicated to Bonneville Point, which is the vantage east of Boise where Oregon Trail travelers got their first view of the Boise Valley after many dry, dusty days on the Snake River Plain. An additional sign gives the history of Fort Boise, which was founded in 1863 to protect gold miners and emigrants passing through on the trail. A fourth sign contains information about a dude named Ezra Meeker, who originally traveled the Oregon Trail in 1852 with his wife and son. When he reached the ripe old age of 75 in 1906, he decided that the Oregon Trail was being forgotten, and to raise awareness of this fact he got himself a wagon and some oxen and then retraced the route he had traveled over 50 years earlier, this time placing stone markers along the trail. The final sign has information about the Kelton Road, which was the main stage coach road between Boise and the railhead in Kelton, Utah from 1869 to 1884.

After you've taken in the monument and ignored the small signs asking you not to climb on the rocks, the area has a trailhead so you can actually walk on a portion of the old Oregon Trail. In fact, if you're up for a long hike or you brought your bike, you can follow the trail all the way out to Bonneville Point, one of the area's other notable Oregon Trail monuments. Along the way, keep a look out for the old concrete markers that indicate the route.

A word of warning, though, for when you're ready to leave. For some reason, the county decided to put one of those tire-puncturing contraptions at the entrance/exit, so if you have a habit of getting to the exit, remembering that you forgot something, and then backing up, don't try it here or you'll suffer some of the "severe tire damage" normally reserved for bank parking lots.

Perhaps the authorities want to prevent wandering bandits from driving into the parking lot on the wrong side of the road. Or perhaps the area banks had a surplus of these tire-puncturing devices and sold them to the county, who now has to use them somewhere. Your guess is as good as ours, but it seems like a dumb place to find such a contraption.

Place worth seeing: Oregon Trail Recreation Area
Where: Of Idaho 21, near the Boise River

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Hours: Dusk to dawn, year round
Cost: Free
Website: None
Fun fact: You can walk in the footsteps of folks who weren't afraid to caulk the wagon and float it across the river.