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Harriman State Park an overlooked gem

Posted On
Sep 07, 2017
Things to Do
Activities near Yellowstone


Harriman State Park

Maybe Harriman State Park is overshadowed by more famous places on U.S. Highway 20 like Yellowstone National Park and Henry’s Lake.

Perhaps it needs a bigger sign or better advertising, or even a public relations firm. Whatever the reason, Harriman doesn’t get the attention it deserves from ardent outdoor enthusiasts.

Oh, sure, fly fishermen know all about it. They explore eight miles of the Henry’s Fork within the park searching for cutthroat trout. But unless they are hiking back to their vehicle, the fishermen are never far from the river, leaving much of the 11,700 acres available for others.

Harriman was once called the Railroad Ranch. It was established in 1902 when five railroad men formed Island Park Land and Cattle Ranch. In 1907 Edward H. Harriman, the chairman of Union Pacific Railroad, bought shares in the ranch and eventually his son, Ronald, owned all the shares. In 1977, Roland and his wife, Gladys, donated the ranch to the state of Idaho to become a state park.

As I understand it, the Harrimans had a few strings attached to their gift. First, it had to remain a working cattle ranch in some form.

Second, no hunting was to be allowed and a wildlife security area had to be included. Third, fishing in the river would be catch and release and dedicated to fly fishing only. Fourth, and this was important well beyond the borders of Harriman, a professional parks and recreation agency had to be created to manage the park.

That last one was responsible for the creation of Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, which now manages 28 park entities throughout the state. It was also the clause that kept Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter from disbanding Idaho Parks and Recreation to cut costs a few years ago. Had professional government-run management been withdraw, the property would have reverted back to the Harriman family.

Today, this park is surrounded on the west side by a 7,000-acre wildlife refuge. The cattle operation is leased out to a local rancher and many of the original buildings are available for visitors to tour and some are available for rent. You can even rent horses for a guided tour.

Most visitors never get much farther than the ranch complex. The 22 miles of hiking/ biking trails are lightly used and it isn’t uncommon to have a trail to yourself.

My favorite things in the park seem to revolve around water. There are always swans and other waterfowl. Occasionally I see a moose, elk, deer, otter or muskrat. I enjoy the SliverLake and Thurmon Creek trials, the river trail and Golden Lake. I also like to canoe on the Harriman Fish Pond, which is located across Highway 20 down the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. Once on the byway, watch for a sign about a mile down the road, turn right and then take the left.

I know this sounds like an advertisement for this wonderful place. I guess I just can’t help myself when I go to Yellowstone and find roads and trails choked with 30,000 visitors on any day in August.

Even at Harriman Heritage Days last month the park garnered only a few hundred visitors each day. Maybe a little advertising isn’t a bad thing.