20 Things Idaho Is Known For

20 Things Idaho Is Known For

In the northwest corner of the United States, tucked between Washington State to the West, Montana to the East, and British Columbia to the North, is the oddly shaped state of Idaho. Idaho is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, from hikers to backpackers to campers; it is the perfect place to play outside. Idaho has rugged mountains, clear lakes, and an abundance of wildlife. It is a great place to wander and take in the natural beauty. If you are curious about learning more about Idaho, let’s take a look at all of the cool things Idaho is known for.

To compile this list, 24/7 Tempo consulted several travel websites, including Visit Idaho, Southwest Idaho Travel Association, National Park Service, National Geographic, Tourism Teacher, and The Idaho Statesman. (For more fun facts about Idaho, read The Strangest Food from Every State.)

1. Lake Couer d’ Alene

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Lake Couer d’Alene is located in northern Idaho, and it’s one of the absolute jewels of the state. The lake is a popular place for outdoor activities like swimming, boating, and fishing. It is the second largest lake in Idaho, twenty-five miles long and between one and three miles in width, with lots of shoreline to explore. There are plenty of boat launches and places to rent kayaks, paddleboards, and pontoon boats for the ultimate summer experience. When you come to visit the lake, you can set up a tent or hook up an RV at the different campgrounds along the lake. For those who prefer a more elegant experience, the Couer d ‘Alene Resort, a luxury spa and golf resort, sits right on the water and is a great place to stay while enjoying the lake.

There are other cool things, too, like the 72-mile paved bike trail called the Trail of the Couer d’Alene, which winds around part of the lake. The trail runs from Silver Valley and follows part of the lake shore through Wallace, Kellogg, and Harrison all the way to the town of Plummer. This is truly a pretty spot and worth a trip to northern Idaho.

2. Sun Valley

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Sun Valley is a region in Idaho best known for excellent winter snow skiing. The resort area is near the town of Ketchum. The alpine ski resort is on Bald Mountain, with another smaller mountain, Dollar Mountain, nearby. The skiing is so good in the area that celebrities and expert skiers alike have flocked to it over the years. One celebrity, bodybuilder turned actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger even has a ski run named after him.

Sun Valley isn’t just for wintertime fun. There is lots to do in the other seasons as well. The nearby Sun Valley Lake and Wood River offer plenty of spots for swimming, boating, and rafting. Spring and Fall are excellent times for hiking and fishing.

3. Potatoes

A delicious oven baked potato with sour cream and chives.
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Baked potato with sour cream and chives.

If you know only one thing about Idaho, it’s probably related to potatoes because Idaho is known for excellent-quality potatoes. Idaho farmers mostly grow Russett potatoes, the big ones that are perfect for baked potatoes. Each year, the state harvests 13 billion pounds of potatoes. While Idaho potatoes are mostly connected to Russets, they also grow 25 other varieties of potatoes. The Idaho Potato Commission certifies potatoes with the label Grown in Idaho, so be sure to look for that when buying potatoes.

The state is proud of its connection to the root vegetable, and there is even an Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho. One of the stars of the museum is a giant potato chip measuring around 25 inches by 14 inches and weighing 5 oz. It is just one of the fun potato-themed items at the museum. There is even an AirBnB for rent outside of Boise that is shaped like a large Russett potato—it’s called the Big Idaho Potato Hotel. The unique spot is one of Idaho’s more interesting places to visit.

4. Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon
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The Grand Cayon isn’t the only big canyon in the western United States. Along the Idaho/Oregon border is Hells Canyon. The canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, coming in at 7,993 feet. The 10-mile-wide canyon was formed by the Snake River, which is known for its excellent rapids for white water rafting and kayaking. Hells Canyon is part of the Hells Canyon Recreational Area, and visitors come from all over to hike, fish, swim, raft, and enjoy this beautiful wilderness area.

When you come to visit, it’s important to plan ahead. There are several campgrounds, RV spots, and yurts to stay in, but they fill up fast. And be sure to visit the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which celebrates the Nimiipuu, who are the original inhabitants of this sacred land.

5. Silver and Gold Rush

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Mining for silver and gold is originally what brought people to Idaho. The first gold was found in 1863, and from there, gold, silver, zinc, and other minerals have been mined all over the state. Some of the mines are still in operation, and some have been abandoned after they stopped being profitable. During the western expansion from the East Coast, mining was an important reason that people started moving west, and Idaho was a prized place to be.

