Ritter Island is a wonderful place to visit at this time of year. The springs are flowing, spring plants and flowers are beginning to bloom, and it’s an easy place to access for spring hiking and sight-seeing for the whole family, near Wendell and Hagerman, Idaho.
Ritter Island is one of five units in Thousand Springs State Park. It’s easiest to access from the Wendell exit on Interstate 84, but also accessible from Highway 30, the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway. See locator map on the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation web site for detailed driving directions. The park is about 30 minutes west of Twin Falls and 1.5 hours from Boise.
Many people think of Ritter Island as the central feature of the state park because of the springs that flow there. One of the last remaining natural springs in the whole Thousand Springs complex is called Minnie Miller Springs, named after an enterprising Utah woman who built a successful dairy farm on Ritter Island in the early 1900s.
The springs flow 24/7 across a gin-clear water channel from the island. A trail leads to the springs from the old dairy barn. It might be a quarter-mile walk to the springs, where you can have a picnic lunch by a bench or picnic table, and enjoy the sounds and sights of the park.
Teachable moment: The Thousand Springs are the outlet for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, a vast underground body of water that stretches from St. Anthony, Idaho, to Hagerman. The water comes out of the Snake River cliffs at a constant temperature of 55 degrees. It might take more than 100 years for water to travel through the aquifer to the springs.
“With Minnie Miller Springs right behind us, it’s a unique place for the public to come walk around an island,” says Dave Landrum, Manager of Thousand Springs State Park. It’s about two miles to walk around the whole island. The park keeps a path mowed for the public to enjoy.
When the weather warms up, you also can go swimming in the clear spring water or paddle a canoe, kayak or Stand Up Paddle Board around the island, following the channel below the springs, and then the Snake River to tour the island in a clockwise direction.
While you’re at the park, you have to tour the dairy barn to soak in the history. “I’d like to show you Minnie Miller’s barn,” Landrum said. “Minnie Miller was a business woman from Utah. Her goal was to find the purest Guernsey dairy cow she could find, and have the purest and No. 1 herd in the nation.”
“She created this barn that was way ahead of its time, and she reached her goal.”
Visitors also can hike a 1.5-mile trail out to “Bonnieview” on the south end of the park property. This was a favorite place for Minnie Miller’s daughter, Bonnie, to visit next to the Snake River. The trail leads to the site of the Payne Lewis Ferry crossing n the Snake River. It’d be possible to go fishing on the Snake from this location, too.
In September, Ritter Island hosts the annual Arts & Crafts Festival in September, a very popular event in which many artists display their work against a backdrop of live music, arts and crafts, and the park amenities.
If you wanted to stay overnight nearby, one could camp the RV Park in Hagerman or grab a hotel room in Hagerman, the closest community with full services, including several great spots to eat lunch or dinner. IDPR parks staff are working on remodeling the old two-story Stone House and guest cabins on Ritter Island so the public can rent them and stay overnight in the future.
Enjoy your visit to Ritter Island and remember that it’s open year-round, Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, see Thousand Springs State Park online or call 208-837-4505.