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Kids in Nature
The Idaho Division of Tourism has launched www.beoutsideidaho.org, a Web-site that captures the playfulness of Idaho and empowers kids and families to get outdoors.
The Be Outside network is a community of state and federal agencies, private businesses, and citizens who have combined their efforts to deliver a statewide promotion to foster the health benefits of being outdoors. Visit www.beoutsideidaho.org for a list of all the great things to do when you get outside in Idaho!
Hunting for springtime blooms is a popular pastime here. Spend a weekend exploring the backcountry in search of some of Idaho's abundant wildflowers. Starting in late March, flowers bloom in the lower elevations and in the higher elevations as warmer weather rolls in. Idaho wildflowers generally peak in late July and early August in the highest elevations (10,000 feet-plus.) Most of the locations listed below are easily accessible and make great day hikes or bikes.
In late May, depending on spring weather, the camas fields turn blue and purple in southern Idaho's Camas Prairie near Fairfield and can be easily viewed from Hwy. 20-26. The prairie is an ancient lake bed, surrounded on all sides by mountainous terrain, which has undergone a geologic transformation and now exists as a high prairie community. A small creek, Camas Creek, is fed seasonally by spring runoff and inundates the surrounding land, creating a unique marsh habitat. This area is also an excellent place to view waterfowl and other bird species.
In June, the snow is long gone in the Wood River Valley. Adams Gulch in Ketchum and Greenhorn Gulch, two popular biking trails near Hailey, are great destinations for wildflower seekers. Grab your bike and pack a picnic, as there are plenty of places to pull-off and enjoy lunch among the flowers. You'll see lupine, Indian paintbrush, shooting stars, arrow leaf balsamroot and many other species of plants and flowers. Stop in at the Sun Valley/Ketchum Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information on local flora and fauna.
In Northern Idaho, about 100 miles northwest of Coeur d'Alene, are the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. About 14 miles past the small town of Nordman on Highway 57, you'll find a unique area of old-growth cedar named for President Theodore Roosevelt. Some of the trees date back 3,000 years.
Hike to the North Fork of Granite Creek, a high-mountain creek that winds through stands of towering ancient western red cedar trees. Two trails are maintained from the trailhead. An easy trail of 365 feet runs along the creek bringing hikers to a viewpoint of the Lower Granite Creek Falls cascading over a sheer rock wall, and a one-mile loop trail of moderate difficulty leads up the old road for 200 feet above the trailhead. This longer trail will bring you to views of the Upper Granite Creek Falls and the Lower Granite Creek Falls.
Here, among old-growth cedars, wildflowers are abundant carpeting the forest floor. Look for shades of pink, yellow, blue or white. Common species include lily of the valley, spring beauty, trilliums, violets, foam flower, and wild ginger. The cool and moist climate in this secluded snap shot of history make this a wonderful excursion on a sunny summer day.
Theme Park Fun
Pack up the kids and drive to northern Idaho for an action-packed vacation filled with parks, rides and water adventures. Start out at Silverwood Theme Park 15 miles north of Coeur d'Alene. This family-friendly park is modeled after a turn-of-the-century Victorian town, complete with a steam train, water rides, performance shows, Boulder Beach Water Park, antique aircraft museum, games of skill and Tremors, a 60 mile-per-hour underground roller coaster. If you like suspense, the slow rise to the top of the 140 foot tall tower at Panic Plunge is almost as scary as the 47 mph drop.
Web: www.silverwoodthemepark.com or 208-683-3400.
At the end of the day, stop by Triple Play in Hayden for a one-of-a-kind experience. This complete family entertainment center with the Raptor Reef Indoor Water Park, bumper boats, bowling and two miniature golf courses, plus go karts and laser tag, has it all in the heart of Hayden. The real adventurous can try the climbing wall located inside the complex.
Add Silver Rapids Water Park at Silver Mountain to your list. The approximately 55,000 square-foot water park near Kellogg features thrilling swirl pools, body and tube slides, a lazy river, family raft slide, kid's activity lagoon and a FlowRider Surf Wave which combines the thrills of surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding.
Idaho's Best-Kept Secret: Mountain Biking
If mountain biking down picturesque pathways, across high-mountain tresses and along alpine lakes is your idea of a great family vacation, start out your adventure following the Route of the Hiawatha. Once a railroad passage called Milwaukee Railroad, this span was noted as one of the most scenic stretches in the country. With the rails removed and construction complete, the wilderness biking and hiking trail path winds through 10 tunnels and seven trestles on this 15-mile route which crosses the Bitterroot Mountain Range. It's best known for the long, cavernous St. Paul Pass, or "Taft" Tunnel, which descends into darkness for 1.66 miles underneath the Idaho/Montana state line. This relatively easy trail is great for riders of all ages and ability levels from beginner to novices alike, so there's certainly something for every member of the family.
