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The Gem State

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The desolate yet starkly beautiful Craters of the Moon National Monument and Thousand Springs Scenic Route are fascinating neighbors to the stunning mountains of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the lushly forested northern Idaho glaciated lakes.

A spectacular and impressive state, Idaho offers Hells Canyon-deeper than the Grand Canyon; Shoshone Falls-higher than Niagara Falls; and the Bruneau Sand Dunes-larger than the dunes of Death Valley.

The last state to be explored by EuroAmericans is a place renown for its scenic beauty and outdoor recreation in natural settings of incredible contrast.

Idaho has the most designated wilderness area outside of Alaska, and with more than 3,100 whitewater river miles (5000 km), no other state can claim as many diverse recreational rivers.

In all this wilderness, luxury can be found in the resort settings of Coeur d'Alene, Sun Valley and McCall, at a dude ranch, or on a river rafting trip complete with fine wine and gourmet food.

Idaho is half-way between the Equator and the North Pole on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, with an abundance of sunshine and deep blue skies, even in the midst of winter. Idaho changes with the seasons. Expect fresh snow in the winter, wildflower and wildlife viewing in the spring, ideal water sports and camping in the summer, and perfect traveling weather with gorgeous fall colors in September and October.


Northern Idaho

The northern part of Idaho, called 'The Panhandle,' borders Canada to the north, Washington to the west, and Montana to the east. This four-season wonderland is filled with crystal-clear lakes like Pend Oreille, Coeur d'Alene and Priest. Rivers, glacial valleys and pristine forests are all gently placed in a panoramic mountainous setting.

In the midst of all this natural beauty are wonderful resort towns like Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint with experienced, congenial hosts capable of offering the ultimate experience in dining, shopping and a variety of cultural activities.

Historic towns such as Wallace and Kellogg offer authentic touring opportunities of these colorful mining boomtowns, with a wealth of charming architecture and fascinating museums. These two towns are also the gateway to the Route of the Hiawatha bike trail and part of the 73 mile Trail of the Coeur d' Alenes.

Population: 1,393,266

Area: 83,557 square miles (216,413 square kilometers)

Capitol: Boise

Highest Point: Borah Peak 12,662 feet (3859 meters)

Lowest Point: Snake River 770 feet (216 meters)
Time Zones: Mountain/Pacific
Minimum Age for Drivers: 16
Alcoholic Beverage Laws: Beer and wine sold in grocery stores. Liquor sold by package in state liquor stores and by drink in any licensed establishment. No sales by drink 2 am - 10 am. Legal age: 21. Interstate import limit: two quarts/person.
Local Taxes: State-wide sales tax is 5 percent. There is a 2 percent hotel and private campground tax, with local options to levy up to an additional 5 percent.

Nez Perce County

Traveling south, you'll find the land considered 'paradise' by Lewis and Clark, the first EuroAmerican explorers to visit the area. This is a land renowned for the roaring white waters of the Lochsa, the Snake, the Clearwater, and the Salmon 'River of No Return.' The Seven Devils Mountain Range towers high enough to overlook four states. Hells Canyon plunges to the deepest depths in North America. From the rolling flowered hills of the Palouse Range to the dense green of the Bitterroot forests, history and hospitality invite exploration. North-central Idaho is the home of the Nez Perce Indian Nation. Several sites across the countryside commemorate the rich history of the Nez Perce. It is also the home of the famous Appaloosa horse, as well as the new 'Nez Perce' breed developed by the tribe.

Southwestern Idaho

Southwestern Idaho is a land rich in culture, history and recreation of infinite variety. It begins with agricultural valleys of corn, mint and alfalfa fields. Wineries and fruit orchards lead to the state's dynamic capital city of Boise. An hour's drive in any direction changes your world. To the south is a rugged high mountain desert of the Owyhees, ancient Indian rock drawings, and the World Center for Birds of Prey. 100km to the north, lush forest, cascading white water, and serene mountain lakes come alive in the Cascade and McCall area. Winter enthusiasts are drawn to southwestern Idaho's two ski areas, Bogus Basin, Brundage Mountain and the new four season Tamarack Resort, all with family orientated alpine and nordic skiing facilities.

Moving east, one discovers Bruneau Dunes State Park, where North America's tallest sand dunes are found. Continuing east is Glenns Ferry, site of the annual wagon train crossing of the Oregon Trail at Three Island Crossing State Park, which houses the National Oregon/California Trail Center. Farther east, the scenic Hagerman Valley is home to the mysterious Thousand Springs, Hagerman Fossil Beds and Buhl, the 'Trout Capital of the World.' Hagerman Fossil Beds feature fossils of exotic predecessors to the horse, camel and other prehistoric animals. East from there, one finds Twin Falls and Perrine Bridge, the site of Evil Knievel's unsuccessful attempt to jump the Snake River. Nearby, Shoshone Falls plunges over 212 feet (70m), which is 52 feet (15m) higher than America's famous Niagara Falls.

Many of the ruts of the Oregon Trail can still be found throughout southern Idaho. Relive pioneer life in Montpelier at the National Oregon/California Trail Center and at the replica of Fort Hall in the city of Pocatello. Enjoy the taste of the carbonated spring water so popular with the Oregon Trail emigrants, right at the source. Then be sure not to miss the sight of a geyser's spout in Soda Springs, the only captive geyser in the world. Nearby, complete your day with a soak in the hot mineralStanley Lake pools of Lava Hot Springs or enjoy traditional and modern Indian culture with the Shoshone and Bannock tribal enterprises at Fort Hall Reservation.

