The history of this epic state is tied to numerous bank robberies and famous outlaws. Idaho was one of the states that were once roamed by the cowboys of the old Wild West. It was first visited by European settlers in 1805.
It became a hotspot for mining, as precious metals like gold, lead, and copper were abundant. The state’s rugged landscape is varied and beautiful, ranging from barren terrain to snow covered mountains. Not surprising, many of the things to do in Idaho are activities that are enjoyed in the state’s beautiful outdoors.
The capital city of Idaho is the charming Boise, which was built around the Boise River. Even in the bigger cities of Idaho there are plenty of unspoiled nature spots to visit!
In this post, we'll cover:
18. Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail
The Hiawatha Mountain Trail is in the Bitterroot Mountains. It used to be the route of an old railway that was renowned for its incredible scenery. The great thing is that the 15-mile-long trail is almost entirely downhill. So you can enjoy the outdoors without having to pedal too hard.
Along the way you’ll go through 10 train tunnels, the most famous is the 1.7-mile-long St. Paul Pass Tunnel right at the start of the route. You’ll also go over seven sky-high trestles. There’s a shuttle service available on the way back.
You’ll need to go to the Lookout Pass Ski Area, that’s a seven-mile drive from the start of the trail, to purchase your trail passes and shuttle tickets. You can also rent bikes there if you don’t have your own.
17. Warhawk Air Museum
The Warhawk Air Museum is in Nampa, Idaho. Aside from countless aircraft replicas and originals, they also have various exhibits of the weapons and clothing used by old fighter pilots during the war.
You can learn about WWI, WWII, and the Cold War at the museum through the collection of old artifacts used by American soldiers during combat.
Marvel at the aircrafts on show, like the F-84G Thunderjet, that was once used for air strikes and as a long-range escort fighter and replicas of Fokker DR-1 Triplanes that could hold a single pilot and two machine guns.
16. City of Rocks National Reserve
This National Reserve was unknowingly named by emigrant James F. Wilkens who traveled through the park in 1849 and called it the City of Rocks. As soon as you get there it’ll become clear why.
Enormous granite spires and monoliths that reach incredible heights of up to 60 stories tall decorate the landscape. And the park’s history is impressive too, it’s estimated that the oldest pieces of granite in the park are up to 2.5 billion years old.
If you’re a climber you can’t miss this, it’s one of the few places you can climb on rock faces made of granite. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, you can come for a hike or visit in the winter and ski.
15. Snake River Greenbelt
The Idaho Falls Greenbelt trail is a short five mile-long, paved trail that runs on either side of the Snake River. You can walk it, bike it, or go for a short stroll and just do a chunk of the trail.
There are idyllic riverside views along the way, and you’ll go past a 600 foot wide waterfall too. Whilst you’ll be submerged in nature along the trail, there are also plenty of amenities like shops and restaurants along the way.
It’s hard to believe that such a beautiful natural spot is right here in the city of Idaho Falls. The perfect place to escape the noise and crowds on your city break.
14. Schweitzer Mountain Resort
If you love winter sports, then you can make the most of your visit to Idaho with a trip to the Schweitzer Mountain Resort. It’s the largest ski area in Idaho and Washington, so there’s really no question about whether it’s the best around.
The slopes on Schweitzer Mountain are conveniently just 11 miles away from the town of Sandpoint. The town is vibrant and has lots of accommodation, dining, and rental options.
There are numerous slopes for you to explore, and something for every level. Another perk of this resort is that it has tree skiing routes, so you can put your technique to test swerving between tree trunks deep in the forest.
13. Sawtooth National Recreation Area
The SNRA is the kind of place where you’ll likely want to spend multiple days. The area is a hotspot for nature and wildlife lovers in Idaho, thanks to the SNRA’s 300 alpine lakes and 40 mountain peaks that rise above 10,000 feet!
If you want to do a multiple-day hike the hardest bit will be deciding what chunks of the 700 miles worth of trail to explore. You can pitch up at a campground nearby and leave your stuff there whilst you explore the mountains.
Equally if you’d rather stay in a comfortable bed in town, the park is just a 15-minute drive away from Sun Valley.
12. Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Old Idaho Penitentiary was built in 1870. It was opened as a prison in 1872, and ran as such until 1973. It’s one of just a handful of prisons in Idaho that are open to the public. On your visit, you’ll get to explore the most run down areas of the prison, which was in operation for 101 years.
If you’re a history enthusiast then you can take a guided tour to get all the nitty gritty details of what went on at the prison. The scandals and gruesome crimes will give you goosebumps.
Step into the old prison cells and imagine spending a lifetime in incarceration. The prison is in Boise, the capital city of Idaho.
11. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America. It extends across parts of Idaho and Oregon. The park has countless adventures on offer, from long hikes to the highest points of the canyon, to whitewater boating deep in the gorge.
The Snake River runs through the gorge and adds to the canyon’s natural beauty – you can expect spectacular views year-round.
You can also drive through parts of the canyon or explore the terrain on horseback. Whatever you do here, keep a watch out for wildlife, there are cougars, bobcats, bears, elk, deer, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep.
10. Yellowstone Bear World
The US has some very unique, and occasionally scary, wildlife. Coming face to face with these beasts in the wild isn’t very appealing, but you can enjoy them safely at the Yellowstone Bear World wildlife park.
Just a 15 minute drive away from Rexburg, and you’re at the home of bears, elk, bison, mule deer, Rocky Mountain goats, and many more fantastic creatures! The park’s most famous inhabitants are black and grizzly bears.
