The state of Idaho didn’t impress me with its bucket list destinations at first. I spent hours upon hours reading articles that promised to satisfy my wanderlust and show the best places to visit in Idaho. Unquestionably, there were plenty of interesting destinations. From quintessential cities and towns to striking remote areas, the state assured an amplitude of thrilling adventures and cultural treasures. None of these places, however, inspired me to visit Idaho right away.
Things certainly changed. As much as wanted to credit those articles for providing me with an extended list of the top places to visit in Idaho, the state itself did the job. It eagerly unrolled its diverse landscapes, never eluding its hidden gems and constantly impressing with its impeccable destinations.
When we started our road trip from Boise to Yellowstone and drove across southern section of the state, the area looked rather plain. Southeastern Idaho, however, looked completely different. It reminded us of rolling hills and mountainous rural regions of Switzerland.
Apparently, I was wrong. There was a myriad of incredible places to visit in Idaho. The Gem State clearly showed what I already knew. Pictures not always do justice to real destinations. In case of Idaho, you need to get outside and visit its abundant cities and explore its secluded rural places before making any decisions.
Bucket List Destinations: The Best Places to Visit in Idaho
Yet I have contradicted myself and compiled the list of the top places to visit in Idaho. For some, it might be enough to embark on their own adventures of exploring the vast roads and bountiful destinations of the Gem State. Others might need to visit all these remarkable places before falling in love with Idaho just like I did. Regardless of which category of the travelers you fall into, use these top 15 places to visit in Idaho as your guideline. Furthermore, feel free to add your own bucket list destinations if for some reasons I left them out.
Top Places to Visit in Idaho: Boise
Surprisingly, I didn’t even insist on exploring Boise through and through. With so many places we hoped to visit in Idaho, it looked like we wouldn’t have time to experience its capital. It was a mistake. Boise turned out to be an irresistible must-see destination.
Being the capital, Boise is the largest city and one of the most popular places to visit in Idaho. Set on the Boise River, it dazzles with a compelling blend of cultural and natural attractions. The “City of Trees” is what locals nickname their capital. Indeed, the presence of large green spaces in the area complies with Idaho’s drive to keep its residents active, healthy, and as close to nature as possible. For that reason, Boise’s ample parks brimmed with hiking and biking trails allow to escape the bustling city in the blink of an eye.
Impeccable food scene is another reason to add Boise to the list of the top places to visit in Idaho. From authentic Northwestern culinary traditions to mouthwatering dishes from European cuisines, the city allures gourmands from all regions. Interestingly, the travelers compare the capital of Idaho to Portland and Seattle, two of the best places to visit in the United States for foodies.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
The Gem State boasts an array of unique destinations that none of the other states has. Craters of the Moon certainly joins their ranks and falls into the category of the best places to visit in Idaho. Formed by molten lava fields approximately 15 million years ago, the area maintains its preternatural moon-like terrain up to this day. Exploring this wondrous bucket list destination feels like landing on another planet, a place that only a few daring travelers and locals of Idaho risk to visit.
Craters of the Moon occupies nearly 53,500 acres filled with volcanic formations and lava flows. The national preserve in the Snake River Plain was created on May 2, 1924. Despite its, what it looks like, barren terrain, the region is packed with wildlife. Foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, owls, bats, and other small desert rodents thrive in this strange environment, occasionally surprising the human visitors with their presence.
As one of the most intriguing places to visit in Idaho, Craters of the Moon surely knows how to keep their guests’ attention. The area offers a few epic trails that let you further explore the terrain and even see a few underground lava tubes. A permit for this activity, however, it required. You can get one free of charge at the visitor center located near the entrance.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Shoshone Falls
While reading all those detailed articles, I couldn’t not notice one natural gem. It looked like the majority of the travelers and locals agreed that Shoshone Falls was one of the must-visit places in Idaho. Gigantic, stupendous, awe-inspiring… I could see why they thought so. I must admit Shoshone Falls became one of my favorite places to explore in Idaho as well.
