Popularly called “The Gem State,” Idaho truly lives up to its monicker because this incredible place is indeed a gem that visitors can explore and discover.
Idaho is not just downright beautiful as the state also offers endless opportunities and exciting activities that vacationers will surely love and enjoy.
From the stunning historical landmarks to excellent outdoor recreational activities, Idaho is an authentic Western vacationer’s paradise. This article lists down the 17 must-visit places Idaho to give you a good idea of what to do and where to go if you ever find yourself in the area.
- 1. Idaho Falls
- 2. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
- 3. Thousand Springs State Park, Hagerman
- 4. Sun Valley Resort
- 5. Yellowstone National Park
- 6. Boise
- 7. Sandpoint
- 8. Lake Coeur d'Alene
- 9. Pocatello
- 10. Shoshone Falls
- 11. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Riggins
- 12. Sawtooth National Recreation Area
- 13. Bruneau Dunes State Park
- 14. Ketchum
- 15. McCall
- 16. Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site
- 17. City of Rocks National Reserve
1. Idaho Falls
Stretching under the grandiose Grand Teton located in Snake River Plain, the Idaho Falls has been popular for its impressive nature to enjoy and explore, the active arts community, and the warm hospitality of the west.
Art aficionados must see the work of the artists in the area at the Willard Arts Center and Art Museum of Eastern Idaho. You may even have a fun time at “Art You Can Sit On.” This is the collection of several benches that dot the downtown area with some local artists behind their designs.
The famous venues for performing arts are Colonial 7 in the gorgeous Greek neoclassical structure as well as the Actor’s Repertory Theatre of Idaho at Phoenix Theatre that hosts a series of esteemed shows annually.
Visiting and local outdoor enthusiasts can choose from 35 green spaces and parks with trails and playing fields. The famous Idaho Falls Greenbelt that runs for 5 miles found on the two sides of Snake River serves as an ideal spot for biking or walking.
Idaho Falls can be the best place to visit if you want a cool place during your visit in Idaho.
2. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve protects and represents Snake River Plain’s volcanic region.
The nature preserve is composed of grasslands that span for hundreds of miles and three lava fields. The plains are nestled in the midst of two tectonic plates, with the plates’ movement being the result of the formation of Great Rift of Idaho, which is one of the world’s deepest rift cracks.
About a quarter million people visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve each year, offering unique sights of protected lava fields, recreational activities, and education.
To get an experience of the whole park, you can go on a drive along the loop of 7 miles where you will pass by numerous notable features. Among the park’s top attractions include the Great Rift, Devils Orchard, North Crater Flow, and Inferno Cone Viewpoint.
The site is also famous for hiking. The preserve has well-marked trails and areas perfect for backcountry hikes amidst the great wilderness.
A visitor center is also available on the site where you can access information about the preserve and search for tours with Ranger guides.
3. Thousand Springs State Park, Hagerman
The Thousands Springs State Park serves as the home to one of the largest spring areas in the world which are the boundary of an expansive underground aquifer flowing beneath Snake River Plain from Pioneer Mountains. With its pure and crystal clear water, it forms some of the loveliest pools and springs on the planet.
There are several separate areas that make up the park with a total of 9 featured historic sites, amazing water displays, and volcanic landscapes, from Kelton Trail and Malad Gorge near Interstate 84 to Crystal Springs, Niagara, and Box Canyon, Ritter Island and Bonnieview along Snake River, and Vardis Fisher and Billingsley Creek near Hagerman.
On hot days, you can go to Niagara Springs to enjoy Snake River Canyon with its depth of 350 feet. Here, you could stand right before the springs and just cool off was the waterfall sprays on you.
4. Sun Valley Resort
Southern Idaho’s Sun Valley never fails to attract skiing enthusiasts from around the world with its excellent winter sports facilities and magnificent tourist infrastructure. Dollar Mountain and Bald Mountain provide skiing for every one of different ability levels.
There are 13 chairlifts catering to 2,000 acres of terrain at Sun Valley Resort perfect skiing that include the 65 named runs. A Nordic Center is ideal for cross-country snowshoers and skiers. Another famous Sun Valley activity is heli skiing. During summer months, Sun Valley Resort caters to mountain bikers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
5. Yellowstone National Park
It was in 1872 when the Yellowstone National Park was constructed as the United States’ first ever national park. This expansive park extends over several states such as Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. This is ranked as one of the top parks in the US that attracts about 4 million visitors a year, with July being the peak travel month, to enjoy outdoor recreation and see some of the area’s popular landmarks.
