Are you considering a trip to the Gem State? If so, you’re in for a treat. Idaho offers attractions that cater to all kinds of travelers. Here are some of the most fun, picturesque, and unique things to do in Idaho.
Idaho is renowned for its breathtaking wilderness, with the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Snake River Plain all contributing to the state’s diverse topography. But it’s not just the natural beauty that makes Idaho a must-visit. The state’s rich history, dating back to the times of the Native American tribes and the Oregon Trail, adds a fascinating layer to these best things to do in Idaho.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking for your next thrill, a history buff interested in the Old West, or a foodie eager to try the famous Idaho potatoes, there’s something for you in Idaho. From the capital city of Boise to the scenic resort town of Sun Valley, there’s no shortage of interesting Idaho things to do.
To help you plan your trip, I’ve compiled a list of the best places to visit and things to do in Idaho. These are my personal favorites, and they offer a mix of outdoor adventures, historical sites, cultural attractions, and culinary delights. So, let’s dive in and discover what makes Idaho a gem of a destination!
Best Places to Visit in Idaho: Discover the Gem State
Ready to discover all the coolest things to do in Idaho? As noted above, this underrated vacation destination has something for everyone regardless of taste and preference. So keep reading to find out all these unique Idaho places to visit.
Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-fueled adventures, serene natural landscapes, or cultural and historical insights, these must-sees in Idaho have you covered. For you to make the most of your visit to this diverse state, here’s all the best attractions in Idaho that you should know about.
1. Sun Valley Resort
Looking for the most unique things to do in ID? Don’t miss this one!
One of the top attractions in Idaho is the Sun Valley Resort. Winter sports enthusiasts will most likely already have Sun Valley Resort at the top of their Idaho bucket list. Not many resorts can compete with its rich history. It is actually the first destination ski resort in the US – where the idea of the ski vacation was born!
Located in southern Idaho and surrounded by Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain, it attracts skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts from around the world who want to take advantage of its world-class facilities. There are 2,000 acres of skiable terrain here, including 65 named runs, 13 chairlifts, and a gondola.
If you love winter sports and want to try something new, head to the Nordic Center to check out the cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Adrenaline-seekers can also test their bravery with heli-skiing, while kids will love the outdoor ice skating rink.
In the summer, the resort offers a wealth of outdoor recreation. In addition to its scenic hikes, mountain biking, swimming, and golfing are available. There are also plenty of on-site dining options available, from family-friendly options to fine dining.
If you’re a fan of Ernest Hemingway, make sure to book an overnight stay at the Sun Valley Lodge. Not only does it offer a long list of luxe amenities, but it was an old haunt of his!
As one of the top Idaho attractions, you’ll definitely want to add this to your travel itinerary.
2. Coeur d’Alene
This is one of the best things to do in Idaho, hands down. The city of Coeur d’Alene, located in the northern part of Idaho, is a must-visit for anyone who loves the great outdoors. The city is named after the lake it sits on, Lake Coeur d’Alene, which is a stunning natural wonder that stretches over 25 miles long.
The lake is the centerpiece of the city and offers a plethora of recreational activities. From boating and fishing to swimming and sunbathing, there’s something for everyone here. The lake is also home to several species of fish, making it a popular spot for anglers.
For those who prefer to stay on land, the area surrounding the lake offers plenty of hiking and biking trails. The Coeur d’Alene National Recreation Trail is a particular favorite, offering 23 miles of paved pathway that winds through the city and along the lake’s edge.
Don’t forget to take a stroll downtown, where you’ll find a charming collection of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The city is also home to several events throughout the year, including the Ironman Triathlon and the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just looking for a peaceful getaway, Coeur d’Alene is a destination that should not be missed when visiting Idaho. With so much charm and personality, Lake Coeur d’Alene is one of the top places to visit in Idaho.
3. Craters of the Moon National Monument
For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Idaho. For a truly out-of-this-world experience, head to Craters of the Moon National Monument. This unique geological site, located in central Idaho, is a testament to the state’s volcanic past. The landscape here is so lunar-like that it was used by NASA astronauts as a training ground for the moon missions.
The monument covers an area of over 750,000 acres and features a vast ocean of lava flows, cinder cones, and lava tubes that date back 15,000 years. The rugged, black terrain is interspersed with patches of colorful wildflowers in the spring and summer, creating a striking contrast.
Visitors can explore the monument on foot via a network of hiking trails that range from easy walks to challenging climbs. The Cave Area Trail is a particular highlight, leading to several lava tube caves that you can explore with a permit.
For a different perspective, take a drive along the seven-mile loop road, which offers stunning views of the volcanic landscape. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor center to learn more about the monument’s geology and history.
