Idaho is state in the Rocky Mountains region of the United States. Idaho is a rugged state, with 10,000 - 12,500 ft (3000 - 3800m) snow-capped mountains, whitewater rivers (one running through the deepest river canyon in the U.S.), forests, high desert, and plenty of wilderness. Most of the land north of Boise is National or State Forest.
North Idaho is sometimes considered part of the Pacific Northwest. It's where the rolling grain-covered hills of the Palouse give way to the Bitterroot (Rocky) Mountains. South Idaho is usually considered part of the Intermountain West, and is in the Mountain timezone.
|North Central Idaho
|South Central Idaho
- Boise— Idaho's capital and largest city, Boise focuses on public art and heritage. It has urban conventions while maintaining a small town feel. In Boise, high-tech companies, including Micron, employ many of the working people in the area. There are many memorials, a discovery center, an art museum and a vibrant downtown. There are also a handful of movie theaters, the Morrison Center Theater and an ice skating rink. A local airport and various hotels, locally and nationally owned, will make it easy to plan a trip there.
- Coeur d'Alene— A Northern Idaho city nestled in mountains with excellent recreational lakes.
- Idaho Falls— The commercial and agricultural center of Eastern Idaho, home of the Idaho National Engineering Labs
- Moscow— Home of the University of Idaho, combination agricultural and college town
- Pocatello— Southern Idaho town. Home of Idaho State University
- Sandpoint— Great skiing and a great lake
- Shelley— Home of the Spud Day celebration
- Stanley Proximity to the Sawtooth Mountains offers numerous outdoor activities, including visiting Red Fish Lake, located directly underneath the Sawtooths.
- Twin Falls — Idaho's youngest major city and the hub of the South Central Idaho region.
- Custer Ghost Town
- Sun Valley -- the first great ski resort in the U.S.
- Craters of the Moon National Monument -- volcanic park with vast fields of seemingly lifeless lava, fun lava tubes to explore
- Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness -- follows the Snake River through Hells Canyon (as deep as 9,300 feet, much deeper than the Grand Canyon) north towards Lewiston, where the Clearwater and Snake River meet
- Yellowstone National Park -- The world's oldest national park and home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states is mostly within Wyoming, but the most notable feature, Old Faithful is probably most easily reached from Idaho Falls via West Yellowstone, Montana - though the park road is only open to cars in summer (May to early November) but open to snow vehicles during winter months.
- The Nez Perce Indian Reservation, home to Native Americans whose forebears helped Lewis and Clark through the winter during their expedition, is just East of Lewiston.
- City of Rocks National Reserve -- Located on the southern edge of the state. Popular with hikers and rock climbers for its maze of massive boulders (some over 100 meters in height).
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail - Between May 1804 and September 1806, 32 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery.
- Sawtooth National Recreation Area Largest national recreation area in the United States
Idaho's nickname is "The Gem State," although the motto on the state's license plates reads "Famous Potatoes." This often has the unfortunate result that anyone who has heard of Idaho imagines the state as a vast expanse of potato farms, with grizzled inhabitants living in cabins with no running water.In reality,Idaho is increasingly becoming a mix of both city and rural life. Some Idahoans do live in cabins in the middle of nowhere, but others live in urbane condominiums in downtown Boise. Indeed, Boise is now the largest metropolitan area in the Rocky Mountains region of the US outside of Colorado. Most of the other major cities in Idaho have also experienced significant growth over the past 20 years.
Idaho is typical of several other western states, e.g., Oregon, Washington, and California, in that there are really two states in one. The northern part of Idaho is characterized by mountains, lakes, forests and rivers. While the southern half has some spectacular mountains (the Owyhees and parts of the Tetons), it is mostly high-plains desert similar to the Inland Empire of southern California.
Most of the world-famous Idaho potatoes are grown in Eastern Idaho. Onions are an important cash crop in southwestern Idaho near the Oregon border, while sugar beets are prevalent in the Twin Falls area. As many crops are irrigated in the otherwise arid Snake River Plain, water is an extremely important and potentially explosive political issue in Idaho.
