Discover the 12 Best National & State Parks in Idaho and immerse yourself in breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife. From the stunning beauty of Craters of the Moon to the rugged landscapes of Sawtooth National Recreation Area, this guide will take you on a journey through Idaho's most awe-inspiring natural wonders.
Idaho, known as the Gem State, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its diverse landscapes ranging from majestic mountains to vast forests, it offers an abundance of national and state parks to explore. In this article, we will unveil the 12 Best National & State Parks in Idaho, each offering a unique and unforgettable experience.
12 Best National & State Parks in Idaho
1. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Located in the Snake River Plain, Craters of the Moon is a geological wonder that resembles a lunar landscape. Explore its vast lava fields, volcanic cones, and lava caves. Don't miss the chance to stargaze under one of the darkest night skies in the country.
2. Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Nestled in the heart of central Idaho, Sawtooth NRA boasts jagged peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and a myriad of hiking trails. It's a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like hiking, fishing, camping, and horseback riding.
3. Yellowstone National Park
While most of Yellowstone lies in Wyoming, a portion of this iconic national park extends into Idaho. Witness geysers, hot springs, and the mesmerizing Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in the Idaho section.
4. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Carved by the Snake River, Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America. This rugged landscape is perfect for adrenaline junkies seeking rafting, jet boating, and hiking adventures.
5. City of Rocks National Reserve
City of Rocks is a rock climber's paradise, featuring unique granite spires and monoliths. Even if you're not into climbing, the scenic beauty and historic sites here are worth exploring.
6. Crater Lake National Park
Though mostly in Oregon, a part of Crater Lake extends into Idaho. The deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake's striking blue waters captivate all who visit.
7. Bruneau Dunes State Park
Home to North America's tallest single-structured sand dune, Bruneau Dunes State Park offers opportunities for sandboarding, picnicking, and stargazing.
8. Harriman State Park
A haven for wildlife enthusiasts, Harriman State Park is a sanctuary for elk, moose, and numerous bird species. Enjoy scenic hikes and fishing in the park's serene setting.
9. Shoshone Falls
Often referred to as the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls is a spectacular waterfall on the Snake River. Visit during spring when water levels are at their peak.
10. Farragut State Park
Situated on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, Farragut State Park offers boating, swimming, and an extensive trail system for nature lovers.
11. Sawtooth Wilderness Area
Adjacent to the Sawtooth NRA, the Sawtooth Wilderness Area is a designated wilderness with awe-inspiring mountain scenery and excellent backpacking opportunities.
12. Thousand Springs State Park
Experience the magic of countless springs gushing from the canyon walls at Thousand Springs State Park. Take a scenic drive along the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway for breathtaking views.
Exploring the Beauty of Idaho's Parks
The 12 Best National & State Parks in Idaho offer something for every adventurer and nature enthusiast. Whether you're seeking thrilling outdoor activities, serene landscapes, or unique geological wonders, Idaho's parks have it all.
In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into each park's highlights and explore what makes them special.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Craters of the Moon earned its name due to its otherworldly appearance, reminiscent of lunar landscapes. The park sits atop the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long crack in the Earth's crust formed by volcanic activity.
- Lava Fields: The park's lava fields stretch as far as the eye can see, creating an otherworldly atmosphere that makes you feel like you're exploring a different planet.
- Caves: Delve into the underground world of lava caves formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The Indian Tunnel and Dewdrop Cave are popular spots to explore.
- Wildlife: Despite the harsh environment, the park is home to unique plant and animal species that have adapted to survive in this volcanic landscape.
- Scenic Drives: Take the seven-mile Loop Drive to witness the park's highlights, including various volcanic formations.
- Hiking: Several trails cater to all skill levels, offering opportunities to explore the lava fields and volcanic cones up close.
- Stargazing: Craters of the Moon is a designated International Dark Sky Park, providing stunning views of the night sky.
Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Sawtooth NRA is a vast and rugged playground for outdoor enthusiasts, offering breathtaking landscapes and recreational opportunities galore.
- Sawtooth Mountains: The jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Range are a sight to behold. The iconic Sawtooth Lake and Alpine Lake are must-visit destinations for hikers.
- Redfish Lake: This stunning alpine lake is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and picnicking along its pristine shores.
- Hot Springs: Relax and rejuvenate in one of the natural hot springs scattered throughout the area.
- Hiking: With over 700 miles of trails, hiking in Sawtooth NRA caters to all levels of experience. Don't miss the popular Fishhook Creek Trail.
- Fishing: The area's numerous lakes and rivers offer excellent fishing opportunities, with salmon and trout being common catches.
- Backpacking: For a multi-day adventure, explore the Alice-Toxaway Loop or hike the challenging 25-mile Wonderland Trail.
Q: Are the lava caves at Craters of the Moon safe to explore? A: Yes, the park provides guidelines for exploring lava caves safely. Make sure to bring a reliable light source and wear appropriate footwear.
Q: Can I see wildlife at Harriman State Park? A: Absolutely! Harriman State Park is a wildlife haven, particularly for elk and moose sightings. Keep your camera ready for some memorable shots.
Q: Is there an entrance fee for City of Rocks National Reserve? A: Yes, there is an entrance fee, which goes towards the preservation and maintenance of the reserve's unique rock formations.
Q: Are there any guided tours available at Hells Canyon National Recreation Area? A: Yes, several companies offer guided tours for river rafting and jet boating to help you navigate the rugged beauty of Hells Canyon.
Q: Can I swim in the lakes at Sawtooth National Recreation Area? A: Yes, many of the lakes in Sawtooth NRA are perfect for swimming during the warmer months. Just be aware of the water's temperature.
Q: Is camping allowed at Yellowstone National Park's Idaho section? A: Yes, camping is permitted in the Idaho section of Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check the park's regulations and secure your campsite in advance.
Idaho's 12 Best National & State Parks offer a diverse range of experiences, from exploring lunar-like landscapes at Craters of the Moon to witnessing the grandeur of Sawtooth's mountain peaks. Whether you're an avid outdoor adventurer or a nature enthusiast seeking tranquility, these parks will leave you in awe of Mother Nature's wonders.
So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on an unforgettable journey through Idaho's natural treasures.