Like the starchy vegetable it’s nicknamed after, Idaho is underappreciated when it comes to travel destinations. Idaho is known as the ‘Potato State’ and just as the humble potato completes a meal, Idaho’s landmarks play an important role in completing the range of landmarks and monuments across the country. Once you’ve been there and seen them for yourself, you’ll wonder why it’s taken you so long to get around to seeing Hells Canyon or Shoshone Falls.
Gifted with a dramatic landscape, rugged mountains, snow-covered peaks, untouched wilderness, glacial lakes, interesting wildlife, exciting geothermal natural hot springs and gushing waterfalls, nature has played a huge role in shaping this state.
Idaho’s human history is a fascinating storyline of human resilience from the early settlers who traversed unforgiving territory to the mining activities of the pioneers and the flourishing cities of today. Here are 20 landmarks in Idaho to tick off your to-see list.
- Idaho Landmarks
- Natural Landmarks in Idaho
- Historical Landmarks in Idaho
Natural Landmarks in Idaho
1- Bald Mountain
Bald Mountain is the highest mountain in Sun Valley resort, a charming mountain resort in south-central Idaho.
Sun Valley has magical adventures to offer irrespective of the season.
Its white winter invites skiers to enjoy the slopes of America’s first ski resort while, in summer, the mountains provide the perfect environment for hiking, biking, boating and horse riding.
Ever since Ernest Hemingway wrote ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge, Sun Valley has attracted many celebrities.
Tom Hanks and Mark Zuckerberg, who have snagged properties there.
Besides skiing and snowboarding, other winter thrills include snowboarding, skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating and sleigh riding.
A series of five mountain ranges cradle this scenic location – the Pioneer Mountains, Boulder Mountains, Smoky Mountains, White Cloud Mountains and Sawtooths.
Sun Valley is at 1 Sun Valley Rd, Sun Valley, Idaho.
2- Thompson Peak
Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a nature’s amusement park for adventure enthusiasts, with 40 peaks higher than 10,000 feet (3048 m) and over 300 glistening alpine lakes.
The lush green forest of aspen and pine, sparkling alpine lakes reflecting the snow-capped peaks, wildflower meadows and occasional wildlife spotting allows you to connect with nature here.
For first-timers, a stop at the pristine Redfish Lake is a must.
A climb to Idaho Sawtooth’s roof, Thompson Peak (10,751 feet / 3276 m), reveals a breathtaking view of the expansive valley below.
Apart from hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing, boating, white water rafting, birdwatching, and mountain biking are other popular attractions to enjoy the mountain bounty.
Take the Fishhook Creek Trail entrance at the Redfish Trailhead to hike Thompson Peak.
3- Inferno Cone in Craters of the Moon National Monument
Turn a page of America’s geological history book and step back 15 million years to see this unique southern Idaho masterpiece of nature.
Created from black lava formations, spreading out over a vast 750,000 acres (304,000 ha), it’s a national monument less than a three-hour drive from Boise.
You can either drive through the park loop road with occasional stops at picturesque viewpoints or explore it firsthand on foot or horseback.
The ideal months for outdoorsy activities are spring and fall.
Hikers should explore the North Flow Crater Trail to spot extraordinary crater landscapes and incredible local wildlife like foxes, bobcats, skunks, mountain lions and bats.
The Inferno Cone has a steep and challenging 0.4-mile (0.8 km) trail that rewards hikers with a view of the Pioneer Mountains, Great Rift and Snake River Plain.
Craters of the Moon National Monument is at 1266 Craters Loop Road, Arco, Idaho.
4- Mudgy Moose Trail along Lake Coeur d’Alene
The Mudgy Moose Trail follows Lake Coeur d’Alene through downtown Coeur d’Alene and has five life-size bronze statues, created by local sculptor painter Terry Lee, which mark the spots where Mudgy puts a pause on his search for Millie.