The famous waterfall sits on the outskirts of Twin Falls. Being the largest natural fall in the area, it makes not only Idaho, but the whole country proud. The size of the waterfall undisputedly sets it apart from other remarkable places one should visit in the state of Idaho. At 212 feet tall, Shoshone Falls is even higher than world-famous Niagara Falls. Taking this into account, the locals refer to their natural wonder as the “Niagara of the West”.
You can visit Shoshone Falls in southern Idaho all year round. The dam-controlled waterfall, however, changes its flow depending on the season. So, spring is the best time to appreciate the natural beauty of the site. Fueled by melted snow and rain, Shoshone Falls restores all its power by this time. The waterfall looks significantly thinner and fragile in fall. But even at this time, one of the most famous places in Idaho is as stunning as ever, proving that it’s worth a visit again and again.
READ MORE: How to Visit Shoshone Falls, Idaho
Thousand Springs State Park
One of the most gorgeous places in Idaho sits in the Magic Valley and enhances each and every visit to the area with panoramic views and ample outdoor adventures. The area was created in 2005, combining a few small parks that together form Thousands Springs State Park. As the name suggests, springs, streams, and waterfalls reign in this part of southern Idaho.
The park encompasses 7 sections that sit a short drive from each other. Each of the unites of Thousand Springs State Park brings something new, irresistible, and enticing. Whether you visit the iconic Oregon Trail or explore scenic hikes at splendid Malad Gorge, the area is eager to impress with the most magnificent places in Idaho.
Those who long for different kinds of activities, should saddle a horse in an indoor arena at Billingsley Creek. Ritter Island invites you to tour its historic agriculture structures while Crystal Springs Lake wins the hears of all fishing enthusiasts. The best views and the most incredible places to visit in this section of Idaho yet hide in Niagara Springs State Park. Housing the 350-foot-deep Snake River Canyon, the area astounds with picturesque streams and secluded sites.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Soda Springs
Idaho is dotted with small towns that offer the most extraordinary places to visit in the region. Soda Springs is certainly one of them. Often overlooked by the majority of the travelers, the place has long won approval of the locals. The main attraction here is Soda Springs, the world’s only captive geyser. For the local population, though, is not just another hydrothermal feature. It’s their pride and honor, their own “Old Faithful”.
The geyser was discover by accident when drilling for a pool in the late 1930s. The natural wonder has been captured and timed since then. Today, Soda Springs is one of the most unique and lesser-known places you can ever visit in Idaho. The geyser erupts approximately every hour and reaches heights up to 100 feet.
Apart from the predictable geyser in southeastern Idaho, the city’s guests enjoy soaking in natural hot springs at Octagon Springs Park and visit the historical Pioneer Museum.
Idaho’s Bucket List Destinations: Bruneau Dunes State Park
Idaho tests your tolerance for risky adventures by offering to visit some of the most unusual places one can find in the country. After the moon-like terrain of Craters of the Moon, the state surprises you with its deserted landscape. It’s up to you to give this area a try or venture to the next Idaho’s bucket list destination.
For those who decide to explore another unique terrain, Bruneau Dunes State Park prepares a wide range of daring adventures. The place is known for the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America. The famous landmark rises 470 feet above the desert floor. Apart from this remarkable natural wonder, the park prides itself on having one of the longest camping seasons in Idaho.
Things to Do in Bruneau Dunes State Park
Threatening at first glance, the irresistible desert invites you to climb its sandy mountains. Hiking, horseback riding along with swimming and fishing at the foot of the dunes is another fun way to visit one of the most astounding places in Idaho. Stars also seem to look down at Bruneau Dunes State Park. You can get a closer look at these shining dots above the dunes at Bruneau Dunes Observatory.
Entrance fee is $5 per car. While you can drive around the park, no vehicles are allowed to drive up the dunes.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Twin Falls
Home to Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls deserves its own spot among the best places to visit in Idaho. The city is small, but the amount of natural and cultural attractions it offers greatly exceeds its size. From paddling the Snake River to BASE jumping and chasing waterfall, the city keeps you on your toes. Every corner of Twin Falls brims with local treasures and unique places one must visit when traveling through southern Idaho.
