Adjacent to Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho boasts a smorgasbord of natural wonders, from rugged mountains to farmlands, from thick forests to deserts. The state, which stretches from the top of Nevada to the Canadian border, offers abundant outdoor recreational opportunities -- from mountain biking to skiing, from whitewater rafting to backpacking -- and scenic vistas. The allure is such that more than 20 million tourists visit annually. It is said that even those residents of the state’s largest cities can go fly-fishing or take a river walk during their lunch hour.
Boise, the state capital, is at the center of the state’s largest metropolitan area, with a population of more than 500,000. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls connect across the border to Spokane, Wash., making up the state’s other large metropolitan area. In between are vast farmlands in the Snake River Plain. Of course, Idaho is the nation’s top producer of potatoes, along with trout.
Idaho’s history lies with its native tribes, the Lewis & Clark Expedition and pioneers on the Oregon Trail.
Visitors to Idaho often choose to stay in a guest ranch to appreciate the mountain vistas and get a taste of the Old West. The Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, for example, is a 1,000-acre property surrounded by the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest protected wilderness area in the lower 48 states. Guests can hike, ride horses, mountain bike, fish, whitewater raft and splash around in a natural hot springs. The ranch accommodates 50 people in lodge rooms and cabins. Gourmet meals are made from fresh, local products.
Another ranch, the Linn Canyon Ranch, is located in the Teton Mountains, about 30 minutes from Jackson, Wyo. Offerings include sunset horseback rides, cowboy campfire dinners and nightly bonfires. Kids can choose to sleep in platform tents located in an apple orchard and aspen grove.
Idaho boasts more than 100 natural hot springs. Some are completely untouched, while others have developed pools with temperatures that range from 90 to 130 degrees. Lava Hot Springs in Southeastern Idaho was once a winter village site for Native Americans. Even on the coldest winter days, the hot pools average a steamy 107 degrees. The cost of a day pass is just $7.50 per person.
Burgdorf Hot Springs is both a hot springs and ghost town. Established in 1870 and located near the historic town of Warren, this hot springs features two sandy-bottom pools near the remnants of cabins and an old hotel. Burgdorf offers 18 rustic cabins for rent for $27 per person, per night, and access to the springs costs $5.30 per adult.
Idaho also offers plenty of other active options. In northern Idaho, the Trail of the Hiawatha is a 14-mile bike trail along an old 1900s railroad route. The trail goes through 10 tunnels and across seven high trestles, across the Bitterroot Mountains and Idaho/Montana state line. The Snake River offers great fly-fishing in Ketchum and Sun Valley, and local outfitters can customize a guided trip. Many Idaho outfitters and guest ranches also offer horseback riding lessons and tours.
East of Sun Valley, the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is 750,000 acres of lava flows that look like the surface of the moon. Bruneau Dune is the tallest single-structure sand dune in North America with a small lake at its base.