Whether you’re a nature lover, a geology enthusiast, or simply curious, Craters of the Moon National Monument is sure to leave a lasting impression. Is this one of the coolest things to do in Idaho? You bet!
4. Salmon River
Yearning for a getaway like no other? This thing to do in Idaho has got you covered. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, then a trip to the Salmon River should be at the top of your Idaho bucket list. Known as “The River of No Return,” the Salmon River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states and offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the country.
The river winds its way through the heart of Idaho, passing through rugged canyons, verdant forests, and scenic wilderness areas. Along the way, you’ll encounter a series of thrilling rapids that will test your paddling skills and get your heart racing.
But it’s not just about the adrenaline rush. A rafting trip on the Salmon River is also a great way to experience Idaho’s stunning natural beauty. You’ll have the chance to spot wildlife, go fishing, and camp on sandy beaches under the stars.
Several companies offer guided rafting trips on the Salmon River, ranging from half-day excursions to multi-day adventures. Whether you’re a seasoned rafter or a complete beginner, there’s a trip that’s perfect for you.
So, if you’re ready for an adventure that combines excitement, natural beauty, and a touch of wilderness then whitewater rafting on the Salmon River is a must-do on your Idaho visit. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best things to do in Idaho.
5. Old Idaho Penitentiary
History lovers will love this top thing to do in Idaho. For a dose of history with a twist, make your way to the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise. This former state prison has operated for over a century from 1872 to 1973. Now, it’s become a fascinating museum that offers a glimpse into Idaho’s darker past.
The penitentiary housed some of the state’s most notorious criminals, and you can explore the old cell blocks, solitary confinement areas, and even the gallows. The site also includes several historic buildings, such as the chapel, the dining hall, and the women’s ward.
One of the highlights of a visit to the Old Idaho Penitentiary is the opportunity to learn about the lives of the inmates who were incarcerated here. Through exhibits and displays, you’ll hear stories of daring escapes, infamous criminals, and the harsh realities of prison life.
The penitentiary also hosts a range of events throughout the year, including ghost tours, movie nights, and lectures. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for something different to do in Idaho, a visit to the Old Idaho Penitentiary is sure to be a memorable experience. This makes it one of the coolest things to do in ID.
6. Idaho Potato Museum
No trip to Idaho would be complete without paying homage to the state’s most famous crop: the potato. And there’s no better place to do this than at the Idaho Potato Museum, located in the city of Blackfoot.
This quirky museum is dedicated to all things potato. Here, you’ll learn about the history of the potato, the growing and harvesting process, and the role that the potato industry plays in Idaho’s economy. The museum is packed with interesting exhibits and displays, including the world’s largest potato chip and a timeline of potato history.
But it’s not just about education. The museum also offers plenty of fun, with interactive displays, potato trivia, and even a potato lab where you can learn about the science behind this humble vegetable.
Before you leave, don’t forget to stop by the museum’s gift shop, where you can pick up all sorts of potato-related souvenirs. And of course, no visit would be complete without trying some delicious potato treats at the Potato Station Café.
The iconic Idaho Potato Museum offers a unique and entertaining experience. Whether you’re a potato lover or just curious, and is absolutely one of the unique things to do in Idaho. It’s sure to be a highlight of your Idaho visit.
7. Sawtooth Scenic Byway
Looking to visit one of the best places in Idaho? Add this to your bucket list! If you’re a fan of road trips, then the Sawtooth Scenic Byway is a must-do on your Idaho itinerary. This 115-mile route takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the state. It offers stunning views of the Sawtooth Mountains, the Salmon River, and the Boulder Mountains.
Starting in the city of Shoshone, the byway winds its way north through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, passing through charming small towns, lush valleys, and rugged mountain terrain. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, from hiking and fishing to wildlife viewing and photography.
One of the highlights of the drive is the town of Stanley, which is known for its incredible mountain scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities. From here, you can explore the Sawtooth Mountains, go white-water rafting on the Salmon River, or relax in one of the area’s natural hot springs.
The Sawtooth Scenic Byway is a journey that showcases the natural beauty and diverse landscapes of Idaho. Whether you drive it in one day or take your time to explore along the way, it’s an experience that you won’t soon forget. As such, I recommend this thing to do in Idaho to everyone I meet.
8. City of Rocks National Reserve
As far as things to do in Idaho go, this activity is among the coolest! For a unique outdoor adventure, head to the City of Rocks National Reserve. Located in southern Idaho, this natural wonder is a paradise for rock climbers, hikers, and nature lovers alike.
