This small city northwest of Boise is in the heart of a fertile valley famed for its fruit production. The formerly arid landscape was first irrigated at the start of the 20th century and soon gained the nickname “Valley of Plenty”.
Visit in summer and fruit will be a running theme in Emmett, with U-pick farms welcoming visitors, a lively farmers’ market and the annual Emmett Cherry Festival.
Emmett is full of small-town amenities and attractions with a downhome feel and faithful clientele, while the dramatic beauty of the Boise Mountains is never far away, at Squaw Butte, dominating the northern horizon and Black Canyon Dam, flanked by tall hills.
Flowing through Emmett, the Payette River is a byword for whitewater rafting, and there are Class II and Class III rapids around half an hour upstream.
1. Emmett City Park
Emmett’s largest urban park is a couple of blocks east of downtown and absolutely loaded with facilities.
Scattered with tall mature trees, this well-kept space has picnic shelters, tennis courts, a large playground for kids, exercise stations, tennis courts and more.
Emmett City Park is also the venue for large-scale events like the Cherry Festival in mid-June.
In the same month you’ve also got the Emmett Show and Shine, one of Idaho’s premier free car events, with 1000+ vehicles, including many rare classics, and a swap meet. There’s also a great selection of food for the event, and live music in the afternoon.
2. Gem Historical Village Museum
Emmett’s early days are documented at this riveting museum, made up of a collection of historic buildings.
The main exhibit recalls the days of trappers, prospectors, miners and early settlers, as well as the Native Americans who had lived on these lands for centuries.
One particularly interesting facet of Emmett’s past covered here is irrigation, which made the city’s burgeoning fruit industry possible.
The photograph collection is massive, and you can tour a turn-of-the-century parlor, general store, doctor’s/dentist’s office and laundry room for a glimpse of Emmett in bygone days.
The other buildings in the museum complex include a blacksmith shop, bunk house, school house and the cottage belonging to the fifth Governor of Idaho, Frank W. Hunt (1861-1906), furnished with authentic family possessions.
3. Black Canyon Park
A few miles upstream from Emmett, the Payette River is impounded by a dam built in the early 1950s for irrigation and hydroelectricity.
Long and relatively narrow, the Black Canyon Reservoir has more than 12 miles of shoreline, and four parks by the water.
The largest of these is the 12-acre Black Canyon Park, in a wonderful spot looking across to the tall, steep face of the canyon opposite.
Among the amenities you’ll find a beach and swimming area, a large tree-shaded grassy space, barbecues, picnic tables, gazebos, a horseshoe pit, restrooms, a boat launch and docks.
4. Tyler’s Rocky Point Orchard
A family enterprise, this orchard on the city’s outskirts has a beautiful location at the foot of the ridge on the southern edge of the Emmett Valley.
At this idyllic setting you can pick your own cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries and peaches, as well as golden delicious and red delicious apples.
Picking season is usually from mid-June to the end of October, and you can find out on the orchard’s facebook page what fruit is ripe.
After picking your own fruit you can climb up to Rocky Point behind for an all-encompassing view of the valley.
5. Squaw Butte
A looming presence over the Emmett Valley is one of the most prominent peaks in the region and is capped with snow as late as April.
Viewed from the south at Emmett, Squaw Butte (5894 ft) has the appearance of an isolated mountain, but actually has a ridge eight miles long and is connected to the Boise Mountains.
An interesting detail about Squaw Butte is that it was used as a wintering ground by Native Americans for hundreds of years, and it is thought that they, not European settlers, coined the potentially offensive name.
For hiking trips, Emmett is the main entry point along gravel roads, as the eastern slopes are very steep. The main 13-mile track is a wonderful hike or drive if you want some solitude, with running creeks, wildflowers in spring and sensational views.
6. Freezeout Hill
You can get a sweeping view of the valley at this spot atop the ridge close to Tyler’s Rocky Point Orchard.
Freezeout Hill has a name coined in the 1860s during the valley’s early settlement. Old-timers needed to lock their wheels to negotiate this slope on the way down, and it would take as long as a day and up to 12 teams of horses to haul a freight wagon up the hill.
In 1864 a group of freighters had to brave the elements, camping at the top of the hill on a cold winter’s night rather than attempt the treacherous slope, which is where “Freezeout” comes from.
Later, in 1934 the one-time Congressman Robert M. McCracken was killed when his car went through a guard rail and tumbled down this hill.
The memorial standing there today consists of a flagpole and more than 950 engraved bricks paying tribute to everyone from veterans to lawyers.
7. KT’s Lanes
Emmett’s residents are fond of this small but friendly and well looked-after bowling alley. On the south side of Emmett, KT’s Lanes holds leagues and tournaments for bowlers of all ages and abilities.
You can also book a party here, or simply book a slot for a casual game. There’s unlimited bowling on Friday nights from 6 pm to 12 am, as well as cosmic bowling, with a blacklight and party atmosphere from 8 pm on Saturdays.
