Ask the common person about the first thing that comes to their mind when you mention the state of Idaho, and besides drawing a blank, those that manage to answer the question will either mention something in relation to potatoes or Napoleon Dynamite.
This is truly a shame, as the state of Idaho possesses such amazing natural diversity from its towering peaks and lush forests in the north, to the dry desert landscapes in the south. Even in the case of the latter, deep river canyons and a massive lava field that draws comparisons to the surface of the moon will keep you in awe, as well as your camera shutters clicking.
Indeed, apart from the potato fields of the southeast and the urban oasis of Boise, wilderness defines this state from end to end, with more than a few living off the land still, just as people did in this state’s pioneering days.
This alone should reveal a sliver of Idaho’s character, a place where self-determinism is a highly valued trait. A few interactions with the people that call this Rocky Mountain state home will inspire you, as will the vistas that await you around every corner.
What To Do – Culture & History
As much as some folks around here embrace self-reliance as a badge of honor, those that resided here before American settlers arrived had to be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones, as this land was an unforgiving place prior to the Modern Age.
The native peoples that are recognized by Nez Perce National Historical Park had many millennia of practice in this regard, as not only did they have to learn to live in a land where summers were short and weather could turn on a time, but they also had to face off against the military of the United States in a desperate bid to prevent their land from being taken from them by the rapidly expanding nation to the east.
They didn’t succeed, but their struggle is chronicled at the numerous places where they did battle against American cavalry, as well as at the grave site where the chief of the Nez Perce was laid to rest.
During the course of western expansion came the absence of law and order in certain parts of the sparsely inhabited region, spurring the need for infrastructure to cope with the out of control criminal element in the region.
Idaho State Penitentiary was built in 1870, less than ten years after the territory of Idaho was founded. Tour cells, solitary confinement blocks, and the Rose Garden, where death-row inmates met their end at the gallows once located here. There are reports that this prison is haunted, so keep your eyes open for signs of the paranormal!
Before heading off into the mountains and canyons of this scenic state, drop by the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello. This museum will provide you with the background knowledge of Idaho’s native history, its geological diversity, and the various species of animals that call the valleys, peaks, and deserts of this state home.
If you are led by a tour guide later in your trip to Idaho, you’ll be able to call him on any facts that he/she makes up … what fun!
If you’re looking to dive deep into one of this state’s most enduring stereotypes, then stopping by Idaho Potato Museum will avail you of the opportunity to do just that. Located in Blackfoot, the heart of Idaho’s spud growing country, this shrine to the humble tuber will reveal the history of the consumption of this vegetable in the United States, in addition to oddities such as the world’s largest potato crisp.
As well, the giant potato outside the museum makes for some cheesy selfie opportunities, so don’t waste this chance!
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
While the locus of volcanic activity in the Mountain West is now located under the bubbling calderas of Yellowstone National Park, it was once centered underneath the plains of Southern Idaho.
The Craters of the Moon National Monument protects the remnants of this seismically tumultuous time, as stark lava fields from eruptions that occurred as recently as 2,000 years ago, the tubes from which they emerged (now caves) and freaky tree molds (stumps of trees coated by lava flows) will make visitors feel the surreality of being in a place that could pass for the surface of Mars or the moon.
Flowing with abundant water that is fed by melting snow each spring, the rivers of Idaho provide some of the best whitewater rafting opportunities in the United States. A favorite of outdoor enthusiasts in the region is Hells Canyon, a deep gorge carved by the Snake River to a maximum depth of almost 8,000 feet.
Another place worth checking out if you are experienced in backcountry rafting trips is the River of No Return Wilderness, which is only second to Death Valley in the size of protected area in the lower 48 states. Many different species of wildlife thrive here, so keep those binoculars within easy reach to grab an excellent view of an elk or a grizzly bear.
Fans of water that plunges over high escarpments will love Shoshone Falls. This steep cataract is taller in height than Niagara Falls to the east (212 feet), leading locals to call it the Niagara of the West. While not as commercialized as its eastern cousin, we think the natural splendor of this miracle of nature will be enough to make this a stop on your tour of Idaho!