When planning a trip across the United States, Idaho is not the first state that someone places on their itinerary. Large cities, beautiful National Parks, or sandy beaches tend to be the destinations of choice for most travelers. If you ask any tourist about their dream destination in the USA, they will say New York or Los Angeles. Perhaps they will mention the Grand Canyon, Washington D.C., or the beaches of Maui. Regardless of what they say, I doubt they will mention Idaho.
You may be reading this wondering why Idaho? You may know little about this foreign area of the country. Before my visit, I knew two things about Idaho: Boise was the capital city, and potatoes grow there. That is until I took a road trip that made its way through a large part of the state. Now that I have explored it, I have discovered gems worth sharing with other adventure-seekers looking for some unique destinations.
I was initially planning a trip to visit cities and national parks in the northwest. I made my plans knowing I wanted to stop in Portland, Oregon, then Yellowstone National Park. But there were hundreds of miles between Portland and Yellowstone, and I needed to make some stops along the way. Idaho was the land between my two destinations, so I searched for potential sights to see along the way. After some deep-digging on Google, I found two landmarks in particular that I decided I did not want to miss. My sentiment was correct, as visiting these places turned out to be two highlights of my trip. (Read about my entire trip here).
Shoshone Falls State Park
My first stop, after a quick overnight in Boise, was to Shoshone Falls Park. The drive there was quick and easy, as Shoshone Falls is two hours southeast of the capital. I knew I was approaching my destination when Snake River came into view. This deep blue, wide river runs for hundreds of miles across southern Idaho, and Shoshone Falls is on that river. I followed the signs for Shoshone Falls Park and began the steep descent down a narrow dirt road.
The drive was scary yet beautiful at the same time. I found myself surrounded by red-brown cliffs with watersheds running down the sides. Out of the corner of my eye, I would catch a splash of green or yellow bush poking out from the ground. After careful maneuvering, I made it to the entrance station, paid the small fee, and found a parking space.
I exited my rental car and walked over to where I could take in my first view of the falls. At once, I fell in love. In front of me was the most magnificent natural display of water I had ever seen. I later read on an information post in the park that Shoshone Falls was called “Niagara Falls of the West.” I had been to Niagara Falls one year earlier, and in my humble opinion, Shoshone Falls is more impressive. Perhaps it was the stark contrast of the white water falling over the red-brown rock that stood out to me. It could have been the impressive height or the appearance of two levels of falls. It was probably all these things, in addition to the Snake River flowing into the distance. Regardless, I was speechless and stood staring at the natural beauty for a long time.
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
When I got my fill of the falls, I bought some stickers from the souvenir stand, then got back in my car. It was then that I began my drive towards my second destination: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon is located in central Idaho, about two and a half hours away from Twin Falls. Prior to my visit, I knew absolutely nothing about this park. I just wanted something to do on my long drive and I have a thing for National Parks. Craters of the Moon is quite small compared to other parks in the United States. It only has several miles of walking trails. However, the landscape is incredible and well worth the long drive to the middle of nowhere.
The drive alone into the park is impressive. The land around the road quickly changed from farmland to barren dirt, to coarse, black gravel. The only two places I have been to that even resembles this type of topography are Iceland and Hawaii. There is a reason for this, I discovered later on a tour with a park ranger. It is because the course, black gravel I described is actually dried up lava from once active volcanoes. According to the park ranger, Craters of the Moon is what Iceland and Hawaii would look like should their volcanoes eventually become extinct (remaining dormant for more than 100,000 years).
All across the park, I found splatter and cinder cones, lava flows, and sagebrush, which are evidence of volcanic eruptions. The highlight of my experience was the quarter-mile hike up inferno cone, one of the largest cones in the park. The hike was short, yet challenging, due to the rocky underfoot, however, the view from the top was breathtaking. I would also like to note that since Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is so far off the beaten path, there were very few visitors, making it feel as though I had the entire park to myself!
So there it is: my two hidden gems in the state of Idaho. When planning a trip in the northwest of the United States, don’t discount this state! You can fit both of these attractions in a day like I did if you’re willing to do some driving. You can also spend a night in Twin Falls and split it into two. There is not much around Craters of the Moon so you will need to look for accommodation two hours away. I stayed in Idaho Falls, which was 2 hours, 45 minutes out because I wanted to hit Yellowstone first thing. There are a few closer options, though they are limited, so book early! I’d be happy to help with any planning you may need for Idaho or anywhere else, contact me for more info! I would love to hear from you 🙂