50 Things to Do in Idaho That Prove This State Is America's Best Kept Secret
As we keep things closer to home, it’s important to highlight the best the U.S. has to offer. Instead of jetting off to a far-off country, consider a road trip to Idaho, a state that doesn’t always get its due. Whether you are looking to explore the great outdoors or spend a great city weekend in Boise, Idaho has a lot to offer.
1. Learn about potatoes
Start your Idaho journey off with a visit to the Idaho Potato Museum, which details the history of the root vegetable, as well as fun facts and trivia. Located in Blackfoot, the museum is oddly fascinating and, of course, features a café that serves up all sorts of potato-themed treats.
2. Sleep in a potato
Speaking of potatoes, visitors can actually bunk up in one at the Big Idaho Potato Hotel. The 28-long potato sadly isn’t edible, but it does look like an actual spud. Bonus: It’s surprisingly chic.
3. Explore Boise
Idaho’s capital city is a great place for a weekend away, especially if you’re already located on the West Coast. There’s plenty to see and do, from museums to historic sites to a buzzy nightlife, and it’s always fun to get to know a city you haven’t previously been to.
4. Visit the Boise Art Museum
While in Boise stop by the Boise Art Museum, which houses both a permanent collection and touring exhibitions. The museum also hosts special events, like artist talks, hands-on activities for adults and kids, and an annual open-air festival called Art in the Park.
5. Dine at Trillium Restaurant
Located in the Grove Hotel, Trillium Restaurant is all about local ingredients, like trout and bison. It’s open for three meals a day, and the bar boasts a great selection of local beers, as well as wines and cocktails. It’s slightly pricy, but worth the splurge.
6. Stroll “Restaurant Row”
For more great meals, head to Boise’s so-called Restaurant Row, a collection of eateries on 8th Street. Look for Wild Root Café and Market, Bittercreek Alehouse and Juniper, which is known for its must-do brunch.
7. See a show at the Knitting Factory
Great live music can be found all over Boise, but one of the most popular venues is the Knitting Factory. It attracts a vast array of musicians, as well as comedians, and there’s always something for everyone on the calendar. Be sure to snag a ticket in advance if you want to attend one of the more popular acts.
8. Attend Boise Music Festival
Of course, being around crowds is a no-no, but it’s good to know that Boise in normal times has some great music. Typically in June, there’s the annual Boise Music Festival, featuring both local and national artists.
9. Score a ticket to Treefort Music Fest
Another great Boise festival is Treefort Music Fest, an annual spring festival that brings in bands from all over the world. There are also tons of other activities, and the festival is tailored to every type of visit, including families and kids. Again, hopefully this is something you can enjoy down the line when it’s these types of events are safe.
10. Drink craft beer
Boise—and Idaho in general—is known for its local breweries, so it’s worth embarking on an official or unofficial tour of the best in town. These spots are offering takeout or open with mask requirements: Sockeye Grill and Brewery and Payette Brewing Company to try the wares.
11. Stroll the Boise River Greenbelt
Boise boasts a 25-mile pathway along the Boise River that winds through the city and beyond known as the Greenbelt. The trail is perfect for a quick stroll or to cycle along the banks of the river, and is a don’t-miss for all visitors. Check out the city’s website for COVID updates.
12. Visit the Idaho Botanical Garden
Explore the plants, trees and flowers at the Idaho Botanical Garden, which is open year-round. It’s a great place for an afternoon outing, or look for one of the special events that Garden often hosts. There’s also a garden store for those who want to cultivate their own green thumb. Currently, the gardens are limiting ticketed events and updating safety precautions, which you can check out here.
13. Tour Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Adjacent to the Botanical Garden is Old Idaho State Penitentiary, a former prison that closed down in 1973. Today visitors can embark on guided tours that uncover its 100-year history and catch a glimpse of the gallows and cells. As of now, it’s open daily with timed entry available to 50 visitors per hour.
14. Experience the Basque Block
Boise is home to a large population of Basque people, who inhabit an area called the Basque Block. Look for The Basque Market, Bar Gernika and the annual San Inazio Festival, which typically takes over the neighborhood every July. Be sure to call for more information regarding openings and safety precautions.
15. Walk the Oregon Trail
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Boise, head out of town to the Oregon Trail Reserve, which has preserved remnants of the historic Oregon Trail. There’s also a great scenic view of Boise, as well as walking trails that cover the 77-acre area. Note: Public restrooms are closed until further notice.
16. Soak in Kirkham Hot Springs
Idaho is filled with natural hot springs, many of which can be visited by the public. Kirkham Hot Springs is one of the most popular (and picturesque), and you can soak in the pools or pitch a tent at one of the local campgrounds.
17. Visit Shoshone Falls Park
Sometimes known as the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls Park is an amazing site. The massive waterfall, located in the Snake River, is even higher than Niagara Falls and welcomes visitors year-round. For the best viewing, head in the spring when the water is strongest.
