Although visitors to the States often overlook it, Idaho is awash with spectacular scenery and incredible natural sights, fully earning its nickname the ‘Gem State.’ Nestled away in the Pacific Northwest, it boasts everything from rugged ravines and river gorges to verdant forests, crumbling volcanic craters, and breathtaking mountain ranges.
Remarkably, over a third of the scenic state is preserved as part of national and state parks, with swathes of untouched wilderness wherever you go. While this protects the natural habitats of moose, grizzly bears, and wolves among others, it also means there are countless outdoor activities on offer, with hiking, camping, and wildlife watching being very popular. A delightful destination full of diverse and dramatic landscapes, the national parks in Idaho and state parks really do have it all.
Map of National Parks & State Parks in Idaho
© OpenStreetMap contributors © Esri — National Geographic
dreamstime/© Charles Knowles
A very pleasant and picturesque place, Lucky Peak State Park lies in the southwest of Idaho, just 16 kilometers from the capital Boise. Centered around the lovely lake of the same name, it is home to sandy shores and stunning scenery, with some great outdoor activities on offer.
As the state park is located just a ten-minute drive from the center of the city, its reflective waters and wealth of recreation opportunities make it very popular among local Boiseans. While some sections along the Boise River lend themselves perfectly to fishing and picnicking, others – such as Sandy Point – are ideal for sunbathing and swimming.
In addition, visitors can rent a boat or try out some fun watersports at the Spring Shores Marina. With excellent hiking and cycling also on offer, Lucky Peak State Park has something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Made up of seven serene and secluded sections strung out across the southwest of the state, Thousand Springs State Park is one of the most marvelous state parks in Idaho. As each unit offers up a unique experience and is within easy driving distance of the others, you can be hiking in a gorgeous gorge one minute and horseback riding or wildlife watching the next.
Only created in 2005 when four state parks were merged into one, Thousand Springs boasts delightfully diverse landscapes, scenery, and nature. The beautiful Box Canyon’s cliffs are home to a spectacular waterfall, with bald eagles whirling overhead, and the massive Malad Gorge has some great hiking and phenomenal views for you to enjoy.
On top of this, Niagara Spring’s 110 meter high cliffs make for a breathtaking sight, and pleasant fishing, picnicking and bird watching can be had at Billingsley Creek and Ritter Island.
Set in the southwest of the state, Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to lovely landscapes, with dramatic dunes found next to small, sparkling lakes. Located just outside the tiny town of the same name, it lies along Interstate 84, almost equal distance between Boise and Twin Falls.
While its sensational sandscapes are a treat to explore, the park is particularly known for boasting the highest single-structured dune in North America. Reaching a remarkable 140 meters in height, it dominates the desolate desert scenery surrounding it.
Besides hiking or sandboarding around the state park’s sprawling sands, visitors can stop by its pretty prairies to swim and fish in its lakes. Bruneau Dunes is also a great place to go camping; its night skies are perfect for stargazing, with an observatory found within the park.
Commemorating the history, culture, and stories of the Nez Perce people, this incredible National Historical Park lies nestled in the northwest of Idaho, not far from the border with Washington. Among its vast valleys, flower-filled meadows, and magnificent mountains are 38 important sites to explore, with 26 of them found in the Idaho part of the park.
Founded in 1965, the park is set on the traditional homelands of the Nez Perce and tells their story as they fought for their freedom and resisted being forced onto a reservation. Many of the sites lie on the route that Chief Joseph and his band took in 1877, fighting numerous battles and skirmishes against the US Army as they tried to reach Canada.
Visiting its picturesque prairies, battlefields, and campsites is now a poignant affair. You will learn all about their history, home and heritage. At the park’s museum and visitor center, there are interesting exhibitions, artifacts, and archaeological findings on display documenting the story of the Nez Perce people.
Nicknamed the ‘Niagara of the West,’ the shimmering and shining Shoshone Falls make for a spectacular sight. Protected as part of a park since 1932, the waterfall lies on the banks of Snake River, just to the northeast of Twin Falls.
Spanning almost 300 meters, its white wall of water reaches up to 65 meters, which is actually much higher than the more famous falls it is often compared with. Lined by rugged rocks with mighty mesas looming in the distance, Shoshone Falls makes for some fantastic photos, with an observation deck found looking out over the basalt canyon in which it lies.
Besides basking in its beauty, visitors can hike along the canyon’s rugged rim and visit both Dierkes Lake and the infamous site where the American daredevil Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River in 1974.
Located not far to the northeast of Twin Falls and Shoshone Falls Park is another of the state’s important sites which this time tells a sadder story. Set in a serene yet secluded spot on the banks of Clover Creek is the moving Minidoka National Historic Site, which commemorates the more than 9,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned here during WWII.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, existing hostility to those of Japanese ancestry only increased, with President Roosevelt ordering all Japanese Americans to be interned. The Minidoka War Relocation Center was just one of ten camps used between 1942 and 1945, with barracks and guard towers erected to house the unfortunate inmates.
