A blend of rich heritage, scenic sites, friendly communities, lush green forests, and a taste of the American West, Idaho is one of the most-visited states in the United States. Also called the Gem State, it is truly a gem among all US states.
The natural beauty of Idaho is beyond words. Home to over 2,000 pristine lakes, the state offers endless recreational opportunities to locals and tourists in, on, and near water. You can also go hiking, golfing, skiing, mountain biking, and camping there.
Since Idaho is filled with interesting facts and attractions, you must visit the state to experience it. If you plan to explore Idaho on your next vacation, you should know the best places to visit in the Gem State.
Idaho is a vacation paradise, from soaring mountains and sparkling lakes to unforgettable wilderness camping experiences. Here are some famous places in Idaho you must visit when in the state.
The Hells Canyon Jet Boat Tour is an exciting way to experience the Wild and Scenic Snake River. This speedboat tour will take you through the deepest depths of Hells Canyon and some of its most breathtaking scenery. This tour includes a lunch buffet at Sheep Creek or Kirkwood Historic Ranch. Guests are able to enjoy the river while snacking on sandwiches, salads, desserts, beverages, and more!
From your first class III rapid to the last, you’ll enjoy the adrenaline rush of white water rafting in an incredible canyon along the Salmon River. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world as you explore a remote and rugged wilderness area with spectacular views. And at every turn, your expert guide will be right there by your side, helping you enjoy every minute as you experience this truly one-of-a-kind experience.
UTV Rental in North Idaho is the best way to explore the vast and rugged landscapes of northern Idaho. Pre-book your UTV online and start exploring on your own or with friends today. This rental gives you the flexibility to go where you want, set your own pace and discover several beautiful landscapes. From mountaintop vistas to multiple lakes, the area is chock full of places to visit.
Best Places to Visit in Idaho & Things to Do
Let’s start with the capital and largest city of Idaho – Boise. The city has one of the best US downtowns in the southwestern region. Though Boise has various big-city amenities, it still offers a small-town feel.
This is an excellent relaxing getaway with beautiful parks, art galleries, museums, walking trails, gorgeous restaurants, and plenty of things to do in Boise. Featuring a vast network of tree-dotted trails and parks hugging the Boise River through the city, the Boise River Greenbelt makes a top choice for outdoor enthusiasts.
Also, Boise is the starting point for endless outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting, mountain biking, fly fishing, rock climbing, and inner tubing along the Boise River. With a rich cultural scene, the city offers lots to do indoors in bad weather. You can visit theaters & performing arts centers, head to the Boise Art Museum, or learn the history of Idaho at the Idaho State Historical Museum.
Other tourist attractions in Boise are Julia Davis Park, Camel’s Back Park, Kathryn Albertson Park, Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area, and the Discovery Center of Idaho. If you’re interested in history, culture, and Boise’s food scene, consider booking the Culinary and Cultural Tour of Boise.
2. Sawtooth National Recreation Area
A part of Sawtooth National Forest, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (NRA) is a national recreation area in central Idaho. It includes over 756,000 acres of gorgeous mountainous scenery. Also called the Sawtooth NRA, it consists of the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness areas and the Sawtooth Wilderness.
The Sawtooth NRA has over 700 hiking trails, 40 peaks above 10,000 feet, and several high-elevation alpine lakes. This national recreation area also includes around 16 named mountains.
Some of the top hikes and attractions of the Sawtooth NRA are Lookout Mountain, Silver Peak, Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Lake, and Alpine Peak. Other recreational pursuits include outdoor activities, such as observing nature, hiking, camping, boating, rafting, canoeing, fishing, rafting, bicycling, and photography.
Additionally, the Sawtooth NRA has several hiking trails ranging from 54 to 2,601 meters in elevation. Redfish Lake Loop, Redfish Lake to Petite Lake, Tin Cup Hiker, Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake, and Imogene and Cramer Lakes Loop are the names of a few.
Moreover, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is incredible for those looking for fun and scenic drives. The Salmon, Sawtooth, and Ponderosa Pine are three national scenic byways.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US
3. Sun Valley
Sun Valley is a beautiful resort city in Idaho, located in the western United States in Blaine County. The elevation of this small yet beautiful town is 5,920 feet above sea level. A premier ski and summer vacation resort, the place offers the best of everything to its visitors.
Tucked in the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Sun Valley provides a range of activities for different age groups. It is well-known for the ski areas of Sun Valley Resort at Bald Mountain and near Dollar Mountain. This resort town attracts hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts each year for its gorgeous attractions and incredible facilities for winter sports.