The reserve gets its name from the towering granite formations that dot the landscape, some of which are over 2.5 billion years old. These rocks, which can reach heights of up to 600 feet, provide some of the best rock climbing in the country, with over 1,000 traditional and bolt-protected routes to choose from.
But you don’t have to be a climber to enjoy the City of Rocks. The reserve also offers over 22 miles of hiking trails that wind through the rock formations. It offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Along the way, you might spot some of the area’s wildlife, including mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and a variety of bird species.
The City of Rocks is also rich in history, with evidence of Native American habitation dating back thousands of years. More recently, the area was a landmark on the California Trail. You can still see the signatures of pioneers who passed through in the 19th century.
A visit to the City of Rocks National Reserve is one of the fun things to do in Idaho. This is especially true if you’re seeking adventure, natural beauty, or a touch of history.
9. Shoshone Falls
Attractions in Idaho come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is among the best! Often referred to as the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls is a must-see attraction in Idaho. Located on the Snake River near the city of Twin Falls, this massive waterfall is actually higher than Niagara Falls, standing at a height of 212 feet.
The falls are at their most spectacular in the spring and early summer, when snowmelt from the mountains feeds the river and sends a torrent of water cascading over the edge. The sight of the falls in full flow, surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Snake River Canyon, is truly awe-inspiring.
A visit to Shoshone Falls is not just about the views, though. The park surrounding the falls offers a range of recreational activities, including hiking trails, picnic areas, and a swimming area. There’s also a viewing platform that provides a great vantage point for photographs.
Whether you’re a nature lover, a photographer, or just someone who appreciates the power and beauty of nature, Shoshone Falls is a destination that should not be missed on your Idaho trip. There’s so much to see at Shoshone Falls and no wonder this is among the best Idaho things to do.
Looking for what to do in Idaho? Look no further than Sandpoint. Nestled on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Sandpoint is a charming small town that offers a mix of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and cultural attractions. With its stunning lake views, vibrant arts scene, and friendly community, Sandpoint is a great place to experience
One of the highlights of Sandpoint is City Beach Park, a popular spot for swimming, boating, and picnicking. The park offers a sandy beach, a boat launch, and a playground, making it a great place for a family outing.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the surrounding area offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing. In the winter, the nearby Schweitzer Mountain Resort offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the region.
Sandpoint is also known for its vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries, theaters, and music venues. The town hosts several events throughout the year, including the Festival at Sandpoint. This summer music festival attracts performers from around the world.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, or just a relaxing getaway, Sandpoint has something to offer every traveler. Is this one of the most unique things to do in Idaho? No doubt about it!
11. Idaho City Historical Foundation
Step back in time and get a taste of the city’s rich history at this unique place to visit in Idaho. Once the largest city in the Pacific Northwest during the gold rush, today Idaho City is a well-preserved ghost town that offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.
The Idaho City Historical Foundation is a must-visit for history buffs. This organization is dedicated to preserving the history of Idaho City and operates several museums in the area. The Boise Basin Museum is a particular highlight, offering a range of exhibits on the history of the gold rush and the early settlers in the area.
Take a stroll through the town and you’ll find a number of historic buildings, including the old courthouse, the post office, and several old saloons. Many of these buildings are now home to shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. Adding a touch of modern comfort to the historic setting.
Whether you’re a history buff or just curious about the past, a visit to Idaho City is like stepping back in time. It’s a unique experience that offers a different perspective on the Gem State. This is why a visit to the Idaho City Historical Foundation is right up there in my list of top things to do in Idaho!
12. Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness
Looking for Idaho activities that don’t break the bank? Then this is what you’re looking for! For those seeking a true wilderness experience, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the ultimate destination. Covering over 2.3 million acres in central Idaho, it’s the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states.
Named after U.S. Senator Frank Church and the Salmon River’s nickname, “The River of No Return,” this vast wilderness offers a range of outdoor activities. From hiking and camping to fishing and white-water rafting, there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast.
The wilderness is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including wolves, cougars, black bears, and a variety of bird species. It’s also a great place for stargazing, with its remote location and lack of light pollution providing perfect conditions for viewing the night sky.
Access to the wilderness is primarily by foot, horseback, or boat, adding to the sense of adventure. There are no roads, making it a true backcountry experience.
Whether you’re an experienced adventurer or just looking for a taste of the wild, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness offers an unforgettable experience that showcases the natural beauty and wildness of Idaho. For those seeking rest and relaxation in nature, it’s truly one of the best places in Idaho you should know about.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Idaho
Looking for more content on the top things to do in Idaho? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Idaho:
What is the best time to visit Idaho?
