Winter wonderlands: Idaho state parks offer something special

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BOISE, Idaho — Winter isn't boring in Idaho with its diverse terrain and variety of state parks.

From sand to snow, the choice is wide open from dune sledding to snowshoeing or soaking up solitude in a cabin.

Elevations vary greatly from 733-foot Hells Gate at Lewiston to 6,210-foot Harriman in eastern Idaho, and that gives you a choice of spending a day in fairly mild winter weather or bundling up in frigid snow country.

Idaho's state parks continue to offer a variety of overnight stays in winter from camping to cabins and other facilities.

Here's a look at some parks and what is unique about them in winter:

EAGLE ISLAND

The park is right smack in the middle of the busy Treasure Valley, but it offers a quick getaway for a hike, mountain bike ride or horseback ride.

"I think most people visiting the park enjoy the rural atmosphere centered in middle of the valley and the different activities that can be enjoyed with the changing seasons," park manager Gary Shelley said.

Those who don't want a quiet sojourn now have Gateway Parks' new terrain park and tubing hill for thrills.

The park is located at 4000 W. Hatchery Road in Eagle.

LUCKY PEAK

The Discovery section of Lucky Peak State Park near Lucky Peak Dam makes a great winter picnic spot after a long bike ride on the Greenbelt from Boise or from other valley towns.

You can put in 7 to 10 miles from Downtown Boise on the paved path to get to the park.

A highlight of winter is seeing an eagle flying by as you hang out at the park. You might also see great blue herons in the Boise River below the dam.

BRUNEAU DUNES

You don't need snow at Bruneau Dunes for sledding. Try sand boarding on the tall, steep dunes. To make it easy, the park rents sand boards.

Too challenging? Snow saucers slide pretty good, too, especially when the dunes are wet.

Duners also use their rock skis and beat-up snowboards to ride downhill.

If that's too much for you, the park also is the scene of large concentrations of waterfowl that migrate through the area. You may get a chance to see mountain bluebirds and swans.

Or, you can plug in and just set up camp and watch the changing winter light on the dunes.

The park is south of Mountain Home, about an hour from Boise.

THREE ISLAND

Enjoying the quiet solitude of an overnight stay in one of the park's cabins located along the Snake River is what it's all about in winter, spokeswoman Katherine Pruett said.

It's as simple as that. Visitors in winter practically have the state park to themselves. It's only you and the birds along the Snake River.

Camp cooking? Forget about it. How about pecan crusted Idaho trout at Camela Winery a short stroll away?

Have a nice Chardonnay to go with it.

The park is located in Glenns Ferry, just off I-84 about 90 minutes from Boise.

CASTLE ROCKS

The state park offers access to some of the most unique snowshoeing (or hiking with lack of snow) trails through City of Rocks National Reserve.

Snowshoers can traverse trails through granite tunnels, around near pinnacles and through mini canyons, all with expansive views of the national monument.

The park is 45 miles southeast of Burley, and it rents snowshoes and park officials will lead hikes for groups by calling in advance at 824-5916.

Camping is available at the state park and more deluxe overnight accommodations are available at The Bunkhouse or Lodge.