Idaho Holiday Planning Guide
The mountainous state of Idaho houses some of the country's largest stretches of unspoiled nature. There are plenty of opportunities for adventurous Idaho vacations, with rapids, canyons, snow-capped mountains, expansive lakes, and waterfalls higher than Niagara Falls. Those on vacation with access to a car can enjoy some of the most scenic drives in the nation while traversing Idaho's rugged landscape. Boise, the state's capital and most populous city, provides cultural attractions such as museums, galleries, and theater. The students of Boise State University contribute to the city's vibrant and growing nightlife scene.
Places to Visit in IdahoBoise
: The region's cultural hotspot nestled in between the Rocky Mountains, Boise also boasts a significant Basque heritage, evidenced in much of the food and art here. Coeur d'Alene
: Sitting on the coast of the spectacular lake Coeur d'Alene and surrounded by national forest, this resort town has the luxury of being in the middle of a natural paradise.Ketchum
: A small town of under 3,000 residents, Ketchum attracts visitors due to the beautiful Wood River Valley and nearby Bald Mountain--great locations for skiing and hiking while on your holiday in Idaho. Twin Falls
: The largest city of Idaho's Magic Valley region, Twin Falls sits near Snake River Gorge and Perrine Bridge extending across it: one of the essential destinations for sightseeing in Idaho.
Things to Do in Idaho
Popular Idaho Tourist AttractionsSilverwood Theme Park
: Featuring a wide selection of rides ranging from kid-friendly to terror-inducing (including the award-winning Aftershock), this theme park will introduce some thrill into your Idaho itinerary.Boise River Greenbelt
: With 32 km (20 mi) of trails stretching along the Boise River, you can admire the lush scenery by foot or bike, or by rafting along the waters.Shoshone Falls
: One of the main sightseeing attractions in Idaho at 60 m (197 ft) high and 300 m (984 ft) wide, spectacular Shoshone Falls are for good reason knows as the "Niagara of the West." Coeur d'Alene Lake
: This massive lake makes a great destination for classic Idaho sightseeing and water sport activities. You might even catch the local bald eagles feeding on fish from the lake.Craters of the Moon National Monument
: Jaw-dropping sights await in this national preserve, including lava tubes and the deepest known rift crack in the world--no wonder this geological marvel was once used for the training of astronauts.Old Idaho Penitentiary Site
: Delve into the gloomy history of this penitentiary with a full tour of the complex, which once housed the most notorious criminals of Idaho's "Wild West." Zoo Boise
: Perfect for family excursions and animal lovers, Zoo Boise includes a petting zoo, African boat ride, and greenhouse filled to the brim with vibrantly colored butterflies and flowers alike.Tubbs Hill Nature Trails
: A walking trail within the woodlands of this hill will take you through all the historical focal points of the area, along with some great views of the surrounding lake.World Center For Birds of Prey
: Take a closer look at some majestic birds of prey at this conservation center perched on a scenic hilltop in Boise.Idaho's World Famous Hot Pools
: Rejuvenate yourself in these steaming hot springs with temperatures ranging from 38.8 C (102 F) to 44.4 C (112 F), accompanied by a small water park and swimming pools for the kids.
Planning an Idaho Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Idaho with Kids
An Idaho holiday will suprise you with the close proximity of urban areas to some of the most spectacular natural sights, giving a multitude of options for everyone involved, even the kids. A boat trip on the lake of Coeur d'Alene
coupled with a hike in the nearby forests could easily be topped off with some adrenaline-pumping excitement at the nearby theme park. Young wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy their stay in Boise
with live demonstrations at the birds of prey conservation center or the local zoo. In Ketchum
, your family can enjoy some skiing at the continent's first ski resort or just have some fun exploring the surrounding valleys and state forest. Although lacking in kid-specific venues, the canyons and waterfalls of Twin Falls
are spectacular sights no matter your age.
