WHY VISIT IDAHO
Get ready for adventure in Idaho, where sitting still is simply off the menu. Spuds are definitely on the menu however; Idaho is the number one potato producer in the USA and the humble root vegetable is synonymous with the state. So are jewels. Nearly every known gemstone has been found in Idaho, which is affectionately dubbed the Gem State.
Of course, there’s much more to Idaho than spuds and stones. Nestling on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, the state dishes up a hefty dollop of stellar scenery: evergreen forests, raging rivers, gnarly lava fields, dazzling mountains, and shimmering lakes abound.
Unspoiled, with huge sweeps of wilderness, this sparsely populated state may lack the fame of neighboring Washington and Montana, but it also lacks the crowds.
Nature shows off its finest and weirdest sides here. Boat barrel along the Snake River through Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge. Sand dunes higher than the London Eye roll across the high desert of Bruneau Dunes State Park. Mountains and alpine lakes festoon the Sawtooth Wilderness area. And so lunar-like are the lava fields at Craters of the Moon National Monument, NASA astronauts used it for moonwalk training in 1969.
It’s no wonder adventurers are cottoning on to the lure of this little-known state. Rafters and kayakers hurtle through white-water rapids on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Anglers hook more cutthroat trout than they can handle in the Selway River. Horseback riders saddle up and corral cattle on dude ranches. And in winter, skiers and snowboarders eschew lift queues and do their best to keep Idaho’s super-dry powder a secret.
WHAT TO SEE IN IDAHO
- Sun Valley: Idaho’s leading resort since 1934, Sun Valley was one of America’s first ski resorts and continues to enchant visitors with its world-class skiing, summer recreation, and extensive amenities tucked deep in the heart of central Idaho’s mountains. The vast Sawtooth National Recreation Area surrounding Sun Valley has a full array of activities for all seasons. In summer, you can golf, fish, go on a hot air balloon ride, learn to paraglide, or go horseback riding.
- Boise: Idaho’s main metropolis is only home to 210,000 people so you may be quick to write it off. However, guests are regularly pleasantly surprised by how amazingly active and sophisticated Boise is with quick access to the mountains of Idaho and loads of amenities. The center is Grove public square which houses most restaurants, bars, art galleries, and shops from this central hub. The Idaho Historical Museum and Boise Art Museum showcase the interesting pioneering heritage of the state, while the 25-mile downtown Greenbelt ensures nature and recreation never stray far from the urban oasis.
- Craters of the Moon National Monument: one of the coolest features of Idaho’s natural landscape is its vast volcanic areas left millions of years ago. Just north of Sun Valley is Craters of the Moon, one of the best places to spend a day exploring. The seven-mile Loop Road hits most of the highlights, allowing visitors to cruise or get out and play among the many lava flows and tubes. Hike a mile up to the edge of Inferno Cone, one of the world’s biggest cinder cones, for awesome 360° views over the lava fields. There are also hiking trails and caves to explore.
- Coeur d’Alene: the main town in northern Idaho’s skinny panhandle is Coeur d’Alene, a lovely lakeside destination with a busy recreation and tourism scene. At its heart is the 25-mile-long lake by the same name that allows every form of water sport known to man. Coeur d’Alene Golf Course is one of America’s top-ranked courses while in winter; the Silver Mountain Ski Resort boasts excellent snow conditions and the world’s longest year-round gondola. The town itself has plenty of restaurants, bars, and hotels to cater to visitors, while Silverwood theme park and Wild Waters offer summer amusement fun for the kids.
- Custer Historic Mining Town: visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like in the late 1800s during a Wild West mining boom. This one-street town has been preserved under the wings of the national preservation society and other historical groups. You can walk the self-guided tour to learn about the buildings, pan for gold in the river, or browse the museum in the original schoolhouse. It’s a great attraction for children or anyone with an interest in the gold rush of the West.
- Sandpoint: just south of the Canadian border is one of Idaho’s most scenic and popular resorts. Sandpoint is best known for its many glacial lakes, including the spectacular Lake Pend Oreille, right in the heart of town. There is a pleasant mix of art galleries, local cafés, shops, and little bars in the compact, historic downtown area. Summer is prime tourist season in Sandpoint when the lakes are buzzing with boaters and fishermen.
- City of Rocks National Reserve: in Southeastern Idaho is a literal playground of massive boulders and granite towers rising out from the rolling hills, some over 300 feet high, creating a truly surreal landscape. The park is hugely popular with both hikers and rock climbers with some trails winding up to lookout points. Hike from Almo, the nearest town or you can camp right in the park.
WHEN TO GO TO IDAHO
The best period to visit Idaho is from May to September.