Northern Idaho farming is characterized by dry land wheat, barley, and legume crops. Logging is also a big part of the northern Idaho economy, although not as much as in the past. A favorite bumper sticker in north Idaho is "If You Don't Like Logging, Try Using Plastic Bags For Toilet Paper." Similar to Washington and Oregon, there is a great disparity in the population of each half of the state. North Idaho is significantly less populated than the southern half.
Idaho is second only to Utah in the number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, or Mormons, as a percentage of the population. Mormon religion and culture are particularly prevalent in Eastern Idaho, where the faith is at least as strong as anywhere in Utah. However, the LDS Church's influence diminishes considerably as one travels north of Boise towards the panhandle.
Southern Idaho is home to one of the largest populations of Basque people in the world outside the Basque Country itself. Public displays of Ikurriña flags and car stickers are somewhat common, even in rural areas. The state even issues a Basque specialty automobile license plate. Next scheduled for 2015, a major Basque festival known as Jaialdi is celebrated in Boise every five years.
A common misconception is that Idaho is somehow a racist or Neo-Nazi state. Around 1980, a Neo-Nazi and white separatist brought a band of followers to Hayden Lake near Coeur d'Alene and began regularly making the local and national news with his racist provocations. Although the local residents vigorously disapproved and regularly held much bigger counter-demonstrations, the Neo-Nazi image has stuck. Idahoans breathed a collective sigh of relief in 2001 when the 20 acre compound owned by the "church" was handed over to a woman who had filed a lawsuit against them after being assaulted by their guards, and many of the racists left the state.
Southeastern Idaho, with its sparse topsoil, was greatly affected by the rising water level of prehistoric Lake Bonneville to the south, a lake which covered most of what is now the states of Utah and Nevada. At Red Rock Pass south of Pocatello, the rising waters broke through into the region in an ancient, massive flood, channeling the floodwater westward for what is estimated to have lasted for approximately seven weeks, almost completely draining the ancient lake and creating the massive, lengthy, and spectacular Snake River Canyon that we know today. The massive flood stripped the region's topsoil down to bedrock, tumbling huge, multi-story high boulders downstream, where eventually the boulders and other heavier materials dropped out and were deposited in and along the Snake River streambed. The stripped topsoil, a much lighter material, eventually was deposited well to the west, creating fertile farming regions well adapted to growing potatoes. Because of the great flood and the stripping of the region's topsoil, much of the agriculture in southeastern Idaho's thin layer of topsoil must be supported by fertilization as well as irrigation.
English is almost universally spoken and understood, except that potatoes are sometimes called "spuds" and there's a bit of a rural twang as you get out to the logging and farming areas. Spanish is not as widely spoken as a second language, although it is prevalent in each of the major cities
There are currently no direct international flights into or out of anywhere in Idaho. If you're coming in from overseas, rest assured you'll go through United States customs before boarding a flight to an Idaho location.
By far the largest airport in the state, Boise Airport (IATA: BOI) is the main airport in southern Idaho. Flights to and from Boise are available from most major cities in the western United States, as well as Minneapolis and Chicago. Boise Airport also offers a good selection of charter flight services.
Northern Idaho is primarily served by Spokane International Airport (IATA: GEG), located in eastern Washington approximately 20 miles (32 km) from the Idaho border. The non-stop schedule to and from Spokane is similar to Boise. For the far northeast panhandle (via US Hwy 2) , Glacier Park International Airport (IATA: FCA) near Kalispell, Montana is another option. However, it has far fewer flights than Spokane, and in most cases, the distance is slightly further. Despite the name, there are currently no scheduled international flights to either Spokane or Kalispell.
Other Idaho airports include Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IATA: IDA) in eastern Idaho, and the seasonal, tourist-based Friedman Memorial Airport (IATA: SUN) near Sun Valley. Idaho Falls is a good flight destination for nearby Yellowstone National Park.
Smaller airports, such as in Lewiston (LWS), Twin Falls (TWF) and Pocatello (PIH) offer only a limited commercial flight schedule. In the case of the latter two, the only commercial flights available are to and from Salt Lake City.
