Places of Interest in Idaho

Idaho is a Rocky Mountain State with large unspoiled areas of natural beauty, it’s landscape includes snow-capped mountains, canyons, huge lakes and rapids and rugged cliffs. The Snake River gushes through Hells Canyon which is the deepest gorge in the U.S. and the waters of the Shoshone Falls plunge from a greater height than that of Niagra Falls.

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The Lewis and Clark Trail

Sacajawea served as interpreter for explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark through northern Idaho to the mouth of the Columbia River drainage. Today, Highway 12 follows the old Lewis and Clark Trail along the Lochsa (pronounced lock-saw) and Clearwater rivers until they merge with the Snake and continue the journey to the Pacific Ocean. A Lewis and Clark Trail brochure is available by contacting the U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Ranger District, Tel:(406) 329-3750, Fax: (406) 329-1049.

Farragut State Park (Athol)

During World War II, Farragut State Park was the second-largest U.S. naval training center in the country. Approximately 293,000 sailors were processed in 15 months, and approximately 850 German POW’s were housed and employed as gardeners and maintenance men. The park museum contains natural history exhibits, Navy photographs and rosters where former recruits can find their names. Contact: Farragut State Park, 13400 E. Ranger Road, Athol, ID 83801; Tel: (208) 683-2425.

Cataldo Mission (Coeur d’Alene)

The Coeur d’Alene Indians constructed the Cataldo Mission in 1850 under the direction of Father Ravalli, a Jesuit missionary. The mission walls stand a foot thick, and the structure was built totally without nails, using woven straw, adobe mud and pegs to secure the walls and ceiling. Living history demonstrations and the visitor center are must-sees. The “Coming of the Black Robes” pageant is held in August. Contact: Cataldo Mission, P.O. Box 30, Cataldo, ID 83810; Tel: (208) 682-3814, Fax: (208) 682-4032.

Wallace, Murray and Prichard

Mining was the lifeblood of Wallace’s existence until recently. The entire town, established in 1892, served as supply center for one of the largest silver producing areas in the world in the late 1800s. Today, the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Northern Pacific Depot, an architectural gem, and the Coeur d’Alene District Mining Museum serve as interpretive centers for regional history. The Oasis Bordello Museum provides a more colorful perspective of the town’s past, and the Sierra Silver Mine gives a good feel for the life of an underground miner. Located in the Idaho Panhandle near Wallace, Murray and Prichard are full of history of the early mines that put Idaho on the map. A loop tour of the area is the best way to view the towns. Be prepared to feel the Wild West come to life. Contact: Wallace Chamber of Commerce, 10 River St., Exit 61, Wallace, ID 83873; Tel: (208) 753-7151, Fax: (208) 753-5072.

The Nez Perce National Historical Park and Trail

Formerly a Nez Perce mission location, developed two years after missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding settled on Lapwai Creek in 1836, today this site serves as National Park Service headquarters and contains a major interpretive center to explain Nez Perce history. Pursued by the Army, the “nontreaty” Nez Perce initially left Idaho to seek safety with their Crow allies on the plains to the east. When this failed, flight to Canada became their only hope. Their long desperate and circuitous route through Idaho into Oregon and Montana, as they traveled and fought to escape pursuing white forces, is what we now call the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Although the route was used in its entirety only once, component trails and roads that made up the route bore generations of use prior to or after the 1877 flight of the nontreaty Nez Perce. At the Whitebird Battleground, a small group of Nez Perce Indians repelled a larger United States Army force that came down to drive them away in 1877. This battleground is of exceptional public interest because of its unusual geography and history. Contact: Nez Perce National Historical Park, Route 1 Box 100, Spalding, ID 83551; Tel: (208) 843-2261, Fax: (208) 843-2001.