Despite being inland, Idaho weather is largely influenced by climate from the Pacific Ocean. In general, the southern portion of the state is warmer, while the northern region gets more precipitation. In winter, this means lots of snow in the north, where up to 500 inches have accumulated in one season in years past. While Boise gets an average of 21 inches of snow each winter, Coeur d’Alene averages at 52 inches every year, and the mountains get significantly more still. Winter temperatures average around 34°F December through February throughout most of the state, with nightly lows dropping well below freezing.
Summers bring warm daytime highs around 90°F in Boise and 83°F in Sun Valley. Most of the state falls somewhere in between, with cooler temperatures in the mountains and up north, and warmer weather along the southern plains. Thunderstorms are common across Idaho during the summer months, which are relatively brief (late June to late August). Visitors can expect sunshine 80 percent of the time during the summer and about 50 percent of the time in winter.
WHAT TO DO IN IDAHO
Bike the Sawtooth Mountains
Because Idaho is surrounded by nature heavyweights like Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon, its natural beauty often gets overlooked. Don’t make this mistake. The Sawtooth Mountains are the best place to take in this state’s under-appreciated mountain scenery, and the best way to see it all is on a multiday cycling trip. You’ll pedal through places like Craters of the Moon National Monument, tranquil Alice Lake, and Shoshone Falls, while constantly yelling over your shoulder, “I had no idea Idaho was this cool.”
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Idaho.
- Idaho Shakespeare Festival: proving they know their culture, the residents of Boise have been hosting this special theatrical event since 1977. Set in the lovely outdoor amphitheater along the Boise River’s banks, right in the heart of town, the Shakespeare Festival is so popular it runs from June all the way through September, with different plays performed each month.
- Riverfest Music Festival: the small town of Kamiah puts on a fun and family-friendly music event every June for two days. The riverside park right in town is the perfect venue for this low-key, gala of local food, great bands, and entertainment.
- McCall Summerfest: the mountain town of McCall holds its big annual event at the end of July. For five days, the quaint town features a series of jazz and classical chamber music concerts at venues around the region. It’s a rather famous event in its genre and regularly attracts some big names to this tiny Idaho village.
- Festival at Sandpoint: the big event each summer in the northern town of Sandpoint is an 11-day extravaganza every August that takes over the entire downtown. The scenic War Memorial Field is the site of several stages featuring music from various genres, ranging from classical to jazz, pop, and world beats. There is also Food Street, lined with tasty festival fare and ticket prices vary depending on who is performing.
- Western Idaho Fair: Idaho’s official state fair is held every August at the Western Idaho Fairgrounds outside of Boise. This is one of the state’s primary events, running for 10 days. Experience Idaho in its purest form, with everything from cowboy competitions and carnival rides to music and awesome food.
- Art in the Park: to celebrate the arrival of fall, Boise holds its annual art festival each September in the town’s lovely Julia Davis Park. Craftsmen from around the western half of the country come to show and sell their wares. The event also features live music, plenty of food, and special children’s activities in the park. It runs for two days over the weekend and is free.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH IDAHO
All of the major car rental companies are on hand at Boise Airport and in the main resort towns like Ketchum, Coeur d’Alene, and Sandpoint. Avis, Hertz, Budget, and the other big names maintain a solid fleet of vehicles suitable for Idaho’s mountainous terrain. Unless you plan to stay in your resort the entire time, a car or SUV is necessary to reach trailheads, scenic points, and national parks. During the peak summer and winter travel periods, the most popular models sell out early so book your rental in advance to ensure you get the car or SUV you want.
There is no viable form of public transportation in Idaho outside of the main cities of Boise, Moscow, and Idaho Falls. Even in these areas, the modest public bus system helps residents move around the center, but are fairly useless for tourists. Nearly everyone in the state relies on a car to get anywhere. In resorts like Sun Valley and Sandpoint, transport isn’t an issue since you can walk, but in larger cities like Boise, you’ll need to use a car or taxi, or figure out the bus system to move about.
The only long-distance train stop in Idaho is in Sandpoint, at the extreme northern end of the state. Amtrak’s Empire Builder line runs through here on its coast-to-coast trek from Seattle to Chicago. It arrives in Sandpoint just after midnight and is a scenic train ride. It is also very slow, but fortunately, the seats on the train are large and comfortable, and the fares are reasonable.
A more convenient form of long-distance transportation to and around Idaho is the Greyhound bus. This popular national bus company covers every corner of Idaho, with its main entry points at Boise and Idaho Falls. The tickets are very cheap and the seats are reasonably comfortable.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON IDAHO
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-8,-7 (-7,-6)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN IDAHO
Typical food in Idaho
- Huckleberry Pie
Souvenirs from Idaho