Things to Do in Idaho with Kids
Most centers for family vacations in Idaho boast kid-friendly attractions plus proximity to the state's spectacular, untarnished nature reserves, sure to please kids who like exploring the great outdoors. Coeur d'Alene Lake
offers ample space for tubing and boating, while nearby Silverwood Theme Park
features a great selection of rides to entertain all age groups. While in rocky southern Idaho be sure to take the kids out to enjoy the natural marvel of Shoshone Falls
. Budding naturalists will appreciate World Center For Birds of Prey
, with interactive media to keep kids entertained and live demonstrations of rare raptors you'd be hard-pressed to find in the wild. Your Idaho Itinerary could also include Zoo Boise
, with its selection of quirky exhibits such as an African boat ride, petting zoo, and butterfly farm, all great fun for the young ones. While in the area with older kids, consider a tour of Old Idaho Penitentiary Site
, which offers an intriguing look into Wild West history and the notorious criminals that were locked up here--just keep in mind that it could be a little too eerie for younger kids.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Idaho
Your family's trip to Idaho can combine both excitement and relaxation: the uncrowded, scenic towns are settled next to undisturbed wilderness, offering easy access to natural attractions. Families can have a great time at the resort towns near the great lakes; tourism is booming in these areas, so kids can take part in many activities such as tubing and water skiing. Topping the list of things to do in Idaho is exploration of its hillsides and woodlands, where nature-loving kids can observe the rich wildlife and vegetation. Be careful when traveling too far without a guide however, as the dense forest can be hard to navigate. Always carry a printed map with you.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Idaho
Cuisine of Idaho
The first association with Idaho cuisine is the world-famous Russet potato, which, of course, there is an abundance of. But Idaho's distinctly different climates in the north and south provide a much wider range of produce than just this starchy staple. Get acquainted with local flavors at Boise
, where you can buy a couple of those famous Russets or pick up some locally foraged mushrooms and huckleberries. Be sure to try the local fish, including Idaho rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon. During your holiday in Idaho you'll notice that the cuisine at many venues is mostly standard American, primarily dishes made from beef or chicken; however, vegan or vegetarian fare is easier to find in any of the tourism hubs. Meat-lovers should take advantage of locally raised options, such as Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork from Snake River Farms, which can be purchased from them directly. Beer fans shouldn't miss the chance to tap into Idaho's widespread craft beer culture. The local brews will be available on tap or in bottle at most bars or restaurants, so if you're not a fan of your standard American lager you are in luck.
Shopping in Idaho
While Idaho certainly doesn't rank among the biggest shopping destinations in the U.S., the major urban centers do have their share of retail districts and malls. Boise Towne Square Mall is the biggest mall in the state, while downtown Boise hosts several shopping districts such as the linen district and Old Boise. The brand selection is fairly standard, however, so don't expect to find anything particularly unique. If you're looking for a souvenir of your Idaho vacation, you'll probably wind up choosing between two themes: the great outdoors and spuds.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Idaho
History of Idaho
Idaho is one of the last states in the U.S. to have been explored by European settlers. At the time, approximately 8,000 Native Americans lived in the area of present-day Idaho. Ancient traces of civilization have been found at Wilson Butte cave near Twin Falls
, where excavators discovered some of the oldest dated artifacts in North America, traces of human settlement dating back 14,500 years.
The first European expedition was lead by Lewis and Clark, who entered the state in 1805. Just a few years later, Wilson Price Hunt entered the south, braving the Snake River in an effort to make a water route to the west. Fur trading and missionary work among the indigenous population later attracted more settlers, most notably Reverend H. Palling, who established a mission near Lapwai in 1836. Palling went on to print the Northwest's first book, build Idaho's first school, and develop its first irrigation system, which helped grow the state's first potatoes.
The 1860s Idaho gold rush saw settlements spring up in the north and south of the state, and from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, waves of immigration from England, Germany, Ireland, and Basque country populated the area. After the abolition of slavery, many freed African-Americans migrated to Idaho to work on ranches and farms, or in the entertainment industry. Learn more about the role of African-Americans by including Boise's Black History Museum on your Idaho itinerary.
