20 Amazing Hidden Gems in Idaho

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Situated in the north-western part of the United States of America, Idaho shares its border with Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Oregon. A small portion of the state, however, also touches British Columbia, Canada.

Until the 19th century, Idaho was a part of the Oregon Country, a disputed region between America and the United Kingdom, but it officially became a part of the U.S. after the Oregon Treaty of 1846. The state earned its official designation in 1890.

Dubbed as the “Gem State” (mostly because of the gemstones but also because of all the wilderness it has), 36% of Idaho falls under United States Forest Service – the highest for any other state in the nation.

Did you know that the highest number of ethnic population in Idaho is “Other?” Did you also know that it is perhaps one of the very few places in the world to have a perfect 1:1 ratio for men and women?

Idaho is known for its geographical diversity, but there are a lot of intriguing locations in the state which are still unexplored and vastly unknown. Let us explore some of the hidden gems in Idaho to get to know the state better.

1. Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot

Idaho Potato Museum, BlackfootSource: Steve Cukrov / shutterstock
Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot

One of the strangest museums in the world, Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho is dedicated to that one vegetable which is the most unpretentious yet the most widely used in the world.

Formerly the Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot, the museum was first opened in 1988 for a trial run which was a major success. All that the exhibition had at the time were just a bunch of signs with ideas written on them. Approximately 2,000 visitors attended the “display of ideas.”

The Idaho Potato Museum was officially opened to the public in 1989 and mainly comprised financial and material donations contributed by the local potato farmers, the local community, the City of Blackfoot, and the commercial potato industry. Among the many interesting collections in the museum is the world’s largest potato crisp which has been donated by Pringles.

2. Ernest Hemingway’s Grave, Sun Valley

Ernest Hemingway's Grave, Sun ValleySource: Poet Nicholas Trandahl / Facebook
Ernest Hemingway’s Grave, Sun Valley

Ernest Hemingway isn’t a name to be forgotten or wiped off of history, for more than just writing. People who knew him knew that he was a passionate man – passionate about living, hunting, drinking and womanizing, to count a few. Unfortunately, much like the rest of his family, including his father, brother, and sister, Hemingway committed suicide in 1961.

You would expect the legendary novelist’s final resting place to be around his beloved cats in Key West, Florida however, his remains are buried in a small, unremarkable plot in Sun Valley, Idaho.

A long, rectangle headstone with his name and the dates of his life mark Hemingway’s grave which is frequently visited by his fans and admirers who unfailingly leave coins, flowers, and sometimes even half-drunk bottles as a show of respect to one of the most iconic authors of all time.

3. Idaho City, Idaho City

Idaho City, Idaho CitySource: menegue / shutterstock
Idaho City, Idaho City

During the 1860s. Idaho was one of the largest gold rush mining towns in the western part of the United States of America. The town’s population was over 7,000 and it has kept growing ever since.

Reportedly, over $250,000,000 worth of precious metal was mined from around the city making it a mining mecca for traders and miners alike. The town comprised over two dozen law offices and over three dozen taverns. While most of the similar towns have disappeared over time, Idaho City still stands strong even after more than a century later.

You can walk around the old mining town and peek around the many leftover structures from the time, including the old jail and even the Boise Basin Museum which is dedicated to preserving the area’s history from the time.

4. Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood

Dog Bark Park Inn, CottonwoodSource: Martyn Skorkin / shutterstock
Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood

Somewhere amidst the picturesque town of Cottonwood, Idaho stands the world’s biggest beagle – Sweet Willy. But, he isn’t just that, in fact, Sweet Willy is also a Bed and Breakfast!

Created by chainsaw artist couple Dennis J. Sullivan and Frances Conklin, Sweet Willy has an inbuilt guest room with a bathroom and a loft. The surrounding area also has several other animal sculptures such as fish, bears, moose and even a small size replica of Sweet Billy – all crafted by the same artist duo.