Airlines serving Boise include Delta, Frontier, Horizon, Southwest, United and US Airways. Spokane is served by the same carriers, as well as by Alaska Airlines.
SkyWest Airlines serves several Idaho cities from its Salt Lake City hub, including Boise, Lewiston, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Pocatello.
United Airlines sub contracts SkyWest Airlines for its San Francisco to Boise flights. Don't be surprised if you board a plane marked in SkyWest colors. Your baggage ends up in the same place.
The lone city in Idaho with rail passenger service is in the panhandle at Sandpoint. Amtrak's "Empire Builder" stops in Sandpoint in the middle of the night (just before midnight westbound, about 230 AM eastbound) on its daily runs between Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Glacier National Park, Spokane, and Portland/Seattle.
- Northwestern Trailways has connections to and from Washington.
- Salt Lake Express has connections from Montana, Utah, and even to and from Jackson in north-western Wyoming.
- Greyhound Lines also has connections from Utah, connecting Salt Lake City to Twin Falls and Boise. This connection is also an Amtrak thruway service.
Apart from modest public transportation systems in the major cities, Idaho has no mass transit to speak of. The only Amtrak stop in the state is in Sandpoint in the far northern panhandle. Otherwise it's all driving or flying.
Idaho is served by several Interstate highways. I-90 in North Idaho passes through Coeur d'Alene. I-84 enters Idaho at the Oregon border, serves the Boise metro area and passes near Twin Falls en route to Salt Lake City. I-15 serves the Eastern Idaho cities of Pocatello and Idaho Falls. The short I-86 in South Central and Eastern Idaho connects I-84 and I-15.
Most other main roads in the state are two-lane highways. In more remote locations unpaved roads are commonplace. Pay close attention to current road conditions while traveling, particularly in winter. You know you're from Idaho when your elderly grandparents think it's normal to arrive at Christmas (or even just for a weekend visit) after driving 400 miles through blizzards and along winding two lane river roads.
Crossing into Montana often involves going through mountain passes. This is particularly true when not on I-90 or I-15. In the winter, check with the highway department for pass conditions -- many passes are closed from the first snow until mid-April.
The two-lane US 95 and Idaho State Highway 55 serve as the only intrastate connections between North Idaho and the rest of the state. Even in ideal weather conditions, traveling by car from North Idaho to Eastern Idaho invariably involves a drive through Boise or through Missoula, Montana. Either way, you'll drive 600 - 700 miles when it's something like 300 miles as the crow flies.
Flying is an expensive but wonderful way to get around and see the majestic scenery. Although many of the state's smaller airports have no commercial flights at all, while others (such as Twin Falls) don't have regular flights to other parts of the state, backcountry flights are available from many locations, and you get to fly through canyons and into remote airstrips that are nearly unreachable any other way. Examples are McCall Aviation and Selway Aviation in Central Idaho. If you just want to go city-to-city, call Horizon Airlines.
There are many bald eagles in northern Idaho. A good place to see them is Lake Coeur d' Alene. Take I-90 East and exit at the Harrison exit. Lake Coeur d'Alene is 25 miles long with more than 135 miles of shoreline. The lake is an average of 120 feet deep.
Coeur d'Alene (pop. 38,388 in 2004 census) has become known as the playground of the Pacific Northwest for luxury accommodations and a wealth of recreation and attractions in a stunning natural setting. The lavish Coeur d'Alene Resort draws thousands annually to be prepared by its Mobile four-star accommodations and to play its posh golf course.
Finished in 1853, The Cataldo Mission, located east of Coeur d'Alene on I-90 is the oldest standing building in Idaho. The Old Mission (built 1848-1853) was a combined effort of the missionaries and over 300 native Catholics.
Silver Mountain Ski and Summer Resort, located 30 miles east of Coeur d'Alene, is home to the world's longest single-stage gondola. Enjoy a scenic ride and take in the great views along the 20-minute ride to the top.
