Looking for a fun adventure this weekend? I have two perfect places for you! The only requirements are that you don’t mind spending a bit of time in the car and that you’re willing to stay calm when your navigation takes you to the wrong trailhead a million times in a row. Both spots are incredibly remote, difficult to find, but 100% worth it.
Black Magic Canyon and Tea Kettle Cave are must-see destinations, only two hours out of Boise. They’re located about an hour from one another and between the two of them, it’s a thrilling way to spend a fall day!
It’s all a part of the Magic Valley, a region filled with wildly diverse and unique geography (you could even say it’s magic!)
Massive volcanic eruptions influenced a vast majority of the Magic Valley’s geology. The entire region is covered in the remnants of lava flows that date back to the last Ice Age and beyond. You can experience the valley’s incredible history up close and personal at our first stop, Tea Kettle Cave.
Southern Idaho’s geologic past has created a plethora of rare recreational opportunities for locals to enjoy. Tea Kettle Cave is one of many local ancient lava tubes that you can explore on your trip.
The name of the cave isn’t without good reason, it’s derived from its shape. The pot is the main chamber, the spout is the entrance, and the skylight you see in the photo above is the lid. Hence, the name, “Tea Kettle” Cave.
This hidden gem is about as off the grid as you can get. When I say this place is in the middle of nowhere, I mean, the actual middle of nowhere. The hole in the center of the photo below is the top of the cave. Also pictured below is the bustling metropolis that surrounds the area. I hope my sarcasm translates well online.
We almost didn’t make it to Tea Kettle Cave. Even though I’m overly dramatic 99% of the time, this is the one time I could not be more serious. The road is extremely desolate, unpaved and covered in rocks. My car bottomed out more times than I could count.
I visited the cave following a recent snowfall, so the path was muddy and my car was spinning out. If this doesn’t sound like something your car can handle, don’t go. Seriously, you will either get stuck on the path or stuck with a bill from the auto repair shop.
Once we finally made it, we parked near the entrance. There were no other cars and no other people. Honestly, it was pretty sketchy.
When my fiancé told me to “climb in,” I thought he had lost his marbles. Remember, this is a pitch dark hole in the ground, half an hour away from the nearest paved road. Surely, some crazed psychopath must be living below, waiting to kill me. Freddy Kruger? Hannibal? (Remember, I said I was dramatic).
Luckily, there were no monsters lingering to feast on my flesh. Although, I can’t completely confirm this because I didn’t bring a proper flashlight. We used the LED from our camera but it was hardly sufficient, so be sure to pack a good one. Also, expect to get dirty. There’s some sliding and climbing involved here.
My descent to the “cool part” of the cave was comical. I slid down a steep, muddy incline, my voice echoed with each “oh my gosh!” and dust flew into my mouth as I questioned every life choice that had led me to this moment.
I fell, I screamed and I wondered if my fiancé actually loved me (I mean, seriously, why would he take me here!?). About half way through, I welcomed the idea of being dinner to the fire breathing dragon that surely lived at the bottom of this black, never ending tunnel.
If you’re a more normal, less paranoid person than I am, you probably won’t have much trouble with any part of this. It took me a good half hour to get to the bottom of the cave, but my fiancé did it in two minutes. I’ll let you decide who the crazy one is here.
The cave itself is a pretty cool place to visit, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious to get back to the car. As much as I enjoy exploring, I’m no Magellan. I also got pretty claustrophobic and never fully abandoned the idea that someone else was in there with us.
After crawling on my hands and knees back to the entrance of the cave for what felt like a lifetime, I finally made it out. To say I was relieved is a massive understatement. I won’t be going back, but I’m glad I went. If you’re braver than I am, I would definitely recommend it!
If you’d like to visit Tea Kettle Cave, lookout for Deadhorse Cave Road, five miles northwest of Gooding. The off-road portion of the drive is five miles long, but the rough terrain will take you at least a half hour to get through. Allot your time accordingly and do not go too late in the day. I can’t imagine a worse place to get stranded.
From Tea Kettle Cave, you can visit another marvel formed from cooled lava.
Idaho is home to some of the most gorgeous hiking trails in the country, but aesthetically, nothing comes close to Black Magic Canyon. It’s a one of a kind, geologic masterpiece. It’s much more populated than Tea Kettle Cave, easier to find, and doesn’t require four-wheel drive.
Indiscernible from the road, cloaked by the ground above, lies this three mile long basaltic slot canyon. Dating back more than 10,000 years, this phenomenally unique chasm consists of rock formations left behind by lava flows. Much of the region appears black in satellite images, evidence of how recent these volcanic events took place in the region.
Shaped over time by the Big Wood River, the once solid lava rock has slowly transformed into some of the most fascinatingly beautiful structures I’ve ever seen.
Once you start your hike, you’ll find hundreds of black basalt rocks that appear as though they’ve been individually handcrafted. Each formation mimics a sculpture you would only expect to witness behind a piece of glass at a modern art museum.
Being able to climb through them is out of this world.
In some parts, the rocks soar 50 feet overhead and you can even make your way up them. I’m a horrendous rock climber, so I enjoyed the view from below. The only issue with being on the ground is the snakes. I wish I was kidding.
Although I didn’t personally see any, many hikers have reported rattlesnakes at Black Magic Canyon as well as at Tea Kettle Cave. The issue is more prevalent in the warmer months, but be sure to dress accordingly and be on the lookout!
Black Magic Canyon is any traveler’s dream, but it can turn into a nightmare if you don’t prepare. The best time of year to visit is in the fall because during the summer and winter months, the canyon can become flooded with irrigation water or filled with snow. Before you go, be sure to call the Big Wood Canal Company to check the irrigation water flowing from the Magic Reservoir. If you don’t, you can find yourself trapped in a fatal flash flood. Click here for contact information.
Black Magic Canyon is an hour away from Tea Kettle Cave, but both are two hours from Boise. If you don’t want to make a dedicated trip to these destinations, note that Black Magic Canyon is right off of Highway 75 on the way to Sun Valley. If you’re traveling from Boise, it’s only a 10 mile detour and is a great way to break up the drive to a more popular, overnight destination.
Want to know more? Watch the video below detailing my experience at both Black Magic Canyon and Tea Kettle Cave. Just know ahead of time, my cave entrance isn’t one of my finer moments. I’ll always be honest with you about my experiences though, so it’s as authentic as it gets. I hope you can laugh along with me! Enjoy, be safe, and have a great weekend!