If you are looking for a road trip while you are in the Boise area, don’t miss Silver City Idaho. This is a “living” ghost town that is a pleasure to explore.
Our plan for the day – Swan Fall Dam
and Bruneau Sand Dunes
We started the day driving south from the Boise area to Swan Falls Dam, with no intention of going on to Silver City!
Well that’s pretty normal for us, I guess.
The drive to the Swan Falls Dam went through the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. We got there too late in the morning to catch sight of birds, but the views of the river were amazing. Be sure to stop at Dedication Point on Swan Falls Dam road, about 2 miles from the dam. There is a short (1/4 mile?) walk to the edge of the Snake River canyon. What a view!
Swan Falls Dam
The Swan Falls Dam was built in 1901 to generate electricity for the mines in the Owyhee Mountains. A new powerhouse was built in 1995, so the old powerhouse is now the visitor center. The museum is open on Saturdays between April 15 to Labor Day. There is a lovely picnic area and swimming beach above the dam, as well as boat launches both above and below the dam.
So we had a snack from our lunch box at the park above the dam and enjoyed the view of the River. We were there in October, remember, so we had the place to ourselves. Sweet!
Change of Plans – Let’s see Silver City
Our plan for the day included driving from the dam to a place called Bruneau Dunes State Park. Unfortunately, we never made it. After driving through Murphy on our way to Bruneau Dunes, we found the sign to Silver City. “Warning” it said, “if you pass this point you will pay for any search and rescue costs incurred.” Hmmm.
We decided to take it on. Now remember this is a beautiful fall day, about 50 degrees. I’m driving a 4-wheel drive jeep. We are considered “high clearance”. Good to go. After about 5 miles of paved road, we drop down to a dirt road with some washboard. The Warning sign is repeated. Ok – we can do this. After a few miles of some of the prettiest Idaho scenery you will ever see, we dropped down to a road just wider than my jeep. Ok, take it slow, no one else is on the road anyway, right? Soon enough, we realize that in the higher elevations, it had snowed the day before. Pretty! and slushy, and slippery. A couple of times I wanted to turn back. Unfortunately, there was no going back without turning around on a one lane road.
Ok – enough of my story. We got to the town with slightly frayed nerves but none the worse.
Silver City is a Living Ghost Town
The town of Silver City is unusual for a ghost town. The town was founded in 1864 to serve the miners working the War Eagle Mountain mines. It was the first in Idaho to have a newspaper, telegraph, electric service, and phone service. None of which are currently available! At its peak in the 1880’s the population was roughly 2500 people with 75 businesses.
Like most mining towns, the population collapsed when the mines were depleted. But in 1972, the Idaho Hotel was re-opened and some hearty souls began to restore or rebuild the main street buildings and some of the homes. Currently, there are 4 businesses open during the summer and tourists enjoy the drive and a snack when they get there. The road closes in October, due to snow, but even then a few hearty souls settle in for the long season, without electricity or phone.
If you decide to take the drive, a couple of suggestions are in order. First, this is a high-clearance road even when it is completely dry. Be sure your vehicle is ready for it. Second, check your gas tank first. The town of Murphy has fairly expensive gas prices, but there is no fuel in Silver City itself. Be warned!