The landscape of Yellowstone National Park is a diverse one composed of mountainous regions, forested areas, canyons, lakes, and rivers. A subalpine forest covers the dominating area. This is also among the world’s most active geothermal lands featuring geysers and volcanic activity.
Yellowstone Caldera, Yellowstone Lake, and Old Faithful Geyser are the most renowned natural landmarks in the park. There are also more than a thousand archaeological sites that provide evidence that Native American civilizations lived in the area for over 11,000 years after settler development.
The visitors can also try different recreational activities, with the best things to do including boating, sightseeing, hiking, and fishing. There are also more than 2,000 designated campsites dotting the park.
Nestled in the lush valley of Boise River lined with trees in southwestern Idaho in the Rocky Mountain foothills’ high desert area, Boise is a vibrant university town wherein the students of Boise State University dominate the sport and cultural life. The downtown area of Boise centered on 8th street is filled with restaurants and sidewalk shops, galleries, and cafes.
Basque Block makes up for the Basque heritage of the city. While strolling through downtown, don’t forget to check out the Boise Art Museum, the striking Idaho State Capitol, the lush Julia Davis Park with Zoo Boise, the acclaimed classic Egyptian Theatre, picnic areas, and strolling paths.
Make sure you also visit the one of a kind blue field of Albertsons Stadium situated on BSU campus that serves as the home to Boise State Broncos football team.
Once hailed as America’s Most Beautiful Town, Sandpoint is found in Idaho’s northern tip. Set on Land Pend Oreille with a length of 43 miles and surrounded by Cabinet and Selkirk mountains, it is easy to see and understand why.
There are plenty of things to do both outdoors and indoors, with 111 miles of verdant green forest and shoreline offering various outdoor adventures. When in town, you might want to explore the 19th century heritage of Sandpoint in the museums, watch a show at the celebrated Panida Theatre and indulge in an eclectic dining with numerous outstanding choices.
If you love beer, you can enjoy more than 10 award-winning and locally brewed beers at Laughing Dog Brewing. Meanwhile, wine connoisseurs will love the tasting room at Pend d’Oreille Winery where you can sip wine while live music plays in the background on Friday nights.
8. Lake Coeur d’Alene
In 1889, steamboat traffic started on Lake Coeur d’Alene when local rivers and lakes were used for moving supplies to lumber and mining camps. The lake itself was made way before then, with its creation being geologically tracked back to the last Ice Age’s glacial deposits.
The overall aesthetics of Northern Idaho’s mountain-ringed lake is apparent right away with just a single visit. This lake stretches for 25 miles long, surrounded by the forest that is filled with hiking trails. Fishing, sailing, and boating are famous during summer months.
Pocatello is the world’s one and only town with the municipal ordinance that makes not smiling an illegal act. It began as a joke to lift the spirits of the people during a notably harsh winter yet it became a major part of what the town has become today, an excellent play to visit and live in. founded by settlers, gold miners, and pioneers in 1889, Pocatello is dubbed as the “Gateway to the Northwest.”
To this day, Pocatello boasts of a rich cultural life courtesy of the Old Town Actors Studio, the Palace Playhouse Theatre, and the Westside Players Dinner Theater in the Historic Warehouse District of Pocatello.
The Idaho Museum of Natural History houses collections of earth sciences, life sciences, and anthropology while Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Reservation features the tribal history of the area. During winter, The Mink Creek Nordic Ski Complex offers trails for everyone and once the snow melts, the activities to enjoy include bird watching, fishing, golf, hiking, biking, and more.
10. Shoshone Falls
Shoshone Falls is one of Idaho’s iconic waterfalls. This is formed from Snake River even though the flow of water was affected because of the different dams built in Snake River. Spring is the perfect time to watch the falls in its full flow right after a time of heavy snowfall.
Considered a historical waterfall, Shoshone Falls has a significant impact in the region’s civilizations. It was a famous fishing spot for the Native Americans and was a major mining site after gold was discovered. Today, it is among Idaho’s top tourist attractions.
Shoshone Falls Park is the perfect spot to view the falls. This is a public park primarily meant for observation of the falls. This features a viewing platform complete with displays of information about the falls.