In the summertime, visitors to Sun Valley can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing and golf, skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating in the winter. Rental shops in the Sun Valley area offer snowboards, skis, boots, and helmets with premium delivery service.
The Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) is 15 miles from Sun Valley and offers nonstop flights to 6 major cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Chicago.
If you want to spend a day or two in the city to make the most of it, you can book your stay in any nearby hotel or resort. Some of the best places are Sun Valley Resort, Elkhorn Delight, Valley Gem, and Dollar Meadows Condo. Offering a bunch of things to do, Sun Valley is a year-round tourist spot.
4. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is one of the top Idaho vacation spots. This is not only the first national park in the US but also the first national park in the world. With spectacular scenery and wildlife, this national park is a famous natural attraction in Idaho.
Located partly in Idaho (only 1%), Yellowstone is a must-visit attraction in the state. The scenic highlights of this national park are thick forests, alpine rivers, steep canyons, and incredible wildlife, including buffaloes, elk, bison, bears, and wolves.
You can visit different areas to see wild animals. However, make sure to maintain a certain distance from them. Yellowstone is also a hub for various Idaho outdoor activities, such as climbing, hiking, and cycling.
Additionally, don’t skip visiting the Old Faithful, a cone geyser in this national park. It is famous for somewhat predictable and frequent eruptions, around 20 times daily.
Since the area offers a good range of stylish accommodations, consider making your reservation before landing in the state. You can explore Yellowstone with a local guide to discover the beauty of this place in its entirety.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
5. Idaho Falls
Surrounding the Snake River, Idaho Falls is a scenic city in southeastern Idaho. It offers many things to see and do, making it one of the best gorgeous Idaho attractions.
One of the top tourist spots in the city is its incredible waterfall – Idaho Falls. You will find a long walkway along the Snake River, called Idaho Falls River Walk & Greenbelt, providing miles of sights to explore on both sides. The route is well-maintained and extensively landscaped, making it popular among walkers, runners, and cyclists.
Home to a range of other prominent attractions and the region’s only professional sports team, Idaho Falls is the cultural and commercial hub of Eastern Idaho. Located near the downtown area’s shops and restaurants, the Museum of Idaho is another top-rated spot. It features more than 25,000 specimens and artifacts relating to the state’s history, culture, and biology.
Other attractions you should not skip are Giant Eagle Waterfall Nest, Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park, Art Museum of Eastern Idaho, Civic Auditorium of Idaho Falls, and East Idaho Aquarium. Overall, Idaho Falls is a must-visit city in Idaho for its breathtaking scenery and access to the outdoors.
6. Shoshone Falls
Located on the Snake River in south-central Idaho, Shoshone Falls is one of the most-visited waterfalls in the state. This incredible waterfall is around 3 miles northeast of Twin Falls city.
Also known as the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls is 212 feet tall and around 900 feet wide. Surpassing the height of the world-famous Niagara Falls, this is one of the largest natural waterfalls in the US.
Shoshone Falls is on the edge of Twin Falls and Jerome counties. Sitting in Shoshone Falls Park, the picture-perfect falls roaring against epic rocky cliffs with stunning rainbows make Shoshone Falls a must-see.
From hiking, kayaking, cycling, and boating, to outdoor light shows, Shoshone Falls offers a vast range of outdoor adventures to keep visitors entertained. You can also picnic in the lush, shaded grassy areas with family or friends.
The best way to reach the falls is by driving – a 2-hour drive from Boise and a 3-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Overall, this spectacular waterfall is worth visiting, either for a day trip or a short stop on a road trip through southern Idaho. Besides, you can book the Twin Falls tour for an unforgettable experience exploring the area with a local tour guide.
See Related: Best Boundary Waters Waterfalls You Need to Visit
7. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is one of the unique national parks in Idaho. This lava field is a landscape of black rocks formed by molten lava over time. The place is at an elevation of around 5,900 feet above sea level.
Situated on the Snake River Plain in central Idaho between Carey and Arco, the Craters of the Moon is one of the historic national monuments of the US. With a striking resemblance to the Moon’s surface, this place features scattered islands, lava tubes, sagebrush, cinder cones, and volcanic bombs.
Though off the beaten path, the Moon National Monument Craters are worth a quick visit if you’re in the region on a road trip or day trip from Sun Valley. Home to some ancient volcanic lava, you can get a tour of this eerie place.
Every year, over 200,000 people visit this place to peer deep into a volcanic crater or explore the refuge of a lava tube cave. If you’re passing through the area, get ready to sit back and enjoy the drive. You can also stop at different points to picnic, stroll, hike, and click pictures. If you want to explore lava caves, remember to keep a flashlight and water bottle in your backpack.