Eastern and Central Idaho

Eastern Idaho is rich with farm and ranch recreational opportunities. The lovely and cultural town of Idaho Falls, on the Snake River is a natural when planning Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park tours. On the way to the parks, visitors should seek out St. Anthony Sand Dunes, which is 35 miles long and five miles wide, and see Upper Mesa Falls just off of U.S. 20 where water plunges 114 feet (35m).

The Continental Divide surrounds Henry's Lake where fishing is a passion. Henry's Lake drains into the world-famous fly-fishing haven, Henry's Fork of the Snake River. More superlative fly fishing is to be found heading back west toward the Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek.

As you travel into central Idaho, be sure to visit the strange and eerie Craters of the Moon National Monument. This desolate moonscape reveals the region's violent age of volcanoes. In central Idaho, we find Sun Valley, site of the first destination ski resort in North America. Sun Valley and Ketchum delight visitors throughout the world with a multitude of year-round activities.

Sawtooth Mountains

Sun Valley is the gateway to the spectacular Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which is the heart of Idaho's Central Rockies. There are over 300 high-alpine lakes in this region, popular for Sawtooth Mountainsfishing, swimming and camping. Thirty-six campgrounds are nestled into this pristine recreation area, so crowds are not a problem. Lodging from Stanley to Salmon ranges from first-rate guest ranches to secluded rustic cabins on the banks of the mighty Salmon River. Licensed outfitters and guides offer half-day to multi-day whitewater adventure trips or trail rides and horsepack trips into the wilderness.

This country has molded a unique Idaho persona: a combination of the western cowboy, spiritual Native American, industrious pioneer, hearty mountain man, and environmentally sensitive river runner. Idahoans are proud, hospitable and innovative. It is to their credit that a state can offer dramatic scenic diversity and limitless outdoor recreation for the enjoyment of discerning travelers.

Little Known Facts about Idaho

  • Native American tribes that call this place home are the Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce, Kootenai, Shoshone, Bannock and Piute.
  • The world's first alpine skiing chairlift is located in Sun Valley. Built by Union Pacific Railroad engineers, it was designed after a banana-boat loading device. The 1936 'fee' was 25 cents per ride.
  • One of the deepest river gorges in the North American continent is Idaho's Hell's Canyon , 900 feet (2400m) deep. Yes, it is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
  • Five of history's pioneer trails, including the Oregon Trail and the California Trail, cross Southern Idaho. Wagon ruts are still visible all along the rugged terrain.
  • Nearly 70% of the commercial trout sold in the United States are produced in the Hagerman Valley near Twin Falls.
  • Butch Cassidy robbed the bank in Montpelier, Idaho, on August 13, 1896. He got away with $7,165, allegedly to hire a lawyer for his partner Matt Warner, who was awaiting trial for murder in Ogden, Utah.
  • The Snake River Birds of Prey Natural Area near Kuna is the location of the largest concentration of nesting raptors in North America. Thousands of visitors travel to the site each year from March through August to observe the birds.
  • Wilson Butte Cave near Twin Falls was excavated in 1959 and found to contain bones of bison and antelope, as well as some arrowheads and other artifacts that were carbon dated to be 14,500 years old. This makes them among the oldest definitely dated artifacts in the New World.
  • 'Bus Stop,' the 1956 film starring Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray, was made outside Sun Valley. Clint Eastwood's 1984 western, 'Pale Rider,' was filmed north of Ketchum. 'Dante's Peak' starring Pierce Brosnan was filmed in Wallace and Northern Idaho. Recently, scenes from the train for 'Wild, Wild West' were filmed in north-central Idaho, Bruce Willis' 'Breakfast of Champions' was filmed in Twin Falls, and the romantic comedy, 'Town & Country,' was filmed in Sun Valley.
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument contains nearly 40 separate lava flows, some formed as recently as 250 years ago. The other-worldly area was used as a training ground for early astronauts. The lavish June display of wild flowers adds to the surreal quality of the landscape.
  • The name 'Idaho' was made up by a mining Raftinglobbyist and is not derived from any Indian word. 'Idaho' was a name originally proposed in 1860 for a new territory in the Pike's Peak mining country. Instead, the U.S. Senate changed the name of that territory to 'Colorado' at the last minute when it was learned that 'Idaho' was not an Indian word. In the meantime, the use of the name 'Idaho' had spread to the Northwest. A steamboat on the Columbia River was named 'Idaho' in 1860, and when gold was found in the Nez Perce country, mines along Clearwater and Salmon River were known as the Idaho mines, after the steamboat. Congress chose 'Idaho' as the name for the new Territory, which was established March 4, 1863.
  • Between 1863 (when Abraham Lincoln signed the bill making Idaho a territory) and statehood (27 years later), the Idaho Territory had 16 governors, four who never set foot in Idaho.
  • Appropriately named the 'Gem State,' Idaho produces 72 types of precious and semi-precious stones, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world.
  • The Silver Valley in northern Idaho has produced more than $4 billion in precious metals since 1884, making the area one of the top 10 mining districts in the world.
  • One of the largest diamonds ever found in the United States, nearly 20 carats, was discovered near McCall, Idaho.
  • The engineering prototype of the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was built and tested in the Idaho desert on the Snake River Plain near Arco.
  • Idaho's famous Salmon River, known as the 'River of No Return' because of its difficult passage, is the nation's longest free-flowing river that heads and flows within a single state.
  • Did you know that Idaho has a seaport? The Port of Lewiston allows the exportation of millions of bushels of grain down the Snake and Columbia Rivers for overseas shipment.
  • The State House in Boise and dozens of other buildings in the city are geothermically heated from underground hot springs. In fact, Idaho is well sprinkled with public and private hot springs.
  • The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the 48 contiguous states with 2.3 million acres (930,800 hectare) of rugged, unspoiled back country.