The park is also where visitors will be able to enjoy some recreational activities right around the falls like hiking. It is favorite activity at Shoshone Falls as marked trails are set up that extend from the park to different viewpoints along the hiking trails.
11. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Riggins
North America’s deepest water gorge, Hells Canyon sits along the border of Oregon and Idaho run through by Snake River, which makes excellent whitewater rafting and fishing opportunities possible. Hikers can enjoy a wealth of backpacking and hiking trails to choose. If you are lucky, you might be able to spot some bighorn sheep, mountain goats, or black bears along the way. History buffs might want to go to Kirkwood Historic Ranch that will give you a glimpse of the 1930s ranch life that can be accessed by boat or a 6-mile hike. The region also has available helicopter and jet boat tours.
12. Sawtooth National Recreation Area
756,000 wildland acres composed Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. The National Recreation Area offers over 700 miles of equestrian and hiking trails, 40 peaks that rise more than 10,000 feet, and just enough alpine lakes so you can visit a new one almost each day of the year.
You can choose from about 50 established campgrounds that don’t include the available dispersed camping so it is relatively easy to look for a place where you can spend the night in Sawtooth. Other famous forms of recreation are fishing and mountain biking during warmer months as well as cross-country snowmobiling and skiing during winter.
13. Bruneau Dunes State Park
State park status was awarded to Bruneau Dunes State Park in 1967 and from then, it has expanded its land area. This was made to preserve unique formations of landscape and for public recreation. The enormous sand dunes are the park’s most prominent formations.
Bruneau Dunes State serves as the home to the United States’ highest single structure sand dune that reaches a height of up to 470 feet. The visitors are allowed to sled on and climb the dunes and enjoy other activities. There are also small lakes dotting the park that the public will be able to enjoy.
Some of the famous park activities include hiking, sandboarding, horseback riding, boating, and birdwatching. There are numerous horse trails that extend for a few miles each. There are also campgrounds that can be found all over the park perfect for those who want to stay the night.
During its establishment in 1880, Ketchum was among the Northwest’s most affluent mining areas. With the establishment of the Sun Valley Resort and the Sawtooth Recreation Area, Ketchum quickly rose to becoming a predominant tourist recreation area and resort.
The place also attracts tourists because of its fabulous trail riding, fishing, art galleries, tennis, and more. Ernest Hemingway himself was a resident of Ketchum and was left to rest in Ketchum Cemetery. His memorial is found on Trail Creek Road where tourists can visit.
Ketchum also has a lively art scene. At the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, you will find an outstanding theatre, educational and music programs, and visual arts production.
The mountain town of McCall is a top favorite among the frequent visitors of Idaho. With water taking the spotlight, this is nestled on the southern tip of Payette Lake and even boasts of the state’s highest average snowfall.
Standup paddle boarders, boaters, swimmers, and kayakers are drawn to the area in the hopes of exploring the stunning blue glacial lake.
It has a river that provides everything you can think of, from the serene float trips for families with children to more challenging sections with class V and IV rapids. Aside from the water sports, hiking and huckleberry picking are also famous activities and a lot of people visit there to attend arts and music festivals.
During winter months, the popular ski lift in Brundage Mountain is opened so visitors will be able to cross-country ski to a yurt or even go snowmobiling. Winter Carnival is what makes the town most popular. This is a festival that runs for 10 days held during late January that features life-sized sculptures, a beer garden, a Mardi Gras parade, live music, and fireworks.
16. Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site
Known as the “Old Pen,” the Old Idaho Penitentiary housed inmates from years 1872 through 1973 and is now a museum that showcases the century-long history of the prison. The Old Pen showcased some of the most notorious criminals of Idaho and today, visitors can see the Solitary Confinement, the cell blocks, and Gallows of the complex. According to local rumors, the facility could even be haunted which might have stemmed from different events that the museum put on, such as the yearly Frightened Felons October bash and paranormal investigations.
17. City of Rocks National Reserve
Globally renowned in the climbing community, the extensive outcroppings of granite in southern Idaho called the City of Rocks boasts of a long history of being attractive to the eyes of visitors. The emigrants along this historic California Trail noticed the features, with the Shoshone making camp among the gigantic spires and boulders. Aside from the rock climbers, the City of Rocks is famous today among mountain bikers, photographers, birders, and hikers. City of Rocks also has a campground for the visitors that include 64 campsites complete with access to vault toilets and clean water. Which of these 17 must-visit places in Idaho would you like to visit first?