What Is Idaho Known For?

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Idaho in the northwest of America is one of the most underrated states in the country. The state’s nicknames are the ‘gem state’ and the ‘potato state’; both of which are self-explanatory and are thanks to Idaho’s abundance of both potatoes, which they export, and precious gems such as the star garnet, as well as silver and gold. However, tucked away between other more popular states and bordering Canada, Idaho is also popular for its millions of acres of wilderness, which includes mountains, national parks and nature reserves that are perfect for outdoor lovers. These are all scattered with lakes and fast-flowing rivers, leading Idaho to be one of the best places for trout fishing in the United States and home to a variety of stunning gorges, canyons and waterfalls.

Equally, there are some surprising things Idaho is famous for, such as being home to hundreds of hot springs and uniquely shaped lava tubes due to its rich volcanic geology. Even more unusually, the state has intriguing ghost towns that have been abandoned throughout history or were used for nuclear testing, although Idaho’s capital of Boise is the very opposite, promising lively nightlife, great dining and lots of fascinating local attractions for visitors.

What Is Idaho Known For?

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1- Boise

Shot Angled From Above Of The Boise Capital Building
The Capital building is what Boise, Idaho, is known for.

Boise is Idaho’s state capital and the most famous city in the state.

The picturesque city is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop and is home to a great range of outdoor activities, as well as restaurants, shops, bars and other popular attractions.

Some of the best things to do while there, if you’re into nature, are cycling, walking and running along the Boise River Greenbelt or visiting the Botanical Gardens.

Also, make sure to check out the Idaho State Capitol for a dose of history and the Idaho State Museum.

Unusually, Boise is also home to a neighbourhood called the Boise Block, where the largest population of Basque people live outside of Spain.

Here, you can explore museums and attractions relating to Basque culture, or check out the many restaurants, bars and markets serving traditional Spanish and Basque food and drink.

2- Potatoes

Idaho Potatoes
Potatoes are what food Idaho is known for.

Idaho is known as the potato state for good reason, and the phrase ‘famous potatoes’ is even on Idaho’s licence plates!

The volcanic ground and temperate climate are ideal conditions for growing potatoes here and Idaho now supplies around a third of all the potatoes in America.

The locals also have a way with potatoes, turning them into dishes that are arguably better than anywhere else.

From pies and chips to baked potatoes and mash, you’ll find potato dishes everywhere.

So loved is the potato that Idaho also holds the famous potato drop, similar to the ball drop in New York City on New Year’s Eve, except a giant fake potato is dropped in Boise!

Even more strangely, Idaho is also home to a potato hotel, the Idaho Potato Hotel, where you can sleep in a giant potato that is much cosier inside than a real potato would be!

3- The Gem State

The Idaho State Flag Waving
Besides being the “Potatoe State”, the “Gem State” is what the state of Idaho is known as.

Onto Idaho’s other nickname, the gem state – the geology of Idaho is varied and fascinating, and a wide range of gemstones can be found here, such as opal, quartz and jasper.

However, lots of other stones and metals are also found, including zinc, copper, lead and even sapphires, which unsurprisingly makes the hobby of rock hunting very popular in the state.

The activity is actually known as rockhounding, and it’s not just for locals; there are loads of places that will let you come along on a hunt to find semi-precious stones and even if you don’t find a glowing sapphire, you’ll still have a unique souvenir to take home.

Idaho’s most famous and rare gem is the star garnet, which otherwise can only be found in India and is named thanks to having a unique star-shaped pattern on its surface.

Although they’re not common, you can go hunting for garnets in the Emerald Creek Garnet Area and you might come out lucky.

4- Fishing

Fisherman In Blur On The Shore Of A River Lake
Fishing is what is Idaho is known for.

More specifically, trout fishing!

Idaho is one of the best places in the United States to fish for trout of virtually all varieties, including rainbow trout, bull trout, steelhead trout and cutthroat trout.

The state is overflowing with more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams where thousands of trout live, so even if you’ve never fished before, you’re very likely to catch one!

Some of the best spots to fish are the North and South Forks at Snake River, Clearwater River, and the Deer Creek Reservoir, where the water is so clear you’ll be able to see the many fish swimming past.