During this period, mining was the main contributor to Idaho's economy. In the 1880s, miners wooed by the promise of gold moved to Coeur d'Alene
to work in the mining districts of the nearby mountains. However, unrest plagued the industry, with a series of violent disputes between mining unions and the companies. Learn more about this turbulent period of Idaho's history at Tubbs Hill Nature Trails
. Historical tours in Idaho also include Old Idaho Penitentiary Site
, which opened in 1872 and held the most notorious criminals of the region.
Idaho became a U.S. state on July 3, 1890 and mining remained an integral cog in Idaho's economy. However, the closing of the Bunker Hill Mine complex in 1899 eventually led to the industry's collapse. The state has since recovered due to a substantial increase in Idaho tourism, drawing domestic and international visitors to the region's undisturbed woodlands, natural wonders, and resort towns.
Landscape of Idaho
The diverse and mountainous landscape of Idaho is where the state really shines, ranging from the high deserts of the south to the dense forests in the north. Idaho has some of the largest protected wilderness areas in the U.S., with an impressive 60 percent of the land held by the National Forest Service. The highest peaks are in central Idaho, where Borah Peak tops the list at 3,871 m (12,700 ft). Situated in Sun Valley with the 850 m (2,789 ft) Bald Mountain overlooking, Ketchum
represents a good example of what you can expect in this part of the state. The northern landscape has a vast protected wilderness and hundreds of pristine lakes, as Coeur d'Alene
and its majestic lake
exemplify. The rockier, more arid south also has its own share of attractions, with Snake River flowing through Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. Twin Falls
is close to some Idaho sightseeing highlights, such as Shoshone Falls
(a.k.a. the "Niagara of the West") and Snake River Canyon.
Holidays & Festivals in Idaho
Idaho celebrates all U.S. national holidays, such as New Year's, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Independence Day, so plan your Idaho trip accordingly as many services will be unavailable during these times. That said, the winter holidays can be magical in Coeur d'Alene
, which celebrates with an annual festival featuring live acts, lots of family-friendly activities, and the world's tallest live Christmas tree decorated with over 30,000 lights.
Alternatively, look to include some local festivals on your Idaho itinerary no matter when you visit. The annual music festival in Boise
boasts a lineup with some major modern pop acts. The Snake River Stampede is also held closeby: one of the top rodeo competitions in the country, it could make for a unique experience if you haven't witnessed anything similar yourself. At Ketchum
, you can catch a flick at the annual Sun Valley Film Festival, or take part in the Trailing of the Sheep festival, dedicated to the culture of sheepherding in the west, complete with workshops, cooking classes, and a parade of the fleecy creatures.
Idaho Travel Tips
Climate of Idaho
Considering Idaho's northern, landlocked position, it is not as cold here as you might expect. Although the nearest coast is some 563 km (350 mi) away, the sea nevertheless has a strong influence on Idaho's climate. Extended periods of extreme temperatures over 37 C (98 F) or below 0 C (32 F) are rare. Predictably, temperatures do start getting colder in Idaho as you move up north, but only noticeably during the winter months. During the summer, variations in average temperature from city to city are usually nominal. However, be prepared for sudden changes in weather during your trip in Idaho: in the more mountainous areas a storm can catch you unaware at a moment's notice.
Transportation in Idaho
Public transportation within the major cities and direct bus lines from Boise should be able take you to all the major Idaho vacation resorts. However, interstate transport without a car will prove to be quite a hassle, so do consider renting a car. Two-lane interstate highways and country roads will take you to essentially anywhere you need to go during your holiday in Idaho. Keep in mind that you will often have to travel around the vast swath of protected wilderness in central Idaho, meaning getting from northern to eastern Idaho can take longer than expected. Be aware of hazards while driving in Idaho: blizzards can be a danger during the winter months, and elk, moose, or deer can sometimes unexpectedly show up on the roads.