If you don’t want to spend the night, Dog Bark Park Inn is also a roadside attraction, so you can simply arrange group tours and visit the gift center as well as the artists’ studio.

5. The Black Cliffs, Boise

The Black Cliffs, BoiseSource: CSNafzger / shutterstock
The Black Cliffs, Boise

An enchanting experience for mountain climbers, the Black Cliffs in Boise, Idaho are a group of gigantic lava rock formations that stretch as high as the sky above. With an absolutely amazing view of the river flowing below, the cliffs are a popular spot for climbing enthusiasts.

Created out of volcanic basalt, the Black Cliffs have perfect handholds and footholds that a mountain climber needs to conquer this towering beast. Exploration of the cliffs began in the 1960s when local climbers started climbing the cliffs as a part of their alpine training and proved that the rocks were totally safe to be used for mountain climbing.

In the 1970s, a new mountain climbing group began exploring the cliffs and set climbing routes through areas which were considered tough at the time. Today, about a hundred well-established climbing routes surround the enormous rocks of the Black Cliff.

6. Custer Ghost Town, Stanley

Custer Ghost Town, StanleySource: Robert Crum / shutterstock
Custer Ghost Town, Stanley

The 1860s and 1870s are known in the American history as a period of extreme mineral rushes throughout the nation. Several unremarkable towns, due to the sudden discovery of mineral deposits in and around them, rose to fame at the time. Custer in Stanley, Idaho was one among them.

Just a one street town at the time, Custer gained its popularity sometime in the 1870s mineral boom and it became more popular after the nearby town of Bonanza was destroyed in a fire. Despite its size, the town was filled with men, women, and children. Eventually, however, the gold rush sobered town and the mining industry dried up, leaving several towns like Custer deserted.

Thankfully, Custer was designated as a historic site in 1981 which helped several parts of the ghost town to be preserved. You can still visit the schoolhouse, the Empire Saloon, and a few private cabins which have been restored back to their 19th-century structure.

7. Map Rock, Melba

Map Rock, MelbaSource: Jami Mackenzie Mills / Facebook
Map Rock, Melba

How easy is it these days to find a map to anywhere? Just google it or download one of the several dozen map software and you can practically get directions to anywhere in the world. However, it wasn’t the same 15,000 years ago.

The Map Rock, as it is known today, is a giant rock with the carvings that look like a map of the upper Snake River area. It is believed that the “map” was etched by the Shoshone-Bannock tribe around 12,000 years ago. The map shows directions to the Snake River and Salmon River along with carvings of tribes and animals that lived in the territory.

Though the purpose behind the map is uncertain, most like to believe it was created to provide easy navigation to hunters and travelers. Whatever the purpose may be, Map Rock is the most famous petroglyph to be found in an area filled with prehistoric petroglyphs.

8. Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, BoiseSource: Frank L Junior / shutterstock
Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise

The Old Idaho State Penitentiary (now a historic site) served as a prison compound between 1872 to 1973. Construction began in 1870 with a single cell building, also called the Territorial Prison. Over the years, inmates were employed to quarry stones, and design and construct new cell blocks and structures within the prison compound.

Encircled by a 17-foot-high sandstone wall, the prison received over 13,000 inmates during its 101 years of operation. At its peak, the State Penitentiary had 600 prisoners, of which 215 were women. Among the most famous inmates in the prison were Harry Orchard, the man responsible for Governor Frank Steunenberg’s assassination, and Lyda Southard (aka Lady Bluebeard), a woman famous for murdering many of her husbands to cash in on their life insurance.

In 1971 and 1973, a couple of serious riots over the prison’s living conditions led the inmates to be moved to a newly built prison site, and in December 1973 the Old Idaho State Penitentiary State finally shut down.

