Visit Idaho National Parks
Idaho National Parks! We’ve got seven incredible national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Gem State.
Idaho National Parks is the home of Idaho Potatoes and so much more.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
If you’re planning a trip to the Gem State then one book that I highly recommend is: Idaho Bucket List Adventure Guide & Memory Journal: Travel & Explore 50 Must See Destinations & Record Your Experience by Akeem Press.
We’re going to give you 7 wonderful reasons why you’ll want to make Idaho your next vacation destination.
Table Of Contents: Idaho National Parks
Table of Contents: Idaho National Parks
- Facts About Idaho
- Map Of Idaho National Parks
Facts About Idaho
Idaho is a state located in the northwest region of the United States. It is bordered by Montana to the east, Wyoming and Utah to the south, Nevada and Oregon to the west, and Washington and Canada to the north. The state has a diverse landscape, including mountains, forests, and rivers.
Idaho has a rich history, with Native American settlements dating back thousands of years. The state was a key player in the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century, and its capital, Boise, was named after French-Canadian fur trader Francois Payette.
Today, Idaho is a small but important state, with a population of about 1.8 million people.
The economy of Idaho is diverse, with a focus on agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. The state is a major producer of potatoes, wheat, and other crops, and is also home to many major corporations, including J.R. Simplot and Albertsons.
Boise, the state’s largest city, is a major cultural and economic center, and is home to Boise State University. Other major cities in Idaho include Idaho Falls and Pocatello.
Best Idaho National Parks
1. City of Rocks National Reserve
The Idaho National Parks are among the most stunning national parks in the nation. If you love rocks and rock climbing then you won’t find a more exciting park to visit than City of Rocks National Reserve.
When I was younger there was nothing that I enjoyed more than rock climbing.
Emigrants of the California Trail saw these amazing rocks many years ago. They described them in vivid detail as “a city of tall spires,” “steeple rocks,” and “the silent city.”
Today, this backcountry byway attracts rock climbers, campers, hikers, hunters, and those with the spirit of adventure.
There’s inspirational scenery, exceptional opportunities for geologic study, and remnants of the Old West awaiting your discovery.
Things To Do At City Of Rocks
There are endless opportunities for outdoor adventure in City of Rocks National Reserve. These opportunities include:
- Auto touring: The journey technically begins in Albion – the starting point for the 49-mile City of Rocks Back Country Byway. Upon reaching Almo, be sure and stop at the City of Rocks/Castle Rocks visitor center for information and to watch the 8-minute orientation video that provides a great overview of City of Rocks geology, history, and things to do.
- Birding: City of Rocks, Castle Rocks, and the Almo Valley are some of the best locations in the state for observing Pinyon Jay, Virginia’s Warbler, Gray Flycatcher, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Greater Sage-Grouse, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Plumbeous Vireo.
- Climbing: There are over 600 routes here, both traditional and sport. Climbs vary from 30-600 feet, rating from the relatively easy 5.6 to the extremely difficult 5.14. A number of guidebooks to both City of Rocks and Castle Rocks are available at the visitor center.
- Fishing: Located in nearby Castle Rocks State Park is a 2.6 acre fishing pond stocked with Rainbow Trout.
- Horseback Riding: City of Rocks equestrian trails take you deep into the heart of the North Fork Circle Creek country, Indian Grove, and even 8,867-foot Graham Peak.
- Mountain Biking: Park rangers recommend the five-mile Castle Rocks Trail, which loops around the geological area, and rises over 920 feet in elevation at the half-way point. (Source: NPS)
2. Craters of the Moon National Monument
One of my personal favorite Idaho national parks is Craters of the Moon National Monument.
As a retired history teacher and lifelong history buff, one of my favorite periods of study was the Space Race of the 1960s. I always wondered what it would feel like to walk on the moon. Perhaps you can actually know what it feels like if you take a trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument – minus the zero gravity of course.
Craters of the Moon National Monument is a lava wonderland that’s just waiting for you to explore.
I recommend that you start at the visitor center for park maps and information, educational exhibits, and the park film.
Craters’ caves and trails are all located along the 7-mile Loop Road, making it easy for visitors to see and do a lot in a short amount of time.
Sit back and enjoy the scenic drive, or make stops along the way to stroll, hike, picnic, snap photos, or explore a cave.