There are ten lanes in all, so it’s a good idea to place a reservation to guarantee a slot.
8. Frontier Cinema
In the very heart of Emmett, this family-run cinema has been around since at least 1920. For most of its life the Frontier Cinema was known as the Ideal Theater, and, though showing its age a little, has a stylish Art Moderne facade.
Watching a movie here feels like an experience from a bygone age. Concessions are affordable, tickets are as cheap as $2.50 (on Tuesdays) and you’ll be greeted by the owner, Roy, on arrival. He’ll even ask you how you enjoyed the show on your way out.
9. Gem Island Sports Complex
An island on the Payette River has been transformed from an abandoned feedlot into a 55-acre sports complex.
This has a skatepark, eight baseball/softball fields, two soccer fields and volleyball and basketball courts.
The complex is also ready for passive recreation, with a 1.1-mile paved path, picnic areas, rose garden and fishing pond, and has started to welcome wildlife back to the island with nest boxes for owls, ducks, swallows and woodpeckers.
Gem Island Sports Complex is the venue for the county’s Fourth of July Celebrations, with a fireworks display and food trucks on hand.
10. Roystone Hot Springs
There are hot springs bubbling up all over Idaho, often giving rise to mini resorts. The nearest establishment like this is a few miles east of Emmett in Sweet.
Roystone Hot Springs has a pool and 12-seater hot tub that can be rented for one hour or an hour and a half. Both are fed by natural mineral water, while the hot tub has a natural temperature of 104 °F.
The water at Roystone Hot Springs is naturally high levels of potassium, silica, sulfate, bicarbonate, chloride and sodium, helping blood pressure, immune system, circulation and acting as an anti-inflammatory. The pool usually offers regular public sessions if you just want to drop by.
11. 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards
The largest family-owned winery in Idaho can be found a few miles southeast of Emmett in the new Eagle Foothills AVA.
This highly remote ranch, lost in the hills, might seem an unlikely location for a vineyard, but 3 Horse Ranch has thrived since it was first planted in 2002.
The ever-growing estate now covers close to 50 acres, and produces a large percentage of the grapes for the winery’s range.
These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Malbec, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, to name just a few.
At the tasting room, the patio is a lovely place to linger over a glass of wine, accompanied by a delicious snack tray. 3 Horse Ranch also offers a wide choice of tasting experiences and tours, if you’re curious to know their wine’s journey from grape to glass.
12. Emmett Farmers’ Market
In a city couched in the “Valley of Plenty”, you can’t pass up the opportunity to browse the local farmers’ market.
Setting up shop on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning in the spring and summer, Emmett Farmers’ Market means world-class fruit and vegetables directly from the grower, as well as herbs, nuts, plants, flowers and homemade salsas, jams, jellies and delicious baked goods.
There’s also an array of arts and crafts, from jewelry to knitwear, crocheted items and polished rocks. The market takes place under the trees at Blaser Park, right on Washington Avenue.
13. Emmett Cherry Festival
Around Emmett the verdant banks of the Payette River are lined with stone fruit farms, and cherries are a real local specialty.
They are also the star of Idaho’s oldest local festival, which has been running since the 1930s. Attracting thousands of people from the region, the Emmett Cherry Festival brings four days of fun in mid-June.
On the program are a carnival, a spectacular parade (and kids’ parade), a 5k run, more than 100 vendors, free concerts and a host of games. Some of the wackier events in store include a cherry pie eating contest and a cherry pit spitting contest.
14. Gem County Fair
On the south side of town, the Gem County Fairgrounds hosts tons of events throughout the year, from horse racing to sled pulls, livestock shows and the annual Harvest Festival in September.
One event to mark in the calendar is the Gem County Fair & Rodeo, across four days, typically at the end of July or very start of August.
As well as the classic livestock and crop displays, demonstrations and contests, this features numerous vendors, a dog show, fashion revue and a wealth of free entertainment on the midway stage.
The rodeo is at the core of the entertainment, with 14 different events, from bareback bronc riding to steer wrestling.
15. Whitewater Rafting on the Payette River
The Payette River has a worldwide reputation for its whitewater, especially wild along the North Fork and the South Fork, which converge at Banks, about 30 miles northeast of Emmett.
Slightly closer to Emmett is Cascade Raft & Kayak, based in Horseshoe Bend, and perfectly positioned to offer exhilarating trips on Class I, II, III and IV rapids along the North Fork, South Fork and on the main stem downstream from Banks.
When you get a moment to look up from the river, the scenery is awesome, as you float through rocky canyons and past densely forested slopes teeming with wildlife.
A favorite package for families is the “Splash” Half Day, a three-hour adventure along the main stem, tackling Class II and Class III rapids on the way from Banks to the Cascade River Center.