The best time to visit Idaho depends on what you want to do. For winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, the best time is from December to March. For outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and camping, the best time is from June to September when the weather is warm and the days are long.
Is there anything fun to do in Idaho?
Absolutely! Idaho is packed with a variety of fun activities and attractions for all interests and ages. Here’s a glimpse of what you can enjoy in the Gem State:
Outdoor adventure: Idaho’s diverse landscapes offer endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether it’s skiing in Sun Valley, white-water rafting on the Salmon River, hiking in the Sawtooth National Forest, or exploring the scenic Shoshone Falls, there’s something for every adventurer.
Cultural experiences: Boise, Idaho’s capital city, has a vibrant arts scene with galleries, theaters, and live music venues. The Basque Museum & Cultural Center highlights the state’s unique Basque heritage.
Historical sites: Explore Idaho’s rich history at sites like the Old Idaho Penitentiary or the ghost towns left behind from the mining boom.
Unique attractions: Don’t miss the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, where you can learn everything about Idaho’s most famous crop. Visit the Coeur d’Alene Resort for a round of golf on their world-famous floating green.
Fishing and wildlife watching: With its abundant lakes and rivers, Idaho offers excellent fishing opportunities. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot elk, wolves, and other native species.
Wine and dine: The state’s burgeoning wine industry is making a name for itself. Tour local vineyards and enjoy farm-to-table dining experiences in Idaho’s restaurants.
Relaxing getaways: Take a soak in one of Idaho’s many natural hot springs, such as those in Stanley or McCall, for a relaxing escape.
From exploring stunning natural landscapes to engaging in cultural and culinary experiences, Idaho has a plethora of activities that offer fun and excitement for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, foodie, or someone in between, you’ll find plenty to do in Idaho.
Is Idaho a good place for a family vacation?
Absolutely! Idaho offers a wide range of activities that are suitable for all ages. From outdoor adventures like hiking and white-water rafting to educational experiences at museums and historical sites, there’s something for everyone in the family.
Why do tourists go to Idaho?
Tourists are attracted to Idaho for a variety of reasons, reflecting the state’s diverse natural beauty and unique cultural offerings:
Stunning natural scenery: Idaho’s landscapes are incredibly varied, from the majestic Sawtooth Mountains to the sprawling high desert. Nature lovers come to explore national parks, hike, bike, and enjoy photography.
Outdoor recreation: The state offers a myriad of outdoor activities year-round. Summer tourists enjoy white-water rafting, fishing, and boating, while winter visitors flock to resorts like Sun Valley for skiing and snowboarding.
Hot springs: Idaho’s numerous natural hot springs are a big draw for those looking to relax in a scenic setting.
Cultural attractions: Cities like Boise provide a mix of cultural experiences, including museums, art galleries, music festivals, and culinary delights.
Historic sites: History enthusiasts visit places like Coeur d’Alene’s old Fort Sherman and the ghost towns from the mining era.
Wildlife watching: Wildlife enthusiasts can observe native species like elk, wolves, and eagles in their natural habitats.
Agritourism: The state’s farming heritage can be explored through visits to vineyards, farmers’ markets, and farm-to-table dining experiences.
Scenic byways: Driving along Idaho’s scenic byways like the Salmon River Scenic Byway offers breathtaking views and opportunities for exploration.
Affordability: Compared to some other popular U.S. destinations, Idaho often offers a more budget-friendly vacation experience without sacrificing quality or enjoyment.
Idaho’s appeal lies in its combination of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, historical significance, cultural richness, and accessibility. It offers something for every type of traveler, from adrenaline seekers to those looking for a peaceful retreat.
What are the must-see attractions in Idaho?
Some of the must-see attractions in Idaho include the Shoshone Falls, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the City of Rocks National Reserve, and the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Don’t forget to try some of the state’s famous potatoes!
What is Idaho famous for?
Idaho is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, including expansive lakes, rugged mountains, and scenic landscapes like the Snake River Plain. It’s also famously known as the leading producer of potatoes in the United States, contributing to its reputation as a hub for agriculture.
What is the most popular thing in Idaho?
Idaho’s most popular attraction is arguably its stunning natural beauty, particularly the Sun Valley resort area for skiing and outdoor activities, and the scenic Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Additionally, the state’s famous Idaho potatoes and the annual Idaho Potato Conference draw significant attention.
Final Thoughts on Exploring Idaho
From its rugged mountains and scenic byways to its charming small towns and rich history. Idaho offers a wealth of experiences that are sure to delight any traveler. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or just looking for a peaceful getaway, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Gem State. So pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the wonders of Idaho for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.