Wallace, on I-90, is known for the fact that every downtown building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wallace is also famous for its mining history and included in that history is the Oasis Bordello Museum. When the final occupants of the Oasis Rooms left in January 1988 (the last recorded date in the "hotel" registry), they seemed to have left in a hurry. Clothing, makeup, toiletries, food and personal items were all left behind. An accurate and tastefully-presented twenty-minute tour of the upper rooms explains the mystery of the ladies' hasty departure and gives a glimpse into the town's bawdy past with details that range from poignant to hilarious. Also of interest in the Wallace area is the Sierra Silver Mine Tour. This is the only tour of its kind in the Northwest. It offers a rare opportunity to personally experience the underground world of mining in the richest silver district on earth. Also the main city in which the movie "Dante's Peak", starring Pierce Brosnan, was filmed. Wallace is also nicked named "The Center of the Universe" When entering the town walking or driving there will be a sign pointing down towards a cross walk which is where the center of the universe is supposed to be.
Not far from Wallace, Kellogg has metal sculptures of a dragon and knight, a gold panner, an elk (in front of the local chapter of the ELKS), a big wildcat (which is the high school's mascot) in front of the local pool, a miner and donkey, and the best was the Red Baron. All seemed to be made of scraps of metal from different things, but they are large! Mine tours (approx. 30 min.) are given at Crystal Gold Mine. Kellogg was the site of one of the worst U.S. mining accidents; a statue of a miner holding high a rock drill guards dozens of impromptu headstones at the Sunshine Mine Disaster Memorial. Miner's Hat Realty, a building shaped like a big miner's hard hat, complete with giant carbide lamp can be seen from I-90 on the north side of the road.
A giant dog created in Cottonwood, Dog Bark Park is one of America's latest additions to the type of roadside architecture popular in the early days of automobile vacation travel when travelers would often buy gas, eat meals or stay overnight in a building that looked like something else. Dog Bark Park Inn offers an expansive continental self-serve breakfast featuring their family's secret recipe for The Prairie's Best Fruited Granola.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, 18 mi W of Arco on Hwy 20, is an amazing part of the natural landscape. The visitors center and the opportunity to climb a cinder cone make this a worthwhile stop on an otherwise uneventful road. Be sure to bring water, especially in spring and summer. With a couple flashlights, you can explore the lava caves.
Idaho Potato Expo, 130 NW Main St., Blackfoot. Hours: Nov-Mar, M-F, 9:30AM-3PM; Apr-Oct, M-Sa, 9:30AM-5PM. Perhaps most amazing: the world's largest potato chip, a 25x14-inch Pringle created in 1991 by Procter & Gamble engineers. This pizza-sized potato snack is in its own display case.
Winter activities such as, skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and even camping are popular, both with tourists and residents.
Summer activities In the summer, Idaho has world-class boating (try a jet boat leaving from Lewiston), whitewater rafting, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. Rodeo is also popular in the more rural areas.
A bicycle trail, the Trail of The Couer d'Alenes, runs in northern Idaho from the west all the way to Montana. Other trails that are popular include: the Route of the Hiawatha trail, tha Latah Trail, and the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail. These trails range anywhere from 7 miles to 72 miles long. The rails-to-trails project is responsible for transforming abandoned train routes to hiking, biking, and walking trails. One of the longest trails in the nation is being worked on in Northern Idaho.
Gateway to Recreation
- Idaho has more whitewater rafting than any other state excluding Alaska.
- Top-destination ski resorts
- Saint Anthony Sand Dunes, Brunaeu Sand Dunes
- Pristine Wilderness areas including one of the largest continuous wilderness areas in the lower 48 states: The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
- Destination resort towns
- Thousands of lakes
- Rugged mountains including Mount Borah, Idaho's tallest at 12,662 feet.
- back-country vistas
- Hot Springs- Idaho has the most usable hot springs pools in the nation, with approximately 130 'soakable' out of 340.
Idaho's Salmon River of No Return originates just south of Stanley. Idaho's Salmon River, the longest free-flowing river in the United States floats through the largest wilderness in the Lower 48. This trip is usually six days long and includes historic ranches and homesteads, fishing, hot springs, and class III - IV rapids. A limited number of private boaters and rafting companies explore 85 mile wilderness section of the Salmon River.