Mudgy & Millie are characters from a series of children’s books about the adventures of Mudgy Moose and Millie Mouse, who play hide-and-seek along the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Lake Coeur d’Alene is one of the lakes formed from melted glaciers of the Ice Age and part of a region explored by French fur traders who venture into the untouched territory of the Idaho Panhandle or North Idaho.
The region is known for its magnificent tree-covered mountains, incredible wilderness, vast prairies and last vestiges of the Ice Age when dozens of lakes formed from melted glaciers.
If you’re looking to sample a taste of lake life amidst striking scenery won’t be disappointed as there are plenty of summer activities on the lake like Lake Cruise, paddleboarding, kayaking, parasailing, and jet skiing.
During winter, go skiing on Schweitzer Mountain near the city of Sandpoint in the northern tip of the state.
The Mudgy Moose Trail starts at the base of Tubbs Hill and ends at Independence Point, where Mudgy discovers that Millie was hiding close by all along.
5- Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail
Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail is a 15-mile (24 km) cycling route that is more relaxing than physically taxing, historically enriched and scenic to boot.
Located on the Montana/Idaho border, it traverses through the rugged terrain of Bitterroot Mountains on a historic downhill railroad just like the trains during the 1900s.
The path is dotted with nine dark and pitch-black tunnels that are the actual thrill spots.
Rent a bike right at the trailhead and take a shuttle from the finishing point if you don’t want to bike back.
Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail is at 1-90 I-90, Mullan, Idaho.
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6- Hells Canyon
Situated in the western border between Idaho and Oregon, Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge.
Around 2000 feet (610 m) deeper than the Grand Canyon, Hells Canyon is carved by the mighty Snake River.
Due to its vast expanse and remoteness, the canyon is endowed with dramatic changes in elevation, terrain and vegetation.
This means rugged and raw spectacular vistas await with every bend of a trail.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is spread across a mammoth 650,000 acres (263,000 ha).
Trust your feet or take the wheels, go for a boat ride or ride a horse to explore this stunning smorgasbord of adventure that will not only satiate the nature lover or wildlife enthusiasts but also culture vultures and history buffs.
Hells Canyon straddles Idaho and Oregon and is the deepest gorge in North America.
7- Shoshone Falls
Meet the Niagara of the West.
With a width of 900 ft (274 m) and a drop of 212 ft (65 m), this giant horseshoe-shaped formidable wall of roaring water created by the mighty Snake River is a stunning natural landmark of southern Idaho.
Located in Twin Falls city, Shoshone Falls is just 7 miles (11 km) from the city.
The sight of water hitting the rocky cliffs and sprays interacting with falling lights create a resplendent rainbow makes the setting all the more magical.
Combine this with a picnic lunch at the tourist-friendly public park and a hike post that, and a fun day is conjured up easily.
Other activities like kayaking, cycling, and boating are also available to enjoy these magnificent waterfalls.
Shoshone Falls is at 4155 Shoshone Falls Grade, Twin Falls, Idaho.
8- Mesa Falls
Another natural gem, Mesa Falls, is another Idaho landmark to put on your itinerary.
Shoshone Falls is all about spectacular views while Mesa Falls tantalises travellers all the way through.
The drive along the 28-mile (45 km) Mesa Falls Scenic Byway offers scenic outlooks with ringside views of forests, rivers and canyons.
Mesa Falls consists of the Upper Falls that’s 110 ft (34 m) and the Lower Falls that has a height of 85 ft (26 m).
Shoshone is impressive for its sheer size while Mesa has a gorgeous backdrop.
Couple it with a side trip to the Grand Teton National Park, and a day’s excursion is complete.
Mesa Falls is at Upper Mesa Falls Rd, Ashton, Idaho.
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9- Salmon River
While the calm water of an alpine lake emanates serenity, the gurgling water of the Salmon River carries the story of the land.
The tiny timber and mining town of Salmon in the eastern part of the state is home, Salmon River is an open invitation to experience the Idaho wilderness.