After a thrilling drive through the wildlife park you can head to the petting zoo and get to know the barnyard animals and birds that live here. If you want to do something completely different and unique, sign up to bottle feed the park’s bear cubs.
9. Museum of Idaho (Idaho Falls)
The museum of Idaho has exhibits that cover a range of topics, from history to science. You can get to know Idaho inside out through the artifacts that tell the tale of the region’s history, from its wild-west past up till now.
Younger audiences will enjoy the interactive rooms that replicate the old homes of settlers and American Indians, and the hands-on exhibits in the science sections.
They often host exciting events, like days where you can meet real-life scientists working in the industry. Another fun option is to go to one of their overnight sleepovers; the museum looks very different at night, when all the wax models come to life like in Night at the Museum.
8. Lava Hot Springs
The small town of Lava Hot Springs is known for (you might have guessed), its natural hot springs. The Lava Hot Springs Mineral Pools has five pools of warm, bubbly water that you can relax in. Let the natural minerals soak up your stress.
If you’ve been to natural hot springs before you’ll know that the only downfall is… the smell. Luckily, the hot springs at Lava Hot Springs don’t have any sulfur in them, so you can enjoy the luxurious water without the smell of egg invading your thoughts!
The spring water gets as warm as 112 Fahrenheit and is always clean as it bubbles up into the pools, then runs off into the Portneuf River. There are restaurants and plenty of accommodation options, so you could stay here overnight if you wanted to.
7. Silverwood Theme Park
The perfect place to go for a fun, family day out. The Silverwood Theme Park has rollercoaster rides with steep drops and swirly tracks that’ll give you butterflies and a dizzy head. There are also plenty of water coasters with splash-down landings that are great for cooling down on a hot day!
Once you’ve finished at the theme park you could head over to the Boulder Beach Waterpark nearby, though you probably won’t have time to do it all in a day!
There are accommodation options, including camping grounds and campervan park ups, close by. The park boasts numerous restaurants – so you can enjoy a fun and easy day out knowing that the practicalities are covered.
6. Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to North America’s tallest single-structure sand dune. You can climb up to the top of this enormous mountain of sand that rises up 470 feet from the desert floor.
Spend the day hiking, fishing at one of the dune lakes, horseback riding through the desert, or sandboarding the tallest dunes. In the evening, go to the park’s observatorium that boasts a giant telescope that everyone can use.
Another perk of this park is that there are camping options year-round, so you can visit in every season. Watch out for creepy crawlies like scorpions!
5. Coeur d’Alene Lake
This famous lake is one of the largest lakes in Idaho, and the second largest in the northern region of the state. The lake is 26 miles long and has 135 miles worth of shoreline that you can explore. It is surrounded by wooded mountains and picturesque lakeside towns and cities.
A popular place to visit in the spring and summer, Coeur d’Alene Lake offers recreational activities like boating, camping, lazy days on lakeside beaches, and various hiking options. If you want to visit some of the most popular hiking spots, check out the trails at Tubbs Hill.
You can stay at Coeur d’Alene, a lakeside city that’s home to the popular City Park beach. If you visit the lake in winter, you might get lucky and see one of the migrating bald eagles that pass through each year.
4. Sun Valley Resort
Sun Valley Resort is a resort city near Ketchum. It’s known for the spectacular skiing and snowboarding slopes nearby. The best time to visit is in winter, when the snow is thick and the resort is busy with excited skiers.
One of the most famous slopes is Bald Mountain, which has a 9,150 feet summit. Bear in mind this isn’t for the faint hearted, don’t attempt it unless you’re an expert.
Less experienced skiers and snowboarders are better suited to Dollar Mountain, which has a range of slopes for all levels. Sun Valley Resort is small and picturesque, nestled between tall mountains. If you want to stay for a couple of days you can stay at a cozy lodge in town.
3. Craters of the Moon National Monument
The landscape at Craters of the Moon is otherworldly. The cinder cones and sagebrush give it an alien feel, there’s nowhere else quite like it. You can’t miss out on your chance to walk through a once volcanically active park during your trip to Idaho.
When you arrive, start your day at the Robert Limbert Visitor Center where you can get handy maps and look at some of the exhibits. Then head out into the barren landscape – don’t get lost! Make sure you climb to the top of the Inferno Cone so you can take in the panoramic 360 degree views from the top.
You can also explore the park along the wheelchair accessible path, the Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail. Note that you can drive through the park along Loop Road, but it shuts in winter, and camp nearby.
2. Shoshone Falls
The Shoshone Falls were nicknamed the Niagara of the West, though they are actually taller than this famous waterfall. At 212 feet tall and 900 feet wide, the falls will definitely make an impression on you.
They have been attracting tourists since the mid-19th century when wild travelers on the Oregon Trail would make a detour especially. There’s nothing else like it along the Snake River. Before you go to the falls stop off at the Twin Falls Visitor Center, it’s right off of HWY 93 on the south side of the Perrine Bridge.
Go in Spring, when the water levels are at their best and the falls are gushing. If it’s a hot day you could jump in at the swimming area.
1. Boise River Greenbelt
This popular loop is in Boise, the capital of Idaho. It’s 25 miles long and links together the prettiest parks and nature spots along the Boise River. Some of the parks you’ll go through along your way include Barber Park, Municipal Park, and Julia Davis Park.
You can do the trail on foot or by bike. Keep a look out for blue herons, Canadian geese, and swooping bald eagles along the way.
If you’re in the city and you want to escape to nature, this is your ideal day out. Bring a picnic and enjoy some peace and quiet.