8. Coeur d’Alene
Coeur d’Alene is one of the cool places in Idaho for all age groups. Sitting right on the shores of the scenic Lake Coeur d’Alene, this is the largest city in northern Idaho. It is also called the Lake City or CDA by its initials.
With more than 55 lakes at easy driving distance, Coeur d’Alene offers a vast range of water-based activities. You can enjoy kayaking, whitewater rafting, sailing, or any other imaginable water sport.
As a mountain town, Coeur d’Alene is worth visiting. The outdoor activities in the city vary depending on the season. You can enjoy rafting, mountain biking, hiking in the summers, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and skiing in the winter.
If you want to discover the best of this Lake City, you can book a guided Segway tour through town. The tour guide will take you through the city’s key landmarks, including Independence Park, Fort Sherman, McEuen Park, and the North Idaho Centennial Trail. Your guide will share stories and facts about the city throughout.
Coeur d’Alene is an incredible place to explore all year long. If you want to spend a day or two in the city, book your stay in advance to avoid inconvenience. The town offers incredible accommodations, including Flamingo Motel, Modern Coeur d’Alene Getaway Condo, and Bungalow on Boyd.
9. Hells Canyon National Recreational Area
Located on the borders of Idaho and Oregon, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is an extensive national recreation area. Spread on 652,480 acres, it was established as a national recreation area in 1975.
This national park is home to the deepest river gorge in North America called Hells Canyon. With dramatic views in the backdrop, this spectacular area offers various opportunities for rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, and exploring.
Sometimes called HCNRA, this national park straddles both sides of the beautiful Snake River. Some well-known recreation areas are the Black Lake, Windy Saddle, Hells Canyon Wilderness, Heavens Gate Lookout, and Seven Devils recreation area.
Another way to enjoy this recreational area is to go on the 2-mile out-and-back trail, Stud Creek Trail. The route features stunning river and canyon views. This trail is relatively easy with slight elevation, making it ideal for different skill levels.
Additionally, don’t skip visiting Kirkwood Historic Ranch on the Snake River if you’re a history buff. Accessible by boat or a 6-mile hike, the ranch offers a taste of ranch life in the 1930s.
You can also enjoy helicopter and jet boat tours in the region. Book a jet boat tour and be ready to experience the jaw-dropping scenery, the water rapids on the Snake River, and the deepest depths of the canyon.
See related: Essential Tips for Hiking with Kids
10. Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes State Park is a public recreation and geologic preservation area in southwestern Idaho. This state park is 15 miles south of Mountain Home and northeast of Bruneau.
The site features small lakes and the tallest freestanding sand dunes and is home to the tallest single-structured dune in North America, approximately 470 feet in height. Covering 4,800 acres, the state park features dune, desert, lake, prairie, and marsh habitats with incredible opportunities to spot and observe various animal species.
To make the most of your visit, climb the dunes or rent a sandboard to surf the sandy waves. The Bruneau Dunes Observatory in the park allows visitors to use a telescope for stargazing. You can also enjoy several other activities, such as hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and birdwatching.
This state park houses a variety of wildlife, such as sage grouse, coyotes, birds of prey, and others. Those who want to learn about the area’s geology and wildlife can visit the Bruneau Dunes State Park Observatory. The park also offers camping opportunities to its visitors year-long.
Visit the gigantic dunes in the Bruneau Dunes State Park and treat yourself to a one-of-a-kind desert experience. Overall, this is a must-visit destination in Idaho for its unique terrain.
See Related: Best National Parks in the Midwest (+ NPS Sites)
11. Redfish Lake
Located in Custer County of Idaho, Redfish Lake is an alpine lake. With a surface elevation of 6,547 feet above sea level, this is the largest lake within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It is 4.5 miles long and 0.72 miles wide, with 11 miles of shoreline and 387 feet of depth.
Sitting between the Salmon River and the Sawtooth Mountains, Redfish Lake offers majestic views that can make you feel on top of the world. It features a trail that is 17.5 miles in length.
Additionally, this gorgeous lake offers opportunities for multiple recreational activities, such as boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. Boasting bluewater, green pines lining the shores, and beautiful mountains in the backdrop (often covered with snow), the lake is excellent for photography.
You will find multiple campgrounds around the lake right next to the water. If you love camping, you can spend a night there. Since there are several accommodation options, you can book your stay in any of them depending on your comfort and convenience.
Overall, Redfish Lake is one of the best places to visit in Idaho during the summertime. Plan a trip to this flawless attraction with your kids and be ready to make lifetime memories.
