Wildflowers, Starry Skies and More: The Best Idaho State Parks

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Arco, Idaho

Idaho is an underrated destination for beautiful and unspoiled nature. Sprinkled with sage-covered deserts, towering ponderosa pines, crystal clear lakes, dramatic gorges and endless plains, the state is home to some of North America’s most spectacular natural landscapes.

Also known as the Gem State, Idaho boasts more than 25 state parks, all managed by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Whether you prefer lounging by a lake, photographing wildflowers, or stargazing with your loved ones, Idaho’s state parks appeal to all outdoor-lovers. Plan your trip now with our list of the 10 best state parks in Idaho.

SheBuysTravel Tip: To learn more about any of the following parks, head to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov

1. Bruneau Dunes State Park

Located in southwest Idaho, Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to deserts, dunes, lakes and marshes, but it’s best known for its towering sand dune. Standing at 470-feet high, this is the tallest sand dune in all of North America. Visitors can hike up the dunes and ride back down on sandboards.

The park also offers hiking trails, camping, horseback riding and bird watching. Fishing is permitted in the lakes at the foot of the dunes, and there are plenty of picnic areas for those who have worked up an appetite.

Learn more about the dunes and the local wildlife at the park’s visitor center. There’s also an observatory where visitors can peer through telescopes and enjoy the vibrant night sky.

2. Bear Lake State Park

Bear Lake State Park can be found high in the rocky mountains, straddling the Utah-Idaho border. The park is located along the shores of Bear Lake, a natural freshwater lake known for its stunning turquoise-colored water. Lots of water-lovers visit the park to go boating, fishing, water-skiing, scuba diving and sailing.

Also a popular camping destination, the lake attracts 15,000 campers each year. Campsites are equipped with a picnic table, a grill and a fire pit.

While exploring the park, keep an eye out for the many animals that call the park home. Bald eagles, osprey, cranes, pelicans and geese are just some of the many bird species that can be spotted here. The park also boasts a rare fish species, the Bonneville cisco, that can only be found in Bear Lake.

3. Castle Rocks State Park

Enjoy stunning wildflowers, amazing rock formations and lush forests while visiting Castle Rocks State Park. This 1,692-acre park is located in Cassia County, and features rock formations including granite spires and monoliths that date back to 2.5 million years. These formations make for excellent rock climbing and attract climbers from all over the world.

If rock climbing isn’t your style, there are lots of trails for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding. The park is exciting year-round, with the winter months boasting cross-country skiing or snowshoeing opportunities.

4. City of Rocks National Reserve

The City of Rocks National Reserve is another park known for its dramatic geological features, particularly popular among rock climbers. With towering granite spires, it’s no wonder this park was described as “a city of tall spires” and a “silent city” by early emigrants traveling on the California Trail.

In addition to its granite formations, the park boasts deep canyons and lush woodlands that attract climbers, hikers, campers and nature lovers alike. The park also offers spectacular stargazing.

The City of Rocks National Reserve Visitor Center is open every day and has lots of informative resources. Ask the rangers about the historic rock formations, pick up a guide booklet or buy souvenirs like books, mugs and postcards.

5. Farragut State Park

Farragut State Park is a 4,000-acre park located in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains of northern Idaho. Once the site of the Farragut Naval Training Station, active during World War II, the park attracts nature-lovers as well as history-buffs. Explore the park’s historic sites and check out the war memorabilia housed in the Museum at the Brig.

Situated on the shores of the beautiful Lake Pend Oreille, Farragut State Park offers boating, swimming and fishing. The park’s 40+ mile trail system includes family-friendly options, like the Squirrel Cache Trail, as well as more challenging options, like the Highpoint Trail. In the winter, visitors can go cross-country skiing on these trails.

Keep an eye out for some of the park’s wildlife, including whitetail deer, squirrels, coyotes, hummingbirds and hawks. The lake is also home to rainbow trout, lake trout, bass and whitefish.

6. Harriman State Park

Harriman State Park is a refuge for wildlife native to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Located in eastern Idaho, the park is only 38 miles from Yellowstone National Park. It boasts 22 miles of trails, which can be explored on foot, on horseback or via mountain bikes.

The park is also home to an abundance of wildlife, including trumpeter swan, sandhill cranes, elk, deer, moose and occasionally bears. Henrys Fork, a tributary of the Snake River, cuts through Harriman State Park and is known for being one of the best fly-fishing streams in the US.

In the winter, the park transforms into a prime spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with over 25 miles of groomed trails.

7. Lucky Peak State Park

Situated on the shores of Lucky Peak Lake, about 10 minutes from downtown Boise, this Idaho state park boasts stunning lake and mountain views. The park is nestled along the scenic Boise River and covers an area of 240 acres. It features lots of hiking trails and Sandy Point beach, a perfect place to relax on a warm day.

The park also has a Discovery Center with restrooms, picnic tables, grills and a volleyball court. Spend the day hiking, biking, swimming, boating or fishing. The park also has a well-maintained campground with sites for tents, RVs, and trailers.

8. Hells Gate State Park

One of the deepest canyons in North America, Hells Gate State Park is rich in both history and nature. The park is only four miles from downtown Lewiston, and was once the site of a Nez Perce Village. There are still depressions where pit houses used to be. Learn more about the Indigenous people that occupied this area at the Nez Perce National Historic Park, just a short drive from the park.

The park is located on the banks of the Snake River, where park visitors can go fishing or boating. There are also lots of trails for hiking and biking, and those staying the night can choose between cabins, yurts and traditional campsites.

9. Heyburn State Park

Created in 1908, Heyburn State Park is the oldest park in the Pacific Northwest. This park is known for its stunning views of the Coeur d’Alene River and Lake Coeur d’Alene, as well as its abundance of wildlife.

See 400-year-old Ponderosa Pine while exploring the park’s numerous trails, made for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a popular biking trail, cuts through the park and a full service marina provides a public dock, a boat launch and a store selling any necessary boating supplies.

The park is also home to three campgrounds, Hawleys Landing Campground, Chatcolet Campground and Benewah Campground. There are also cottages and sleeper cabins that can be rented.

10. Craters of the Moon

Although technically not a state park, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is an Idaho must-see. Exploring this national monument feels like traveling to another planet. This landscape results from lava flows that erupted more than 15,000 years ago. The otherworldly park spans 343,000 acres and is full of sagebrush, caves and cinder cones, the smallest type of volcano.

Visitors can hike up cinder cones, venture into the caves, explore the park on skis or camp in the park. Not sure where to start? Head to the visitor center and watch a film about the park. The visitor center also has a number of educational exhibits, park maps and helpful guides.

Adina Keeling is a freelance travel writer from San Diego, CA. She worked in local news for a year until her wanderlust drew her to Costa Rica, where she is now based while freelancing and traveling the world. She has lived in three different countries and traveled to 27. An avid solo traveler, Adina wants to empower other women to safely travel alone.
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