Idaho Bird Observatory

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:

This quick out-and-back trip will take you to one of the best viewpoints in Southern Idaho. At the summit of Lucky Peak—the peak, not the dam—lies the Idaho Bird Observatory, which is run by Boise State’s Department of Biological Sciences. This facility serves as the primary field research hub for students and scientists to collect information on migratory and songbirds. The observatory is open to the public from July 15-Oct. 31 and offers opportunities to kick it with our fluttery friends on this scenic ridge.

For information on operating hours and the best times to see your favorite hawk, owl or songbird, check out the IBO website.


IBO operators said the facility is there for a good reason.

In 1993, we discovered that the Boise Ridge, just a few miles from downtown Boise, supports one of the largest known raptor and songbird migrations in the Western United States during autumn. A long-term project has been established at Lucky Peak, the southernmost peak on the ridge, to annually count the number of migrating raptors during fall to provide reliable population trend information on western species. Long-term raptor banding projects also have been established to identify migration routes, wintering areas, breeding areas and mortality factors.


Getting There
Leaving Boise around 3 p.m., I was eager to test a new set of DOT 60/40 off-road tires that I recently installed on Geronimo, my KLR 650. I headed east from downtown out Warm Springs Avenue before jumping on Highway 21 eastbound. Just before the Kodiak Grill (formerly the Hilltop Cafe), I made a left onto Highland Valley Road.


The road forks once, before heading up the steep—and occasionally very rough—final 3 miles to the IBO.


There are plenty of signs pointing travelers in the right direction, so navigation is a breeze.


Be aware that the 5-mile trek from Highway 21 is fairly rough, and a 4×4 vehicle with good ground clearance is recommended.


The panoramic views from Lucky Peak alone are worth the trip. You can see every landscape imaginable, from pine forest to desolate sagebrush desert, to steep rocky canyons, to grassy rolling hills, to high plains. The geography changes drastically in every direction when you travel this far up in the clouds.


As soon as you reach the observatory, it’s tempting to try to connect through to Aldape Summit at the top of Rocky Canyon Road, but that cannot be done legally.


There are several gates and restricted areas that exist to help conserve this unique ecosystem in the eastern Foothills. You have to be respectful of this area and proceed with the understanding that this is an out-and-back trip only. You can explore a handful of trails and dead-end roads that run down toward Harris Ranch, but you cannot connect through this time of year on motorized vehicles. There are a handful of private parcels as well—they are gated for a reason and trespassing is strictly forbidden.

Total Distance: 38 miles, 10 miles on dirt

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