Your next day's adventure should include the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, a spectacular, 73-mile scenic trail of paved asphalt running through Idaho's Panhandle, perfect for mountain biking, hiking and inline skating. This trail, created through a partnership between the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Union Pacific Railroad, the U.S. government and the State of Idaho, begins in the historic Silver Valley and runs along rivers, Lake Coeur d'Alene and past scenic farmland. This is another trail great for all ages and abilities and offers plenty of trailheads, picnic tables and benches for an afternoon break.
Silver Valley Mining History
Northern Idaho is filled with history and stories from the days of the big mining era. Experience this step back in time with a trip to the Silver Valley including Wallace, Murray, Prichard and Kellogg.
Until recently, mining was the lifeblood of Wallace. Established in 1892, Wallace served as supply center for one of the largest silver producing areas in the world. Today the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Northern Pacific Depot - an architectural gem - and the Coeur d'Alene District Mining Museum serve as interpretive centers for regional history. The Oasis Bordello Museum provides a more "colorful perspective" of the town's past and the Sierra Silver Mine gives a good look into the life of an underground miner.
Located near Wallace in the Idaho Panhandle, Murray and Prichard also feature the history of the early mines that put Idaho on the map. Travel to Murray to see the famous Spragpole Museum Restaurant & Bar along with the Bedroom Gold Mine Bar.
Next, travel southwest to Kellogg where kids will enjoy panning for their own gold on the
Crystal Gold Mine Tour. This 30-minute tour takes visitors deep inside this old mine which, after miner Tom Irwin blasted the mountain away to hide the mine's entrance in 1882, lay hidden to the world for more than 100 years. Visitors experience a time gone by witnessing Tom's old mine car and tools inside. Paved walking paths make it easy for all ages to get around.
North Central Idaho
Idaho's history is deeply intertwined with the American Indians who first inhabited this land. Experience the history of Idaho's American Indians by visiting the Nez Perce National Historical Park and Trail. The historical park and museum pays tribute to the lives and legacy of the people of the Nez Perce Tribe. Originally developed as a Nez Perce mission location, two years after missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding settled on Lapwai Creek in 1836, today this site serves as National Park Service headquarters and contains a major interpretive center to explain Nez Perce history. The park consists of 38 sites scattered across four states and is the only national park that celebrates a people instead of a place. It contains over 5,000 historic photographs and 24 historic sites that tell the story of the Nez Perce people. Visitors can also view a movie about the Nez Perce culture and history.
For a truly all-encompassing history of Idaho, stop along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Relive the steps of the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition with the Riverside Tepee and Canoe Camp where you will enjoy Lewis and Clark history, Native American historical and cultural activities, expedition re-enactments, special events and hands-on activities with American Indian staff. Experience longboat river tours, guided fishing trips, kayaks and canoes. Contact: Clearwater River Company, Inc., 18835 Fir Bluff Lane, Lenore, ID 83541; Tel: (208) 276-3199 or (877) 894-9199;
As Idaho's capital city, Boise is a mecca for art, culture, cuisine and of course, outdoor recreation.
With annual events like the Gene Harris Jazz Festival, Art in the Park, and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Boise is the cultural center of the gem state. Food is a top priority for Boiseans, and unique events like the Soul Food Extravaganza showcase this priority.
As home to the largest population of Basques outside of Spain, Boise is proud to host Jaialdi, an event which takes place every five years and showcases the Basque culture through music, food, dancing and history.
Spend a day at the Discovery Center of Idaho and learn about the physics of science or check out Boondock's Fun Center and Roaring Springs Water Park in nearby Meridian, a 17-acre park where kids enjoy bumper boats, race cars, mini golf and gallons and gallons of water.
For an "up close and personal" animal experience families love the World Center for Birds of Prey and the Boise Zoo. Both offer unique exhibits and a chance to learn about specific birds and other animals native to Idaho and other parts of the world.
Boise offers a chance to hit the outdoors from almost anywhere in the city. Escape to the foothills for hiking and mountain biking, or rent a tube or raft and take a leisurely float down the Boise River. For a more casual outdoor experience, try an afternoon walk on the Boise Greenbelt. When you're ready to take it up a notch, Lucky Peak State Park is a short 30-minute drive and offers swimming, boating and jet skiing opportunities, while the Payette River at Banks offers families the chance to get wet on some Idaho whitewater.
