Idahoans have always been known for their sense of adventure, and an insatiable desire to explore the indescribable beauty that fills the Gem State. But despite our collective passion for the great outdoors, there are still a number of off-the-radar places that get passed by in favor of larger, more publicized attractions. But you’re reading this because you’re different. You’re looking for a place of solitude that the rest of the state has forgotten about. These Idaho gems – both natural and man-made – are a fantastic starting point for yet another way to experience Idaho.
1. Bruneau Canyon Overlook, Bruneau
Beautiful, quiet, and remote, just outside of Bruneau is one of Idaho's lesser-traversed scenic river canyons, all too often overlooked in favor of the deeper gorge at Hells Canyon. Steep-walled and magnificent, this 800-feet deep river canyon stretches nearly 60 miles through Southern Idaho's Bruneau-Jarbidge Wilderness and makes for a spectacular and unexpected sight amidst the treeless desert that surrounds it.
The Bruneau River is name after Pierre Bruneau, an explorer for the Northwest Trading Company who traveled the region around 1818. The area also is home to a number of hot springs and some spectacular wildlife. To get there, take Hot Springs Road at Hwy-51 from Bruneau and turn right/SW at the "Canyon Overlook" sign approximately 15 miles down a dirt road.
2. Tubbs Hill, Coeur d'Alene
The Tubbs Hill Historical Nature Trail is a two-mile loop that not only showcases incredible flora, but offers stunning views of Lake Coeur d'Alene. While locals are familiar with this well-maintained preserve, visitors will enjoy the beauty immensely, which feels like a completely separate world despite being so close to town. With over 120 acres of nature to explore and numerous trails for all ages and activity levels -- both families and couples -- Tubbs Hill also makes an ideal photo destination, day trip, or romantic setting.
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3. Hobo Cedar Grove Botanical Garden
In 1969, the U.S. Forest Service established seven unique Botanical Areas in Northern Idaho, with Cedar Grove being centered near Clarkia, just a few hours away from Moscow. This lush, protected forest canopy preserves Western Red Cedar trees that are hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years old.
A half-mile nature trail winds through one portion of the grove, but 17 nature trail stations are along the route as well, including an additional mile-long loop trail that meanders through the bulk of the preserve. This spot is truly unlike any other scenery in Idaho.
4. Basque Block and Cultural Center, Boise
Since the 1800s the Basque culture has been an integral part of Idaho's history, but few take the time to learn about or truly appreciate the rich heritage that thrives right in the heart of Idaho's capital. An in-depth tour of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, and an exploration of the unique eateries that abound on Boise's Basque Block (611 Grove St.) are both must-dos for any Idahoan. Here, you'll see Basque artwork, come to appreciate the unique qualities of Basque literature, and even see a mural replica of old Basque shepherd tree carvings that have been compiled from around Idaho.
5. The "Funnel," Sandpoint
Beauty meets modern industrialization at Idaho's only Amtrak stop. Typically known as a ski haven, Sandpoint is also home to the largest rail "funnel" in the Northwest, a site where east-west trains converge, carrying cargo from major areas like Chicago, Seattle and Canada. Come for the architecture and history, come to see the incredible switching yard, or visit just to see dozens of impressive trains rumble through on a daily basis.
6. The Seven Devils Mountains and Heaven's Gate Overlook, Riggins
Located in the Hell's Canyon Wilderness, these notable peaks separate Hell's Canyon and the Salmon River Canyon, with one near-perfect overlook being Heaven's Gate Lookout. Like an impressive fortress, the dark granite parapets stretch towards the sky, each with their own sinister name to match their impressive and jagged nature.
Often overlooked in favor of the canyon below, many neglect to take the time to adequately appreciate the formations that rise out of the horizon, which boast dozens of hidden lakes and springs, as well as stunning unmaintained trails that depart from the main 27-mile loop. Absolutely spectacular. To get there, take Forest Road 517 from Hwy. 95 about half a mile south of Riggins.
7. Twin Menan Buttes, Rigby
The Twin Buttes in Southeastern Idaho are two of the world's largest volcanic tuff cones, rising close to 800 feet above the surrounding landscape. Often overlooked in favor of nearby Craters of the Moon, the buttes offer exceptional opportunities to explore the unique geology and natural history of the area. These ancient volcanoes formed when basaltic magma boiled up through ground water, making the trails a hiker's paradise.
Have you been to any of these places, and what did you think? Do you have some spectacular, unknown spots to tell us about? Be sure to share!