Some of the old mines have been transformed into tourist attractions so that visitors can experience what mining was like way back then. One mine, the Sierra Silver Mine, in Wallace, Idaho, is open for educational tours. And Crystal Gold Mine is an underground gold mine near Kellogg, Idaho. It is open to the public and an impressive 900 feet underground. The gold mine was a functioning mine in the 1880s and then closed at some point. It was mostly a forgotten relic on the land, but in 1991, it was rediscovered and reopened as an educational mining excursion.

6. Hot Springs

Idaho Upper Boat Box hot springs above shack in winter
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Thermal hot springs are nature’s hot tubs, and Idaho has many different hot springs throughout the state. Some are remote, small hot springs that require some leg work and a little hike to get to, like Goldberg Hot Springs, and others are right on the side of the road, like Boat Box Hot Springs, while others are perfectly positioned for a rustic adventure with historic cabins. Many of the state’s hot springs are family-friendly hot spring pools that are easily accessible for families with little ones. The natural warm water springs are a great way to get to know Idaho and soak up the beauty of the state by soaking in the natural waters.

7. Star Garnets

A faint star effect is visible on the surface of the pyrope garnet.
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Star garnets are semi-precious, naturally occurring gemstones. They get their name from an optical illusion that makes them appear to resemble a star. The multi-rayed light reflection on their surface is an optical phenomenon called “asterism.” In Idaho, star garnets are found in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and the Emerald Creek Garnet Area. Their beauty and unique features have made star garnets the Idaho state gem, and surprisingly, these gemstones are only found in Idaho and India. The stone can have three, four, or six rays from the center; the ones with six rays are the rarest of star garnets.

8. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is located in central Idaho in the Snake River Plain between the town of Carey and Arco. The area is made up of three lava fields with a variety of volcanic features. Visiting this area feels like stepping out onto the moon with crater formations and basaltic rocks jutting out of the earth. The region is popular for hiking and cave exploring. The preserve is open year-round, but the best time to visit is in spring or summer when the weather is mild. The summer is hot, and hikers need to have plenty of water. The winters are cold and snowy, making the preserve a popular place for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

9. Huckleberries

close up of a woman'ss hands holding a bunch of fresh ripe huckleberries in the shape of a heart over a rustic wooden background
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Potatoes aren’t the only produce from Idaho. The state also has huckleberries. Huckleberries are the official state fruit and grow wild throughout the state. These purplish red berries are similar to blueberries but have a tart taste, more like a cherry. They grow wild on shrubs and are impossible to cultivate. Locals forage for wild huckleberries in late July through early October. These prized little fruits can be made in all kinds of desserts and jams. Locals use them to make soap, shampoo, and natural skin care products, too. If you have never had these truly wild little berries, you need to befriend a local who is willing to share their foraging spot or head to the local farmers market where you can get a gallon for anywhere between $80 to 100 dollars, depending on the season.

10. Hemingway


The writer Ernest Hemingway has strong ties to the state of Idaho. He was a big game hunter, fly fisherman and nature lover. The prolific writer came to Idaho in 1939 and, throughout the years, spent time in Sun Valley. He returned to Idaho in the summer of 1960 when his home in Cuba became unsafe due to political unrest. He lived in Ketchum, Idaho, in a house on 13.9 acres of property with his fourth wife, Mary.

Hemingway only lived in Ketchum for one year because in the summer of 1961, after battling severe depression, he took his own life in the Ketchum home. His wife stayed in the home until her death in 1986. Today, the house and land it is on are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hemingway fans can take a virtual tour of the home. In 2019, the Hemingway Writer in Residence program was initiated. It is an invitation-only writers residency. The house and property are not open to the public.

11. Sawtooth Mountains

Source: Charles Knowles from Meridian Idaho, USA / Wikimedia Commons

The Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho are part of the Rocky Mountains. There are a whopping 57 peaks with elevations ranging from 10,000 to 10,751. These towering mountains are part of the Sawtooth Recreational Area. The area is a well-known and well-loved part of Idaho known for world-class hiking, fishing, kayaking, mountain climbing, and bird watching. The entire recreation area is 756,000 acres, and there are 400 alpine lakes to explore. But the outdoor fun here isn’t just for summertime; in the winter, there are plenty of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobile trials. It really is a breathtaking landscape.

