Dubbed “The Big Apple of Idaho”, Fruitland is a small city in the Ontario Micropolitan Area at the western end of the Treasure Valley.
The name Fruitland comes from the profusion of orchards close by in this highly fertile farming region, where several tributaries meet the Snake River.
Ontario, Oregon is barely a couple of miles from Fruitland, and has the shopping, dining and cultural amenities of a large city.
Meanwhile the Snake, Payette and Malheur rivers flowing through the area attract people for fishing and boating, as well as hiking and nature spotting along their green banks.
Fruitland is also close to the point where the Oregon Trail crossed and departed the Snake River, and there are historical sites nearby where you can find out about life on the trail and see genuine 19th-century wagon ruts in the ground.
1. Four Rivers Cultural Center & Museum
The big cultural attraction in the Ontario area is this complex ten minutes from Fruitland, combining a gallery, museum, theatre, Japanese garden and event center.
The Four Rivers Cultural Center celebrates the unique heritage of this part of the Treasure Valley, which has roots in Spain’s Basque Country, and Japanese Internment in the Second World War.
At that time Japanese-Americans were invited to work on local farms, and there was also an internment camp close by at Nyssa, and many of the incarcerated families remained in the area post-war.
Visiting the center you can pause for reflection in the garden, check out a local or national exhibit at the gallery, catch a show and browse the museum.
The latter has fascinating historical dioramas tracing the settlement patterns of the Hispanic, Basque, Japanese and European American immigrants, as well as the story of the Northern Paiute people.
2. Mesa Park
For a town of modest proportions, Fruitland has a superb public sports facility north of downtown.
Mesa Park has several baseball/softball fields, as well as a basketball court and tennis courts, all in tiptop condition.
There’s also a large playground for little ones, and if you’re just here for a relaxing family outing there’s a concession stand, restroom facilities and a picnic shelter.
The Payette County County Recreation District is also based at Mesa Park and schedules a host of programs at the park in spring, summer and fall.
3. AC&D Farms
On Fruitland’s southern fringe is a much loved fresh produce stand open from spring to fall.
AC&D Farms distributes produce throughout the Treasure Valley region, and depending on when you visit you’ll find heaps of peaches, asparagus, cantaloupe, spinach, sweet corn, okra, apples, eggplant, watermelons, pumpkins and squash, all harvested in the fields behind.
The stand also sells homemade preserves, honey, bread, juices, salsas and jams, and if you swing by in fall there will be a cow train, corn maze, pumpkin patch rides and a petting zoo.
4. Crestview Park
Fruitland’s newest park has taken over a little grassy hollow in a residential area southwest of downtown.
Since opening in the 2010s Crestview Park has steadily added new amenities, and at the time of writing there were more to come.
In 2017 a highly popular splash pad was installed in the park, to go with a play area and a picnic shelter that can be rented free of charge from the city.
Future plans for Crestview Park include additional seating, a skate park and a walking trail that will take you down to the east bank of the Snake River about 500 yards to the west.
5. Fruitland Community Park
In the heart of Fruitland, this park is a favorite walking location for local residents, and a popular place to bring younger family members for an hour or two of fun.
The park packs a lot of amenities into a relatively small space, with a splash pad, playground, gazebo, horseshoe pits, picnic shelter and a little pavilion with a tiled roof.
This structure is modeled on a bell tower that was attached to Fruitland’s first school building, previously on this site.
Surrounding all of these features are perfectly manicured lawns with walking paths traced by flowerbeds.
6. Payette County Museum
If you would like to get in touch with the history of the wider county, this museum is just ten minutes up the 95 in Payette.
The location is special, in a Gothic Revival church building erected in 1904. Within you’ll find original church fittings like stained glass windows in situ, combined with intriguing collections.
The Payette County Museum’s display cases are filled with farming, sports and military artifacts, and profiles some fascinating historical figures.
One of these is the famous baseball power hitter, Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011) a 13-time All-Star who was born in Payette.
7. Downtown Ontario, Oregon
There’s a city of 110,000 little more than five minutes away from Fruitland, across the Snake River.
Directly on the west bank you’ll pass through a series of shopping centers, loaded with chain restaurants, big-box stores, but also no shortage of cannabis dispensaries. This might be a culture shock coming from Idaho, which has some of the strictest cannabis laws in the nation.
Go a little further and you’ll be in historic downtown Ontario, where South Oregon Street is lined with mom and pop stores for fashion, musical instruments, furniture, homewares, craft supplies, hand-blown glass, jewelry, flowers and more.
