Rupert is a city that sprang up almost overnight after the construction of the nearby Minidoka Dam in 1906. This project helped turn an immense sweep of Southern Idaho desert into fertile farmland.
It also made Rupert one of the first cities in the world to have street lights powered by electricity.
Rupert has held onto its character down the years, preserving a quaint town square bordered by historic buildings housing independent businesses.
There’s a surprising amount to see and do downtown, but Rupert is also within striking distance of a ski resort, the jaw-dropping Snake River Canyon and the otherworldly lava fields of the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
1. Rupert Historic District
Made for walking and pottering around, Rupert has a delightful downtown area, with architecture and a layout frozen in time in the first decades of the 20th century.
There are more than 30 contributing buildings and 11 non-contributing buildings in the Rupert Historic District, most of which are clustered around the lovely Rupert Square.
It’s easy to lose track of time here, savoring the greenery and old-time buildings, and calling in at some of the stores and restaurants inside them.
All of these are locally-owned establishments, ranging from a western store, to a gift shop, flower shop, quilt specialist, bookstore and eateries for Mexican, pizza, deli food and American diner fare.
2. Rupert Square
The linchpin for the Rupert Historic District is one of Idaho’s few surviving town squares. This was the site of Rupert’s first water source, and so was the natural point from which the city developed.
Now this grassy space is at the heart of that vibrant commercial district and is a hub for well-attended events like the five-day Fourth of July celebrations.
At any other time the square is a great spot if you just want to take it easy for a few minutes.
Hiding among the tall deciduous and coniferous trees are benches, picnic tables and a gazebo and you can pick up a bite from one of the local restaurants for some al fresco dining.
3. Lake Walcott State Park
Northeast of Rupert, Lake Walcott is an 8,000-acre reservoir on the Snake River, impounded by the Minidoka Dam since 1906.
You can visit the west shore where there’s a fantastic state park where you can hike, go fishing and camp on the water’s edge.
People travel a long way to play the excellent 21-hole disc golf course here, rated as one of the best in the country.
The park also has some of the oldest mature trees in the area, and is loved for its massive cottonwoods, providing ample shade for picnics. For nature spotting you can head further east into the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, which we’ll cover below.
4. Neptune Park
Rupert’s main park for active recreation is on the south side of the city and has amenities for an array of sports.
Neptune Park offers basketball courts, tennis courts, a baseball field, horseshoe pits and a popular nine-hole disc golf course.
There’s also a large children’s playground and four covered pavilions with picnic tables available for reservation. The park is also home to Rupert’s newly renovated outdoor swimming pool, usually open from the start of June to late August.
5. Minidoka County Historical Society Museum
Slightly out of town to the east, this museum is filled with interesting objects and structures from the county’s 100+ years of history.
Especially absorbing are the details about the Minidoka Dam, which helped to turn a vast area into arable farmland. Railroad history is also prominent, in the form of a Union Pacific Railroad Caboose and Rupert’s preserved 1906 depot.
Look out for the collections of fossils and prehistoric bones, antique firecarts, tons of old farming equipment, Native American artifacts and an authentic marble soda fountain from 1900.
Other curiosities include a 220-volt permanent wave machine and more than 600 vintage bottles and jars.
6. Historic Wilson Theatre
An endearing landmark on Rupert Square, this Spanish Revival performing arts venue has a distinctive flatiron silhouette and exquisite architecture.
The Wilson Theatre was completed as a vaudeville stage in 1920 and after being listed on the National Register of Historic Places has spent much of the last two decades undergoing a painstaking restoration.
Just passing by on the street you can check out the exquisite Plateresque moldings adorning the entrance arcade, the window openings and the balustrade on the roof.
The theatre is a wonderful venue for plays, musicals, dance performances and concerts, but also conventions, meetings, book signings, art exhibits and much more.
7. Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge
Some two thirds of Lake Walcott is protected as a wildlife sanctuary. The ideal time to come for birding is in spring and fall, when migratory shorebirds like long-billed curlews, spotted sandpipers, American avocets and willets all stop by.
This is also a key molting area for a huge variety of waterfowl, with as many as 100,000 individuals counted at one time.
But perhaps the stars of the show are the American white pelicans. This is one of only two places in the state that has colonies of this species, and you can spot them nesting on the little islands in the Snake River.