Three Island Crossing: Idaho’s Oregon Trail Center

Upon reaching the Three Island ford, emigrants had a difficult decision to make. Should they risk the dangerous crossing of the Snake River, or endure the dry, rocky route along the south bank of the river? The rewards of a successful crossing were a shorter route, more potable water and better feed for the stock. About half attempted to cross by using the gravel bars that extended across the river. Not all were successful. Many casualties are recounted in pioneer diaries. Today, Three Island Crossing looks remarkably like it did when emigrants and American Indians encountered it more than 150 years ago. Learn more about these two fascinating cultures at the new center, which offers interactive exhibits, a gift shop, future genealogical library and conference room. Visitors will be encouraged to take a self-guided tour, see wagon replicas, view the Snake River or rent a tepee for an overnight stay.

National Oregon/California Trail Center (Montpeilier)

At the Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, visitors ride in a computer-controlled covered wagon and enjoy a real encampment next to a waterfall, all inside on actual Oregon Trail soil. Original murals depict the journey along with a re-creation of the old Clover Creek Wagon Encampment and interactive experiences in the mercantile, blacksmithing and gun shops.

The Paris Tabernacle (Paris)

This place of worship is recognized as one of the true pioneer landmarks of the West and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1889, this Romanesque Mormon tabernacle was constructed of red sandstone that had to be transported by wagon or sled from a quarry 18 miles away. A free, self-guided tour reveals intricate wood ceilings and stone carvings. A small museum houses heirlooms and objects of art left by the homesteaders. Guided tours are also available. Contact: Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, 109.S. Main St., Paris, ID 83261; Tel: (800) 448-2327 or (208) 945-2333, Fax: (208) 945-2072; E-mail:

Bear River Massacre Historic Landmark and Monument (Bear Lake)

This National Historic Landmark is located in the Cache Valley along U.S. 91. Very few Indians survived an attack when the California Volunteers trapped and wiped out the Cache Valley Shoshone in 1863. With a loss of about 400, they met the greatest Indian disaster in the entire West. Contact: Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 26, 2661 U.S. Highway 89, Fish Haven, ID 83287; Tel: (800) 448-BEAR or (208) 945-2333, Fax: (208) 945-2072; Email:

Wyeth’s Fort Hall Site (Fort Hall)

Fort Hall was originally a fur traders’ post and later a refuge for Oregon Trail emigrants. Located on the Fort Hall Reservation, the original site is fenced and permission to visit must be obtained from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe. The Fort Hall Museum, also located on the Fort Hall Reservation, has a marvelous collection of Indian artifacts, books and photos. Eight miles south in Pocatello’s Ross Park, the Fort Hall Replica gives travelers an idea of what the fort was like in its early days. Contact: Pocatello Convention and Visitors Bureau, 324 S. Main Suite B, P.O. Box 626, Pocatello, ID 83204, Tel: (877) 922-7659, Fax: (208) 233-1527.

Massacre Rocks State Park (American Falls)

Located a couple of miles west of American Falls, thousands of emigrants passed safely through this break in the rocks before 10 were killed in an 1862 skirmish. Wagon ruts are visible for miles. Park displays and interpretive trails tell the history of the area. Contact: Massacre Rocks State Park, 3592 N. Park Lane, American Falls, ID 83211; (208) 548-2672.

City of Rocks (Burley)

A California Trail site of exceptional interest, the City of Rocks is a place of geological enchantment. A rock climber’s paradise, this National Historic Landmark is located 50 miles south of Burley. Contact: City of Rocks National Reserve, 3010 Elba-Almo, P.O. Box 169, Almo, ID 83312; Tel: (208) 824-5910, Fax: (208) 824-5563.

Idaho Historical Museum (Boise)

For an overview of Idaho history, a visit to the Idaho State Historical Museum in Boise’s Julia Davis Park is a good bet. Exhibits change periodically and special events are held throughout the year. The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Contact: Idaho Historical Museum, 610 N. Julia Davis Drive, Boise, ID 83702; Tel: (208) 334-2120, Fax: (208) 334-4059.

