This post is not an attempt to entertain. Sorry. It is simply facts that may help you enjoy your visit that I have observed while staying for a month being a volunteer. I hope it helps. Random photos are included.
On a nice weekend, parking can be a challenge. City of Rocks and Castle Rocks may be full of people and the parking lots may be full. Know the parking rules; tickets are freely issued.
- No parking on vegetation and on the side of the roads.
- Understand that the City of Rocks road is owned by the county. The sheriff will issue tickets if you park on the road. 2019: $85/ticket.
- Go early to get a parking spot.
- Be flexible.
- Ask at the visitor center about parking. They try to know where parking is available.
- Maybe walk. From the Smoky Mountain campground there is a trail to the Circle Creek Overlook. If you are camping in the City, walk from your camping site.
- There is overflow parking at Castle Rocks. You can always find parking there.
- Castle Rocks requires an Idaho Parks annual pass or you need to buy a $5/day pass.
- You buy the pass at the entrance, not at the parking spots.
- Castle Rocks archery range may have parking. It is a forgotten part of the park. The road to the archery range is a little bit pass the Lodge, and turn left.
There are two campgrounds – Smoky Mountain and the City of Rocks. Starting the first of May until September sometime, both campgrounds are generally fully reserved on weekends. When reserving make sure you are reserving the campground that you want.
Smoky Mountain Campground. A pleasant regular type campground. The sites are spaced apart and are relatively private. This is the Castle Rocks campground, but it is not located at Castle Rocks, it is closer to City of Rocks.
City of Rocks Campground. This campground is very special with many sites tucked next to the granite and some with a spectacular view of the Circle Creek basin. It consists of camping spots in the City of Rocks along a 1.5 mile stretch of the county road through the park. These are primarily for tenting or use by a camper. Small trailers can get into a few sites. Following are things to consider when reserving a site.
- Location to vaulted toilets. Many sites are not within reasonable walking distance to a toilet.
- Location to the county road. A few are next to the road. These can get dusty.
- View. Some have a wonderful view, others don’t.
- Shelter from sun and wind. Some are exposed to all elements and other have some protection.
- Walk-in. A common mistake is that people don’t understand “walk-in”. This means that you have to walk to the camp site. This is commonly 100 to 300 feet from where you park. A few are farther.
- Size. Some sites are very small.
- Privacy. Some sites have little privacy from the public areas, but the total number of visitors to the reserve is small, so you won’t have a lot of people coming by.
- Elevation. The higher sites (higher site number) are cooler.
How do you pick a site at City of Rocks?
Reserve ahead of arrival.
- You can call the visitor center and ask for advice on picking a camp site. The quality of advice will depend on who you talk to. Try to call Monday or Tuesday, the slow days of the week, otherwise they may not have time much time to talk to you.
- Use google or bing aerial photos to view the sites.
Arriving with no reservation.
- You drive around looking for a site that doesn’t have a tag on it indicating it is reserved. This can be time consuming.
- Stop at the visitor center and if they aren’t busy they can give you a list of sites that weren’t reserved. Some of these sites can already to occupied by a camper claiming them before you get there.
- You can only pay for a non reserved camp site one day at a time.
Disperse/ boondocking Area.
There is BLM land south of the Visitor Center on the right (west) side of the road. Drive over two cattle guards. Also the land up hill from the Smokey Mountain campground is BLM. Simple drive to the campground and instead of turning left go straight on a dirt road. I don’t recommend trailers on the road or cars. The road does not look maintained.
This is not camping but I have to mention it. The Lodge at Castle Rock is wonderful and is well maintained. It has a propane fire, an outside grill, and updated kitchen with granite counter tops. This is not like a forest service cabin.
All roads are dirt/gravel. This is not a national park with paved roads, which surprises some visitors.
Don’t try to drive over Emery Pass in April without calling the visitor center first. Every year visitors get stuck trying to drive the pass too early in the year. If you are lucky the Reserve/Park staff will be able to pull you out. If they can’t you need to pay for a tow truck to come from Burley or Twin Falls.
After raining the roads can be a sloshy, slippery, gooy mess of mud. A few times when I was here, it was recommened that only vehicles with four wheel drive or all wheel drive drive into the City of Rocks. The visitor center knows the condition of the road. The road to Castle Rocks can also be a sloshy, slippery, gooy mess of mud, but because it is a relatively level road, four wheel drive isn’t needed when muddy.
When the roads aren’t muddy and rutted, they can be dusty.
Don’t come to the City of Rocks and Castle Rocks and expect to leave with a clean vehicle.
One last bit of advise
Don’t come to the City of Rocks to hike. Come to walk and explore – go slow and discover the unique features of the area.
Enjoy your visit.