After the Snake River, the Snake River Canyon is the main landmark of the city. Spreading over 50 miles, the gorge connects Twin Falls and Jerome Counties and offers bountiful outdoor adventures and panoramic views.
The 0.25-mile-wide canyon has long served as a source of inspiration for local daredevils. So in 1974, Evel Knievel attempted to “jump” across the Snake River from a dirt ramp on the canyon wall. Although the stunt wasn’t successful, Twin Falls still remembers this brave man and keeps his legacy alive. The dirt ramp, now called Evel Knievel Jump Site, belongs to the most interesting places to visit in southern Idaho.
Lake Coeur d’Alene
Lake Coeur d’Alene might skip the thrilling adventures typical for the desert and moon-like terrains. Yet, the area is rightfully included in the list of the most stunning places to visit in Idaho. The natural dam-controlled lake nestles in the northern region of the state. Spanning 25 miles in length, it boasts more than 100 miles of shoreline. This extended area, in its turn, entices with ample parks, campgrounds, beaches, and trails.
The second largest lake in North Idaho, Lake Coeur d’Alene takes your breath away with its remarkable scenery. Surrounded by majestic mountains, it dismisses any doubts one might have when deciding whether to add this area to his or her Idaho itinerary.
Things to Visit in Idaho: Lake City
The pristine location allures the locals as well. With time, one of the largest cities in Idaho was established on the shore of the lake. The state’s residents refer to it as the “Lake City”. The area houses an array of sandy beaches, hiking trails, and volleyball courts. Several companies offer watercraft rentals, enabling beachgoers to paddle or jet ski. For the non-adventures travelers, one the most stunning places in Idaho offers to visit its shores and book a tour boat cruise.
From November through February, you can observe bald eagles, migrating to the lake to feed on salmon in Wolf Lodge Bay. Swans, ducks, and geese flock to the area in spring and summer.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Idaho Falls
A few things set Idaho Falls apart from other astounding places to visit in the state. While city’s rich cultural heritage allures many locals and travelers alike, 600-foot-wide waterfall on the Snake River is always the center of attention. Hiking and biking trails along the Idaho Falls Greenbelt further introduce the guests to city’s green spaces, downtown, market, and the famous waterfall.
Art and history enthusiasts look for inspiration at the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho and the Willard Arts Center. The Pavilion for Japanese Art unveils secrets behind Japanese gardening traditions while the Idaho Falls Zoo invites to meet some of local inhabitants.
Moreover, Idaho Falls’s location allows you to visit a myriad of interesting places nearby and learn more about the state of Idaho. So, the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot sits just 30 minutes away. Natural hot springs of Lava Hot Springs are mere 1 hour 15 minutes away.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Another remarkable attraction on our list of the top places to visit in Idaho occupies northeastern Oregon and western Idaho. The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is known as the deepest river gorge in North America. Spanning 125 miles, the place offers endless adventures along with astounding natural wonders. From scenic vistas to splendid mountain peaks and secluded areas for hiking and horseback riding, the Hells Canyon is truly one of the most remarkable places you can visit in Idaho.
The popular activity in the canyon is hiking. A myriad of scenic trails, ranging from easy to moderate, wind the area. The major trailheads are located near Riggins, Idaho. Here you can find the Heaven’s Gate Trailhead, Snake River Trailhead, Black Lake Campground, Windy Saddle Trailhead, and Windy Saddle Horse Camp.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Seven Devils Mountains
The Snake River is responsible for the distinctive terrain and unique shapes of the Hells Canyon. While you can visit lower elevation on the Idaho side and be stunned by its rather barren and steep places, the high country completely transforms itself. Alpine lakes and towering peaks of the Seven Devils Mountains reside here.
The legend has it that the mountain range was named for a vision of seven dancing devils that appeared to a strayed Native American. At 9,000 feet above sea level, the mountains could indeed look like otherworldly creatures. Even their names, “He Devil”, “She Devil”, and “Twin Imps”, imply the mystical origin of this Idaho’s bucket list destination.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Luckily, Idaho doesn’t push you to visit and explore its remote places on foot or by riding a horse. The visitors are welcome to drive the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and admire the remarkable scenery from the convenience of their cars. The 213-mile loop runs through both Idaho and Oregon, presenting epic mountains, canyon, and small towns.
