We are incredibly lucky to have 30 state parks in Idaho, all of which are bursting with natural beauty and recreation opportunities for couples, families, and solo adventurers. Even better, whether you love mountain isolation, lush, green prairies, or crystal-clear lakes, chances are you’re never too far from one of these expansive and pristine landscapes. Most are within a half hour’s drive from the Gem State’s major cities, which means now that warmer weather is here, you have no excuse not to explore them! Here are nine of the most distinctive and special state parks in Idaho.
1. Old Mission State Park, Coeur d'Alene
For a relaxing day out, ride your bicycle up the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes from Harrison to have lunch at this scenic and fascinating historical park. The Cataldo Mission church building (Mission of the Sacred Heart) is a must-see in itself as the oldest structure in Idaho, dating back to the 1850s. The 18-acre park is also home to a restored Parish house, a historic cemetery, and an interpretive center.
2. Harriman State Park, Island Park
Experience Yellowstone’s stunning ecology from within the caldera of Henry’s Fork, a special geologic rim feature that sits nestled inside the Island Park caldera. Featuring epic fly-fishing and horseback trail opportunities, this 11,000-acre Idaho gem is also home to an abundance of wildlife, like immense cranes, trumpeter swans, and even moose.
3. Ponderosa State Park, McCall
Aptly named for its abundance of towering Ponderosa Pine trees, this 1,000-acre park is an all-seasons Idaho family favorite, offering numerous Payette Lake overlooks, camping, trail hiking, and wildlife opportunities. Osprey Point and North Beach are particularly well-loved for their views.
4. McCroskey State Park, Tensed
This border ridge state park offers spectacular views of the Palouse prairie and ever-changing farmland that makes North-Central Idaho so special. One of Idaho’s more “primitive” parks, a rugged but scenic trip down Skyline Drive and the exploration of its 32 branching hiking trials are both a must.
5. Heyburn State Park, Plummer
As the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest, Heyburn makes a great weekend stop on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. With nearly 6,000 acres of land and over 2,000 of waterways to explore, the three lakes in this park (Benewah, Chatcolet, and Hidden) and expansive landscaping mean you’ll have unlimited opportunities to enjoy the picturesque scenery. Camping here is absolutely stellar as well.
6. Hells Gate State Park, Lewiston
The entrance to one of Idaho’s most spectacular natural features and the deepest river gorge in North America is also a shaded retreat for those looking for both adventure and relaxation. The park sits directly on the Snake River and offers plenty of water activities as well as dozens of hiking and biking trails, playgrounds, camping, and an easy commute to the Nez Perce National Historic Park.
7. Priest Lake State Park, Coolin
Boating, water sports, berry-picking, hiking, beach-bumming, and camping are all possibilities at this park on the banks of one of Idaho’s most treasured gems. Priest Lake's location just half an hour from the Canadian border allows visitors the unique opportunity to experience a truly special part of Idaho.
8. Farragut State Park, Athol
Tucked away from the main roads and once a WWII-era naval training station, today Northern Idaho’s 4,000-acre park provides unique recreation opportunities you won’t find elsewhere. Visit the Naval Training Center Museum, take advantage of the orienteering course and model airplane flyer’s field, enjoy numerous views of Lake Pend Oreille, and, of course, lounge on the beach at Beaver Bay.
9. Bear Lake State Park, St. Charles
Bear Lake itself is a natural wonder, called the "Caribbean of the Rockies" for its unique turquoise-blue color, which is due to the reflection of limestone suspended in the lake. Open year-round, park visitors can camp, sail, scuba dive, water-ski and cannonball from public beaches and lakeside campgrounds. Here, you'll have easy access to the Cache National Forest and the Minnitonka Cave as well.
Clearly, Idaho has a multitude of opportunities to get out and explore. From natural water slides, grueling hiking trails, and scenic vistas to every type of sport offering imaginable, these state parks are just a few of Idaho’s most beautiful and well-loved – and that’s not even including local city and national parks! Wherever you go this season, be sure to take a camera and share your awesome photos and stories with us when you return – we’d love to see them.