9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Idaho
Combining a rich heritage, friendly communities, and a taste of the mountainous American West, Idaho tops the charts as a culturally inspiring state worth exploring. From the glacial lakes in the panhandle to the lunar-like landscapes on the southern border, much of what defines Idaho are the adventures found within its boundaries. Hell's Canyon invites exploration, and the massive outcroppings at City of Rocks are worth a pause in your travels. And much like the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt trail in the capital city, all of the vibrant natural attractions in Idaho connect to a thriving culture and welcoming community.
1 Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley in southern Idaho attracts skiing enthusiasts from all over with its magnificent facilities for winter sports and its excellent tourist infrastructure. Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain offer downhill skiing for all levels of ability. Thirteen chairlifts cater towards the 2,000 acres of skiable terrain at Sun Valley Resort, including 65 named runs. There is also a Nordic Center for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Heli Skiing is another popular activity in Sun Valley. During the summer months, the resort caters to hikers, mountain bikers, and other outdoor adventurers.
2 Craters of the Moon National Monument
South of Arco, in southeastern Idaho, is a lunar-like landscape created by volcanic eruptions between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. This region of lava flows can be explored on signposted circular routes. Although it has not erupted in the last two millennia, this area is still geologically active. This unique National Monument also contains five caves to explore, which serve as a stark contrast to the sometimes searing temperatures above ground. Free permits are required to explore the caves and can be obtained at the Monument entrance station.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Craters of the Moon National Monument
3 Sawtooth National Recreation Area
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area consists of 756,000 wildland acres within the Sawtooth National Forest of central Idaho. The National Recreation Area provides more than 700 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, 40 peaks rising over 10,000 feet, and enough alpine lakes to visit a new one nearly every day of the year. With close to 50 established campgrounds to choose from, not including the dispersed camping that is available, finding a place to spend the night in the Sawtooths is relatively easy to do. Other popular forms of recreation include mountain biking and fishing during the warmer months and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling throughout the winter.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Sawtooth National Forest
4 Lake Coeur d'Alene
Steamboat traffic began on Lake Coeur d'Alene in 1889 when local lakes and rivers were used to move supplies to mining and lumber camps. The lake itself was created well before then, and its creation can be geologically traced back to glacial deposits from the last Ice Age. The overall aesthetics of this mountain-ringed lake in Northern Idaho is readily apparent with just one visit. The lake is 25 miles long and is surrounded by a forest filled with hiking trails. Boating, sailing, and fishing are popular during the summer months.
5 Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area
Located within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest of northern Idaho, Hell's Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America. It has been carved out by the Wild and Scenic Snake River for a distance of 95 miles along the border with Washington and Oregon. Popular ways to enjoy Hell's Canyon include hiking and horseback trails, developed and primitive campgrounds, and taking a raft trip down the white-water rapids of the Snake River (permit required). During the winter months, Hell's Canyon and the surrounding National Forest become a haven for skiers and snowmobilers.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Hell's Canyon
6 Shoshone Falls
Also known as the "Niagara of the West," the 212-foot-tall Shoshone Falls can be found on the northeast edge of the city of Twin Falls. Created by the turbulent force of the Snake River, this massive block waterfall spans more than 900 feet and flows year-round with a surge season between April and July. The area surrounding the falls, including the adjacent Dierks Lake, is full of hiking trails, swimming spots, and scenic overlooks. One of the most popular things to do at Shoshone Falls is packing a lunch and using the picnic areas in view of the falls.
Address: Shoshone Falls Grade Road, Twin Falls, Idaho
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Shoshone Indian Ice Caves
7 Boise River Greenbelt
The Boise River Greenbelt is an urban pathway that makes its way through the heart of Boise, linking together all the best riverside city parks. The 25-mile, non-motorized pathway was a city innovation in the 1960s to address growing riverbank pollution, and now the Greenbelt showcases the rich natural environment via a tree-lined route. Used for both daily commutes and quick escapes into nature, the Boise River Greenbelt accesses many of Boise's top tourist attractions, including Julia Davis Park, the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, and the campus of Boise State University.
8 City of Rocks National Reserve
Internationally renowned within the climbing community today, the vast outcroppings of granite in southern Idaho known as City of Rocks has a long history of attracting visitors. Emigrants along the historic California Trail took note of the features, and the Shoshone made camp among the massive boulders and spires. Alongside rock climbers, City of Rocks is popular today among hikers, mountain bikers, birders, and photographers. City of Rocks also provides a campground for visitors, including 64 campsites with access to clean water and vault toilets.
9 Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site
The Old Idaho Penitentiary, or "Old Pen," housed inmates from 1872 to 1973 and currently is a museum showcasing that century-long prison history. The Old Pen housed some of Idaho's most notorious criminals, and visitors today can see the cell blocks, Solitary Confinement, and the Gallows of the complex. Local rumors suggest the facility might be haunted, which could be spurred on by different events put on by the museum, including paranormal investigations and the annual Frightened Felons October bash.
Address: 2445 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, Idaho
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