Discover Idaho’s Best State Parks for Nature Lovers (2024)
The beautiful state of Idaho is full of spectacular natural beauty with some mesmerizing scenery no matter where you go in the state. This is why Idaho is aptly known as the Gem State because it is truly a gem in the crown of the Pacific Northwest. From jagged mountain peaks to wild rivers and lush green forests, Idaho is home to so many breathtaking scenic locations that are a must-visit for every visitor. This has made it a highly sought-after destination for nature and adventure enthusiasts.
It often surprises visitors to learn that Idaho is home to around 27 fascinating state parks that attract both local and international tourists from all over the world. So when you are planning a visit to Idaho, do not forget to include some of the best state parks in your itinerary.
Discover Idaho’s Best State Parks for Nature Lovers
Here is a list of the best state parks in Idaho to help you narrow down your list and visit only the best state parks.
1. Lucky Peak State Park
Lucky Peak State Park is one of the most beautiful and scenic state parks in Idaho. Sitting on the eastern side of the capital city of Boise, this state park is made up of three separate day-use units that are home to a wide variety of recreational activities. This serene getaway is just ten minutes away from Boise and it is a hot favorite amongst the Boise residents. You will often find residents at Lucky Peak State Park indulging in fun-filled activities like swimming, biking, boating, fishing, and picnicking.
The Lucky Peak State Park is located on the stunning Boise River Greenbelt Trail and its close location to the city of Boise has made it a huge crowd-puller. The three different units are located all along the Lucky Peak Reservoir. The Discovery Park and Sandy Point Units are the closest to the town of Boise and they are the perfect scenic open space for visitors to hold picnics, indulge in watersports or sunbathe. There is a big swimming area at Sandy Point, which is much sought after by visitors in the summer months. It is also possible to do paddleboard rentals on an hourly basis, or you can even play at the disc golf course during the fall and spring seasons.
The Spring Shores Marina is the ideal place for indulging in watersports or you can have fun hiking or cycling as well. The Lucky Peak State Park is the ideal place for the entire family to enjoy.
2. Shoshone Falls Park
The Shoshone Falls is an iconic waterfall located in the town of Twin Falls in southern Idaho. It is also aptly known as the Niagara of the West owing to its awe-inspiring height and width. The Shoshone Falls is a spectacular sight as you take in the views from the Shoshone Falls Park. The waterfall has been the main attraction of this state park since 1932.
The waterfall has been protected inside the park since its inception, located on the banks of the mighty Snake River. The waterfall spans nearly 300 meters, with its thundering white wall of water reaching up to 65 meters. This is actually even higher than the actual Niagara Falls. Being the highlight of the state park, the waterfall is also a very popular sight for clicking photos. There is even an observation deck nearby from where you can look out over the majestic basalt canyon.
Apart from admiring the scenic beauty of the Shoshone Falls, visitors to this state park can also indulge in hiking along the canyon’s uniquely rugged rim and also check out the Dierkes Lake and the spot where the famous American daredevil Evel Knievel tried jumping across the Snake River in 1974.
3. Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Nestled between Ketchum and Stanley are the rugged Sawtooth Mountains, which are the precious jewel in Idaho’s crown. Spread out over 756,000 acres across these majestic mountain peaks, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is one of the most famous state parks in Idaho. Popularly referred to just as NRA or SNRA, this area encompasses three uniquely designated wilderness areas along with nearly 700 miles of trails that take you from one picturesque spot to the next.
Sawtooth NRA is the best place to take in the best views of the jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains as well as three other ranges, as well as the massive White Cloud Mountains.
There are four main rivers that have their presence in the NRA, namely the mighty Salmon River, the South Fork of the Payette, the Boise River, and the Big Wood. To understand the exact stature and spread of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, you should know that there are over 40 mountain peaks inside the area that rise over 10,000 feet, making the sight truly magnificent to behold.
One of the most popular activities in this recreational area is hiking. This is not surprising considering that the area boasts of over 700 miles of trails, which range from both easy day hikes to challenging backpacking routes. The trails offer some of the most stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lakes, including the famous Redfish Lake, which is a popular local spot for camping, fishing, and also for enjoying water sports.
Another popular activity in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is fishing. The area is home to many of the world-renowned trout streams, including the mesmerizing Salmon River, which is one of the longest undammed rivers in the country. The Salmon River is a hot favorite among fly fishermen, who come from all over the country to cast their lines in the crystal-clear waters of the river.