Old Idaho Penitentiary (Boise)

The names Harry Orchard and Diamondfield Jack still echo through the halls of the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a fascinating Boise tourist attraction that offers one of the most informative prison tours in the West. The cornerstone of the “Old Pen” was set in 1870. The last prisoners were moved from the prison in 1973. Built of sandstone quarried by prisoners sentenced to hard labor, the prison is open to visitors to walk through the courtyards, cells, gallows and the coolers, where prisoners were sentenced to solitary confinement. Visitors can also see the Museum of Electricity and the Idaho Transportation Museum within the walls. The Idaho Botanical Garden is located nearby. Contact: Old Idaho Penitentiary, 2445 Old Penitentiary Rd. Boise, ID 83712; Tel: (208) 334-2682, Fax: (208) 334-3225.

Idaho City

Located in the Boise Basin 38 miles north of Boise, Idaho City was once the largest town in the Pacific Northwest. Placerville and Centerville were Idaho City’s neighbors and between them, formed a rip-roaring gold mining area, rivaling anything the California ’49ers created. Today Placerville and Centerville are relatively quiet areas. Idaho City has been rebuilt, with some original buildings still in use. Visitors can browse the local museum and arts and crafts center and see hand-carved woodwork, pottery and quilts made by the Boise Basin Quilters. A tourist information center is located on Highway 21 at the town entrance. Idaho City has several celebrations every year to relive its history. Contact: Idaho City Chamber of Commerce, 2 Main St., Idaho City, ID 83631; Tel: (208) 392-4159.

Silver City

Located in the Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho, Silver City produced $40 million in gold and silver during its mining heyday. About 40 buildings, including the Idaho Hotel, “the finest in the territory,” still stand along Jordan and Washington streets. The Idaho Hotel is occasionally open for business. Contact: Idaho Hotel, Jordan Street, Silver City, ID 83650; Tel: (208) 583-4104.

The Ski Lifts of Sun Valley

Designed by a Union Pacific Railroad engineer to make ski resorts practical when Sun Valley Lodge opened in 1936, these initial ski lifts are of substantial historic interest. The original lift is still standing and can be seen from Sun Valley Road. Contact: Visit Sun Valley, P.O. Box 4934, Ketchum, ID 83340; Tel: (208) 726-3423 or (800) 634-3347, Fax: (208) 726-4533.

Land of the Yankee Fork State Park (Challis)

Located at the junction of Idaho Highways 75 and 93, this magnificent center contains interpretive information on historic central Idaho mines and on the role mining played in the state’s development. The center is also the gateway to several ghost towns. Custer, a gold-mining ghost town on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River 10 miles north of Sunbeam on Highway 75, was a thriving community of the late 1870s. Today, the old Custer schoolhouse is used as a museum, which is open to visitors from June to September each year by the U.S. Forest Service and the Friends of Custer. Visitors can walk through the old Empire Saloon, take a self-guided tour of the town and see a slide show in the old Opera House about Custer history. Two miles north of the ghost town of Bonanza and the massive Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, which operated on the Yankee Fork off and on from 1940 to 1952, the dredge is open for guided tours each summer. Contact: The Land of the Yankee Fork State Park, P.O. Box 1086, Junction at Highways 75 & 93, Challis, ID 83226; Tel: (208) 879-5244, Fax: (208) 879-5243.

The Railroad Ranch (Eastern Idaho)

In 1902, several Oregon Shortline Railroad magnets and other investors purchased what is now Harriman State Park. Called the “Railroad Ranch,” the property was the private retreat of wealthy families like the Harrimans and Guggenheims. E.R. Harriman and his brother Averell arranged to preserve their important family ranch as an impressive part of Idaho’s park system. Twenty-seven buildings from the cookhouse to the horse barn are still intact. Ranch tours are available. Contact: Harriman State Park, 3489 Green Canyon Road, Island Park, ID 83429; Tel: (208) 558-7368; Fax: (208) 558-7045.

Information Courtesy of VisitIdaho

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