Idaho is a somewhat forgotten natural gem of the U.S. western states. It might lead one to wonder: “Why isn’t the Potato State topping every list of outdoor adventure getaway destinations?” However, if you ask anyone from Idaho, they’d likely say they like being America’s best-kept secret.
Many Americans can find Boise on the map, and sports fans will surely be well-acquainted with the trademark blue turf of Boise State University’s football stadium, but what else? Perhaps some will know the lakes of northern Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene region or that the Cascade Mountain range skirts through part of the state. Others may even know that a portion of Yellowstone National Park resides there.
Maybe its natural treasures aren’t quick to spring to mind when planning the next adventure because there are almost too many to count.
Established as the 43rd state in 1890, Idaho is the 14th largest state by land but only the 38th most populous. One can look in almost any direction and see a landscape still largely untouched by the modern world.
Indeed, Idaho has inspired dreamers and explorers alike, from the Indigenous Tribes that inhabited its lands for thousands of years to the western expansion homesteaders in the 19th century. Thankfully, the State Parks system preserved many sights and places that stirred past adventurers.
Below are some can’t-miss spots when visiting that little-known natural mecca of the Pacific Northwest:
Bear Lake State Park: Just one glance at the deep turquoise waters of Bear Lake butting up against the mile-high Cache Mountain range, and one would think they’d died and gone to heaven. This State Park, located in the southeastern corner of Idaho, is a tractor beam for lovers of fun in the sun, bringing boaters, campers, water skiers, and fishermen to its shores. Colloquially referred to as the “Caribbean of the Rockies” due to the tint of its majestic waters, it is a hotspot for visitors looking for a getaway in a natural, stunningly beautiful, and uniquely “western” paradise.
Hells Gate State Park: This park lies at the lowest elevation in Idaho and at the bottom of what is left of the great Ice Age Floods of more than 15,000 years ago. In addition, Hells Gate was once the home to the mighty and storied Nez Perce Native American Tribe who lived and thrived here for centuries. Popular activities include boating, fishing, hiking, or biking along the Snake River or Clearwater trails. Stop in at the Lewis & Clark Discovery Center for educational information about the park’s founding, past, and future.
Thousand Springs State Park: Located in Southern Idaho, this site gives real meaning to why the locals refer to this region as “Magic Valley.” This State Park, including Ritter Island, Crystal Lake, Malad Gorge, Box Canyon, and Minnie Miller Springs, covers almost the entire ecological spectrum of the Pacific Northwest. A true can’t-miss adventure spot, hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching are popular things to do. However, the unique opportunity is to sit and watch wild bald eagles soar overhead — a genuinely singular American experience. Don’t pass on this incredible State Park!