With well over 1,000 documented historical sites, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places, Idaho’s vibrant and rich history is seemingly woven into every nook and cranny of our landscape. In fact, Idaho’s pivotal place on the Oregon Trail, alongside the Corps of Discovery, and our more recent mining and logging heritage gives our beautiful state a past that is nothing short of incredible. From historic battlefields to some of the Gem State’s most culturally relevant buildings, there’s no shortage of places to explore! These 10 must-see historical landmarks in Idaho will take you on a fascinating journey through Idaho history.
1. Mission Of The Sacred Heart
With a history that dates back long before its completion in the 1850s, the Mission of the Sacred Heart is not only the oldest building in Idaho; it's also the oldest standing mission in the entire Pacific Northwest. Built entirely without nails and decorated with unique foraged materials to replicate the lavish cathedrals of Europe, this Idaho gem is stunning for its unique Greek Revival-style architecture both inside and out. The beautiful 18-acre Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park is also home to a restored Parish house, a historic cemetery, and an interpretive center which details the importance of the church as a mutual effort between the Jesuit missionaries in Northern Idaho and the native Salish Indians.
2. Pierce Courthouse
Pierce is uniquely situated in Idaho history as the second-oldest city in the state, but the courthouse is particularly special due to its namesake: Elias Davidson Pierce. Pierce was the original discoverer of gold near Orofino, which triggered a series of events that would have devastating consequences for the local Nez Perce. Today, it is the oldest public building in the state and a part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park.
3. Minidoka National Historic Site
In the largest single forced relocation in modern U.S. history, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor Japanese-Americans were placed into temporary, guarded camps. The Minidoka Relocation Center - or Hunt Camp, as it was known - housed thousands of Japanese citizens from 1942-1945. Today it is a National Monument that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a scenic walking path near the river, but visitors should also tour the remaining buildings and the site's visitor center to learn more about the camp's history and the day-to-day life of those who were housed there.
4. Silver City
Historic Silver City is much more than just a partial ghost town. As a former gold and silver mining town, it's a unique landmark that played an important role in Idaho's history and development. Stay the night in a haunted hotel, visit a cemetery of wooden tombstones, and explore the fascinating vintage buildings that are a throwback to Idaho's mining boom.
5. Nez Perce National Historic Park
Containing well over 40 sites spread across four states, the Nez Perce National Historic Park is an expansive journey through the Northwest that explores the history of the Nez Perce (Niimipu) people, their historic interactions with the Lewis and Clark expedition, and traces the devastating 1,170-mile path of the 1877 Nez Perce War. The Nez Perce Visitor Center and Museum in Spalding is an ideal place to start your journey through time across Idaho's landscape. Sites include the Spalding Presbyterian Church, Lolo Pass, and White Bird Battlefield among dozens of others.
6. Johnny Sack Cabin
You won't read about Johnny Sack in many Idaho history books, but he and his unique cabin date back more than 80 years. A small-statured German immigrant and skilled woodworker, Johnny Sack built his own cabin and furniture by hand using an advanced technique that allowed him to leave the bark on. The unique color and texture of the the building are admirable, but this quaint cabin also gets a great deal of attention due to its scenic location at Big Springs in Island Park and Johnny Sack's vital role in the community.
7. Treaty Rock
Treaty Rock is the site of a legendary agreement between Chief Seltice of the Coeur d’ Alene Indians and Fredrick Post, the founder of Post Falls. The rock is crudely inscribed with just a few words and Native American pictographs. It represents the coming together of two cultures, although no known agreement was formally sealed.
The boulder sits at the heart of Treaty Rock Park, where a nature trail winds through the park and passes by the historical site on the way.
8. Fort Hall Replica
Built in 1834, Fort Hall served as an important outpost during the western migration. While the original fort was demolished just a few decades later, this near-perfect replica invites visitors to explore life as it was during Idaho's original settlement and exploration as part of the Oregon Trail. A blacksmith shop, living quarters, and trading post are all onsite, along with fascinating recreated memorabilia and guided history tours.
9. Three Island Crossing
Three Island Crossing at Glenn's Ferry was one of the most important river passage sites for Oregon Trail emigrants in the mid-1800s. During the dry season, the treacherous Snake River made this point a faster, easier route to Fort Boise than traveling south through some of the west's most brutal high desert landscape. Today, Three Island Crossing State Park hosts annual reenactments of the crossing, maintains a campground and cabins, a museum with exhibits, and other visitor services on the north side of the river.
10. Bear River Massacre Historical Site
Idaho's history is both marred and shaped by a number of bloody clashes between its native Indian inhabitants and the white settlers who surged through the state. While today this stretch of farmland outside of Preston is peaceful in appearance, the 1863 Bear River Massacre was actually the largest single Native American slaughter in American history. A series of plaques detail the battle and aftermath in honor of the hundreds of Shoshoni who were slain.
Whether by bike or by car, be sure to visit some of Idaho’s most spectacular historical sites – you’ll be sure to walk away with a greater understanding and appreciation of our incredible state and its unique place in history.