For wintertime excursions,
Bogus Basin Ski Resort is only a 30-40 minute drive from downtown and
Tamarack Resort and
Brundage Mountain are a two-hour drive north.
Web: Southwest Idaho Travel Association www.visitsouthwestidaho.org; Boise CVB
Cool Down and Warm Up in Southwest Idaho
A day at
Brundage Mountain Resort should calm the need for speed. With a vertical drop of 1,800 feet the mountain has a little something for everyone. It certainly is a skier's mountain with plenty of adventurous runs for both beginner and expert. There are acres of untracked powder for dare devils and beautifully groomed runs for the less adventurous. Enjoy beautiful views of the valley below as you take it all in.
After a day on the mountain, slow things down a bit and enjoy the quaint town of McCall and the annual McCall Winter Carnival. This mountain paradise comes to life with a Mardi Gras Grand Parade, Snow Sculpture Contest, Grand Bingo and Monte Carlo night, Tubing Races, Fun Run, and Beard & Sexy Leg Contest. Locals agree this is the event of the season.
After a few days in McCall, warm yourself up with a hot springs dip. People of all ages enjoy the natural waters of Zims Hot Springs, located in scenic New Meadows north of McCall. Open year-round these natural hot springs surface at 145 degrees Fahrenheit and are cooled by aeration in two large pools. One pool is kept at a cool 93 degrees and the other soaking pool is a muscle-relaxing 103 degrees.
Web: Zim's Hot Springs, P.O. Box 314, New Meadows, ID 83654; Tel: (208) 347-2686.
South Central Idaho
Science and Geology in South Central Idaho
A trip to South Central Idaho isn't complete without a stop at The Herrett Center, located on the campus of the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. This facility houses a collection of artifacts including pre-Inca textiles, Mayan jade and Peruvian pottery. In 1995 the college added the Faulkner Planetarium, a 151-seat, state-of-the-art multi-media domed theater offering programs emphasizing space and science. Children of all ages enjoy learning about space and science at this interactive museum.
Web: www.csi.edu/herrett/ or 208-732-6655.
Traveling Interstate 84 there is much to see right off the road. The Great Rift, Balanced Rock and the City of Rocks are just a few places to stop along the way for family fun and adventure.
The Great Rift is a geological national landmark located in the Snake River Plain and one of only two such features in the world. At 635 square-miles, the Great Rift is considered as the largest, deepest and most recent volcanic rift system in the continental United States. A tremendous fissure extending 65 miles opened up to emit successive lava flows some 15,000 years ago resulting in spatter caves, ice tubes, and cinder cones. It contains undisturbed and unusual geologic features throughout the 380,000 acres of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Wapi lava flows. Many of Idaho's most fascinating geological features lie along the Great Rift awaiting the adventurous desert hiker. The only other such geologic area in the world is in Africa.
Traveling southeast the City of Rocks' granite columns - some reaching 60 stories tall - loom high above Circle Creek Basin and are popular with climbers. Many of the granite rock formations are over 2.5 billion years old, some of the oldest found in North America. Established in 1988 as a national reserve, the City of Rocks encompasses 14,407 acres of land (about one quarter is privately-owned) and renowned for its scenic, geologic and historic significance. Take a walk to see inscriptions on the spires written in axle grease by pioneers traveling through on the California Trail. There is a visitor center at Almo.
Finally driving west towards Buhl, visit world-famous Balanced Rock. Standing over 48 feet tall and weighing more than 40 tons, the wind-carved rock balances precariously on a pedestal only 3 feet by 17 inches. Nearby Balanced Rock Park is an excellent spot for a picnic.
History and Fun in Southeastern Idaho
For a history trip the kids will never forget, a tour of southeastern Idaho is a must. Start out at Fort Hall in Pocatello, a replica of the historic facility that served pioneer travelers along the Oregon Trail. Enter the massive wooden gates and wander through Company Hall, Frontier Room, Indian Room, Blacksmith, and Carpenter's Room. A covered wagon and tepee enhance the outdoor exhibit.
Web: www.forthall.net or 208-234-1795.