9. Gilmore Ghost Town, Leadore

Gilmore Ghost Town, LeadoreSource: Brent Swanson / Facebook
Gilmore Ghost Town, Leadore

One among the many towns to have seen sudden rise and fall during the American mineral rush, Gilmore is more than just a Ghost town with a history of abandonment.

January 14th, 2009 was just a regular day for the once-deserted but now slightly occupied town of Gilmore. Four state police officers were on their usual patrolling of the town when a sudden gunfire rained upon them. A gun battle followed and the officers reported bullets being fired at them which led to flee away leaving their snowmobiles behind.

The incident went unreported until the Post Register newspaper got word of it and started an investigation into the matter. A legal battle arose between the police and newspaper, however, the newspaper won the battle and finally reported the story. To date, the shooters haven’t been found and the story remains a local lore.

Today, only a handful of log and frame structures remain in the Gilmore Ghost Town.

10. Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, Arco

Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, ArcoSource: exit78 / Flickr
Experimental Breede0r Reactor-I, Arco

Nuclear power plants aren’t a secret anymore. For better or for worse, they can be found in every corner of the world, but it all started here in Arco, Idaho where the first Experimental Breeder Reactor No.1 (also known as EBR-I) was set up.

The first atomic power plant in the world is now a nuclear museum open to all visitors who can come and explore the working of splitting atoms. EBR-I was first powered up in 1951 as a way of lighting four symbolic bulbs. The test was intended to observe if a nuclear reaction can produce usable electricity. Albeit, it was a success.

EBR-I stayed on until 1964 as a test site for experimenting with the new energy source. The site was transformed into a museum after its use as a test site was shut down. Once inside the museum, you can see a full range of nuclear machinery that, at one point in time, could have caused a world catastrophe.

11. Treaty Rock, Post Falls

Treaty Rock, Post FallsSource: Mary Merth / Facebook
Treaty Rock, Post Falls

We keep thinking that innovations and technology have made our lives simpler, but has it really? Like, how much pain do you have to go through if you wanted to buy a property? But, in the 1870s, all it required was etching on a stone!

In Post Falls, Idaho sits a dilapidated apartment and just behind that is a historic stone known as the “Treaty Rock.” What’s so special about the rock, you ask? Well! The rock bears carvings of what is considered as a transcript of one of the oldest land agreements between the influential Coeur d’Alene tribal group and the early settlers.

Sometime in the middle of 1871, Chief Seltice of the tribal group and Frederick Post, one of the early settlers, had an agreement where Post was granted 200 acres of the tribal land for the purpose of building a sawmill, in exchange of which he had to provide the tribe with processed lumber.

Though it is uncertain whether the rock inscription is the actual “land agreement” or whether it was laid later as a commemoration, “Treaty Rock” is allegedly the only place where an agreement with a Native tribe can be seen.

12. The Basque Block, Boise

The Basque Block, BoiseSource: Thad B / shutterstock
The Basque Block, Boise

The Basques are considered sort of an anomaly in Europe – genetically as well as culturally (even their language is different than any other ethnic group in the world). Even though the culture and the people remain a mystery yet to be solved, a small block in Boise, Idaho remains dedicated to preserving the original history of the Basque people.

Thousands of Basques migrated to Latin America in the 18th and 19th century and assimilated themselves with the new language and culture. However, most of them in the United States moved towards the west, majorly Idaho, Montana, California, and Nevada.

The Basque Block celebrates the lives and culture of the Basques like nowhere else in the world. A number of businesses and cultural centers maintain the old traditions of the Basque community, including their architecture as well as dining habits. At the Basque Cultural Centers, elders gather regularly to play “mus”, a traditional Basque card game.

The small Basque Block is your perfect chance to witness and explore a culture which is still a big question mark to several anthropologists and researchers around the world.

13. Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Murphy

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, MurphySource: mypubliclands / Flickr
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds Of Prey National Conservation Area, Murphy

Expanding over 485,000 acres of land, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (Phew!) is dedicated entirely to the preservation of various birds of prey found in the region.