Visitors can learn about all this dark part of America’s past through its interesting exhibits and by wandering along the historic trail that passes the prison blocks, baseball field and watch tower.
Straddling the state line of Oregon and Idaho is the wonderful wilderness and stunning scenery of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Named after the cavernous canyon that lies at its heart, it has preserved the area’s historical, natural and archaeological riches since 1975.
Remarkably, the enormous Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, reaching a staggering depth of 2,436 meters. Carved out of the rugged landscape by the roaring Snake River, it is lined by majestic mounts, with the spectacular Seven Devils range the most impressive of the lot.
The best way to see all its riches is to hike along the Snake River National Recreation Trail, which passes some phenomenal viewpoints and scenic spots. In addition, you can go fishing, swimming and kayaking on the river or check out any of the prehistoric petroglyphs and old mining sites that dot the area.
Set at the southern tip of Lake Pend Oreille, with the captivating Coeur d’Alene Mountains rising all around it, Farragut State Park can be found in the far north of the state in the Idaho Panhandle. A breathtakingly beautiful place, it is a treat to visit, with countless recreation activities on offer.
Once a training base for the US Navy, its scenic setting was turned into a state park in 1966, with picnic areas and campsites springing up alongside archery, equestrian, and disc golf facilities. On top of this, there is lots of great hiking and cycling to be had along its lovely lakeshore, with superb swimming, boating, and watersports to be enjoyed in its tranquil waters.
Besides drinking in all the delightful scenery and fabulous vistas, visitors can also stop by the site’s Museum at the Brig, which has interesting exhibitions and displays on the former naval facility.
One of the most fascinating fossil sites in the States, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument lies just to the northwest of Twin Falls, near the tiny town of the same name. Home to a vast number of Hagerman horse fossils, it has a range of informative and interactive exhibitions on the history of the region and all its famous finds.
At the Hagerman Horse Quarry, an astounding array of fossils have been unearthed, making it one of the most important paleontological sites in the country. Dating to the late Pliocene Epoch, these include everything from fish and frogs to ground sloths, mastodons and sabre-toothed cats.
Perusing the extensive collection in its visitor center is an awe-inspiring experience as you gaze upon millennia-old fossils of fauna and flora. The undoubted highlight, however, are those of the Hagerman horses, which have played a key role in furthering the understanding of horse evolution.
Set in the south center of the state, not far from the border with Nevada and Utah, is the superb City of Rocks National Reserve. Very popular among hikers and rock climbers, it boasts massive boulders and fantastic formations with epic landscapes and scenery wherever you look.
Once an important landmark for travelers and traders on the California Trail, its ragged rocks, jagged peaks and spindly spires make for a spectacular sight. Protected as part of a park since 1957, it is named after an extraordinary circle of grey granite rocks that are ringed together.
Scattered about its craggy confines are pretty paths to hike along, with great rock climbing to be had amidst its hulking 100-metre-high boulders. In addition, City of the Rocks has cosy campsites to stay at, with horseback riding and hunting also popular.
Established all the way back in 1924, Craters of the Moon National Monument protects lots of lava-scarred landscapes that are very otherworldly in appearance. Formed thousands upon thousands of years ago following a violent volcanic eruption, its barren, bleak, yet beautiful scenery can be found in Central Idaho, not far from Twin Falls.
Rising from amidst the rugged and ruined terrain are captivating cinder cones and craters, with lava tube caves and lava flows found here and there. Part of the Great Rift volcanic zone, it also features fissures and vents, with a handful of hardy shrubs and animals somehow eking out a living among its desolate and destroyed reaches.
Many people come here to explore the monument’s mesmerizing moonscapes, with fabulous photos and views to be had over its sensational scenery. At the visitor center, there are interesting exhibits and displays on the geology and history of the region, as well as a short film to watch.
While most of its incredible wilderness lies in Wyoming, significant sections of Yellowstone National Park can be found in Montana and Idaho. Home to rugged landscapes, scenery, and nature, it is sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts with its wealth of riches.
The first national park in the world, Yellowstone was founded in 1872 to protect its incredible array of natural sights. A very volcanic area, it impressively includes over half of the Earth’s geysers, with countless hot springs and mud pots bubbling about. Of them, Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful are the most popular due to their size, scale, and splendor.
While the gorgeous geothermal areas attract lots of people, its verdant forests, craggy canyons and majestic mountains are just as beguiling in their beauty. As lots of moose, grizzly bears and wolves reside amidst its remote yet ravishing reaches, many visitors go wildlife watching with hiking and camping also being popular. With so much untouched and unspoiled nature, Yellowstone National Park really is one of the most awe-inspiring places to visit in the whole of the States.