Nicknamed the “Gem state”, Idaho was the 43rd state to enter the union in 1890. Long before that, however, it was a bustling part of the Oregon territory.
Idaho also has some of the oldest indigenous artifacts ever found in the United States. Thus proving that the land was inhabited long before the westward movement.
If you’re looking for a glimpse of what the western frontier was like hundreds of years ago, a trip to Idaho is definitely in order.
The state has some of the most undeveloped land areas in the country. Much more than potatoes, let’s take a look at 10 remarkable landmarks that Idaho has to offer.
Famous Landmarks in Idaho
1. Shoshone Falls Park
Often called the Niagara of the west, Shoshone falls is actually 45 feet higher than the east coast landmark, at a whopping 212 feet high. The rapid water flows over a rim that is almost a thousand feet wide. If you are in Idaho, you must visit these majestic falls.
This beautiful landmark is located inside Shoshone Falls Park in Twin Falls, Idaho. While the falls are definitely the main attraction at the park, the area has much more to offer. There are gorgeous hiking trails for every fitness level.
Also Read: Famous Landmarks in Wyoming
They allow you to take in the beauty of the falls without the crowds on the observation deck. The hike will bring you along the crystal clear Snake River and you’ll be able to view the abundant plant life.
Climb or just admire the majestic formations and gaze upon the deep canyons. When you’re done with the excitement of the falls, you can continue your visit to the park with a picnic, some kayaking, or a self-guided bike tour.
There is plenty of parking and a gift shop/visitors center to help you get the most out of your trip.
2. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
Located in central Idaho near the town of Arco and the Snake River, this monument totals 400 square miles.
Formed by volcanoes, it’s a series of three lava fields and has some of the best examples of open rift cracks on the planet. This includes the deepest known crack at 800 feet deep.
There are prime examples of basaltic lava, lava tubes (caves), and tree molds (holes left by lava-scorched trees).
Also Read: Landmarks in Montana
Craters of the Moon also have 25 volcanic cones and 60 petrified lava flows dating from 2,000 to 15,000 years old. There is a visitors center to help plan your visit and camping is available.
3. Silverwood Theme Park
Opened in 1988, this 400 acre amusement park is located in Athol, Idaho. What started as a small attraction on an old airfield has turned into one of the largest theme parks in the northwestern United States.
With over 70 rides ( including 7 roller coasters), the park greets over 800,000 visitors a year. Over the years, as the park owners bought more of the surrounding land, they, of course, added more attractions, including rides with names like:
- Panic plunge
- Corkscrew (from Knottsberry Farms)
- Timber Terror
- Stunt Pilot
A full scale water park was added a few years ago that includes a giant wave pool and lazy river. There’s also a summer camp called Tinywood, that until recently had Garfield as its mascot. A railroad loops around the park if you need a break from walking.
Also Read: Famous Landmarks in Oregon
During the month of October, the park turns into Scarywood at night, with Halloween activities for all ages.
As if all this weren’t enough, there are tons of places to grab food and treats, arcades, games of chance, and loads of shops. If you’re in Idaho, Silverwood is a fabulously fun place for the entire family.
4. City of Rocks National Reserve
Also called the Silent City of Rocks, this landmark is known for its huge granite rock formations. Located near the town of Oakley, the reserve covers over 14,000 acres and is extremely popular with rock climbing enthusiasts.
During the westward movement, wagon trains used the area as a regular route. Wagon wheel ruts can be seen today on many of the rocks, showing how treacherous the trip west actually was.
Prior to that, the land was used by the Shoshone and Bannock tribes to hunt buffalo and gather berries. Though there are no more buffalo, the land is still home to many species of wildlife and plants.
The reserve was established in 1988 and sees an average of 130,000 visitors each year.