White water enthusiasts are attracted to the bucket list adventures that this gorgeous waterway delivers.
Known as ‘The River of No Return’, it offers jaw-dropping scenery and class III and IV rapids.
Hardcore anglers will enjoy fishing for steelhead, rainbow trout and chinook.
The remarkable indigenous history of Native American tribes is waiting to be discovered at the nearby Sacajawea Center.
Sacajawea Center is at 2700 Main St, Salmon, Idaho.
10- City of Rocks
Walk the route the early pioneers took along the historic California Trail and high desert looking for luck in America’s West.
Studded with endless boulders of granite popping out of the ground, the City of Rocks could be mistaken for a Martian landscape.
Even though the small park is remote, it draws enthusiastic climbers.
Both novice and experts can choose from over a thousand routes inside the park to discover a favourite climbing route.
Other activities are hiking and mountain biking.
Spend time spotting the axel grease signatures left by early pioneers.
Iconic rock structures like Twin Sisters and Window Arch offers easy access.
You can camp in the park and be there to watch the sun setting over the dune-coloured boulders.
City of Rocks is at Almo Rd, Almo, Idaho.
11- Kirkham Hot Springs
With the tectonic movements and volcanic activity that has taken place in Idaho, it’s no surprise the state is dotted with thermal spring pools everywhere.
Kirkham Hot Springs is in central Idaho’s Boise National Park and is one of the well-known and easily accessible thermal hot springs situated just off the highway.
Set in a mountainous backdrop, a soak in one of the 10 naturally mineral-enriched pools is a therapeutic treat.
Kirkham Hot Springs is between Lowman and Stanley on State Highway 21.
12- Henrys Lake
One of Idaho’s prized fishing destinations, Henrys Lake is a popular place to fish for trout.
The 6000 acre (2428 ha) lake is not far from Yellowstone National Park and is bordered by the Continental Divide.
It’s perfect for seasonal camping beside a lake with a peaceful wilderness ambience.
Henrys Lake is a seasonal campground, as it is situated at an elevation of 6470 ft (1972 m), and winter can get harsh here.
Wildlife is abundant here with frequent visits by bears, so bear spray is mandatory, especially when hiking.
Henrys Lake State Park is at 3917 E. 5100 N, Island Park, Idaho.
13- Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock is a natural landmark of Idaho and a fantastic spot to watch the sunset.
The silhouette of the unique rocky structure balancing precariously over the edge overlooking the Salmon Creek Canyon as the sun dips in the distance is stunning.
This 40-ton lava formation has been shaped by millions of years of wind and water action, which created a 48 ft (14.7 m) tall, top-heavy, vaguely triangular-shaped rock structure resting on a base.
The size of the rock makes it look like it might topple over at any time and it’s worth checking out this marvel of nature.
Balanced Rock is at Balanced Rock Rd, Buhl, Idaho.
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Historical Landmarks in Idaho
14- Idaho State Capitol building
15 years after Idaho became the USA’s 43rd state, the construction of the Idaho State Capitol building began in 1905.
Its remarkable architecture draws inspiration from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Four types of coloured marble have been used in its interior to create an impressive visual display: Georgian red marble, Alaskan grey marble, Italian black marble and green marble from Vermont.
Another interesting fact is that inmates from Old Pen actually quarried sandstone from local Table Rock to complete the construction.
The building, with its prominent dome, and a 5 ft (1.5 m) bronze eagle perched atop is an impressive sight in downtown Boise.
The public can see the senate proceedings during legislative sessions from a fourth-floor gallery.
Idaho State Capitol is at 700 W Jefferson St, Boise, Idaho 83702.
15- Idaho Falls Mormon Temple
Nestled in a lush green valley of 1600 pine trees bordered by the mountains and the Snake River flowing past, the Idaho Falls Mormon Temple towers over stunning scenery with its minimalist and modern single-spire design.
The temple serves the Latter-day Saints in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming.
Both the 92,177 sqft (8500 sqm) building and gardens are immaculately maintained.