For those visitors who are looking for a more relaxing activity, the SNRA also offers a number of hot springs, where you can soak in the warm, natural waters while enjoying the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors and wants to explore the major state parks of Idaho. With its stunning natural beauty, wide range of recreational opportunities, and abundant wildlife, the SNRA offers something for everyone.
4. Castle Rocks State Park
Another must visit state park in Idaho is the Castle Rocks State Park. Castle Rocks State Park is a natural treasure hidden in the very heart of southern Idaho. This wonderful state park offers stunning vistas and a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. The park is spread over 2,000 acres of rugged terrain and is located just a few miles outside the small town of Almo in Idaho.
One of the main attractions of Castle Rocks State Park is the breathtaking rock formations after which this park has been named. These unique formations were created millions of years ago by volcanic activity, and even today, they offer a stunning backdrop for hikers, climbers, and nature lovers.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Castle Rocks State Park, and rightly so since there is over 14 miles of trails to explore. Visitors to the park can take a leisurely stroll through the park’s meadows and forests, or challenge themselves by trying out the more strenuous hikes up steep hills and explore the rugged terrain. The trails are well-marked and also offer stunning views of the park’s stunning rock formations and surrounding landscape.
Climbing is another popular activity in Castle Rocks State Park, with over 350 climbing routes for climbers of all levels. The park’s unique rock formations offer a variety of climbing experiences. There are easy beginner routes to the more challenging advanced climbs to attract visitors of all skills. However, climbers should be aware that the park has strict regulations about climbing and one should check with the park’s visitor center before beginning any climbs.
For those who prefer to enjoy the park’s natural beauty at a more relaxed pace, Castle Rocks State Park also offers a variety of picnic areas and campsites. You can enjoy a meal in the park’s many scenic picnic areas, or even think about staying overnight in one of the park’s tent or RV campsites. To ensure your complete convenience and comfort, the park also has modern restrooms and shower facilities.
In addition to its stunning natural beauty, Castle Rocks State Park is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. You may get lucky and spot elk, deer, mountain lions, or even some rare species of birds while you explore the trails and meadows here.
There is no doubt that Castle Rocks State Park is a true gem of southern Idaho that is worth visiting.
5. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is truly a geological wonder located in southern Idaho. The area has been classified as one of the state parks of Idaho and it stretches on as a vast expanse of lava fields, cinder cones, and other volcanic features across 750,000 acres. The monument was established in 1924, and in 2000 it was expanded to also include a national preserve, which is managed by the US National Park Service.
Now, for the first time visitor, this place will appear right from a science fiction movie. You may even think that it looks like a Martian landscape. The volcanic landscape of Craters of the Moon was created by a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred nearly 15,000 to 2,000 years ago. The lava flows and other volcanic features are so extensive that they have actually been used as training grounds for NASA astronauts to simulate the surface of the moon. No wonder visitors are left stunned at the sight of this outer worldly landscape.
Visitors to Craters of the Moon can explore the unique geology of the park by hiking on its trails, driving on scenic roads, or joining a ranger-led tour. The park offers over 60 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to strenuous hikes. Along the way, visitors can also make some stops to check out and marvel at the park’s rugged terrain and stunning vistas.
One of the most popular activities in Craters of the Moon is, of course, to explore the caves and lava tubes that can be found throughout the park. These underground tunnels were formed by lava flows that solidified on the surface while still molten inside. Visitors can explore the caves on their own or join a ranger-led tour, which offers an in-depth look at the geology and history of the park.
In addition to its unique geological features, Craters of the Moon is also home to a variety of wildlife. Visitors may see coyotes, badgers, porcupines, and other animals as they explore the park. The park is also home to over 200 species of plants, including sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and wildflowers.
For those visitors who want to spend the night in this state park, Craters of the Moon offers a variety of camping options. Visitors can camp at one of the park’s two campgrounds, or backpack into the wilderness for a more remote camping experience. The park also has picnic areas and a visitor center, where visitors can learn more about the park’s geology and history.
There is no doubt that the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a unique and fascinating destination for anyone interested in geology, natural history, or outdoor recreation. Its rugged terrain, stunning vistas, and unique geological features make it a must-visit state park for anyone who is traveling through southern Idaho.