5. Old Idaho Penitentiary Site
Operating from 1872 to 1973, the remains of the prison are located in Boise. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
It began as a single cell jailhouse and grew to encompass over 510 acres with a 27 foot high wall with several buildings including:
- shoe shop
- shirt factory
- execution room
The prisoners themselves built most of the prison, including the sandstone wall. The stone was quarried by the prisoners as well, from a nearby ridge.
The penitentiary could hold up to 600 inmates at a time and throughout its existence, saw over 13,000 people go through its gates.
During the early 1970s there were a series of riots over the horrid conditions. This led to the prisons’ closure in 1973.
Old Idaho Penitentiary was featured on an episode of the Discovery channel’s program, Destination Fear.
6. Museum of Idaho
This fun history and science museum is located in Idaho Falls and is a great place for kids. The facility welcomes over 90,000 people per year. Officially opened in 2003, some of their exhibitions have included:
- the world of giant insects
- space journey
- savage seas
- guns and hooks
- a grateful nation
Though they love displaying general exhibitions, the museum focuses on the history and scientific contributions of Idaho.
The museum holds a large collection of artifacts related to the state, ranging from geological and archeological finds to photographs and historical objects.
They also offer a summer camp, STEM-based learning, and excursions to Yellowstone National Park. For adults, the museum offers haunted history events, lectures, and evening get-togethers.
7. The Coeur d’Alene Resort
Situated on the north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, the resort opened its doors in 1991. The original property was also a hotel that had operated since 1965.
The luxurious grounds feature an 18 hole golf course, marina, spa, and convention hall. With 338 rooms and suites, the main tower has 18 floors and is 216 feet, making it the tallest building in Idaho. The resort also offers trails for hiking, boating, rafting, swimming.
There is a plethora of nearby activities as well and there is a staff of consultants and guides at the hotel who will make all arrangements for guests. The beautiful rooms are like mini chalets with lake views, fireplaces, wall to wall windows, and 55 inch televisions.
8. Old Mission State Park
This national historical park is located in Cataldo. It’s purpose is to preserve the Cataldo Mission of the Sacred Heart. The 18 acre site contains the mission church and parish house. It is the oldest surviving building in the state, being built in 1850.
In the 1830s, six priests were sent to the territory to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. The church was built by the native people themselves so “they could feel a part of the church.” The structure was built without a single nail.
Over time, the mission became a stop for settlers, miners, and traders to rest. It was also a supply station. The park was established in 1975, and in addition to the buildings, there are two cemeteries, a visitors’ center, and a nature trail.
9. Kirkham Hot Springs
Known the world over, these natural hot springs are located next to the Fork Payette river just outside of Lowman, Idaho. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the river, waterfalls, and plant life, while soaking up the healing properties of the springs.
The area is open from 7 am to 9pm for a steamy soak. The temperature varies from pool to pool, so there’s something for everyone. There are campgrounds located nearby if you want to extend your warm aquatic immersion.
10. Sawtooth National Forest
Referred to as “the heart of Idaho”, this massive forest covers over 2.1 million acres across 9 counties in Idaho and 1 in Utah.
Sawtooth was established in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The forest was named for the Sawtooth Mountains that cross the land.
The forest also contains parts of the Smoky, Boulder, White Cloud, and other mountain ranges. The forest is home to a plethora of wildlife including:
- mountain goats
- big-horned sheep
- grey wolves
- black bears
- endangered species of salmon (in the Snake River)
- many species of birds
Over 1.1 million people visit Sawtooth each year. Aside from the astounding beauty the park offers:
- 81 campgrounds (many with cabins)
- hiking trails
- horseback riding
- mountain/rock climbing
- hunting (in designated areas)
From November to December of each year, the forest invites families to cut their own tree for a nominal $10 permit fee. The limit is one per household and no larger than 20 feet.
This activity is at the heart of what the philosophy behind the forest is, that it is there to be enjoyed by the people and everyone should benefit from its existence. While, of course, maintaining its integrity and a home for the wildlife that lives there.