Depending on how much time you have you can take in the view along the scenic 7-mile Loop Road, explore Indian Tunnel, hike the Broken Top Loop or Tree Molds Trails or explore the Craters of the Moon Wilderness.
Idaho National Parks
3. Craters of the Moon National Preserve
Just when you thought that your lunar experience was over, Idaho National Parks surprises you with another otherworldly destination. It’s Craters of the Moon National Preserve.
There are different ways to explore Craters of the Moon Preserve. They include:
- Backpacking the Crater of the Moon Wilderness.
- Explore Craters’ dynamic underground world of lava tubes.
- Taking a hike along Broken Top Loop where you’ll find a variety of unique volcanic features on this moderate-difficulty 1.8 mile loop.
- Walking up Inferno Cone which is a short but very steep trail to the top of a volcanic cone for awe-inspiring views.
- Hiking the North Crater Trail which is a 3.5-mile trail that drops into the mouth of North Crater.
- Travelling along the Tree Molds Trail which is a 2-mile trail that winds through the Craters of the Moon Wilderness and features molds of ancient trees encased in lava.
And, when you do, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, you can say, “That’s one small step for a man (or woman) and one giant leap for a great outdoor adventure.“
4. Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument | Idaho National Parks
For over a quarter of a century, I taught World History. I had a blast with the past and you can too because it doesn’t get any older than the Pliocene Era.
Lush wetlands, forests, and grasslands provided an excellent habitat for a variety of animals. These creatures included the now-extinct saber-toothed cat, mastodon, and ground sloth. They also included the more familiar animals like horses, beavers, and birds.
At Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument you can step back in time. It’s a place that preserves one of the world’s richest sites for Pliocene-aged fossils, about 4 to 3 million years old. The fossils found at Hagerman represent over 140 species of plants and animals.
In 2022, visitors will be able to see exhibits in the Thousand Springs Visitor Center. Don’t stop there, however, because you can also experience Hagerman Fossil Beds’ road and scenic overlooks.
Idaho National Parks
5. Minidoka National Historic Site
One of the lesser known yet fascinating Idaho National Parks is the Minidoka National Historic Site.
After Japan’s attack on the United States on December 7th, 1941, Japanese internment camps were established during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt through his Executive Order 9066.
From 1942 to 1945, it was the policy of the U.S. government that people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, would be incarcerated in isolated camps. Many lost businesses, farms and loved ones as a result.
One of these internment camps was Minidoka. The Minidoka National Historic Site near Jerome, Idaho, marks the location where over 10,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and it became a national monument in 2001.
The Minidoka Visitor Center includes a theater, new park film, new interactive exhibits, and a bookstore. There visitors can learn about the stories of some of how these chapter of America’s history impacted Japanese-Americans.
6. Nez Perce National Historical Park
Idaho National Parks also features a dark chapter in American history which is nonetheless important. You can learn about it at Nez Perce National Historical Park.
Perhaps a short history lesson is in order, but have no fear as I will keep it brief and there will be no homework.
The conflict between the U.S. government and the Nez Perce was one of the most tragic of the many Indian wars of the 19th century.
The same Native Americans whose forefathers had befriended and helped Lewis & Clark would find themselves forced off of their ancestral lands.
The U.S. Government’s efforts to force these Native Americans off of their lands produced a backlash. This backlash became known as the Nez Perce War of 1877. A small band of warriors fought American soldiers at four major battles.
In the third of these battles at the Big Hole Basin in present-day western Montana ,Colonel John Gibbon attacked the sleeping Indians with a force of 183 men. The army body count found 89 Nez Perce dead, mostly women and children.
Two months later, Colonel Nelson Miles defeated the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Bear Paw Mountains. It proved to be the final battle for the Nez Perce. Those who were not killed surrendered and agreed to return to the reservation.
If you’re interested in learning more about this important event in American history then I recommend: Battle of the Big Hole: The Story Of The Landmark Battle Of The 1877 Nez Perce War by Aubrey Haines & Calvin Haines.
Things To Do At The Nez Perce National Historical Park
Nez Perce National Historical Park has thirty-eight sites spread across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
The most noteworthy site within is the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite. Old Chief Joseph was a Nez Perce leader who refused to sell his Wallowa homeland and sign the 1863 Treaty.
Another noteworthy site worth is the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland Visitor Center. It’s located in the town of Wallowa.
