6 Idaho National Parks

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Although the US state of Idaho is rich in natural beauty, there is only one US National Park within this state. Yellowstone National Park is the only national park in Idaho, but only one per cent of this famous national park is in this state. For nature lovers, the good news is there are several Idaho national parks sites such as national reserves, national monuments and national historic parks worth visiting. 

Each national park site is home to incredible natural and historical sights and offers many outdoor activities. From archeological and historical sites to nature preserves and volcanic parks, the range of national parks in Idaho is a worthy showcase of stunning landscapes. 

Also read: 20 Idaho Landmarks

Idaho National Parks

National Reserves, Monuments and Preserves 

1- City of Rocks National Reserve

idaho national parks city of rocks a rock arch
City of Rocks is one of the incredible Idaho national parks to visit.

In southern Idaho near the Utah border, the City of Rocks National Reserve is also called the Silent City of Rocks.  

Spread across 14,407 acres (5,830 ha), this national reserve is a breathtaking landscape of granite pinnacles, fins, domes and monoliths.

The reserve was established in 1988 and is one of the best climbing destinations in the United States, attracting climbers from all over the world to explore its 700 routes. 

The City of Rocks was once a significant landmark for travellers on the California Trail, and visitors can still see marks written in axle grease by emigrants on some rock faces.

The high desert landscape of the park may appear to be a difficult place for plants and animals to survive, but at various elevations, you can find a variety of habitats such as pinyon-juniper woodlands, mountain mahogany scrub, sagebrush scrub, spruce-fir forests and riparian areas. 

Various wildlife species in these habitats include mammals, birds and reptiles.

Things to Do
Idaho National Parks city of rocks
City of Rocks
  • Climbing

Climbs range from 30 to 600 ft (9 to 183 m), with difficulty levels ranging from relatively easy to extremely difficult. 

Large boulders are the most popular among climbers as they do not require a lot of climbing equipment.

  • Hiking

The park has over 22 miles (35 km) of hiking trails that wind through the geological formations. 

Many formations have been mapped out and given distinctive names based on their appearance and hikers can use these distinguishing features to help them traverse the park.

  • Camping

City of Rocks offers a unique camping experience, with over 60 campsites providing beautiful views and hiking trails.

Most have vault toilets, water spigots, fire pits and picnic tables, among other amenities. 

Other activities at the reserve include fishing, mountain biking, auto touring, picnicking, wildlife watching, hunting and archery, horseback riding, and bird watching. 

Snowshoeing and skiing are also popular activities during the winter months.

How To Get To The Reserve

The most common route to the City of Rocks National Reserve is from the east, along Elba-Almo Road, connecting with Idaho State Highways 77 and 81. 

The western approach is via Birch Creek Road, south of the small town of Oakley.

2- Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

national parks idaho craters of the moon
The mysterious landscape of the Craters of the Moon is one of the Idaho national parks sites to visit.

The aptly named Craters of the Moon is in central Idaho on the Snake River Plain. 

This site, which includes a monument and a preserve, was established in 1924 and covers approximately 753,000 acres (304,728 ha).

The monument and preserve protect lots of lava-scarred landscapes formed by lava flows thousands of years ago. 

The barren yet beautiful landscape of the park features lava fields, cinder cones, spatter cones, sagebrush steppe, and numerous caves.

Despite the bleak appearance of the park, it is home to a surprising diversity of flora and fauna that have had to adapt to the harsh volcanic and high desert climate.

Things to Do
idaho national parks craters of the moon
One of the best national parks in Idaho for incredible scenery is Craters of the Moon.
  • Visitor Center

Obtain maps, trail suggestions, and information about upcoming events at the Visitor Center, which also has educational exhibits and programmes and a short film about the geology and history of the area.

  • Explore A Cave

A great way to explore the park is to take the 7-mile (11-km) Loop Road, which leads to a collection of lava tube caves. 

These caves are open to visitors who can obtain a free permit from the visitor centre and a light source.

  • Go Hiking

The Loop Road also connects to multiple trailheads that lead to various park landscapes. 

These trails include:

  •  the short and steep Inferno Cone Viewpoint provides panoramic views of the monument.
  • the paved Devils Orchard trail that leads through cinder beds and vegetation.
  • the Tree Molds trail features trees overrun by lava flows.
  • Camping

There are 51 campsites in the Craters of the Moon Campground with basic amenities such as water, restrooms, charcoal grills, and garbage cans. 

The site is also an International Dark Sky Park, meaning it has a clear night sky perfect for stargazing.

How To Get To The Park

You can reach the monument via US Route 20/26/93, which runs between the small towns of Arco and Carey. The Visitor Center and Loop Drive are on US Route 20/26/93, 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Arco, Idaho, and 24 miles (37 km) northeast of Carey, Idaho.

3- Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in south-central Idaho is home to one of the world’s largest fossil deposits from the late-Pliocene epoch (3.5 million years ago). 

Located in the northern portion of the monument is the Hagerman Horse Quarry, where the largest concentration of Hagerman Horse fossils has been discovered. 

The 4,351-acre (1,761-ha) monument is also significant for providing insight into pre-Ice Age fossils and the first sightings of modern flora and fauna.

This park was designated a national monument in 1975, and over 200 species of plants and animals have been found here. 

Among the fascinating fossils discovered here are sabre-toothed cats, mastodon, bears, camelops and ground sloths, and smaller animals like beavers, voles, fish and frogs.

Things to Do
  • Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is the only place in the monument to see fossils because fossil excavation sites are inaccessible to the public. Park Rangers provide information on geology, fossils and the park’s history. 