Vaguely inspired by a Nephite temple, this was the Church’s first temple in Idaho.
The gardens are often called the Garden of Eden and are a cool invitation for weary souls to take a break in the bosom of nature and enjoy the quiet and contemplative atmosphere.
Idaho Falls Mormon Temple is at 1000 Memorial Dr, Idaho Falls, Idaho 83402.
16- Perrine Memorial Bridge
If Ira Burton Perrine hadn’t come up with a plan to dam the Snake River, Twin Falls would have remained a desert outpost instead of the flourishing city that it is today.
That’s why acknowledging his contribution by visiting Perrine Memorial Bridge is a must during a city visit.
Apart from this historical connection, the fourth-highest arch bridge in the US is an engineering feat in itself.
Built 486 ft (148 m) above Snake River and 1500 feet across, this distinctive brown arched bridge was built piece by piece, right on-spot.
A hotspot for daredevils, BASE jumpers attempt to glide down its 48-story drop to land on the canyon floor.
In fact, the bridge is also known as Potato Bridge amongst the BASE community, maybe because Idaho is also a Spud State.
Not-so-daredevil visitors can take a walk along the walkaway and enjoy the views of the Snake River Canyon from the observation deck.
Perrine Memorial Bridge is in Jerome, Idaho 83338.
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17- Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site
Add a spine-chilling twist to a Boise trip with a visit to the state’s most notorious address, known as Old Pen.
Hosting dangerous criminals like Harry Orchard and Lyda Southard, Old Pen was operational for only a hundred years between 1872 to 1973.
It offers one of the most comprehensive prison tours in the Western US through its gallows and grounds.
Peeping into prison life becomes petrifying as you eyeball the cramped quarters of solitary confinements or the rose garden surrounding the site of the gallows where six convicts were hanged.
Dining halls, gardens tended by the inmates, a piano and paintings done by prisoners create a faint outline of life within these penitentiary walls. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site is at 2445 Old Penitentiary Rd, Boise.
18- Land of Yankee Fork Historic Area
Sample a slice of the state’s mining history in this scenic central Idaho cultural landmark located on the Salmon River Scenic Byway.
A 98-mile (158 km) loop drive charts the old route that was used during mining days to transport supplies from Challis to the Yankee Fork Mining District.
Discover crumbling ghost towns and remnants of mining life like cabins, beehive kilns, saloons, and a stamp mill of the Bayhorse Mining District.
Dig deep in the history and development of this area at the Land of the Yankee Fork Museum.
Visit the nearby Bison Kill Site, where early people of the Round Valley used to hunt bison.
You can rent an ATV, mountain bike or hike the trails.
Land of the Yankee Fork Museum is at 24424 Highway 75, Challis, Idaho 83226.
19- Warhawk Air Museum
Warhawk Air Museum showcases the aviation history of WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War, that has shaped the country and its concept of freedom.
These days, it’s important to know the price the participants in these wars had to pay for the freedom we all enjoy today.
Crammed with aircraft and personal memorabilia, service records, uniforms, and artifacts, the museum offers an immersive experience of the country’s past that is both poignant and patriotic.
The resident military genealogist can help track historical records.
Warhawk Air Museum is at 201 Municipal Dr, Nampa, Idaho.
20- Museum of Idaho
Ever wondered how it would be to tackle a 14-foot (4.26 m) tall Columbian mammoth with just a traditional spear in hand or meet a pioneer dredging for gold in one of the mining towns of Idaho?
Trace the story of the state, its origin and its evolution through fascinating interactive exhibits created to captivate both children and adults at the Museum of Idaho in downtown Idaho Falls.
Apart from regional history, there are several other scientific exhibits like Body Worlds where children can slip under an animal’s skin and learn how they move, breathe, eat and live.
The museum also conducts haunted history tours and other monthly ‘Museum After Dark’ events for adults.
Museum of Idaho is at 200 N Eastern Ave, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
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