Idaho is known for its magnificent and diverse landscape, but on your next road trip, plan to take a side trip to see some of our state’s lesser known attractions. These strange, fascinating, and curious pieces of art and and history tell a lot about Idaho’s unique culture… but they also make fantastic photo ops! Check out a few of our state’s biggest and boldest roadside oddities:
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Shoshone Ice Cave Figures, Shoshone
The natural ice cave in Shoshone is a unique feature of Idaho's landscape that also just happens to feature delightful, plastic dinosaurs and prehistoric figurines to lure in travelers. Vibrant and totally photo-worthy, you'll find them scattered across the grounds, alongside the mini museum, and tucked behind rocks.
Bonus: just a short drive down the road, Mammoth Cave hosts a bevy of eerily carved lava faces.
2. Mary the Elephant Tribute, Lewiston
First it was the colorful wooden wagons that brought animals into the city in 1890, then later the railroad before the big tent events were taken off the road permanently. But in 1928, one annual circus event made a lasting impression on the city - and not for the better. On August 9, the Sells-Golo circus reached town. It was a scorching 101 degrees, and the elephants were particularly hot and thirsty and unnerved by the large crowd. Breaking free of their trainers they stampeded up Snake River Ave, but Mary, the most patient of the escaped animals, found herself separated and blocked from accessing water of the Clearwater River. Barricaded from water, she turned violent and the fantastic opening day turned grim.
Mary's death is memorialized in several ways in Lewiston. The latest addition, a street piano (which you're encouraged to play) is featured on Main Street, with the head and hindquarters of an elephant. A plaque across the street denotes the history of the sad event, the details of which can also be read
3. Paul Bunyan, St. Maries
While lacking the companion of his blue ox, this massive and unexpected (and legless) statue in St.Maries is a permanent fixture that fits in nicely with the town's celebrated Paul Bunyan Days. The massive tribute and mascot has stood on the Heyburn Elementary School lawn at Main Avenue since 1967, with Paul's shirt colors occasionally changed back and forth between traditional red and black and the school's colors. The statue was formerly a Texaco "Big Friend," before the oil company discontinued the use of their Muffler Man promotions. Sadly, of the 300 men that Texaco ordered, only a handful are left in the country after the company ordered them to be destroyed... fortunately, Idaho is home to one of the 5-6 that are left!
4. Mudgy and Millie, Coeur d'Alene
The Mudgy Moose Trail in Coeur d'Alene begins at the base of Tubbs Hill and ends at Independence Point, where a series of bronze sculptures show visitors the way. For more moose street art, downtown CDA also plays host to numerous moose sculptures - both painted and unpainted - that highlight the unique qualities of life in Northern Idaho.
5. Spur, Wood River Valley
John Grade's unique sculpture formerly sat at Craters of the Moon--aptly so, since it is an artistic representation of the monument's lava tubes. Today, this rib-like wood sculpture sits on the Wood River Valley Trail.
6. Spud Drive-In Potato, Driggs
This 1950s drive-in is one of the few remaining in the country, and is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with its famous giant spud truck. While "Spud" was replaced in the 90s after vandalism, "Old Murphy" has been a staple since the beginning.
7. Grove Street Illuminated and Boise Canal, Boise
Designed by Amy Westover in conjunction with a downtown renovation, this behemoth sculpture is so pivotal to Boise that visitors rarely realize that it's art. The three rings symbolize change, while a series of manhole covers represent the Boise Canal which was the foundation of the Grove Plaza area. Engravings and clippings capture the spirit of the city, while the piece itself shines as a Boise landmark, photo spot, and historic piece of art.
8. Dog Bark Park, Cottonwood
Officially named "Sweet Willy," this giant beagle in rural Idaho is actually a clean and comfy B&B. Husband and wife owners Dennis and Frances created in this one-of-a-kind stay to showcase both their art and their love of canines. Why not stop and take a photo next to this massive beagle, or his neighboring fire hydrant?
9. Martha's Cafe Gal, Blackfoot
"Martha's Gal" has undergone a number of changes since her appearance in Blackfoot in the 50s. A 17-foot fiberglass statue advertises the cafe, and today is seen wearing more modest attire than the bikini she modeled at her previous location, but she has also changed outfits and hair colors over the years. She is often referred to as a Uniroyal Gal - a series of giant fiberglass women modeled after Jackie Kennedy around the same time that Muffler Men became a marketing staple. Today, these ladies are incredibly rare - less than a dozen are left in the country, and Idaho is home to one of our very own!
10. Potato Museum Potato, Blackfoot
Blackfoot is also home to another attraction that appears in thousands of tourist photos - the world's largest giant potato at the Idaho Potato Museum. This attraction it seems is meant for photo ops, with a selfie stick-turned phone holder ready and waiting for potato enthusiasts. The old styrofoam version was replaced a few years back, and now features sour cream and butter on top - because even spuds need a little glam.
11. Bordello Planter, Wallace
What can be said about this unexpected roadside appearance? Brought to you by the same town that houses the Oasis Bordello Museun, this curious piece is a residential fixture that reportedly receives quite a bit of attention.
12. Maytag Washer Woman, Boise
Perhaps one of roadside Idaho's most recognizable sights, the Maytag Washer Woman on Vista in Boise is iconic for a number of reasons. Not only does this giant lady actually "wash" clothes from atop her motorized sign perch, she also festively changes her outfit to fit the seasons and holidays. "Betty" has been on the job since the 1950s, despite the fact that her original laundromat was transformed into a restaurant long ago. Thousands of people drive by this storefront every day, so when Betty's motor broke a few years ago, the community rallied together to get her back into working order... and back on the job.
13. Snake River Greenbelt Figures, Idaho Falls
This beautiful waterfront city has far too many art pieces to list individually, but a quick stroll down the River Walk greenbelt or through the parks will showcase a plethora of unique art--hand-crafted benches, sculptures, and topiaries all create a whimsical environment that appeals to the childlike and imaginative alike.
14. Lewiston Wave, Lewiston
There are more than 50 canoes in this wavelike sculpture by Christopher Fennell, which sits next to the Interstate Bridge, Fennell's piece is a unique feat of engineering that is mostly recycled and reclaimed, making the perfect photo op against the stunning rolling hills in the background.
What other unique attractions can be found in Idaho? If any of these art pieces have been recently moved, let us know!