As in the rest of the United States, credit cards are widely accepted. You'll have little to no difficulty with Visa or MasterCard. American Express and Discover are also accepted but not quite as universally, especially in smaller towns. You may very well have problems if you present a JCB card for payment as most Idahoans have neither seen nor heard of them.
Travelers checks are likely to warrant confused looks if presented outside of tourist areas, and personal checks rarely accepted without prior arrangements.
If paying in cash, US dollars are the way to go, although Canadian dollars may be accepted by some merchants in the extreme north near the border. Occasionally Canadian coins become intermingled with US change and may be accepted at face value, or even given as change back to you. This can and does occur even in southern Idaho. Even so, don't be put off if they're refused. Paper currency, however, is all US dollars; if you're south of Sandpoint, don't even try anything else.
Sales tax in Idaho is currently 6 percent, which is assessed on most goods including food. The tax is collected at the time of sale, regardless of whether you're from Idaho or not. Some municipalities (mainly in tourist areas), as well as Nez Perce County in north central Idaho also assess a local sales tax in addition to the state tax. There are also taxes included in lodging costs at hotels, motels and campgrounds. Some services are not subject to sales tax.
Native American tribes in Idaho are currently exempt from charging sales taxes on tobacco products. The Nez Perce Tribe charges an alternative tobacco tax to fund scholarships on the tribe's reservation near Lewiston, while the Shoshone Bannock Tribes on the Fort Hall Reservation near Pocatello don't charge tobacco sales taxes at all.
Tipping your server or bartender is considered good etiquette at sit-down restaurants and bars, but is generally not expected elsewhere. Even so many Idahoans consider tipping optional - especially in rural areas - so good tips tend to be appreciated by waitstaff much more so than in other places.
Idaho souvenirs almost always follow one of two themes: outdoor topics such as hunting, camping, fishing and skiing, or potatoes. The latter can be particularly kitschy, with characters such as "Darth Tater" and "Spudbob Starchpants" available for purchase at just about any convenience store or truck stop.
The food is pretty much middle American. There are a few ingredients that are Idaho specialties, like Idaho Rainbow Trout, and of course the Famous Potatoes. In a similar vein, Moscow proclaims itself the "Dried Pea and Lentil Capitol of the World,". In the college towns (Moscow, Boise, Pocatello, Idaho Falls), it's pretty easy to find organic and vegetarian food, but in the rural areas you might have a hard time finding a meal without beef.
In much of Idaho, particularly the southern portions, a popular condiment is "fry sauce", a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise. Fry sauce is primarily a Utah condiment but it is also popular in nearby areas, especially those with significant Mormon populations.
Idaho liquor laws aren't as stringent as in neighboring Utah, but they are more restrictive than places like Nevada. As in the rest of the United States, 21 is the drinking age; expect to get carded if you look like you're under 30.
Specific rules governing bars vary slightly from county to county, but generally speaking bars close at 2 AM in the larger cities and 1 AM just about everywhere else. Last call means last call in Idaho; bar owners risk hefty fines or worse if they're caught serving even one minute past closing time. In 2012 smoking was outlawed in Boise bars and restaurants, however it remains legal in nearby Garden City.
Full-strength beer and wine are readily available in supermarkets and convenience stores. Although selections have improved, if you're not a fan of mass-produced American-style lagers they can often leave something to be desired. Hard liquor must be purchased at a state store. Freestanding state liquor stores are common in the larger cities, although private markets double as the local state store in small towns. Liquor stores are usually closed by 9 PM (or earlier). Other stores stop selling beer and wine at the same time the bars close in that particular county.
There is a modest liquor production industry in Idaho. The Boise-based Bardenay restaurants distill their own rum. Local potato vodkas – including Glacier, 44° North, Koenig, and Blue Ice – are worth trying.
The college towns have a good selection of bars, including the occasional microbrewery. Downtown Boise has a vibrant night life as well. Otherwise you'll have to look hard to find any sort of interesting music scene in any but the largest cities. In the more rural areas, you'll be stuck drinking at a country western bar or ... well, that's about it. You might come across a place that plays classic rock, but even those are hard to find, unless you know where to look. Ask a local, because podunk and nice are usually synonyms out there.
