Tuesday was one of those Idaho days when the sun comes out and pretends it is Spring. It was our first day with a temperature in the 60's since November. It was one of those days for calling your best friend up and playing hookie together, which is exactly what my wife and I chose to do. Some of the things we like to do together are birdwatching, hiking, and exploring Oregon Trail and Lewis and Clark sites. West of Boise there is a perfect place to combine all three.
Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area is a large public access area managed by Idaho Fish and Game. It sits on the Snake River at the mouth of the Boise River, and serves as a hunting area in the fall and a tremendous migratory waterfowl area in the spring. There are hiking trails through much of the area, but between February 1 and July 31 the land close to the main waterfowl areas is closed to protect the migrating and nesting birds. It is also the site of a major way station along the Oregon Trail. There was a small Hudson's Bay Company fort here in the 1840's and it served the early Oregon Trail travelers into the mid-1850's. Because the area is flood prone though, the fort was gone by 1855, but by then Boise City served as the main stop. Today, there is a marker pointing out the site of the old fort (which is in the current channel of the Snake River).
Currently, the wetlands and ponds of the management area serve as way stations for migrating ducks, swans, snow geese, and white-fronted geese. Hiking along the outside of the closed off areas, you can catch glimpses of the hundreds of birds sitting on the ponds. And it is a truly magnificent sight to see literally thousands of these geese and swans all take flight at once, cirling in huge flocks, and settling down again. The sound is undescribable, and the scene is unforgettable. What a great way to spend an afternoon away from the office! Bring a good camera (you just can't get that many birds into a little camera)!
To get there, go west on Highway 20/26 or I-84 past Caldwell to Parma. Three miles past Parma turn left on Old Fort Boise Road and follow it to the WMA. Hours are from 6:00am till 8:00pm through March 31, then 5:00am till 10:00pm through September. Overnight camping is permited (see the WMA website for restrictions) and there is a boat launch on the Snake River.