Visiting the Lost River Valleys is an educational and entertaining journey. Lost Rivers history started with the Shoshone Indians who traveled the lava beds of what is now Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, and the Lost River Valley as part of their annual migration through south-central Idaho. Pictographs on rock walls in Darlington and Antelope Valley mark their passing.
In 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission located a major complex now called the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in the desert east of Arco. Research eventually lead to the use of nuclear fission, and the production of electricity. Nuclear generated electricity was transmitted through power lines to the city of Arco on July 17, 1955, making Arco the first city in the world to be lit with atomic power for one hour. In commemoration of this event Atomic Days Celebration is held in July. EBR-1 the reactor that produced the electric current, is now a National Historical Site that documents early nuclear research. By 1951, buses began transporting local workers to and from the INL. To this day, INL workers living in the area are a stabilizing factor in the Lost River Valleys economy.
From the lava fields of Craters of the Moon to Idaho’s tallest peak – Mt. Borah – the Lost River Valleys holds a romantic, rustic western appeal for those looking to sit back and relax or play long and hard. Spanning Butte and South Custer counties, the Lost Rivers area consists of the Big Lost River Valley, home to the communities of Arco, Moore, Darlington, Leslie & Mackay; and the Little Lost River Valley, home to the agricultural community of Howe.
The Lost River Valleys - a place where the clock seems to slow and spectacular vistas and beautiful scenery take you away from the hustle and bustle of the city. So work up an appetite wherever your interests may take you and dine at hometown eateries with various renditions of local fare. Shop the businesses and galleries run by good hearted souls. Visit the areas historical, scientific and patriotic exhibits created by artisans and crafters from the valley bringing our rich history and bright future together. Then, at the end of an amazing day, choose one of the quiet, clean motels conveniently located within our communities.
Visitors to the area can experience all that the Lost River Valleys have to offer. ATV riding, fishing, hunting, sightseeing, snowmobiling, soaring sports, trails and water sports. Whether you prefer the comforts of a motel room, RV or roughing it, there are accommodations to suit you here in the valleys.
The Lost River Valleys are the gateway to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, Mt. Borah and Mackay’s Mine Hill. The Lost River Valley is made of several small communities. Arco, the largest, is located at the head to the Big Lost River Valley. Arco was the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power and has also been known as the “Gateway to the Craters of the Moon National Monument.” The anniversary of this historic event is observed annually in Arco.
Arco has several motels and restaurants for the tourist. Arco is the site of several modern RV parks for visitors and other overnight camping facilities are also available. In addition to these facilities, the Craters of the Moon National Monument has camping facilities in the surrounding mountain areas and contain several Forest Service operated campgrounds. The mountain areas also provide numerous opportunities for “primitive” camping in beautiful areas along lakes and streams of the high country.
An easy day’s drive will take visitors to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, the only place on the North American Continent where you can see a “Great Rift.” This is where the astronauts trained before making the trip to the moon. Be sure to visit the Craters in the spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom, or summer time when the landscape is black and rugged.
Another great time to visit the Craters is during the winter when the bulk of the monument is closed to all but cross-country skiers, snowshoers and winter hikers. What a great time to see the Craters in black and white.
Moore, ID is located just seven miles north of Arco and is the home of King Mt. Launch Site, which hosts regional, national and international hang gliding and paragliding competitions. This site has drawn competitors from all around the world as well as local enthusiasts. Be sure to check out the skies as you pass Moore and see how many hang gliders and paragliders you can see.
Howe, Idaho is located 40 miles northeast of Arco and is at the head of the Little Lost River Valley. Howe may be small, but it has restaurants, mini-marts and a RV Park. Both the Big and Little Lost Rivers enter into the sinks just east of Howe. This is one of the few areas you can see a river disappear into the desert.
Mackay, located on Hwy. 93, is ninety two miles northwest of Idaho Falls and just “over the hill” from Sun Valley. It is nestled in the Lost River Valley surrounded by some of the most breathtaking mountains in Idaho. Mackay has been called a recreational paradise since it has some of the best hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and hiking in Idaho.
Whether you want to be active or just relax, Mackay is the place where you’ll find small town friendliness. Nicknamed “The Top Of Idaho,” Mackay is one of the highest in elevation incorporated cities in Idaho. Idaho’s highest peak, Mt. Borah at 12,662 ft., is located 25 miles north of Mackay. At the base of Mt. Borah is the famous earthquake rift from the 1983 quake which registered 7.3 on the Richter scale.
Mackay’s history is centered around a rich mining influence. Geologists come from all over to study the geological sites Mackay has to offer. Mackay offers a variety of shops, restaurants, motels, RV parks, businesses and recreational opportunities. Whatever you enjoy doing… boating, water-skiing, jet skiing and sailing are all found at Mackay Reservoir. Other activities to enjoy in the area are…fishing, golfing, hiking, hunting and mountain climbing. Golfing is available at the River Park Golf Course in Mackay. It is a quaint 9-hole course. Other activities held in the area are the hang gliding and paragliding World Point Finals Championships and the National Paragliding Championships.
There are rodeos for all ages from horses to motorcycles and Idaho’s Wildest Rodeo. Snowmobile or camp in beautiful Copper Basin, Trail Creek, Antelope Road and Pass Creek area. Swimming is allowed at Mackay Reservoir and Big Lost River. Be sure to visit the South Custer Historical Society’s Lost River Museum on your visit here.