For beginners, there are a range of guided tours and even boat charters that will teach you how to fish for the trout and some will even use your catch to prepare a delicious meal in front of you.

5- Hells Canyon

If you’ve visited or seen photos of the Grand Canyon, you’ll have been awestruck and maybe assumed that it’s the biggest and most beautiful gorge in America.

You’d be wrong about this, as Idaho is home to Hells Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in the United States, even deeper than the Grand Canyon!

The canyon runs along the border of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and is an impressive sight, completely surrounded by nature, including lush forests and mountains.

A large part of the canyon is part of the Hells Canyon Recreation Area, meaning you can enjoy exploring to your heart’s content via jet boating, hiking, camping, fishing or even white water rafting.

If you go on a tour, you can also learn more about the history of the area, which is still the home of the Native American Nez Perce Tribe, and there are a few different artefacts and archaeological sites that you can explore while visiting.

6- Hot Springs

Forget Iceland and Japan, Idaho is home to the most hot springs in the United States, hiding more than 240 of them across the state, around half of which are open to the public!

The hot springs in Idaho aren’t necessarily rustic either, although you can go for a dip in a natural one, but there are also lots of developed hot springs that have been turned into luxurious and relaxing spa areas where you can take a dip in the steaming hot waters of various pools – a much-loved pastime in the chilly Idaho winters.

Some of the best Idaho hot springs include Boat Box Hot Springs, Rocky Canyon Hot Springs and Kirkham Hot Springs.

The natural springs generally don’t have many facilities while at the developed ones, you should at least bring a towel.

Avoid going into any natural hot springs you see, as the remaining unopened springs are generally above boiling point and very unsafe to soak in.

7- Shoshone Falls

Shoshone Falls West, Snake River
Shoshone Falls is what Twin Falls, Idaho, is known for.

Shoshone Falls is sometimes known as the Niagara Falls of America’s West, and when you see it you’ll be awestruck by its sheer size and power.

Shoshone is around 212ft high and is fed by the Snake River, which pushes tens of thousands of tonnes of water over the edge every minute, making it one of Idaho’s most popular tourist attractions.

The falls are also more than 900ft wide, meaning there are various cracks and crevices where the water flows down into the pool below.

The best way to see the falls is either on a guided visit or, if you’re more adventurous, by hiking along the rim of the canyon or taking a boat trip to get up close to the spray.

The surrounding area is particularly beautiful in spring when the falls are in full flow, with lots of picnic and fishing spots and hiking trails.

8- Precious Metals

Gemstones aren’t the only valuable thing found underground in Idaho; in fact, the state is well-known for mining both silver and gold, although the latter has all but died out.

Idaho had a huge gold rush beginning in the 1860s, and much of the gold was mined, but to this day both metals are still mined.

Silver is far more commonly found and was discovered in the late 1800s, mainly in the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, which is one of the major places in the world for silver mining.

For those who are keen on taking a piece of either home, there are dozens of tours where you can learn about Idaho’s mining history.

One of the best is the Sierra Silver Mine tour in the Coeur d’Alene District, which guides you through a real-life silver mine, and although you can dig up any silver, the gift shop has plenty of cool souvenirs to take home with you.

9- National Parks And Wilderness

Sawtooth Mountain Lake Deep Winter
National Parks and wilderness areas are what Idaho is best known for.

Around 14% of Idaho is classed as protected wilderness areas, which equals roughly 4.7 million acres of forests, rivers, mountains and lakes.

Not only does this mean Idaho has some of the most scenic drives in America, but there are countless outdoor activities to enjoy for nature enthusiasts.

There are thousands of mountains, some of the most stunning of which belong to the Rocky Mountains, but you can also explore the small section of Yellowstone in Idaho, as well as the Hells Canyon area, City of Rocks National Reserve, Sawtooth National Forest and Grand Teton National Park.

All of these spots offer the opportunity for hiking, fishing, rafting, camping and wildlife spotting and there is also the tallest mountain in Idaho, Borah Peak, and Bald Mountain, where you can go skiing in winter.

10- Huckleberries

Huckleberries are what Idaho is most known for in the fruit area.