12. Kirkham Hot Springs
Spread over a unique geological location, Idaho is home to various geothermal pools. Kirkham Hot Springs is one of the most well-known spots in the state. Sitting next to the South Fork Payette River, Kirkham is a group of hot springs of varying temperatures. Since the hot water comes from above, it gives the feeling of a hot shower.
Right on the edge of the Payette River, Kirkham provides its visitors with an incredible mountain view from the steaming pools. Deeply soak in these thermal springs and explore the scenic Kirkham Ridge Trail.
Kirkham Ridge Trail is one of the famous trails in the Lowman Ranger District. Popular among motorized and non-motorized users, this route leads to several other trails. You can hike or mountain bike here.
Other incredible hot springs in the area are Lava Hot Springs, Rocky Canyon Hot Springs, Boat Box Hot Springs, and Burgdorf Hot Springs. Grab your swimsuit and some good playlists, and get out on the way to your favorite hot springs.
See Related: Things to Do Near Mammoth Hot Springs
13. Thousand Springs State Park
Thousand Springs State Park is an expansive 2,000-acre nature preservation and public recreation area in southern Idaho. The park comprises multiple units, including Ritter Island, Billingsley Creek, Niagara Springs, Crystal Springs, and Malad Gorge – each section offers a unique experience.
Opened in 2005, this expansive park is home to one of the largest spring regions in the world. It offers everything to its visitors, from beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous springs to team water and impressive gorges. You can cherish the dramatic scenery of thousands of gallons of flowing water cascading down the cliffs.
Since the water is pure and clear, it creates stunning springs and sapphire blue pools, making it an oasis for tourists. You can head to Niagara Springs to relax in the 350-foot-deep Snake River Canyon. Stand in front of the springs and let the water from the waterfall cool you off.
Additionally, Billingsley Creek offers excellent opportunities to enjoy wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and superb fly fishing. You can enjoy a beautiful hike at Malad Gorge and explore several little pools along the Malad River.
Early Fall and Summer are the best time to visit Thousand Springs State Park. The warm water offers opportunities for several water activities, such as swimming, fishing, and kayaking. Since the area houses multiple accommodations, you can book any of them to ensure a comfortable stay.
See Related: Best Hot Springs in Utah & Resorts to Visit
14. City of Rocks National Reserve
Established in 1988, the City of Rocks National Reserve is a United States National Reserve and state park in south-central Idaho. Also called the Silent City of Rocks, the area is famous for enormous granite rock formations and rock climbing.
This 14,407 acres national reserve is at an elevation of 6,260 feet. Like other recreation areas, the place is home to several breathtaking trails. Some popular hiking trails are Creekside Towers, Bath Rock, South Fork Loop, Window Arch, Graham Peak, and Stripe Rock Loop. Since all these hikes vary in length, you can select one depending on your trip.
The unique rock formations and greenery make this place popular among photographers. They can capture a variety of reptiles, birds, invertebrates, and mammals while strolling around the reserve. Other activities include horse riding, mountain biking, camping, hunting, wildflower watching, and historical & geological discovery.
The winter season provides incredible opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing. This reserve is a beautiful place to spend a day or two as a family. You can stay at one of the properties nearby for the best life experience. Since the City of Rocks National Reserve offers many things to see and do, only a trip to this site will tell you why it is on the list of Idaho’s top tourist attractions.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
15. City of Palouse
Just two miles from the border of Idaho in Washington State, the City of Palouse is a distinct geographic section of the northwestern US. It is a well-known agricultural region, primarily producing legumes and wheat. The area extends from the rolling wheat fields to the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains.
Covering around 18,100 square miles, the rolling hills of the Palouse are incredible. Driving through the region will feel like riding in an amusement park as the fields go on and on. Since the Palouse is agriculturally rich, the land leads the world in producing soft white winter wheat.
Known as a “wonder” of Idaho, this beautiful landscape is picture-worthy, making it a heaven on earth for photographers. The City of Palouse is lush green during spring and golden in fall and summer.
Additionally, the Palouse is home to many animal species, such as white-tailed deer, mule, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, California quails, bobcats, and yellow-bellied marmots. The area usually includes 197 bird species and 87 mammal species.
Overall, this Idaho attraction is a must-visit for visitors – it is stunning all year round. If you’re a nature lover, do explore this beautiful wonder.
16. Silverwood Theme Park
Founded in 1988, Silverwood Theme Park is a well-known amusement park in Athol City in northern Idaho. This place has grown in size and popularity over the years. Silverwood has transformed from a local amusement park to a famous regional theme park. Spread over 413 acres; it is the largest water & theme park in the American Northwest.
