Best known for its legendary potatoes, the state of Idaho is famed for its agriculture. But, as we’re about to find out, Idaho has much more to offer visitors than simply a chance to sample one of its spuds.
Located in the northwest of the United States, Idaho is one of what’s known as the Rocky Mountain States. This mountainous setting means that Idaho is home to hundreds of peaks, some of the best fishing rivers around, spectacular lakes, and acres and acres of protected land.
What’s more, these spectacular landscapes are littered with gems – the kind you make jewelry out of as well as the purple gold kind that make excellent jam. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, the state of Idaho really does have a lot to offer, especially if you’re into outdoor activities – read on to find out more.
Although Idaho state is known for many things, it’s definitely its potatoes that steal the limelight, and that’s where we’re starting. Although many crops are grown in Idaho, the conditions are near-perfect for potato growing, and Idaho produces roughly one-third of the US potato yield… which equals a heck of a lot of French fries!
Unsurprisingly, you’ll find potato-based delights in many of the restaurants found across the state, including the famed Ice Cream Potato (no… it’s not actually potato, just a dessert built to look like one). If you’re keen to learn more about this humble delicacy, then head on down to the Idaho Potato Museum where you can learn all about the history of this root vegetable, laugh at some fun facts, and even sample some potatoes.
The official nickname of Idaho is the ‘Gem State’ and, seeing as many precious and semi-precious stones have been unearthed there love the years, you might think that they were the reason for the name… but you’d be wrong. In actual fact, many years ago, the lobbyist George Willing completely made up the word ‘Idaho’, claiming it translated from Indian to ‘Gem of the Mountains’.
He suggested it as a name for Colorado and, although Colorado didn’t take up the name (clearly), it was remembered a few years later when the Idaho Territory was established.
Coincidentally, Idaho is also known for the various gemstones you can find there, including opal, jade, zircon, and garnets. The state gem is the Idaho star garnet, which can only be found in Idaho and India globally. Rockhounding is still a popular activity in Idaho, and you’ll find locals and visitors alike scouring the state’s rivers and forests in search of hidden treasures.
There are also some incredible jewelry stores found throughout the Gem State that have taken advantage of the precious stones lying around the place and sculpted some excellent pieces.
Idaho is also known for its trout, and native species include rainbow, cutthroat, steelhead, and bull trout. As well as being the key supplier of trout in the US, Idaho is also a magnet for anglers from across the US and beyond.
The many rivers flowing through the state, combined with the spectacular surrounding scenery, make this state an incredibly serene place to head for some fishing. There are plenty of lodges that can provide a guide to show you the best spots, or you can head out on solo adventures if you know your stuff.
Teton River is an awesome spot for flyfishing, and you have a good chance of catching a range of trout, while Henry’s Lake is world-famous for its Rainbows.
If you’re more into eating trout than catching it, then don’t worry, there are plenty of restaurants serving up locally caught trout, typically served alongside the notorious Idaho potatoes. If you’re in more of a snacky mood, then make sure you grab yourself a trout sandwich from one of the cafes – they come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re all delicious!
Yet another culinary treat Idaho is known for is the small yet mighty huckleberry. It is actually Idaho’s state fruit!
The high altitudes and nutritious volcanic soil found throughout Idaho create the perfect conditions for huckleberry bushes to thrive, and huckleberries are abundant throughout Idaho in the summer months
Although berries are picked from June to August, the best time to forage is late July and early August. While berries are found throughout the state, some spots are definitely better than others.
Locals may keep some of the best spots secrets, but visitors will still be able to get themselves a decent haul by hitting up some of the better-known berry spots. Once picked, the berries are either eaten raw or made into pies, jam, or other sweet treats.
Although loosely related to the common blueberry, Idaho’s ‘purple gold’ delights are much rarer thanks to their fussiness when it comes to growing condition, and many locals will argue that no other berry tastes quite the same. In fact, Idahoans are so proud of these little wonders that in 2000 they were officially declared as the state fruit.
As you’d expect from a Rocky Mountain state, one of the things that makes the landscapes in Idaho so impressive is its mountains. Idaho is home to almost 3,000 named mountains erupting from various mountain ranges, including part of the Rocky Mountains. It has plenty to offer outdoor enthusiasts interested in hiking, skiing, and climbing.