With over 700 pairs of raptors (one of the highest in the world) and 16 different species of nesting birds, the area is a paradise for wildlife lovers and ornithophiles. A great source of natural resources, the National Conservation Area is also home to several eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons.

All you need to really do to spot these birds of prey in their natural habitat is look up to the sky above you. There are various outdoor activities around the area including hiking and boating.

14. Borah Peak, Mackay

Borah Peak, MackaySource: Marty Nelson / shutterstock
Borah Peak, Mackay

Borah Peak, at 12,668 feet above the sea level is the highest point in the state of Idaho, but to reach here, you would first have to conquer the aptly named “Chicken-out Ridge.”

For mountain climbers and highpointers, some of the most difficult summits are that of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Montana. While the difficulty level of climbing the peaks in the remaining 44 states of America is only a 1 or a 2, these 6 states have a level of 3 or 4. Borah Peak is 3.

Named after the state senator, Borah Peak’s summit can only be accessed via an arête, a thin ridge that you will most likely need to climb sideways rather than over. And, if you do manage to gather the courage to conquer the “Chicken-out Ridge” (which, by the way, not many can do), you will need an ice ax and crampons to make the final climb from the arête to the summit.

15. Center of the Universe Manhole, Wallace

Center Of The Universe Manhole, WallaceSource: Dee Chartier / shutterstock
Center Of The Universe Manhole, Wallace

In the middle of Wallace, Idaho is a manhole – so what? It is only logical for every street of every town to have a few for sanitation, right? But, it isn’t just any other manhole. It is, as you will find when you take a closer look, the “Center of the Universe.”

With approximately 780 residents, the town covers a small four by nine-block area. But, sometime in 2004, this quaint little town became the Centre of the Universe – the logic, as explained by one of the four original members behind the area, is that if you can’t prove Wallace isn’t the center of the Universe, then it is the Center of the Universe!

The manhole houses four initials carved on it – HL (Hecla Mining), CDE (Cordelaine Precious Metals), SRLM (Sunshine Silver Mine) and BHM (Bunker Hill Mining Company). These were the four major mining establishments of the town when it was the self-proclaimed “Silver Capital of the World.”

Furthermore, every structure in the town of Wallace is registered on the National Register of Historic Places and has plenty of outdoor activity opportunities – biking, fishing, skiing, zip-lining.

16. Museum of Clean, Pocatello

Museum of Clean, PocatelloSource: karenfoleyphotography / shutterstock
Museum Of Clean, Pocatello

The world is full of museums, some dedicated to people, some dedicated to history, and others dedicated to science, religion, places, and everything else in between. But, in Pocatello, Idaho stands a museum which is dedicated to one of the strongest and the most useful values that we, as humans, possess (or should possess) – the value of cleanliness.

Founded in 2006 by Don Aslett, Museum of Clean not only depicts personal and residential hygiene but also the cleanliness of our surroundings and our inner self (mind, body, soul). Aslett had been collecting cleaning supplies, vacuum cleaners, and all such related items for a long time when he realized that his assortment had outgrown his mini-museum.

In the business of cleaning since the early age of 18, Aslett has written many books and given several lectures regarding the subject of cleanliness, which, as he says is more than just dirt and disorder.

Opened to the public in 2011, the Museum of Clean houses over 1,000 vacuum cleaners and hosts several education programs for adults as well as children.

17. Dugout Dick Memorial, Salmon

Dugout Dick Memorial, SalmonSource: Sean Sheldrake / Facebook
Dugout Dick Memorial, Salmon

Richard Zimmerman had been working for a decade along the banks of Salmon River when in 1948, he had an idea that it was time for him to settle down. At 32, Zimmerman realized that the ideal place for him to settle down is none other than Salmon, Idaho. So, he dug himself a cave.