Last but not least, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area surprises the daring visitors with whitewater rafting. It might be dangerous, but the thrill and adrenaline rush are guaranteed.
Yellowstone National Park
Similar to Montana, Idaho owns only a small section of world-famous Yellowstone National Park. The rest of the unique territory sits in Wyoming. The locals, however, agree that Yellowstone must top the list of the best places to visit in Idaho.
Yellowstone National Park is unlike any other bucket list destinations. Known for its hydrothermal features such as geysers and hot springs, the place entices nearly four million visitors from all over the world. The highlights of the park are Old Faithful, one of the most predictable geysers in Yellowstone, and Grand Prismatic Spring. The latter has gained its fame as the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest hot spring in the world.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Sandpoint
We were debating on whether to add Sandpoint to this list of the top places to visit in Idaho. An incredible location along with plentiful outdoor and indoor activities spoke in favor of this gorgeous city and we had to give in. The place nestles between 3 mountain ranges on Lake Pend Oreille and the foot of Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Famous for its year-round events, the city astounds with its rich cultural heritage, authentic shops, and culinary scene.
Each season brings its own unique activities to this beautiful place in northern Idaho. In summer, the visitors enjoy boating across Lake Pend Oreille, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and fishing. Schweitzer Mountain is in charge of entertaining the tourists that visit these remote places in Idaho in winter. From downhill skiing to snowboarding and cross-country snowmobiling, the area competes with some of the renowned ski resorts in the state.
Sawtooth National Forest
Known for its rugged terrain, natural hot springs, and ample scenic trails, Central Idaho enhances your visit with the most beautiful places in the Gem State. The locals affectionally call this area the “crown jewel” of Idaho. The Sawtooth National Forest is indeed the epitome of beauty and daring adventures.
The region is divided into four areas: the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the Ketchum Ranger District, the Fairfield Ranger District, and the Minidoka Ranger District. Each of these sections offers a wide array of outdoor activities ranging from hiking, biking, paddling, fishing, skiing, and hunting.
Places to Visit in Idaho: Sawtooth Scenic Byway
Similar to other popular places you must visit in Idaho, the Sawtooth National Forest allows for a convenient way of exploring this vast territory. Spanning 115.7 miles from Shoshone to Stanley, the Sawtooth Scenic Byway takes you through the forest’s pristine meadows and majestic mountains. The most significant places to visit while driving this road in rural Idaho are Black Magic Canyon, Sun Valley Resort, Ernest Hemingway Memorial, Galena Summit, and Redfish Lake.
Lesser-Known Places to Visit in Idaho: Driggs
While the majority of the tourists visit Jackson to admire majestic mountains and explore many other places in Grand Teton National Park, Driggs, a small town in eastern Idaho, enables you to enjoy the scenic views without the maddening crowds.
The city sits in Teton County, about 25 miles from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. With less than 2,000 residents, the place is rather small. Nevertheless, it never ceases to offer quite an impressive amount of things to do and Idaho’s bucket list destinations to tick off. From backpacking to fishing and rafting on the Teton River, Driggs knows how to keep its visitors busy.
Cinema lovers should definitely check out the Spud Drive-In Theater where time seems to stop and movies are still projected onto a large outdoor screen. For a change of scenery, head to Mesa Falls, located about one hour north of Driggs.
Best Places to Visit in Idaho: Kirkham Hot Springs
Idaho is one of the best places to visit in the United States to soak in hot springs. The Gem State has approximately 130 mineral pools, which is more than any other state. The natural springs adorn Idaho’s remote regions as well as roadside areas.
The Kirkham Hot Springs, though, is one of the most popular natural hot springs in the state. The place consists of several soaking pools and small streaming waterfalls at the bottom of a wooden staircase. A campground with parking sits near the site, allowing for convenient experience.
You can access the Kirkham Hot Springs via the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway running through the Boise National Forest. This Idaho’s bucket list destination is open all year round and usually gets busy on weekends especially in the summer months.
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