8. Craters of the Moon National Monument
Visiting Rupert you’ll be within a comfortable drive of one of Idaho’s most celebrated natural sights. Craters of the Moon is a flood basalt area on an amazing scale, made up of three vast and relatively young lava fields featuring amazing volcanic formations.
The national park alone is on 750,000 acres, about the same size as the state of Rhode Island.
You’ll see molds left behind by incinerated trees, gargantuan lava tubes, cinder cones and some of the most impressive rift cracks on the planet, the deepest of which descends 800 feet.
Many of these wonders are connected by a loop road where you can get out of the car at a series of trailheads for hikes in this lunar terrain.
9. Sofie’s Chatterbox
It’s a good sign that this cafe on the east side of Rupert Square is as popular with local residents as visitors.
Sofie’s Chatterbox is exactly the sort of establishment you would hope to find in a small town like Rupert: A warm and friendly eatery with a downhome character and a menu brimming with diner classics.
People flock to this spot for breakfast, and things can get quite hectic on weekends. Think pancakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, omelettes cooked to order and eggs any way you want.
These are complemented by delectable home baked treats like scones, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, brownies and cookies. In fact, even the bread is homemade here.
10. The Gathering Place
Another wonderful find on Rupert Square is this fabric shop, attracting crafters from far and wide. If you’re a quilter, you’ll feel like a kid in a giant candy store at The Gathering Place.
The shop, much larger than it appears from the street, covers 10,000 square feet, and almost every inch of display space is filled with fabrics in a multitude of patterns and styles.
This is one of the largest stores in the United States dedicated solely to quilting, and you could easily spend an hour or two immersed in the range, inspecting samples and browsing quilting supplies and accessories.
11. Rupert Swimming Pool
A mainstay of the summer in Rupert, the local municipal pool can be found on the north side of Neptune Park.
This is an ideal and inexpensive activity for kids during the school break, with a slide and a separate shallow kiddie pool at one end.
There’s also night swimming, which is a fine way to relax or get some laps in on the hottest days in July and August, and you can reserve the pool for parties.
Generations of Rupert kids have learned to swim at this very place, and today’s swim teacher’s are praised for their friendliness and enthusiasm.
12. Twin Falls
Things also start to get spectacular west of Rupert, where the Snake River has carved out a canyon up to 500 feet deep.
There are lots of places where you can stop and savor this dramatic scenery, and most are found close to the city of Twin Falls. Crossing the canyon here is the epic Perrine Bridge, famous for its spellbinding views, but also the BASE jumpers who leap into the canyon from this crossing.
A couple of miles upriver is Shoshone Falls, majestic all year, but absolutely fearsome during the spring runoff.
A trail hugging the canyon rim connects this waterfall with other noteworthy spots like the haunting Pillar Falls and Centennial Waterfront Park where you can launch paddle boards and kayaks and even ride a zipline across the canyon.
13. Pomerelle Mountain Resort
Punching well above its weight, this small but highly-rated ski area is only 30 miles south of Rupert. Pomerelle Mountain Resort has a high elevation, at a maximum 8,762 feet, which ensures snow early in the season and regular deposits of fresh powder.
There are 24 groomed runs on the mountain, accessed via a triple chair, double chair and magic carpet, none of which are ever clogged up with lines.
The runs will suit intermediate skiers most of all, and if you’re in need of tuition the resort is praised for its patient and talented instructors.
Night skiing is available five days a week, Tuesday to Saturday, and you can recharge your batteries at the cozy lodge at the base of the mountain serving comfort food and cold beers.
14. Emerald Lake
If you’re into fishing there’s a recommended lake, five miles from downtown Rupert, by Interstate 84.
Open all year, Emerald Lake covers just over 33 acres and is a picturesque place to drop a line, with green shores, occasionally shaded by mature trees.
A whole spectrum of species have been observed in surveys at the lake, but the recommended game fish are bluegill, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass and rainbow trout, the latter restocked regularly. Bag and size limits apply to trout and bass.
15. Rupert Fourth of July
For nigh on a century, Rupert has marked Independence Day with a major celebration that even draws people from neighboring towns.
In fact, there are five days of festivities here, all loaded with activities and entertainment.
Throughout this time you’ve got a carnival, and this is complemented by live music and dance performances in Ruper Square, as well as food booths, a big parade on the 4th and 5k, 10k and duathlon events.
Throughout this time there’s also action at the Minidoka County Fairgrounds, with horse racing, lawnmower races and an ATV rodeo.