It’s a 320-acre site which includes interpretive markers along a trail which lead past the traditional longhouse and dance arbor to a stunning overlook of the confluence of the Lostine and Wallowa rivers and sweeping views of ancestral lands.
Idaho National Parks
7. Yellowstone National Park
Have I saved the best for last? I suppose that depends on your perspective. I’ve certainly saved one of the very best national parks in all of America for last. If you only have time to see one of the amazing Idaho National Parks then this is the one. Of course, I’m referring to America’s oldest national park – Yellowstone.
In 2020, Yellowstone National Park attracted 3.8 million visitors. This park features more than two million acres of a high mountain-ringed plateau which have been set aside for permanent protection as a natural preserve.
No One Believed It Was Real Until The Washburn Party
I’m fascinated by the history of places I encounter. I hope that you are too.
Before it became America’s first national park, people explored this fantastic place. They told tales of its magnificent beauty and amazing natural wonders. Few believed them however.
Then, in 1869, C.W. Cook saw some of Yellowstone’s incredible geysers with two traveling companions. Cook was so moved by his experience that he submitted an article to Lippincott’s magazine.
He received a curt reply from them which read as follows: “Thank-you, but we do not print fiction.” Aren’t publishers wonderful.
Old Faithful | Yellowstone National Park
It was left to the Washburn Party, led by Henry Washburn and Nathaniel Pitt Langford, to convince a skeptical public that this place was as magnificent as people were describing it.
Members of the party made detailed maps and observations of the region, explored numerous lakes, climbed mountains, and observed an incredible array of wildlife.
The Washburn Party traveled to the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. They were so fascinated by the regular eruptions of one geyser in particular that they decided to name it Old Faithful. And, needless to stay, the name stuck.
The Official Report Of The Washburn Party
The official report of the Washburn Party was written by Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane. He described, day by day, what the party saw in Yellowstone.
As Freeman Tilden writes, “He [Doane] climbed the peak now known as Mount Washburn on a day when the pure air of the country revealed everything with crystal clarity.
He saw the snowy summits above the Gallatin Valley, and from them traced almost an unbroken circle of mountains, of which he thought the Tetons were a part.” (Source: The National Parks, Freeman Tilden)
Doane’s report authenticated earlier descriptions of Yellowstone. A skeptical public finally began to believe these fantastic tales of this wilderness wonderland.
Wouldn’t it have been incredible to have been there? Of course, you can travel there now and the amenities are much better.
Things To Do At Yellowstone National Park
No visit to Idaho National Parks would be complete without a trip to Yellowstone National Park. There are so many wonderful things to see and do at Yellowstone National Park. With apologies to David Letterman in advance, I will give my Top Ten List though yours may differ:
10. Go Camping-There are many campsites inside the park though you should check availability before you arrive.
9. Go Fishing-Try the trout waters north, south and west of Cody. They’re filled with native brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout.
8. Check Out The Local Culture-See the Plains Indian Museum or visit one of five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
7. Explore The Rocks & Fossils-Inside Yellowstone you will find basalt columns formed by lava and a petrified forest.
6. Go Rafting-Raft down one of the nearby rivers or check out the information on rafting trips which is available at the park entrances.
Are You Ready For The Top 5?
5. Take A Hike-There’s a 1,300 mile trail system. Some of the most popular hikes are Bunsen Peak, Fairy Falls and Uncle Tom’s Trail.
4. Visit The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone-This incredible place includes three glorious waterfalls. The overlook of the lower falls offers a breathtaking view.
3. See The Incredible Wildlife-Yellowstone is home to more wild animals than anyone else in America. There are are Bears, Wolves, Moose, Elk, Bison, Badgers, Otters, Fox and so much more to see inside the park.
2. See The Geysers Erupt– What would a visit to Yellowstone be without a trip to the Old Faithful Geyser. You don’t have to stop there, however, as Yellowstone is home to the most active geyser field in the world.
1. (Can I Get A Drum Roll Please) Sit Back, Relax & Soak It All In-After all, you’re on vacation. You can do as little or as much as you want. I tend to lean towards the as little side, but we’re all different.
Map Of Idaho National Parks
List Of The National Parks In Idaho
- City of Rocks National Reserve
- Craters of the Moon National Monument
- Craters of the Moon National Preserve
- Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
- Minidoka National Historic Site
- Nez Perce National Historical Park
- Yellowstone National Park
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!