On the plus side, almost every bar but the very swankiest has drink specials at least 3 nights a week. $1.50 wells, $2 pints, doubles for single prices ...
Idaho cities are by and large quite safe. While seedy neighborhoods and organized street gang activity exist, people rarely get into trouble without actively looking for it first. Local police tend to be courteous, professional and at times even lenient provided they don't suspect you of any major wrongdoing. They do, however, take an especially dim view of drunk driving and illegal drug possession.
Major highways are routinely patrolled by the Idaho State Police (ISP), noted for the distinctive diagonal stripes on their vehicles. ISP officers are quick to lend a hand if they see someone in trouble along the side of the road.
The most pressing safety concerns in Idaho often involve the outdoors. Idaho weather can be fickle and extreme compared to other parts of the world. Mountains make their own weather, and it can be sunny one moment and stormy the next.
It's extremely easy to get lost in the heavily wooded back country. What's more cell phone service is by and large nonexistent in forested areas. Disastrous encounters with large wildlife (including bears and moose) aren't unheard of. Don't venture away from established campsites or trails unless you're with an experienced guide.
In other words if you are taking part in some outdoor activity, be prepared. Most importantly, use your common sense.
Idaho lies within two time zones, curiously split between north and south instead of east to west. Southern Idaho, including Boise, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Twin Falls, is in the Mountain Time Zone (UTC -7, DST UTC -6). Northern Idaho, including Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Lewiston and Moscow, is in the Pacific Time Zone (UTC -8, DST UTC -7). The small town of Riggins on U.S. Route 95 approximately 150 miles (241 km) north of Boise is often considered the de facto dividing line between the two zones (and consequently between northern and southern Idaho in general), although the actual time zone boundary is along the nearby Salmon River.
Generally speaking societal norms in Idaho are similar to other areas in the United States. However, Idahoans do tend to be slightly more familiar than others in the country. Especially in rural areas, complete strangers will wave to you as you drive by. Don't be afraid to wave back.
Idahoans are extremely sensitive to any allegation that the state is somehow a neo-Nazi enclave, and will be very quick to inform you otherwise if the subject comes up. This is particularly true in the Coeur d'Alene area, which experienced a very small but highly publicized group of neo-Nazis firsthand.
While Idahoans are genuinely proud of their potato-growing heritage, a litany of "spud" jokes and references tends to wear thin quickly.
Conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons is nothing new in Idaho and remains sensitive here, perhaps even more so than in Utah. While anything resembling open hostility on either side is exceptionally rare, the subject can make some people visibly uncomfortable.
Idaho is one of the few remaining US states with only one telephone area code statewide: 208. Although there has been talk of an area code split or overlay due to the state's continued growth, nothing is currently planned along those lines. Most localities support emergency 911 services.
Cell phone service is reliable in all of the major cities as well as most other parts of the state. The only places you're likely to encounter trouble are deep in the mountains. That said, large no service zones do exist; the further you travel into the back country, the less likely you'll be able to call someone if you get in trouble. In rural areas some carriers may have a noticeably better presence than others.
All Idaho ZIP postal codes begin with "83-". Only the larger cities use more than one ZIP code.
Public WiFi access is available at most larger hotels, as well as throughout the city of Ketchum in Blaine County.
- Washington - Across Idaho's northwestern border the state of Washington offers a less-traveled landscape that varies from mountainous to desert-like conditions.
- Oregon - The state's southwestern neighbor is known for lush forests and craggy mountains, but the portion of the state that immediately borders Idaho is sparsely-populated and features a near-desert landscape.
- Nevada - The Silver State borders Idaho to the southwest and is home to the adult playground of Las Vegas.
- Utah - The rugged mountains and excellent skiing of Utah are a short drive across Idaho's southern border.
- Wyoming - Located to Idaho's southeast, Wyoming is home to most of the landmass of Yellowstone National Park and provides an excellent opportunity to experience America's cowboy heritage.
- Montana - Some of America's most rugged and remote country is shared along Idaho's eastern border with Montana.
- British Columbia - Crossing the state's tiny northern border into Canada leads into the mountainous terrain of southeastern British Columbia.