Idaho potatoes. That is what most people know about Idaho. This state is bordered by Canada to the north, Washington and Oregon to the west, Nevada and Utah to the south and Montana and Wyoming to the east. It has a tiny slice of Yellowstone National Park, some quirky tiny towns with big histories, many waterfalls, and a huge slice of Basque flavour. It was the 43rd state, is the Shoshone word for ‘gem of the mountains’ and yes, it provides one third of America’s spuds. Here are just seven reasons to go.
Sun Valley has world-class skiing and snowboarding
Pretty much every American celebrity who can slide down a mountain has been to Sun Valley and stayed at the very elegant and glamorous Sun Valley Lodge. It opened in 1936 near the old mining town of Ketchum, which at that time was fed by railway. Ernest Hemingway was hired to sing the praises of the resort – he was photographed skiing, fishing, golfing and hiking – and as a result Hollywood’s finest came a calling. As for the skiing, Sun Valley has two mountains, Dollar which is perfect for beginners, and Baldy, which is for intermediates and advanced. Off the slopes, try ice skating on the rink that regularly hosts world and Olympic champions, or explore on snowshoes or cross-country skis. My favourite activity was riding on a horse-drawn sleigh to Trail Creek Cabin. This rustic and historic lodge has gorgeous timber beams, huge fireplace, and the dinner was absolutely superb. As it was December, we were even surprised by carol singers and Santa.
Boise might just be the coolest US city you know nothing about
There are so many things to love about Boise. The view from the old railway station over the town shows a palate of green, with parks dotted here, there and everywhere. We can also spot the stunning Capitol building – the only one in the US heated by geothermal heat. One of the parks is the Boise River Greenbelt, a 40-kilometre-long bike and walking track along the Boise River. We hire electric scooters and explore some of it, cotton from the cottonwood trees floating through the air like snow. We stop at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial, the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and thoroughly enjoy being out and about with the locals.
We tour the haunted Idaho Penitentiary that hosted three Australian “guests” from 1906-1911. Its last execution was in 1957 and its gates slammed shut to prisoners in 1974. Further back in history we see where the pioneers on the Oregon Trail came through. You can still see the ruts left by the wheels and marvel at how tough it would have been travelling such long distances, crossing rivers and generally doing it tough. The city also has a rich thread of Basque culture, with the Basque block brimming with Basque restaurants as well as the Basque Museum. Boise also has the Jaialdi Basque Festival, the world’s largest celebration of Basque culture, next held in late July 2020.
You can see the Craters of the Moon … on earth
Craters of the Moon National Monument is a weird and wonderful lava landscape covering 1600 square kilometres. You can easily spend a morning exploring the many different areas, with highlights being the Indian Tunnel cave, the view from the top of the Inferno Cone and the Beauty Cave. Make sure you stop in at the visitor centre to read all about how the fields came about, and how four NASA astronauts including Alan Shepard from Apollo 14, visited Craters of the Moon in August 1969 to learn about volcanic geology.
You can go nuclear
Another place you can visit on the way to Craters is the tiny town of Arco. It is tiny and in the middle of nowhere which is probably why the Idaho National Laboratory Site was built here. As a result Arco was the first place in the place lit by nuclear energy. INL is one of the leading nuclear energy centres in the world and is also where you’ll find the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (EBR-I) Atomic Museum. This reactor was where the first and last nuclear accident in the USA occurred back in 1961 – it was decommissioned in 1964.
Stop off at Pickle’s Diner for good food and people watching and check out Number Hill just behind the town. Graduating classes from Butte County High School have been painting their year of graduation on the hill since 1920.
Fall for Twin Falls
We knew very little about Twin Falls before we went there, and were smitten as we drove over the bridge into town. Perrine Bridge spans the spectacular Snake River Canyon, which is absolutely gorgeous. You can explore the gorge from above and below. Start by hiking or biking along some of the 30 kilometres of tracks along the rim, and then drive down into Centennial Park at the bottom to go kayaking, hiking or just take in the sites of the pretty Perrine Coulee waterfall cascading down the side. At sunset, we take in the view from Elevation 486 restaurant on the rim, toasting the stunning view with a good glass of white. Even the bridge is worth a stop, its sexy arch a great backdrop for the base jumpers who are legally allowed to leap off.
Before you leave town, check out Shoshone Falls. They are bigger than Niagara at 64 metres, and are mesmerising. So are the sun-loving muskrats that hang out grazing by the road.
Get sand in your shoes at Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes State Park has the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America, with a peak rising 143 metres. You can rent a sand board and surf down the sides or see if you can run down it. A word of advice – if you do it in the middle of the day the sand can be really hot – so maybe leave your runners on. This park is also a Dark Sky area and the Bruneau Dunes Observatory is nearby – great for star spotting.
Boise has the world’s only falconry archive
Boise, capital of the state of Idaho, is home to the World Center for Birds of Prey, which is where the Peregrine Foundation is based. This foundation is the real deal and actually saved the peregrine falcon from extinction. Peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on Earth, reaching speeds of 290 kph as they dive down to grab their prey. The Foundation currently has 27 projects around the world to save endangered raptors, and have made huge strides to saving the California condor and are working on Mauritian kestrels – there were only four pairs left in the world. The Center has several raptors on display that have been injured and wouldn’t survive in the wild. One of the highlights is the world’s biggest falconry archive. Established with significant assistance by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the archive holds a host of falconry records, artifacts, falconry books, articles and essays, manuscripts, equipment, memorabilia, art, and a large media collection on this ancient sport. Falconry terms were used by William Shakespeare in his works, and many terms are now used in everyday life, including old codger, haggard, fed up, whistle her down the wind, and lure.
Find out more about the state of Idaho HERE.