611 votes

Old Idaho Penitentiary

2445 Old Penitentiary Rd, Boise, Idaho 83712 USA

Open Now
Thu 12p-5p
  • Independent
  • Credit Cards
  • Wheelchair
  • Public
  • Outdoor
Add to Trip
Remove Ads

“Experience over 100 years of Idaho’s unique prison history”

Idaho State Penitentiary Tour is considered by many to be the most haunted building in the state, and even though the jail opened its cells in the 1870s, things didn't really get cooking until 1935 when it became one of the most violent penitentiaries in America… and some of those desperate criminals are still there today. Nicknamed the "Old Pen", it was officially opened in 1872, and during the 101 years in service it saw well over 13,000 inmates 215 of which were women. For most of the early years that the prison was functioning the inmates were well behaved, and there was very little violence. It wasn't until the mid 1930s that behavior began to change. The Idaho State Pen saw many riots during its days, many of which were about the state of the living conditions that the inmates were subjected to. Many of the cells were outdated and overcrowded, and when the prisoners finally had enough, they revolted. In 1973, 413 inmates were taken to the Idaho State Correctional Institution after a riot to lessen the contained population. Unfortunately, it didn't stop the violence, and on December 3, 1973 the Idaho State Penitentiary closed its doors after it was destroyed in a riot fire... and for years afterwards it sat abandoned. Whispers about the jail's unexplainably strange experiences began to precede its reputation, and paranormal investigators started making the trek to spend the night exploring the dark corridors and dank jail cells. What they began experiencing were things they couldn't explain... Many who have had strange encounters with the jail report the feeling of unexplainable sadness. More often than not, people experience high-levels of anxiety and dread, and quite a few visitors have left the building in tears. Some say they've been touched by invisible hands, or hear whispers when there is no one around to make a sound. One of the other common experiences visitors tend to have while exploring the penitentiary are hearing the sounds of unexplainable noises that come from every nook and cranny of the building. Visitors and staff hear the haunting sounds of inmates from the past screaming a whaling deep in the prison, and when they go to investigate there is no one there. The prison is believed to be so haunted, in fact, it was even featured on an episode of the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures. Today all the inmates are gone (the living ones, anyway) and the jail is open to the general public, offering guided tours for groups as young as forth grade. If you love the history, but aren't interested in the ghost stories, the ISP also hosts some pretty amazing exhibits dedicated to one of the nation's largest arms and military memorabilia. The exhibit also includes "...ancient Luristan bronzes, medieval arms and armor, Revolutionary War firearms and swords, Civil War artifacts, and an 1883 Gatling gun on its original carriage. Pistols, rifles, machine guns, mortars, and cannons from many of the countries involved in World Wars I and II are also featured." Guests are invited to take a peek at the penitentiaries chronological and indexed catalogs that cover photographs, mug shots, and history's on the inmates who lived and in some cases died during their stay at ISP. -Roadtrippers The Old Idaho Penitentiary opened its doors in 1872 to some of the West’s most desperate criminals. Today, visitors can experience over 100 years of Idaho’s unique prison history with a visit to Solitary Confinement, cell blocks, and the Gallows. The Old Idaho Penitentiary features thirty historic buildings and special exhibitions including the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit of Arms and Armaments. Events and programs provide families, school groups, and visitors an opportunity to relive the Old Pen's exciting past of daring escapes, scandals, and executions. The Old Idaho Penitentiary is part of the Idaho State Historical Society and is open year round; please call for hours of operation, tour times, and admission fees.

Read More >
Add Review
Your Rating

Reviewed by
Dana Newkirk

  • Road Warrior
  • 298 Reviews
  • 369 Helpful
September 12, 2014
Rated 4.0

If you get the chance to visit the jail make sure you see the inmate records because they're amazing! The entire exhibit has detailed accounts of many of the men and women who did hard time at the penitentiary, and it includes stories about their lives and pictures of each and every one. It's a very cool piece of curated history.

2 people found this review helpful

Reviewed by

  • 1 Review
  • 1 Helpful
August 08, 2014

This was a neat piece of Idaho history. it costs $5 for adults and $3 for children. we brought our 9 year old son and 13 year old daughter and both of them were interested in the stories of the criminals jailed there and their living conditions. It is worth the hour it takes to go through... plus the bonus weapons museum was interesting too.

1 person found this review helpful

Reviewed by
Lesli Peterson

  • Blogger
  • 786 Reviews
  • 30 Helpful
February 15, 2022
Rated 5.0

At the Old Idaho Penitentiary, you can take a walk through Idaho’s dark criminal past! The prison turned museum first opened its doors in 1872, and during its tenure as the State Penitentiary, it housed some of the most infamous criminals in the West!

It's an interesting museum and well-worth the stop. We think a visit here is one of the best things you can do in Boise.

Was this helpful?

Reviewed by
Sandy D

  • 7 Reviews
  • 1 Helpful
July 05, 2021
Rated 5.0

This is a great place to visit. There are plenty of signs and info points about, and the half hour presentation by a guide rocks! There is a bonus weapons museum which was air-conditioned and really interesting. I expected the $6 entry fee would mean I’d spend about 30min there but I spent more than 2 hours! I highly recommend it.

Was this helpful?

Reviewed by

  • 3 Reviews
  • 5 Helpful
October 26, 2017
Rated 5.0

We found this place to be very well worth the money, only $6. You could zoom through it and about an hour or two or you can spend a good amount of the day there reading all of the need information. In addition, something they don't advertise is the really cool weapons collection ranging from the Spanish-American War all the way to the Vietnam War.

Was this helpful?

Reviewed by

  • 3 Reviews
  • 0 Helpful
September 15, 2016
Rated 5.0

This place was so interesting and worth the stop! It's cheap and you get to walk around and read a lot of interesting stories. Time well spent

Was this helpful?

Reviewed by

  • 2 Reviews
  • 0 Helpful
July 01, 2016
Rated 4.0

Very interesting and tons of historic items left over from the inmates after the prison closed that were fun to look at. The tour took about an hour and a half, but it was well worth it. Good price for everything you get to see.

Was this helpful?

Be the first to add a review to the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

Old Idaho Penitentiary

2445 Old Penitentiary Rd
Boise, Idaho
83712 USA


Open now until 5:00 pm
  • Sun - Sat: 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Problem with this listing? Let us know.

  • Parking
  • Pets Allowed
  • Restrooms
  • Wifi
  • Wheelchair Accessible
  • Credit Cards Accepted
  • Outdoor Seating
See More Details (13)

Parking, Dining

Remove Ads

Nearby Hotels

Nampa, Idaho

Click to discover a
great deal!

Boise, Idaho
Boise, Idaho

Related Trip Guides

Remove Ads