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For most Americans, the state of Idaho is a bit of a mystery. Or, perhaps it’s better to say the state of Idaho is mysterious. Covering a wide swath of geography from Nevada on the south to Canada in the north, Idaho stretches across diverse landscapes and ecosystems. It serves as a bridge between the middle western part of the country to the far-flung Northwestern section of the U.S. 

The 14th largest state in the Union is also the 13th least populous and seventh least densely populated, holding within its boundaries a wealth of natural wonder and beauty like the Snake River Basin and stretches of the Rocky Mountains. Another little-known fact about Idaho is the amount of land owned and operated by the United States Forest Service, 38 percent – the most significant percentage of any state!

Idaho is a nature lover’s paradise. It provides a unique location for adventure due to its sparseness, sheer size, and untamed regions. Here are our suggestions for exploring when visiting the Gem State:

CITY OF ROCKS NATIONAL RESERVE: This otherworldly landscape near Almo, Idaho, has gone by many names over the centuries. Early pioneers on the California trail vividly described the area as “a city of tall spires,” “steeple rocks,” and “the silent city.” One can only imagine their wonder at the granite’s unusual formations that make up the bedrock of this Idaho national park. Today it is a clarion call for rock climbers, scramblers, hikers, and campers.

Photo Courtesy NPS

CRATERS OF THE MOON NATIONAL MONUMENT & PRESERVE: Speaking of otherworldly landscapes, visitors to this popular attraction might indeed feel as if they’ve slipped into a dream and stepped onto another planet entirely! Within Craters Of The Moons National Monument, one will find an expansive ocean of lava flows with cinder cones and sagebrush scattered across the terrain, making visiting this national park a genuinely singular experience and one not to be passed by. Visitors today can hike, explore a volcano or a deep cave or simply pitch a tent and gaze up at the incredible night sky, unobscured by light pollution.

Photo Courtesy NPS

HAGERMAN FOSSIL BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT: This national park boasts that it takes visitors back in time – millions of years! Named for its most famous long-lost occupant, the Hagerman Horse, a one-toed early breed of equine that evolved over millennia into the animals we know today, this national monument contains a wealth of historical, fossilized species such as the saber-tooth cat, bear, ground sloth, and even mastodons. Hagerman Fossil Beds is a natural wonderland for the curious adventure lover who wants to see history in the flesh and, yes, bone.

ICE AGE FLOODS NATIONAL GEOLOGIC TRAIL: Continuing its theme as a land of mystery and profound historical, archeological importance, Idaho also is home to parts of this massive geological trail formed thousands of years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.

This national trail also snakes its way through Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Over 15,000 years ago an ice dam in Northern Idaho created Glacial Lake Missoula that reached 3,000 square miles into present-day Montana.

The dam burst and unleashed floodwaters across Washington, flooding into Oregon, before eventually stretching all the way to the ocean. Experts believe this may have happened upwards of 100 times and went a long way towards forever changing the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. The Museum of Northern Idaho near Coeur d’Alene is a must-visit to learn more about how the long-past history shaped and still shapes the present and future of the region.

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