18. Camp in Sawtooth National Recreation Area
There’s a lot of great camping in Idaho, but Sawtooth National Recreation Area is one of the most beautiful places to pitch your tent. There’s lots to do in the area, from fishing to hiking to boating, and there are numerous campgrounds to pick from. The campgrounds take reservations up to 180 days in advance, so plan ahead when arriving during the summer months.
19. Go boating on Lake Coeur d'Alene
One of Idaho’s most notable destinations is Lake Coeur d'Alene, located in the northern part of the state by the city of Coeur d'Alene. It’s huge for boating, as well as stand-up paddle-boarding and jet skiing, and you should be sure to include it in your Idaho itinerary.
20. Hike Tubbs Hill Park
This two-mile loop heads around the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene in Tubbs Hill Park. There are many offshoots from the main path where you can head to scenic overlooks or stop for a swim at the beach. The park itself spans 120 acres, so there’s a lot to explore.
21. Visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
While you’ll likely never visit the actual moon, you can get a sense of the rocky expanse at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. It’s open for day trips, but you can also opt to camp on the preserve for an otherworldly experience. Be sure to check the craters’ website for park closure updates.
22. Bike the Mountain Route of the Hiawatha
One of the coolest biking or hiking paths there is, this 15-mile long trail with ten train tunnels and seven sky-high trestles follows the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains for gorgeous, one-of-a-kind views. The best part? It's mostly down-hill.
23. Ski Sun Valley
Sun Valley is Idaho’s most famous ski resort, featuring amazing winter sports, as well as summer fun during the off-season. It boasts some of the best snow conditions and runs in North America, and the town itself is lively, with lots of apres-ski options and fun restaurants.
24. Ride a gondola
Silver Mountain Resort boasts the longest gondola in North America, taking visitors up from downtown Kellogg to the ski resort’s summit. It’s possible to visit in the summer as well, when you can enjoy the sunny views during the three-mile journey. At the top, look for a nature trail, as well as a restaurant and children’s play area. Call ahead to make sure the lift is open.
25. Raft Hells Canyon
Dare devils will find their thrills in Hells Canyon, which is notably America’s deepest river gorge. It’s part of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and despite the severe name of the canyon, rafting down the Snake River is accessible for the whole family. Look for companies like Hells Canyon Raft, which offers multi-day trips.
26. Tour Yellowstone Bear World
The famed Yellowstone National Park overlaps with Idaho and one of its best attractions is Yellowstone Bear Park, a drive-through wildlife park where you can get up close with actual bears. The bears, both grizzly and black bears, are free-roaming, and you can also spot elk, bison and deer along the journey. Call ahead to make sure the park is open and operating.
27. Explore Palisades
Also near the Wyoming border, travelers can find Palisades, a small town that acts as the gateway to several nature experiences. Palisades Creek Trailhead is a great spot to being a hike (head to Lower Palisades Lake) and the area has tons of camping and outdoor activities. For a scenic getaway, book into the Palisades Cabins and RV Park.
28. Explore Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls has plenty to see and do, especially if you’re into performing arts and museums. Check out the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho and the ARTitorium on Broadway, which are both taking safety measures in the face of COVID-19. Anddon’t miss the outdoor Japanese Friendship Garden.
29. Learn about atomic power
Idaho Falls’ The Museum of Idaho, which is open and following new safety measures, has rotating exhibitions about everything from dinosaurs to the state’s history with atomic power. It’s great for kids, with frequent special events and activities on the calendar, and its ongoing Museum After Dark series features treats and activities for adult visitors.
30. Eat barbeque
Spend some time in Idaho Falls trying out the local barbeque. In normal times, we’d tell you to get in line at Pitmaster BarBQue Company, which has two locations in town. The restaurant features Midwest-style dishes like brisket, ribs and pulled pork. Plus, the breakfast burritos are serious business. Good thing you can order takeout.
31. Relax in McCall
Head west to McCall, a resort town on the edge of Payette Lake. It’s great for hiking and boating during the summer, and in the winter the nearby Little Ski Hill has fresh snow. Look for one of the boutique resorts, like Shore Lodge, or opt to camp in Ponderosa State Park.
32. Explore a ghost town
Head to Custer to imagine life from 1877. Today it’s completely abandoned, showcasing old buildings from mining times. Gilmore Ghost Town, near Rexburg, is another fascinating look at life from the past, as is Bonanza, which can be found near Custer.
33. Take a dip in on Redfish Lake
The alpine lake located within Sawtooth National Recreation Area is five miles long, one mile long and absolutely gorgeous. We recommend camping or a night or two at the Redfish Lake Lodge.
