Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thousand Springs State Park: Malad Gorge Unit (Blog Hike #356)

Trail: Northrim Trail
Hike Location: Thousand Springs State Park: Malad Gorge Unit
Geographic Location: southwest of Gooding, ID (42.86698, -114.85395)
Length: 0.6 miles
Difficulty: 0/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2011
Overview: A leg-stretcher hike on paved trail with fabulous gorge views.

Directions to the trailhead: Between Boise and Twin Falls, take I-84 to the signed exit for the state park (exit 147).  Exit and follow signs to the park, paying the small entrance fee.  Turn right at the first park intersection and follow the road for the Devil’s Washbowl Overlook.  Park at the parking area for this overlook.

The hike: Most people driving along I-84 cross the Malad River in just a few seconds, never seeing the scenic gorge they just zoomed across.  For travelers willing to take a short drive off of the interstate, spectacular views await.  At 250 feet deep, the Malad River cuts a deep, jagged gorge through the unusually flat (relative to otherwise mountainous Idaho) Snake River plain.  Parts of the gorge are only a few feet wide, while the section closest to the Snake River is around 100 feet wide.
There are no trails into the gorge and no true nature trails, but the short blacktop trail described here takes you to two fabulous gorge overlooks.  Even better, this trail is the perfect length and location for a leg-stretcher hike if you are driving along otherwise monotonous I-84 between Boise and Twin Falls.
Trailhead at Devil's Washbowl
              The paved trail leaves the Devil’s Washbowl parking area and passes an information kiosk.  At 0.1 miles, you reach the I-beam style iron footbridge over the gorge.  Stop on the bridge to get a great view down the pipe of Malad Gorge.  The river itself is a tiny white/blue ribbon rushing through the gorge-bottom.  The black basalt cliffs contrast vividly with the dry grass and sagebrush covering the gorge rim.  The I-84 bridge blocks any view upstream, and Devil’s Washbowl lies out of sight underneath you.
Looking down Malad Gorge from bridge
            Across the bridge, the asphalt trail curves left and begins heading for the second overlook downstream on the west gorge rim.  Prairie grass growing in the thin soil on either side of the trail appears green in the spring and yellow in the summer.  A couple of smaller streams tumble into the gorge, forming tall waterfalls in season. 
At 0.25 miles, you reach Devil’s Washbowl Overlook.  Perched on a peninsula on the gorge rim, the overlook gives nice views downstream, but the real show can be seen looking upstream at Devil’s Washbowl.  Devil’s Washbowl is a high-volume 60-foot waterfall that marks the river’s main entrance into the gorge.  Many years ago, this waterfall was located south of here where the Malad River enters the Snake River, but headward erosion has moved it to the current location, carving the gorge in the process.  The process of headward erosion continues, so imagine where the waterfall will be years from now.
Devil's Washbowl

View downstream from Devil's Washbowl Overlook
            The trail ends at the overlook, so you will need to turn around and retrace your steps to the parking area.  Before you return to I-84, be sure to take the self-guided auto tour to get more views of the gorge.  Of particular note is Woody’s Cove, stop #6 on the auto tour, where another short trail takes you to the rim of large horseshoe-shaped Woody’s Cove, a very scenic area and worthy end to your visit to Malad Gorge.

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