When you hear the word “Idaho” you probably think “potatoes,” right? Idaho is known as the “Potato State” owing to the fact that it is the country’s biggest supplier of potatoes. Idaho’s other nickname is the “Gem State,” because nearly every known type of gemstone has been found there. But aside from potatoes and gems, there are so many things to explore and enjoy in Idaho.
Idaho’s lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests are gorgeous. About two-thirds of the state is owned by public agencies, with much of that set aside as wilderness and/or for recreation. You will love Idaho.
Here are our picks for the top 10 must see attractions in Idaho
Visitors from all over the world are drawn to Sun Valley for the opportunity to enjoy year-round outdoor recreation and awesome mountain scenery. During the summer months, the resorts cater to hikers and mountain bikers, and other outdoor adventurers. Families enjoy golf, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and river rafting. Winter brings downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling. Sun Valley and nearby Ketchum offer great hotels and lodging along with all the services to support vacationers, including dining, shopping, and entertainment. Sun Valley hosts special events and festivals throughout the year.
Boise, the capital city of Idaho, is a surprising blend of urban and outdoors. It offers many unique attractions like the World Center for Birds of Prey, the Basque Museum, and the Old Idaho Territorial Penitentiary. You’ll find murals and public art around the city. There are historical museums and other cultural hotspots within a few blocks of one another. In the center of town on the Boise River, Julia Davis Park offers several attractions and activities for families. There’s the Boise Art Museum, Zoo Boise, the Discovery Center, and the Idaho State History Museum.
In the winter golf during the day, and ski at night 16 miles from downtown, at Bogus Basin Ski Area. Long summer days allow for biking, rafting, concerts, outdoor dining. Experience the many fine, locally-owned restaurants, and a vibrant downtown.
Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site
The Old Idaho Penitentiary opened its doors in 1872 to some of the West’s most desperate criminals. Today the 19th-century Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise is a museum. Visitors can experience over 100 years of Idaho’s unique prison history with a visit to Solitary Confinement, cell blocks, the Gallows, and see the jail cells which have not been used since the early 1970s. Some say the facility is haunted. Guided tours are available every day.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
There is nothing more scenic and magical than the sight of a vast ocean of lava flows. In southeastern Idaho, a lunar-like landscape was created by lava flows from volcanic eruptions that happened thousands of years ago. If your family craves outdoor adventure then you have to make this one of your first stops.
Begin your visit with a stop at the Craters of the Moon visitor center, where you’ll learn about the lava landscape through exhibits and film. A loop drive will take you through a portion of the national monument, with frequent places to stop and explore lava cones, craters, and caves on hikes ranging from 100 yards to 8 miles in length. The Craters of the Moon loop road and trails are popular in winter, offering terrain for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Spending a day here would mean a day of hiking and exploring the Craters of the Moon Wilderness including the Lava Trees and the Echo Crater.
Known as the region’s cultural destination, Idaho Falls offers tourists with an unforgettable experience. Families can visit the Colonial Theater and Civic Auditorium to enjoy stage plays, live acts and concerts. Or take the kids to the Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park. You will see an extensive collection of animals and plants. You can also get up close and personal with the penguins.
Watching the Chukars play at Melaleuca Field is a great source of family-friendly fun in the summer. Or enjoy over 3 miles of uninterrupted walking, biking or jogging path on the Snake River Greenbelt. Culture vultures, history enthusiasts and curious kids of all ages will have a great time at the Museum of Idaho.
The Museum of Idaho
The Museum of Idaho, located in Idaho Falls, is a perfect stop on the way to Yellowstone National Park, Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Craters of the Moon National Monument. You’ll find an interesting variety of exhibits and activities, most involving history or science.
The museum’s permanent exhibits include “Eagle Rock,” with artifacts and information related to regional life in the 1880s, and “Race for Atomic Power,” which chronicles the region’s contributions to the field of nuclear energy. The Museum of Idaho also offers an ever-changing series of special exhibitions, covering such topics as the human body, the Lewis and Clark expedition, dinosaurs, and insects.
Lake Coeur d’Alene
This lakeside playground provides you and your family with a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities set in an incredibly scenic area. Biking, golfing, shopping, trail hiking and fun rides, you’ll always find something exciting and interesting to do at Coeur d’Alene.
The 25 miles long lake is long and winding, with miles of forested shoreline and a myriad of coves and bays. They provide a wonderful, watery playground for boaters, fishers, and paddlers. Boating, sailing and fishing are popular during the summer months
The city of Coeur d’Alene sits at the north end of the lake and offers fun shopping, great restaurants, unique lodging, and wonderful parks.
Hell’s Canyon Recreation Area
Hell’s Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, was carved out by the Snake River for a distance of 95 miles along the border with Washington and Oregon. It offers a one-of-a-kind outdoor adventure and can be experienced in a number of ways. Many people take it in by a Snake River jet boat out of Lewiston, or raft float trip out of Riggins or Cambridge. Others make their way in by trail on a hike, mountain bike, or horse. Here you can let your senses run wild and imaginations run free because of the area’s sheer natural beauty.
Take photographs of the scenic Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in the country, go on a world-class whitewater boating adventure, or go horseback riding and hiking. Enjoy the wildlife—bears, bobcats, bighorn sheep, cougars, elk, mountain goats, and other smaller wildlife.
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is home to a significant concentration of Hagerman Horse fossils. The Hagerman Horse was an Ice Age mammal that went extinct approximately 10,000 years ago. Your visit should begin with a stop at the visitor center in the town of Hagerman, Idaho, located one hour southeast of Boise. Children visiting the Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center enjoy seeing the latest DVD, exploring the Discovery Center, seeing actual fossils, and becoming a Jr. Ranger!
Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to the tallest free-standing sand dunes in North America. Families will enjoy hiking the surrounding trails, climbing the dunes, and renting a sandboard for quick trip down. This is a great spot for camping, fishing in the small lake, and watching the night sky at Idaho’s only public observatory located right in the park. You and your family will have a great time bonding on this great outdoor adventure.
Make family memories of a lifetime. If you are looking for more Idaho adventures here are some other blog posts Breakfast Lunch and Dinner in Idaho, Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot or stay in a unique hotel one of them is in Idaho.