If you take a small shortcut off the main Oregon-California trail route to Fort Hall, you will come across the small town of Soda Springs in Caribou County, Idaho. This place has a history dating back to the height of the Oregon Trail all the way to today, as its natural wonders and man-made geyser has tourists flocking to the location.
Oasis Along The Oregon Trail
Even before the emigrants that traveled the Oregon Trail dubbed Soda Springs the Oregon Trail Oasis, trappers, fur traders, and Native Americans would visit it frequently. Formerly known as Beer Springs, weary travelers would use the water to wash clothes, bathe, and even cook. Sarah White Smith of the Mission Party of 1838 noted in her travel journal that the water was very good for baking bread, even without yeast. She was far from the only pioneer to mention the Oregon Trail Oasis, with many of the accounts also talking about the smell.
Geothermal Heat & Naturally Carbonated Water
The naturally carbonated geothermal waters that dot the local geography were what gave Soda Springs its name. Caused by volcanic activity, the most famous waters there include Hooper Springs and Steamboat Springs. When people tasted the water, it reminded them of artificially made soda water as the water bubbled and foamed.
Sadly the town’s development would end up blocking and destroying many of these historic watering holes. Some of Soda Springs’ natural features and historic landmarks can still be found in the area, though, and remain popular tourist attractions.
- Hooper Springs
- Steamboat Springs
- Octagon Spring
- Wagonbox Grave
The Town As It Is Today
The town wasn’t organized until 1919, despite being the county seat of Oneida County since the 1860s. Also, in 1919, it became the county seat of Caribou County. The biggest attractions for the city are some later additions to Soda Springs’ history, well after the majority of Soda Springs’ natural features were blocked.
Soda Springs Geyser
Now, the main attraction to the town is the world’s only captive geyser, where the water pressure is controlled by an electric motor. It was created in 1937 when a drilling operation accidentally hit a pocket of pressurized gas and water. This man-made geyser would go off uncontrollably for months, almost flooding the town. They managed to cap it with a valve to release the pressure, and now it releases every hour on a timer for tourists that flock to see it every year.
People can also see the restored locomotive that had been underwater for over 52 years from when the Alexander Reservoir was built near Soda Springs. Found in 1976, when the water level was lowered, the locomotive had been left in 1924 when the reservoir was built. Dinky Engine, as it is known, became the inspiration for the story of “Half Pint”.
Find Out More About Famous California Trail Stops
Soda Springs features in many pioneers’ journals, making it an important part of Oregon & California Trail history. Read about the rich history of these natural fountains and find out more information about the trails at the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, Nevada.