Huckleberries are the state fruit of Idaho, and if you’ve never tried them before, they’re delicious!

These berries usually grow in the Rocky Mountains during the summer months and can be found in a wide range of Idaho delicacies, such as pies, jams, muffins and cakes, along with a few more unusual products.

The berries are surprisingly good for you and packed with antioxidants, and you can eat them raw or forage for them if you’re out in the forest, so long as you know what you’re looking for.

It’s in the same silver mining area of Coeur d’Alene where you can find an abundance of these berries during summer thanks to the volcanic soil, and locals often use it in soaps, shampoos and other inedible products as well as their dishes, however, they can be tricky to find so products with huckleberry can often be a little pricey, but it’s more than worth it for their sweet flavour.

11- Lava Tubes

Craters Of The Moon National Monument
Lava tubes is what Idaho is known for.

As you might have guessed from Idaho’s volcanic geology, there are also other signs of volcanic activity throughout the state.

Lava tubes are unique-looking cave structures that have been created by cooling lava flows.

The most famous spot for seeing them is at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in the centre of Idaho, which covers 1100 square miles.

There are a range of weird and wonderfully shaped lava tubes and cones, some of which you can actually go inside, such as Mammoth Cave, which is the largest public lava tube in the world.

In contrast, you can also check out Shoshone Ice Cave, which is both a lava tube and an ice cave rolled into one!

The entire park is covered in unique and unusual landscapes and structures, making it one of the best places to visit in Idaho.

12- Idaho Falls

Upper Mesa Falls In Idaho
Upper Messa Falls what is Idaho Falls known for.

In the east of Idaho, Idaho Falls is the second biggest city in the state after the capital of Boise.

The city sits right on the Snake River, with stunning views and plenty of activities, including scenic parks and hiking trails.

The city makes a great base for visiting some of Idaho’s best outdoor destinations, but the city itself also has lots of amazing things to see and do.

You can learn about the state’s history at the Museum of Idaho or take a beautiful walk along the Idaho Falls River Walk – Greenbelt Trail.

There are also loads of museums, galleries, a zoo and gardens to explore, as well as lots of local restaurants and cafes for sampling some Idaho potato or huckleberry dishes, particularly in the downtown area.

13- Ghost Towns

Idaho’s rich mining history has led to there being dozens of ghost towns scattered around the state.

These towns and villages are still standing as they might have been during the 1800s, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the Wild West.

The only difference is that they’re completely abandoned and often run down due to being deserted thanks to the decline of the gold rush and lack of mining resources.

One of the most famous ghost towns is Bannack, which is an almost perfectly preserved example of a Wild West town that you can explore if you’re a history buff.

Other popular ones include Bayhorse Ghost Town, and Custer Historic Mining Town, where you can peek inside the buildings or go hiking around the area.

14- Arco And Atomic City

Few people know that Idaho is home to the world’s first entirely atomic-powered city, called Arco.

In Butte County, Arco was the first ever place in 1995 to use only nuclear power using a giant reactor for just one hour – which may not seem like long, but at the time it was a major world breakthrough in atomic technology.

Nowadays, the town is completely normal and non-atomic, and you wouldn’t know its history to look at.

But you can visit museums here, such as the Museum of Idaho’s Atomic Energy Exhibit and the EBR-I Atomic Museum, which is the reactor where the electricity was first generated, to learn more about the town’s history.

Not far away is the town of Atomic City, which is a ghost town where a reactor had a meltdown, leading to a terrible and fatal nuclear accident, making it a very eerie place to visit.

15- Aaron Paul

Idaho may not compete with other states for producing famous names, but one of the few who was born and raised here is actor Aaron Paul.

Most people recognise him from playing Jesse Pinkman in the hit series Breaking Bad, however, he has also appeared in series like Westworld and Black Mirror and is a producer in his own right.

He was born in Emmett, Idaho and stayed in the state throughout his childhood, eventually going to high school in Boise.

Although he moved to Los Angeles as an adult to chase his dream in Hollywood, the actor still returns to Idaho often and even built a stunning house in the style of a rustic log cabin there close to his grandparents’ house.

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India Jayne trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.