Made famous as “Dugout Dick” by the locals of the area, Zimmerman used only a shovel, a pick-ax, and a wheelbarrow to create his cave residence. But, it wasn’t enough. So, he went on to dig some more of the same kind. By the time, the creator passed away in 2010, he had already dug an entire town with his bare hands (and just a few basic tools).

Though Dugout was never the official owner of the land he “dug,” but the authorities realized his significance in the town’s history and let him remain in control of his land until he passed away, after which the land will go back to the Bureau of Land Management. Unfortunately, BLM decided that the caves were too unstable to live in and destroyed most of it.

Today, a small cabin and a memorial celebrate the craftsmanship and dedication of Dugout Dick.

18. Birch Creek Charcoal Kilns, Leadore

Birch Creek Charcoal Kilns, LeadoreSource: B Brown / shutterstock
Birch Creek Charcoal Kilns, Leadore

Sometime in the 1800s, a group of miners worked at the lead and silver mines of a tiny town named Nicholia in Lemhi Valley, Idaho. For their ore factories to function, they needed charcoal, so they decided to travel 10 miles across the valley.

Eventually, the group of miners constructed 16 furnaces out of the local clay. Using wood from the area, the beehive-shaped furnaces produced charcoal that was transported back to the ore factory on horses and wagons. At its peak, the operation had around 200 employees, however, it didn’t last for more than three years.

Today, only four of the original kilns remain in the area, restored sometime in the year 2000 to their original size of 20 feet high and 20 feet wide.

19. Eightmile Island, Coolin

Eightmile Island, CoolinSource: Joanne Ischer / Facebook
Eightmile Island, Coolin

A hundred years ago, you had to travel for three days by train, horse-drawn carriages, and then a steamer to get from Spokane, Washington to Priest Lake, Idaho. Now, it only takes a comfortable two-hour drive. The route hasn’t changed much and neither has the lake.

Within this unchanged, picturesque lake is a 100-acre gem known as the Eightmile island, reachable only by a boat. The island originally belonged to Crenshaw brothers who built a homestead cabin on the island sometime in 1897. After their purpose of mining around the area was solved, they sold their private island to the Anders family, who further passed the ownership along.

The cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and descendants of the final owners conduct private tours of the cabin and its in-house museum, a nine-hole golf course, and the quirkily named outhouse, Aunt Fanny.

20. Yellowstone’s Zone of Death, Island Park

Yellowstone's Zone of Death, Island ParkSource: Zack Frank / shutterstock
Yellowstone’s Zone Of Death, Island Park

Within Yellowstone National Park, Idaho is a 50-square-mile stretch of a legal no-man’s land with no permanent residents or proper roads. However, the most significant thing that the area lacks is any form of legislation which practically makes it impossible for serious felons to be charged with any criminal activity, even murder.

The primary reason behind such a mishap is the Sixth Amendment that requires the jury overseeing a criminal case to be from the state and the federal area where the actual crime was committed. However, in this case, the National Park falls under Wyoming while the 50-square-mile area is in Idaho.

Nicknamed as the “Zone of Death,” the area is still by far a no-man’s land even though several attempts have been made to fix the shortcomings.

20 Amazing Hidden Gems in Idaho:

  • Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot
  • Ernest Hemingway's Grave, Sun Valley
  • Idaho City, Idaho City
  • Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood
  • The Black Cliffs, Boise
  • Custer Ghost Town, Stanley
  • Map Rock, Melba
  • Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise
  • Gilmore Ghost Town, Leadore
  • Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, Arco
  • Treaty Rock, Post Falls
  • The Basque Block, Boise
  • Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Murphy
  • Borah Peak, Mackay
  • Center of the Universe Manhole, Wallace
  • Museum of Clean, Pocatello
  • Dugout Dick Memorial, Salmon
  • Birch Creek Charcoal Kilns, Leadore
  • Eightmile Island, Coolin
  • Yellowstone's Zone of Death, Island Park