Categorized in low, medium, and high intensity, the amusement park features an incredible range of rides for adults and kids of all ages. Boasting over 70 rides, slides, live entertainment, and Boulder Beach Water Park, Silverwood offers everything to keep visitors entertained.
Silverwood opened Scarywood Haunted Nights in 2009. Filled with multiple scare mazes and zones, it attracts hundreds of visitors. The main attractions of Scarywood are Blood Bayou, Timber Terror, and Planet Zombie.
The park also includes restaurants that serve a vast range of cuisines. Located in Coeur d’Alene, this theme and water park is one of the best destinations to visit in Idaho with kids. Since several hotels are in the area, you can book one any time you want to spend one or two nights.
See Related: Tips for Traveling with Toddlers and Kids
17. City of McCall
Located on the southern edge of Payette Lake, McCall is a gorgeous resort town on the western end of Valley County. Named after Tom McCall (founder), the town witnesses the highest average snowfall in Idaho.
Offering a range of family-friendly activities, this resort town makes a perfect destination for family vacations. It is ideal for outdoor recreation and adventure enthusiasts. McCall is known for snowmobiling, Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, and backcountry skiing during winter.
If you’re visiting the town in the summer, smell a Ponderosa Pine, take a sunset cruise around Payette Lake, and get on the lift at Brundage for a Scenic Chairlift Ride. You can also enjoy hiking, huckleberry picking, water sports, and other outdoor activities.
This town is also known for its Winter Carnival. It’s a 10-day festival held from late January to early February. Officially started in the 1960s, this event has grown into a grand Idaho festival bringing over 60,000 people to the town each year.
Additionally, McCall houses a range of accommodation options for its visitors. Book your stay in a nearby cabin or townhome to explore the area thoroughly. There are several nearby Idaho tourist towns, including Riggins, Yellow Pine, and Cascade, that you can explore with your family or friends when in the area.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Montana
18. Idaho Potato Museum
Situated in Blackfoot, Idaho, the Idaho Potato Museum is another famous place devoted to the potato. The museum strives to share the details about potatoes and the potato industry of Idaho through educational exhibits and hospitality.
This museum features interactive exhibits on potato history, the growing & harvesting process, trivia, nutrition, and educational potato facts. Though the facility is filled with surprises, a giant fake 25-inch potato chip is its main attraction.
Sitting on the main road, you can find a parking spot if you stop here for the museum visit. It’s around a half-an-hour stop to learn about potatoes through unique presentations.
There’s a potato cafe where you can enjoy unique Idaho food after exploring the museum. Since they take time to prepare orders, you can order online to skip the waiting part. You can book a guided tour online if you want a personalized experience.
19. Idaho Botanical Garden
Open all year long, Idaho Botanical Garden is one of the cool places in Idaho. Nestled in the Boise Foothills, this botanical park features over 50 acres of vibrant splashes of color and dappled shade. It promotes gardening in the beautiful Treasure Valley using native and non-native plants.
The garden features 50 small gardens offering excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy. It houses more than 800 plant species from 42 different families. Some sections of the park display the native wildlife of Idaho, making it a top attraction for nature or animal lovers.
A special place in Boise, the tranquil grounds of the garden also houses quiet walkways, distance vistas, and bubbling fountains. Some of the top events in the garden include music concerts, garden parties, garden tours, and educational activities. You will find a huge parking space in front of the garden entrance.
Smoking, vaping, weapons, firearms, and outside alcohol are prohibited. The garden strives to provide visitors with an enriching experience through botanical collections, educational programs, entertainment shows, and cultural & community events. If you’re in the area, don’t skip visiting the Idaho Botanical Garden.
Is Idaho worth visiting?
Idaho is a scenic US state known for protected wildlife, mountainous landscapes, and outdoor recreation activities. Since the state is home to endless adventure and fun, it entices weekend visits and extended stays. Everything Idaho has to offer makes it worth a visit.
What is the snowiest month in Idaho?
The snowy months in the state last for around four months, from early November to mid-March. The snowiest month in the state is December, with an average snowfall of 4 inches in Idaho Falls. However, Island Park gets the most snow in the form of Idaho.
How many days are enough to explore Idaho?
Offering so much to see and do, you can cover Idaho’s road trip route in just over a week. You can maximize your trip to enjoy your time in the state. Plan a 10-day trip to spend more time exploring Idaho’s scenic places and less time driving.
Are there any interesting facts about Idaho?
Of course! Here are just a few of the most interesting facts about Idaho:
Idaho is also known as the Gem State since you can find around 72 types of precious stones.
Idaho has two time zones, the Pacific Time Zone and the Mountain Time Zone.
Idaho produces approximately one-third of America’s potatoes.