12. Basque Block

Flags waving on a historic building in downtown Boise's Basque district
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You don’t have to go all the way to Spain to learn about Basque country; you can visit a neighborhood in Boise, Idaho, and learn about the culture, food, and people of Basque. If you are unfamiliar with Basque country, it is an autonomous region in Northern Spain with strong cultural traditions and a unique language. And the neighborhood in Boise is all about honoring the Basque traditions and teaching others about their culture. Surprisingly, Boise is one of the biggest Basque communities outside of Europe, with close to 16,000 people. Basque Block is in downtown Boise and has shops and restaurants dedicated to everything Basque. One of the most important places in the Basque Block is the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. To learn more about this Basque culture and try some amazing Basque food, you need to get to Boise.

13. White Water Rafting

Whitewater kayaking on the Lochsa River, Idaho
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White water rafting is not for the faint of heart. It is a thrilling outdoor activity with a hint of danger, which makes it so much fun. Idaho has some of the best white water rafting in the country. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or experienced white water rafter, the state has something for you. Throughout Idaho, there are different white water rafting companies that can guide you and your friends on a great adventure on the water. From world-class rapids on the Snake River in Hells Canyon to milder runs on the Salmon River, Idaho offers a white water rafting experience for everyone.

14. The Gem State

collage from various tumbled gemstones with names isolated on white background
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Surprisingly, Idaho is not called the potato state; instead, Idaho is known as the Gem State for all of the precious stones hiding in its mountains. Idaho has 72 different types of semi-precious and precious gemstones. With over 240 different minerals, from A for acanthite to Z for zoisite, the state is the place to visit and see for yourself all of the gemstones.

15. Finger Steaks

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The popular Idaho food, finger steaks, tastes much better than they sound. Finger steaks are strips of steak that are battered and deep-fried, similar to a chicken fried steak. They are usually served with French fries and Texas toast. You can find Idaho finger steaks throughout the state, and if you haven’t tried them, you are in for a treat.

16. Priest Lake

Sandy beach at Priest Lake Idaho with small waves in clear blue water, blue sky's and trees and forest in the background during summer season.
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Hidden up in northern Idaho is one of the most beautiful lakes, Priest Lake. Priest Lake is two lakes connected by a thoroughfare that stretches two and a half miles. The lake is open year-round for outdoor activities like swimming, boating, kayaking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor activities. There are a handful of resorts and campgrounds around the lake. The upper part of the lake is only accessible by hiking or boating through the narrow thoroughfare. The lake is one of the hidden gems of the Gem State.

17. Idaho Rainbow Trout

Area trout fishing. Caught rainbow trout fish in water on hook
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Fishing in Idaho isn’t just a hobby. It’s a way of life for locals. The cutthroat trout is the Idaho state fish, but Idaho is also home to rainbow, steelhead, and bull trout. The trout fishing in Idaho is among the best in the northwest. So when you head to Idaho, bring your fishing pole. Idaho is even part of the Western Native Trout Challenge. This is a fun challenge where participants can register for one of three levels: expert, advanced, or master, and they must catch a certain number of species across various states in the Northwest, including Idaho. The money raised in the challenge goes to conservation efforts. There is no time limit, and the challenge is a fun way to get outdoors and go fishing.

18. Oregon Trail

Covered Oregon Trail wagon exhibit at Scotts Bluff National Monument
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Replica government covered wagons along the old Oregon Trail at the foot of Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Pioneers set out on the Oregon Trail between 1840 and 1870, looking for a better life, land, and opportunities. But instead, they met harsh weather and challenging conditions. The Oregon Trail went from Missouri to Oregon. It passed through southwestern Idaho, where today, there are several historical places to visit and learn about the pioneers and their wagon trains.

19. Ghost towns

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Idaho has no shortage of ghost towns. Throughout the state, more than a hundred small towns and settlements were abandoned. Many of these towns were mining towns that brought in miners and gold prospectors, and once the natural riches dried up, everyone left, and just the building and what little infrastructure remained. These ghost towns make for interesting road trips to take a look into the past. Some of the more famous ghost towns are Silver City, Idaho City, Burke, and Custer. If you like history with a sprinkle of ghosts, then head to Idaho to check out these ghost towns.

20. Fry Sauce

Rose Sauce / Fry Sauce Dip - Bowl of dipping sauce made with ketchup and mayonnaise. Shot from above on a white background.
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It makes sense that the state that produces 13.8 billion tons of potatoes per year would also invent a tasty fry sauce to go with them. Idaho gets the credit for creating fry sauce. The iconic dipping sauce, perfect for French fries, was invented in Idaho and is readily available at any restaurant, food truck, and grocery store. The sauce is a simple mix of ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, onion powder, and sugar and salt. The pinkish-orange sauce is the best thing to ever happen to French fries.

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