  • Drive to an Overlook

The Snake River Overlook and Oregon Trail Overlook are two scenic overlooks within the park that provide panoramic views of the Snake River and a section of the historic Oregon Trail. 

Both locations also have interpretive signs along their paths, covered picnic tables and vault toilets.

  • Hike The Emigrant Trail

Hiking opportunities are limited because of the steep and dangerous terrain of the monument, and the only hiking trail is the 6-mile (10-km) out-and-back Emigrant Trail. 

You can find trailheads across the road from the Snake River Overlook and at the Oregon Trail Overlook.

If you don’t have time to hike the round-trip, arrange to be picked up at one end. 

How To Get To The Park

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is near Twin Falls. The Visitor Center is on US Highway 30, about a mile (1.6 km) north of downtown Hagerman.

National Historic Sites And Parks

4- Minidoka National Historic Site

An attack from Japan on Pearl Harbor in 1941 prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066 the following year. 

This order forced roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans living on America’s West Coast to leave their homes and lives behind to live in one of 10 internment camps located across the country. 

One of these camps was the Minidoka War Relocation Center in southern Idaho.

At its peak, the 12,000 or so Japanese Americans imprisoned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center were mainly from Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska. 

Although the whole site covered over 33,000 acres (13,355 ha) of land, the actual campsite, which consisted of more than 600 houses, was located on 950 acres (384 ha).

Minidoka Internment National Monument was established in 2001 to conserve the historic buildings, features and artifacts and to educate visitors about this dark period in America’s history.

Things to Do
  • Visitor Center

At the Visitor Center, you can pick up a brochure map, explore exhibits and artifacts on display, interact with park rangers and browse a bookstore. 

A 30-minute park film is also available for visitors to watch.

  • Walk the Trails

Take a self-guided tour of the 1.6-mile (2.6-km) route and see informative exhibits that identify historic sites and landscapes, depict how people lived in Minidoka and explain how the relocation centre functioned.

  • How To Get To The Park

Minidoka National Historic Site sits between Twin Falls and Jerome in south-central Idaho. You can get to the Historic Site via the intersection of Interstate 84 (I-84) and US Route 93. (US 93).

5- Nez Perce National Historic Park

The Nez Perce National Historical Park spans 4,561 acres (1,845 ha) across Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. 

The park was established in 1965 to honour the history, culture, and stories of the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) people.

The story of the US government and the Nez Pierce people is one of the most tragic Indian wars of the 19th century. 

The US government’s attempts to force the Nez Pierce people off their lands resulted in a backlash known as the Nez Perce war of 1877.

Four major battles resulted in casualties and losses of hundreds of men on both sides during the war. 

The war eventually ended with the defeat and surrender of the Nez Perce people at the Battle of the Bear Paw Mountains, and those who surrendered agreed to return to the reservation.

Things to Do
  • Visit the Historic Sites

The park consists of 38 sites spread across four states, many of which are linked by the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. 

26 of the sites are located on or near the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Idaho, with the remaining 12 located in the other three states. 

The sites in Idaho are all in the same area and you can visit them in a day.

  • Visitor Center

A park film at the Visitor Center provides an excellent introduction to the Nez Perce story. There’s a range of books, media and educational games at the park store. 

There is also a museum that houses a collection of Nez Perce clothing, tools, weapons and other historical artifacts.

How To Get To The Park

Driving south on US Route 95, you will find the Visitor Center 10 miles (16 km) from Lewiston, Idaho. Roughly one mile (1.6 km) after crossing the Clearwater River, you will find the park entrance on your left. When driving north on US Route 95, the Visitor Center is 3 miles (5 km) north of Lapwai, Idaho. The park entrance is on your right.

National Parks In Idaho

6- Yellowstone National Park

national parks in idaho yellowstone
Yellowstone is the only US National Park in Idaho but there are other national park sites to explore.

Yellowstone National Park is a vast 2.2 million-acre (890,308 ha) area mainly in Wyoming, but it also has small portions in Montana and Idaho. 

The USA’s first national park was established in 1872 and is famous for its extraordinary geothermal features, such as geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mud pots. 

Yellowstone National Park has more hydrothermal features than any other park in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year.

In addition to its stunning landscape, the park has a diverse range of wildlife and vegetation. 

It is home to animals such as wolves, black and grizzly bears, cougars, elks and mountain lions, and several bird, fish and reptile species. 

This is also the location of the largest and oldest free-roaming herd of bison in the United States.

Things to Do

Although Yellowstone National Park has many activities, the 32,000-acre (12,950-ha) portion of the park in Idaho, which accounts for about 1% of the park, is close to the geysers.

The West Entrance is the closest to Idaho of the park’s five entrances. 

This entrance has a lot of geothermal activity near the gate and is also the busiest entrance. 

You can drive from there to see many geysers and other geothermal features.

The Lower Geyser Basin is the largest in the area and has several unique geothermal features, including the Fountain Paint Pot, Firehole Spring, Celestine Pool, Leather Pool, and Red Spouter.

The much smaller Midway Geyser Basin is also nearby and despite its small size, it is home to Yellowstone’s largest hot spring – the vividly coloured Grand Prismatic Spring.

The Norris Geyser Basin, located to the north, is the park’s hottest geyser basin. 

The world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser, is in Norris Basin with eruptions reaching over 300 feet (90 meters).

South of Norris is the Upper Geyser Basin, which has the most geysers in the park, including the famous Old Faithful Geyser and four other predictable large geysers.

Other activities include camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, swimming, biking, boating and paddling. 

How To Get To The Park

Drive into the park from any of the five entrances. The small city of Island Park is the closest city to the park from Idaho, located just 14 miles (23 km) from the West Entrance.

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Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.