Sprinkled throughout downtown Ontario is a cosmopolitan array of restaurants specializing in steaks, Mexican cuisine, American classics, pizza, sandwiches and crêpes.
8. Ontario State Recreation Site
A long strip of the Oregon bank of the tranquil Snake River is accessible to the public as a day-use state park.
On a long and relatively narrow riverside plot are grassy areas shaded by juniper, sumac and cottonwood trees.
You can access the river here for boating, fishing and swimming, and if you just want to take it easy on the banks there’s a stunning variety of wildlife here and on the islands in the Snake River.
Bring a pair of binoculars and you may see deer, Canada geese, great blue heron, muskrats and river otters.
9. Malheur Water Trail
The Malheur River courses east from Oregon’s Blue Mountains through high desert before joining the Snake River a few miles downstream from Fruitland.
Over the last couple of years Ontario has gradually cleared a previously overgrown and undeveloped stretch of Malheur riverbank for a 3.3-mile trail.
The trailhead is just off Malheur Drive, and along the route is a “yakport” if you want to kayak, canoe, paddleboard or tube on these calm and slow-moving waters.
10. Payette River Wildlife Management Area
There are more than 30 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) across Idaho, helping to protect the state’s vulnerable species.
One can be found close by in three segments along the lower reaches of the Payette River. The closest of these segments is known as the Birding Islands, a few minutes east of Fruitland and incorporating several islands on the river that provide habitats for waterfowl and shorebirds.
A few of the species that nest or stop at the Birding Islands are the night heron, great blue heron, snow egret, mallards, widgeons and Canada geese.
You can access Birding Islands from four different locations along the river, while just south of the WMA is a series of three gravel ponds, open for warm-water fishing all year.
11. Keeney Pass Interpretive Site
One aspect of local history that we haven’t covered so far is that the Oregon Trail forded the Snake River close to Fruitland.
After following the valley for the breadth of what is now Idaho, the trail broke away into the rugged high desert of Oregon.
An easy drive west of Fruitland is Keeney Pass, named for the pioneer and fur trapper Jonathan Keeney.
This was the first stop in Oregon on the trail, and in the mid-1800s many thousands of emigrants passed through on their way to the fertile farmlands in the distance to the west.
At Keeney Pass you can peruse the exhibits at an interpretive shelter, before setting off on a brief hike along the Oregon Trail route, where you can see wagon ruts in the ground some 170 years later.
12. Babby Farms
This petting zoo is open May through October and is run by a non-profit organization. The main purpose of Babby Farms is to give children and adults with disabilities the opportunity to interact with animals.
For this reason, almost all of the animal residents here have been handled by humans from birth and are extremely tame.
You can pet and feed monkeys, kangaroos, donkeys, zebras, pygmy goats, lemurs, pigs, deer, sloths, camels, alpacas and a yak.
On Saturdays from October to April, Babby Farms also runs “Jr. Zookeeper” classes for children aged 5-12.
13. Old Fort Boise Park
South of Fruitland, close to the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers, you can visit the site of a vital trading and supply post from the pioneer days.
Fort Boise was established in 1834, at the height of the fur trade and with the backing of Hudson’s Bay Company.
This was conceived as a rival to Fort Hall, some 300 miles to the east, close to modern day Pocatello.
Fort Boise became an important stop on the Oregon Trail before being abandoned in 1854 due to flooding as well as the Ward Massacre, in which the Shoshone attacked an emigrant train, killing 18 pioneers.
A replica of Old Fort Boise has been erected close to the original site in Parma and has seasonal opening hours. The surrounding park has campsites, a small playground and a picnic shelter.
14. Stone House Museum
For more on the Oregon Trail you can make your way to this historic building, not far west in Vale, Oregon.
Jonathan Keeney built the predecessor to the current building, and that log cabin was a rest stop from the early days of the Oregon Trail.
As it is now, the Stone House was built from local sandstone in 1873 and continued to receive travelers until the early 1900s.
The museum opens its doors from early March to the end of October and has interpretive exhibits about the Oregon Trail, enhanced with 19th-century artifacts.
15. Payette County Fair & Rodeo
The county fairgrounds are a short way east of Fruitland in New Plymouth and stage events throughout the year.
Of course the annual highlight is the county fair, taking place across four days in early August.
This is a small but well-attended celebration of rural life in Payette County, putting on 4-H and FFA events, concerts, livestock shows, all kinds of demonstrations, a wide variety of exhibits, activities for kids, a pet parade, raffles, dances and a lot more besides.
Delicious comfort food is integral to the county fair, as is the annual Payette County Rodeo, with world-class performers in a host of categories, from bull riding to barrel racing.