The highest mountain in the state, Borah Peak, is a whopping 12,654 ft tall and also goes by the names of Mount Borah and Beauty Peak. What’s more, the mountain is also Idaho’s only active glacier, and avalanches on its slopes can be treacherous.
Despite this, there are various climbing routes to the summit as well as hikes on the surrounding slopes. There are 9 other mountains over 12,000 ft tall in Idaho, and together they’re referred to as the Idaho 12ers.
The Sawtooth mountain range is probably the most well-known in Idaho and is home to a range of spectacular lakes, flowing rivers, and a range of trails for all abilities. There are plenty of places to stay in the nearby town of Stanley, which makes the perfect base for exploring these mighty peaks.
It is, of course, also a great place to be in winter with many epic ski resorts, some former mining towns like Sun Valley resort. Not really a surprise when you consider tourism is a huge part of Idaho’s economy.
Idaho state is also home to an exceptional amount of public land, an inordinate number of looked-after outdoor recreation areas – national and state parks, national recreational areas, national wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas, national conservation areas… you name it, it’s there.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is, perhaps, the most spectacular of them all, and offers visitors the chance to explore the mighty Sawtooth Mountain Range. You can find some of Idaho’s top hiking trails within the park’s boundaries, and there are plenty of places backpackers can pitch up a tent for the night.
Another popular outdoor area is the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, a truly unique landscape full of striking volcanic structures and encompassing three lava fields.
The Boise National Forest is a great place to head for a solid dose of greenery, and the thick forest and grassy hills make this a haven for wildlife such as deer, bears, and elks. And if you prefer to spend your free time close to the water, then we recommend Bear Lake State Park, a place that’s perfect for boating, fishing, and camping. Maybe you can even catch Idaho’s state fish while you are there- the Cutthroat Trout
Then there is the impressive vast Snake River Plain. It is basically a mix of, sagebrush deserts and juniper-covered mountain ranges in Southern Idaho that are also home to a huge range of birds.
And for the water lovers, there are a plethora of rivers in the state including the Spokane River, Snake River, and tributaries of that called the Clearwater River, the Salmon River, the Boise River, and the Payette River. That’s a lot of water to fish in, swim in, or kayak if that’s your thing.
On top of that is the Shoshone Falls, which are actually near Twin Falls. They have also been nicknamed “the Niagara of the West” because they drop further vertically than Niagra Falls. Only by 45 feet or so, but hey that’s still more and actually drops 45 feet more than the real Niagara Falls.
Basically, whatever kind of landscape you’re into, you’re going to find it in Idaho!
Another thing that Idaho state is famed for is its impressive number of backcountry underground hot springs – the perfect way to reward yourself after a day on the trail. The most well-known of all these is hands-down the Kirkham Hot Springs. Located alongside the Payette River, these geothermal pools are surrounded by dramatic rocky structures and mountain shrubbery.
Surrounded by cascading waterfalls, the multi-leveled pools house water of varying temperatures, so you can be sure to find the pool that’s right for you. They’re easy to reach, and there’s even nearby parking (it’ll cost you five bucks to stay all day).
If you’re after a more luxurious experience, then there are plenty of spas with access to much quieter springs, and you can even enjoy a glass of bubbly while you soak. Another way to beat the crowds is to get off the beaten trail and explore one of the many springs hidden deep in the backcountry.
You can find out about them online or by asking the locals, and it’s always worth taking your swim stuff with you on a backcountry hike because you never know when you might stumble across a spring!
Idaho’s Hells Canyon is found in Western Idaho, within the Hells Canyon National Park, and is the deepest gorge in the United States in the whole of North America. To put this into context, the deepest part of the canyon is almost 8,000 ft deep, while the Grand Canyon is just 6,000 ft deep, despite being the more famous of the two.
To really make the most of a visit to the canyon, we recommend spending as much time as possible on the water, whether that’s rafting, boating, or fishing – and make sure you pause for a moment to soak up the incredible scenery.
For those of you old enough to remember, Evil Knievel used to jump his motorbike over a lot of crazy things. The last of which was Twin Falls in 1974. This is located in Idaho state if you want to see where he met his maker!
Another thing Idaho is known for is Atomic City, which is near Idaho Falls in Western Idaho. It is also known as Arco, aka, and was actually the first city in the U.S. to be atomic powered. Hence the name!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!