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Visitors to the Gem State hoping for outdoor adventures are in luck. Idaho is home to national forests, historic parks and recreations areas, as well as 31 state parks, forests, and preserves. This all results in a seemingly endless supply of natural beauty, wildlife and opportunities for exploration for outdoors enthusiasts.
Whether you have set your sites on hiking up a sand dune or exploring the deepest river gorge in North America, the Idaho state parks will satisfy. In fact, shifting sand dunes fill the vision in both Bruneau Dunes State Park in Mountain Home and at Saint Anthony Sand Dunes in Idaho Falls. Roam the desert landscapes, hike the prairies or trek over the dunes, including one that reaches more than 470-feet high. This park is also home to the Bruneau Dunes Observatory – a perfect place for star gazing. Saint Anthony finds its origins in sand that was carried on the winds from the Teton and Snake Rivers. It is now an 11,000-acre park with dunes that crest 400 feet that is popular with those who love off-roading or finding new dirt bike, and ATV trails. Hiking and horseback riding is also popular here.
Southern Idaho is home to the impressive Eagle Island State Park in Eagle. Anglers love fishing in Boise River, while kids and adults alike enjoy the beach activities, including volleyball, horseshoes, and a fun waterslide. The park spans 545 acres that is also replete with hiking, horseback riding, and biking trails. Southwestern Idaho also welcomes hikers and bikers to its 1,000-acre Ponderosa State Park. This gorgeous spot includes Payette Lake, a popular place for swimmers and picnickers, particularly along North Beach.
North Central Idaho plays host to the famous Hells Gate State Park. Known as “Lewis & Clark Country,” this park shows the signs of millions of years of change. You’ll find geologic formations like the basaltic columns that are thought to have formed 14 million years ago and the remains of pit houses used by the Nez Perce. There’s even a Lewis & Clark Discovery Center on-site.
But if your focus is on adventure, you’ll love the 900 miles of horseback riding, hiking and biking trails that cross this park. Summer and winter fishing are popular activities (catfish, smallmouth bass and trout are big catches here), as are things like kayaking, jet-skiing, boating, and waterskiing on the Snake River. Of course, you’ll want to schedule in real time to explore Hells Canyon. Said to be the deepest river gorge in North America, it’s best investigated by jet-boat, and there are several tour companies in the area who can provided guided tours.
The Shoshone Falls Park on the Snake River is a “must see” attraction in Twin Falls set in South Central Idaho. The Park features interpretive displays, a trail system that runs alongside the Snake River Canyon, and an overlook that provides stunning views of the waterfalls (said to be bigger than Niagara Falls). Dierkes Lake is also a great place for fishing, swimming, volleyball, hiking, and biking.
If you find yourself in the North, Lake Coeur d’Alene is a stunning spot which boasts 109 miles of shoreline. Set at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the 25-mile long lake, sees people flocking to it to watch for Bald Eagles, as well as kayak, swim, hike, ice fish in winter, and much more.
Of course, there is nothing like the rejuvenating feeling of sinking into soothing hot springs. If you are in North Central Idaho, visit the town of Orofino. It’s home to public springs that are open during the summer months, including Weir Creek Hot Springs and Jerry Johnson Hot Springs. Other impressive soaking spots include Burgdorf Hot Springs in McCall (open throughout the year) and Kirkham Hot Springs, which features not only the springs, but steaming waterfalls.
The famed Lava Hot Springs have five soaking pools that range in temperature so you can find the perfect soak for you. It’s also surrounded by stunning botanical treasures, and close to the Indoor Aquatic Center. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in Hollister, Nat-Soo-Pah Hot Springs gets high marks for its naturally heated swimming pool and separate hot soak pool.
Beyond the parks mentioned above, there are hundreds of trails throughout the Gem State that are perfect for those who love to take to the saddle or lace up their hiking boots. In fact, you can only reach the overviews of Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Ketchum on foot. There are numerous developed trails that cut through the 778,000 acres. Among the favorites are Tin Cup Hiker’s Loop and the Alice Lake Trail.
Have you always dreamed of hiking through a lava field? Craters of the Moon can bring this dream to life for you. There also numerous craters and caves open for exploration in this Central/South Central Idaho park. There are more than 40 miles of trails that wind through Farragut State Park, located in Athol, which encompasses more than 4,000 acres. Meanwhile, you can follow the old jeep trails or foot paths that run along the Snake River to Swan Falls Dam and Park.
Are you looking for more chances to see the countryside on horseback or bike? There are hundreds of miles of developed horse trails running through Targhee National Forest, which itself covers one million acres. And before the snow flies, test your biking skills on the downhill, road and cross-country runs inside Silver Mountain Resort.