Boise is the largest city in the remote northwestern state of Idaho in the United States.
Situated on the banks of the Boise River, from which it takes its name, the city is a green, forested area in an otherwise harsh and semi-arid climate, that sees scorching summer temperatures and massive snowfall in winter.
Boise’s location in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains makes it the perfect location to experience some of the great outdoor activities that Idaho has to offer.
The climate might be difficult to deal with at times, but the scenery is surreal.
It’s an outdoor paradise, with winding canyons to explore, pristine rivers to swim in and powerful waterfalls to admire.
Near Boise there are other cities ripe for exploring, all in the Boise River Basin.
Further out in the harsher landscape there are even a few abandoned ghost towns for the intrepid to visit; relics of frontier mining days that could not withstand the isolation and remoteness of Idaho.
Let’s have a look at the best day trips from Boise:
1 . Craters of the Moon
The craters of the moon are an otherworldly phenomenon; so otherworldly that they are likened to the surface of the moon.
Found east of Boise, this is a protected area of basalt lava fields that stretches for 600 square miles across the Idaho landscape.
It’s more reminiscent of Iceland than of North America; the massive black lava spills have twisted their way over the contours of the land, forming craters and covering hills to create a surreal, yet strangely beautiful scene.
There are viewpoints to look out over the fields, or hardier outdoor types can venture into this wilderness to hike.
In winter, the area is blanketed in snow, and blizzards can whip across the lava flows turning an already surreal sight into something out of a science fiction movie.
2. Bogus Basin
Just a short drive north of Boise is Bogus Basin, a forty minute journey away from the city.
This is an area of high elevation, reaching over 2,300 meters, and in winter its primary function is as a recreational ski area for the people of Boise to enjoy.
It’s a ski resort right on the doorstep of the city, but in summer when there’s no snow around and the temperatures in the city can be high, it’s a great escape from the heat, and a favorite with hikers and campers looking to cool down while still enjoying the outdoor lifestyle in Idaho.
3. Bruneau Sand Dunes
Another unreal landscape not far from Boise is the Bruneau Sand Dunes.
This is one of the most unusual places in the US. Huge sand dunes – one reaching almost 500 meters in height – have formed over thousands of years around two small lakes.
It’s a bizarre yet beautiful place to visit, and like the rest of Idaho’s outdoor attractions, it’s a place to be adventurous.
There are horseback rides through the dunes, hiking trails, swimming in the lakes, and of course sand boarding and sledding.
4. St Anthony Sand Dunes
If sand dunes are right up your alley, then Idaho is the perfect place for you.
Also near Boise are the St Anthony Sand Dunes; another huge collection of dunes that shift in the wind and have become a playground for adrenaline seekers.
While you can simply enjoy the sight of the endless dunes spread across the flat landscape from afar, those that want to can also head into the dunes in motorized ATVs and custom dune buggies that will take you flying across the ground.
It’s a real, gritty experience, and one that will get you closer to the sand dunes than anything else.
Nampa is Idaho’s second largest city after Boise, and is not that far away; also situated along the same river basin just twenty miles down the road.
Nampa started life as a simple railroad town when the east-west tracks were laid across the country, but it has grown since its humble beginnings into a larger metropolis.
Nampa has a large number of green parks, and the historic old town is a remarkable example of 19th century pioneering architecture.
The biggest event occurs in June each year, when the city hosts its annual rodeo.
Meridian is Idaho’s third largest city and is right in the center between Boise and Nampa.
This was once a rural farming area where settlers arrived to take advantage of land grants.
It’s grown since then but has retained its rural feel, hosting urban farmer’s markets and even free outdoor movie screenings in the various parks when the weather is right.
7. Idaho City
Idaho City was once the largest city in the state.
Founded in the early days of settlement in the region, it grew quickly during the gold mining boom that swept across Idaho.
It had short lived success though; when the gold ran dry and the mines began to close, people began to leave and settled along the River Boise instead.
Idaho City once had a population in the thousands, but now its residents number only in the hundreds.
It’s just a short journey from Boise City, and is a good place to see old frontier buildings and learn about the wildly differing fates of Idaho’s first settlements.
8. Silver City
The real extreme location to check out is the abandoned ghost town of Silver City, which suffered the worst fate of them all.
Silver City grew up during the gold rush days like Idaho City, and it too had a population in the thousands.
This was short-lived though; the city was mostly abandoned not long after the mining industry here collapsed.
It’s an historic site; a few hardcore residents persevered, with their descendants still continuing to live here amongst the abandoned businesses, mines and houses.
9. Twin Falls
Twin Falls is the gateway to the canyons and waterfalls of the southeast.
The largest waterfall that can be seen here is the Shoshone Falls, just a few kilometers east of the city.
Known as the ‘Niagara Falls of the West,’ it is in fact higher than Niagara Falls.
It is a monumental and impressive waterfall to see firsthand.
10. Snake River Canyon
Near to Twin Falls is the spectacular Snake River Canyon, running for over 50 miles, with the Snake River slicing through it, sometimes at depths of up to 500 meters.
It’s a beautiful landscape, and one that was made famous in 1974 when Evel Knievel attempted to jump the canyon on a modified motorcycle attached to a rocket.
11. Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in the United States and runs for ten miles along the borders of Oregon, Idaho and Washington, carved by the same Snake River that formed the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls.
Few roads lead to Hells Canyon, making it a mission to get there, but the scenery is simply epic and the recreational opportunities in the canyon and on the river are endless.
12. City of Rocks
Rock City is an area with a whole load of rocks, hence the name Rock City.
It’s a climber’s paradise and there are thousands of climbing routes in this state reserve.
For non-climbers, the rocks are simply monumental; there are gigantic boulders, towering mountains and huge pinnacles of pure stone reaching for the skies.
It’s unlike anywhere else in Idaho, and yet another surreal outdoor attraction to enjoy from Boise.
13. Hagerman Fossil Beds
Not far from Boise lies a remarkable preserve: the Hagerman Fossil Beds.
This is one of the largest fossil beds in the world and is famous for being the discovery site for many extinct animals from certain historical epochs before the last ice age.
These fossils have been extraordinarily preserved in the Idaho wilderness.
There’s an informative visitors center at the site that will help you to learn about the significance of this fossil bed.
14. Sawtooth National Forest
The Sawtooth National Forest is a sprawling area of pristine forest and rugged wilderness in central Idaho, not far from Boise.
There are hikes, trails, and more to explore here, and some parts can easily be visited on day trips from the city.
However, it’s so vast that many spots are unreachable without launching full blown hiking expeditions.
There are literally hundreds of opportunities for hiking here and the scenery is absolutely incredible.
It’s a real part of Idaho’s very special natural environment, and one that can be enjoyed day after day from nearby Boise.
15. Boise National Forest
Boise National Forest is the largest of the state’s forest reserves and covers thousands of square miles of untouched, untamed wilderness.
There are endless hiking and outdoor opportunities to be had in the forest, with raging rivers offering rafting and kayaking spots for the brave.
In winter, the whole area receives snowfall and the activities switch to skiing and snowshoeing.
The attraction of Boise National Forest is that some of the most epic car drives can be found here from Boise, as paved roads pass through large portions of the forest and along incredible sections of the scenic landscape here.
A truly unbelievable drive away from the city.