Written by Cassandra Brooklyn
Idaho is known for a certain starchy tuber, but this oddly-shaped state also has a growing reputation for its international cuisine and outdoor adventures. The Gem State, so named in honor of the 72 precious and semi-precious gemstones and metals found here, is an adventurer’s paradise, boasting some of the best whitewater rafting and cycling in the country.
History and culture buffs will appreciate historic penitentiaries and the only Anne Frank Memorial in the U.S. Thanks to Boise’s refugee-welcoming program and small business support (Idaho has one of the largest numbers of resettled refugees in the country per capita), foodies can dig into some of the best Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American cuisine west of the Mississippi. Oh, and there’s also a hotel shaped like a beagle. Here are 8 of our favorite things to do on a road trip across Idaho.
Though you’ll find the vast majority of Holocaust memorials in Europe, the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial is located near downtown Boise. The memorial features a sculpture of Frank, the entire Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and dozens of quotes from activists, authors, politicians, and great thinkers memorializing the struggles against oppression and injustice. The memorial sits along the Boise River Greenbelt, which runs 25 miles along the Boise River. The Greenbelt is great for walking or biking, while the river is perfect for kayaking, rafting, and tubing (bikes, kayaks, and tubes are available to rent from local operators). While you’re downtown, swing by the Freak Alley Gallery, which started as a single drawing in 2002 and is now said to be the largest open-air mural gallery in the Northwest.
When the Old Idaho Penitentiary first opened its doors in 1872, it was home to some of the worst criminals in the West. It went on to hold convicted women (who eventually got their own unit) and children as young as 10 simply because there was nowhere else to house them. Virtually the entire prison is now on display, from cell blocks to gallows, and much of it has been preserved to look similar to how it did decades ago. The women’s ward tells the story of some of the country’s first known female serial killers. The men’s cell blocks dive into the crimes committed as well as anecdotes about talented prisoners who helped design the dining hall and paint the chapel. Be sure to check the penitentiary’s calendar for special events such as documentary film screenings and yoga classes.
St. Maries’ Heyburn Elementary School’s mascot, the largest in the state, has an interesting backstory. Standing 22 feet tall in front of the school, the lumberjack is a former oil company marketing ploy turned mascot. Half a century ago, the Texaco Oil Company produced these so-called “Big Friend” statues to promote their “Big Friend Service,” which included windshield cleaning and oil, radiator, and battery checks. Three hundred of the fiberglass statues were erected across the country, but after only a few months, service stations complained about how difficult it was to move the statues—not to mention the fact that they were also falling over during bad weather. It’s unclear how the statue arrived at the Heyburn Elementary (some say it was supposed to be installed at the Texaco station across from the school but was rejected since it was missing its feet, others say it was simply found in a field in 1967). Either way, the service man was transformed into a lumberjack by local artists, and has since become a beloved symbol of the city.
Idaho is known for its abundance of hot springs and while many are tucked into hard-to-reach wooded areas and forests, some are more accessible. One of these easier-to-access springs is The Springs Hot Springs Retreat in Idaho City, located about 45 minutes northeast of Boise. In keeping with hot springs traditions in the mountain states, the main pools resemble regular swimming pools, but the private pools (which can accommodate up to four people) are a bit more rustic and offer far more privacy. Though the private pools were constructed next to each other, the entries are curved in such a way that it’s impossible to see into the other pools (clothing is optional). Food and drinks are available and guests can either dine poolside, or in the onsite yurt, which is air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.
About 2 hours north of Boise is the town of McCall. Its population of 4,000 swells each summer and winter as visitors from all over the state come for boating, hiking, biking, skiing, and snowmobiling. Many attractions are walking or biking distance from downtown and the city operates a free shuttle so you don’t have to deal with parking. Ponderosa State Park, located near the main drag, has enough hiking and biking trails to keep you busy for a few days, but it’s also a great place to get out and just stretch your legs for an hour. Before jumping back in the car, stop at Ice Cream Alley, a shop known for “mountain size scoops,” unique flavors (try anything made with huckleberries), and long lines (get there early).
Whether you need a place to stay overnight or you’re just looking for a quirky photo op, the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho, is definitely one of the most unique accommodations you’ll find. The beagle-shaped inn is the brainchild of a wood-carving couple (one of whom is a self-taught chainsaw artist) who got their start selling carved dogs on QVC in the mid-’90s. For a one-of-a-kind souvenir, pop into the onsite Chainsaw Art Gallery for an individually carved and hand-painted piece of dog folk art. Each handicraft is made from local ponderosa pine that succumbed to old age, disease, lightning, or wind; no live trees are ever harvested for the couple’s art.
The lakeside town of Coeur d’Alene (pronounced core-da-lane) is named after the Indigenous people who were the original inhabitants of the region, and who still live here. Most river and lake activities are within walking distance of downtown, including kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, zip lining, and lake cruises. Tubbs Hill, a 10-minute walk from the main drag, is a popular hiking destination with plenty of scenic overlooks and swimming holes scattered along the waterfront trails.
The historic [Coeur d’Alene Carousel](https://cdacarousel.com/), hand carved in New York in 1922 and originally designed for traveling carnival use, was one of the main attractions at the city’s Playland Pier from 1942 to 1974. After the amusement park closed, the pier burned down, and the carousel went missing for a decade. When it resurfaced in 1986 at an auction, collectors restored it and sent it around the country for another 10 years. In 2010, a Coeur d’Alene local purchased the carousel and gifted it to the newly formed, non-profit Carousel Foundation.
About an hour north of Coeur d’Alene in the town of Sandpoint, Little Lady Liberty—a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty—graces the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. The lake, which is the deepest and largest in the state and the fifth-deepest in the country, is used for oceanic naval testing. The statue is 1/50th of the height of its famous New York City counterpart and was initially located in the private garden of a local resident; her family donated it to the city after her death.
Banner Photo Credit: Nancy Sewell