34. Pay tribute to a classic writer
Ernest Hemingway was buried in Idaho, with his grave available to visitors at a cemetery in Sun Valley. Look for a simple headstone in the grass with only his name and the life dates. Fans visited frequently and leave behind gifts, including half-consumed bottles of booze.
35. Dine at historic restaurant
The Snake Pit is supposedly Idaho’s oldest restaurant, dating back over 135 years, and it may also be one of the state’s coolest. The Western-style eatery, located in Enaville, is all about indulgence, serving up everything from massive steaks to classic BBQ. If you’re very brave try the Rocky Mountain oysters, which, as they note on the menu, don’t come from the sea.
36. Learn about brothels
At the Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace, you can all about historic brothels and their employees. Built in a former brothel (that was active until 1988), the eclectic museum is a snapshot in time, with information from the working girls and their clients. Call ahead to confirm if they’re open and see what safety precautions they’re taking.
37. Tour a mine
Also in Wallace visitors can tour a former working mine. The Sierra Silver Mine Tour, which is open and taking extra safety precautions, brings guides underground and details the 130-year mining history of the region. Check online for opening dates as the tour run at specific times on specific months.
38. See petroglyphs
Celebration Park, in Melba, features rock drawings that date back 10,000 years. There are also newer Native American petroglyphs, which visitors can spot along the rocks. Visit between April to October, and be sure to grab a trail map from the Visitor’s Center to discover all the drawings.
39. Celebrate cleanliness
This is a weird one, but the Museum of Clean, which can be found in Pocatello, actually makes for an interesting afternoon out. It showcases the history of cleaning, as well as what clean can also mean in terms of clean minds, clean language and a clean world. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday, and cheap for visitors of all ages. And, per its name, the museum is operating with updated sanitary measures in the wake up COVID.
40. Visit Fort Hall Replica
Pocatello also celebrates the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall Replica, a representation of 19th century living that showcases the lives of traders, explorers and pioneers. It’s open June through September, with opening times that vary depending on the month, so check online in advance of a visit.
41. Explore Black Magic Canyon
Another of Idaho’s natural phenomena is Black Magic Canyon, which was created by lava rock that has been formed into supernatural-looking sculptures. It’s not the easiest place to access and requires a few plans, including ensuring there won’t be a flash flood during your visit, but the views are worth the effort. So make sure to call ahead to see if they’re open before heading out.
42. Go base jumping
For a thrill, venture to the I.B. Perrine Bridge, one of the country’s only legal base jumping bridges. It stands 486 feet high, so the leap requires some daring. Book your jump with Tandem Base.
43. Embark on a road trip
Idaho is a vast state, with lots of open expanses, so instead of picking just one destination, consider hopping in the car and just driving. Some of the best small towns can be discovered by exploring by car and you can also head to neighboring Wyoming or Oregon via your Idaho journey.
44. See some Shakespeare
While you may not think of Idaho as a theater destination, the annual Idaho Shakespeare Festival is a popular event in Boise. Each year five different plays are selected, some by other playwrights, and the festivities kick off in May, though, the company is currently taking an “intermission” due to COVID.
45. Hit the rodeo
Experience a real rodeo firsthand at the Snake River Stampede, held typically in Nampa every July, though for 2020 has been canceled. Still, we’re including it here because it’s a massive event, and one of only 12 in the country recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. When the rodeo does open back up again, be sure to book your hotel and travel early.
46. Climb the sand dunes
At Bruneau Dunes State Park visitors can scale the massive natural sand dunes, or explore by ATV, horse or motorbike. The park also features camping and other outdoor activities, including snowmobiling and Nordic skiing during the winter. According to the website, the park advises visiting in small groups and during the week to keep crowds down. And, of course, wear a mask.
The Dog Bark Park Inn, in Cottonwood, is the world’s largest beagle as well as a bed and breakfast. The 30-foot tall dog, named Willy, invites guests to stay overnight in two bedrooms, which are obviously dog-themed.
48. Go gambling
If you like to spend your vacation testing your luck at a slot machine, head to one of Idaho’s seven Indian casinos. The Coeur D'Alene Casino Resort Hotel is a favorite, with a spa, regular events and concerts and a golf course. The casino reopened in May with more safety precautions you can read about here.
49. Sample huckleberry ice cream
Idaho loves huckleberries, so much so that the fruit inspires festivals and dishes around the state. The best dish is huckleberry ice cream, which you can taste test at Reed’s Dairy in Idaho Falls. (And then maybe taste test all their other flavors as well.)
50. Eat a potato
Why not conclude your Idaho adventure by snacking on a potato? The best classic baked potato can be found at the Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum, but you can also try a variety of fries at the Boise Fry Company. If you want to really get crazy, order the ice cream potato at the Westside Drive-In, a treat that is essentially an ice cream sundae inside a spud. You can order to-go or dine-in with 50-percent less capacity.