If the kids are ready for a break, travel southeast to Lava Hot Springs. For centuries many Indian tribes called these natural hot water springs "healing waters." Geologists theorize the water has been a consistent 110 degrees for at least 50 million years. Today the State of Idaho maintains this world-famous resort complex year-round, offering hot mineral baths at 110 degrees Fahrenheit that are sulfur and odor-free. In addition to the hot pools there is a free form Olympic-size swimming and diving pool for summer fun. Tel: (208) 776-5221 or (800) 423-8597;
Web: www.lavahotsprings.com or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Continuing southeast to Montpelier, stop at The National Oregon/California Trail Center which offers an excellent, structured educational experience about the largest mass migration in American history, the Oregon Trail. Ride in a computer-controlled covered wagon. Journey the trails with experienced guides in period costumes.
Web: www.oregontrailcenter.org or Tel: (208) 847-3800.
Finally if your family is a Napoleon Dynamite fan, visit the movie location site in Preston and check out specific places and items such as Napoleon's house, Preston High School and Uncle Rico's van.
Wildlife, Dance and Science
The Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls is a national traveling exhibit museum dedicated to preserving and showcasing the natural and cultural history of Idaho and the West. Children and adults alike experience regional educational programs in the sciences and humanities. Nationally-acclaimed exhibitions including a T. Rex Named Sue; Discovering Idaho: The World of Lewis & Clark and Space Journey (NASA). The museum offers permanent displays about the Columbian Mammoth, Lewis and Clark and the race for atomic power. There's also a Children's Discovery Room, a reading and reference library, presentations and educational programs.
Continuing north toward Yellowstone National Park, watch for bear signs. The beauty of eastern Idaho will draw you in as you explore many parts of this region. Start off with a family-friendly experience unlike any other at Yellowstone Bear World. Located in Rexburg, Bear World is the area's only drive-through wildlife preserve where visitors young and old enjoy seeing grizzly bear, black bear and gray wolves, in their natural habitat, all from the safety of a car. This is a true family adventure you won't want to miss.
Contact: Tel: (208) 359-9688 or www.yellowstonebearworld.com
While in Rexburg, take the kids on the Idaho Centennial Carousel at Porter Park. This carousel is one of the last ones of its kind in the world, built by the Spillman Engineering Co. in about 1926. It is the only restored, authentic wooden carousel in Idaho. Restoration on the old carousel began in 1985 with a reopening in 1990, Idaho's centennial year.
Another great event in Rexburg features hundreds of dancers from around the world as they come together to share their culture and promote world peace. Events at the Idaho International Dance & Music Festival include opening and closing ceremonies, street dance, parade, fireworks and Youth Culture Day. Tickets are required for the BBQ, Music Fair and indoor performances.
Web: www.rexcc.com; www.yellowstoneteton.org
Sun Valley Ice Shows
Don't miss a minute of the action at the Sun Valley Ice Rink named by Budget Travel Online as "one of the top 10 ice skating rinks in the nation." Known for headlining the biggest names in skating, including Olympic gold and silver medalists, professional skaters have even been known to train here during the off season. A large sun shade keeps this outdoor rink open 365 days a year. Catch a glimpse of the stars in action as they shine on the ice in amazing performances all year long.
Combine Education and Recreation in Central Idaho
Just west of Arco, Craters of the Moon National Monument is an 83 square-mile national monument with a stunning array of volcanic features including aa, pahoehoe and blocky lava; cinder and spatter cones and lava tubes (caves). The Craters of the Moon National Monument is the largest lava field of its type in the mainland United States. A visitor center explains the flow and trails and guides are available to take the kids out into the lava or on a climb into a cave.
Web: www.nps.gov/crmo or (208) 527-3257.
Next visit Shoshone Ice Caves. This cave complex is one of the natural wonders of the world. Trained guides explain the geologic, volcanic and historic background in these large lava caves with year-round ice floors. A museum contains Indian artifacts, gems and minerals of local and world interest. Tours last 45 minutes. Contact: (208) 886-2058.
Check out 28 different trails atop famous Bald Mountain in Sun Valley where you can mountain bike or hike down as you take in the breathtaking views of wildlife, flora and fauna of the area. Trails range from easy day hikes to more challenging terrain for the truly adventurous.
Sacajawea Heritage Days celebrates the assistance Sacajawea, a native of the Lemhi valley, gave to the Lewis and Clark Expedition as it passed through the Lemhi Valley. The event features the annual Great Salmon Valley Balloonfest with hot air balloons, arts and crafts reminiscent of the period, breakfast, cattlemen's barbeque, a concert, talent stage, Lewis & Clark artifact replicas, tribal dancing and an ice cream social.
Web: www.salmonchamber.com or www.sacajaweacenter.org