Southern Idaho's giant rock garden still amazes

 Explore Flaming Rock Trail
Julie Fanselow

Hiking the easy half-mile Flaming Rock Trail in Idaho's City of Rocks National Reserve, my family spies a wall of tortured faces that echo the elongated mask of the Scream movies. Undaunted, the kids scramble over some of the most bodacious boulders they'll ever see; me, I just savor the crisp fall air.

We're not the first visitors to have our imaginations piqued: Back in the 1840s, California Trail pioneers stumbled upon the hundreds of towering rock formations, "some resembling cottages, others steeples and domes ... it is a sublime, strange, and wonderful scene," wrote pioneer Margaret Frink.

Visit this month and the formations still enchant, but the season throws in a bonus: The autumn glow of tinted aspen and cottonwood trees.

INFO: City of Rocks National Reserve (free; 3035 S. Elbe-Almo Rd.; www.nps.gov/ciro or 208/824-5519) is 215 miles south of Boise (exit 216 off I-84) and 170 miles north of Salt Lake City (exit 245 off I-84).