14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Idaho
Author Brad Lane has enjoyed traveling and adventuring throughout Idaho.
Idaho combines a rich heritage, friendly communities, and a taste of the American West.
Much of what defines Idaho are the adventures found within its boundaries. From the glacial lakes in the panhandle to the lunar-like landscapes on the southern border and the slithering Snake River, these unmatched terrains entice explorers from across the world.
The mountains are home to a number of Idaho's great ski resorts, although Sun Valley is the most well-known. In summer, the hiking trails draw outdoor lovers to the scenic terrain, and the state's best campgrounds beckon for overnight travel.
For more ideas on the best places to visit in the Gem State, read our list of the top attractions in Idaho.
1. 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 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.
And the community of Coeur d'Alene, sprawled across its northern shore along Interstate-90, is a welcoming place to access the shoreline. Tubbs Hill is a community favorite, backed by McEuen Park. Other top things to do in Coeur d'Alene include navigating hiking trails and exploring the charming downtown district.
- Read More: Best Lakes in Idaho
2. 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Boise
3. Shoshone Falls
Also known as the "Niagara of the West," the 212-foot-tall Shoshone Falls is on the northeast edge of the city of Twin Falls. The turbulent force of the Snake River creates this massive block waterfall spanning more than 900 feet, flowing 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 to pack a lunch and use 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
- Read More: Best Waterfalls in Idaho
4. 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.
There are several ways to explore the Sawtooths. Redfish Lake tends to be a popular gathering spot at the heart of all the action, including the Redfish Lake Lodge. The small town of Stanley, less than 10 miles away, is also a common base camp when traveling.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Sawtooth National Forest
5. Craters of the Moon National Monument
South of Arco, in southeastern Idaho, is Craters of the Moon, 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. Detailed information and exhibits regarding the landscape are at the park's visitor center.
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.
The National Monument is also home to the popular Lava Flow Campground, comprising 42 sites within a unique hardened landscape. Big camping vehicles aren't recommended for this tightly constructed campground. All sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Craters of the Moon National Monument
6. Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley in southern Idaho attracts skiing enthusiasts from all over with its magnificent facilities for winter sports. Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain offer downhill skiing for all levels of ability. Thirteen chairlifts, including a gondola, service 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. The Sun Valley Lodge is a fun, historic place to stay and an old haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
Address: 1 Sun Valley Road, Sun Valley, Idaho
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sun Valley
7. 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.
Old Pen is also home to the Idaho Botanical Garden, formerly the Penitentiary's garden and nursery. This sprawling public space has dozens of collections of plants and gardens available to tour. It's a lovely spot to spend the afternoon wandering.
Address: 2445 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, Idaho
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Boise
8. Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area
Hell's Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America. It's within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest of northern Idaho and has been carved out by the Wild and Scenic Snake River for 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
9. Salmon River
The Salmon River, also known as the "River of No Return," is one of many beautiful rivers that run through Idaho. Much of this Wild and Scenic River cuts through the expansive Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Guided and self-sustained rafting trips through this jaw-dropping landscape are adventures of a lifetime. These sought-after trips are on some of the best white water rafting rivers in Idaho. Several guiding companies base themselves in nearby Stanley.
The Salmon is just one of the best rivers in Idaho. The state is lined with rugged waterways that define the landscape and surrounding communities. In southern Idaho, the Snake River is another waterway with significant historical and cultural attributes.
10. Catch a Ride at Silverwood Theme Park
Silverwood Theme Park is the largest amusement park in Idaho and a magnet for thrill-seekers and fun-lovers alike. The park has more than 70 rides and attractions, including a healthy collection of roller coasters. Silverwood is also a central spot for summer fun activities like variety shows and midway games.
Some of the signature roller coasters at Silverwood include rides like Aftershock, Corkscrew, and Panic Plunge. If these rides sound like too much, Silverwood has tons of "low intensity" and "mid-intensity rides," like carousels and a steam-engine train. All members of the family find something to enjoy here.
Silverwood is also home to the popular Boulder Beach Bay water park. This hot summer destination comprises several swimming areas and waterslides, including a wave beach and a Toddler Springs area. Admission to the park includes both Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach Bay.
11. City of Rocks National Reserve
The vast outcroppings of granite in southern Idaho known as the City of Rocks has a long history of attracting visitors. It is internationally renowned within the climbing community today, and emigrants along the historic California Trail took note of the features in the mid-1800s. Before all that, 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.
12. Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes is one of the best state parks in Idaho and one of the most unique. It's an hour southeast of Boise and is home to one of the largest freestanding sand dunes in North America. This intriguing landscape is best experienced by foot, sandboard, or from the comfort of a campsite.
A six-mile interpretive trail extends from the visitor center and traverses across the sand dune. This hike is best avoided on hot days when the sand becomes unbearable to touch. Catch it in the early morning or outside of the summer season, however, and the shifting route is rewarding like no other in the state.
The state park has over 80 campsites spread across two campgrounds, accommodating both tents and RVs. Reservations are available but not required. Each site comes with a shade structure, a fire ring, and access to flushing toilets.
Address: 27608 Bruneau Sand Dunes Road, Bruneau, Idaho
13. Kirkham Hot Springs
Idaho has more hot springs than almost any other state. Some of these natural soaking spots require quite a hike to get to, while others are accessed via roadside parking. One of the most popular hot springs in Idaho is Kirkham, situated two hours from Boise.
Kirkham is accessible via the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway within the Boise National Forest. Large pools accommodate the big crowds that tend to gather on the weekend, and an adjacent campground offers spots to spend the night. Kirkham is just one of several hot springs in the immediate area.
14. Bike the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes
The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is a premier rail-to-trail conversion in the country and a must-visit for passionate bicyclists. And thanks to its relatively flat grade the entire way, it offers a fantastic family route and easy bike ride for beginners.
The Trail of the Coeur D'Alenes spans approximately 73 miles between Plummer and Mulan, navigating across the southern end of the panhandle. It passes by several places to visit along the way, including Idaho's first state park, Heyburn State Park. This popular state park is near the western terminus of the trail and sets the tone with lake-lined landscapes.
Several entry points line the entire route, allowing for easy day trips. Restrooms and drinking water also line much of the route. It's very possible to navigate the entire route in a day, though it takes most riders at least six hours to complete (one-way).