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Oct
21
2021
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Tazz Weatherly
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The Top 10 Idaho State Parks

 

The Gem State is gifted with an amazingly diverse natural landscape and rich heritage. I have listed the Top 10 Idaho State Parks where you can experience the beauty of nature and wildlife while indulging in exceptional recreation opportunities —whether you are coming with peers or the whole family!

 

What Awaits Visitors and Campers 

Going to the Idaho state parks is a wonderful form of relaxation and enjoyment for everyone. It's a good thing that the majority of the state parks are operational daily, thus giving visitors and campers plenty of time to enjoy outdoor activities. Most of them offer impressive camping locations. There are available facilities and amenities like restrooms, indoor and outdoor showers, picnic areas, group picnic shelters, charcoal grills, firewood, paddleboard rental, kayak rental, swimming in lakes or rivers, life jacket loaner stations, and other stuff that will allow you to have fun and comfort while being one with nature. 

 

Why People Go To The Idaho State Parks

Reports have it that Idaho State Parks had about 7.7 million total visitors (campers and day users) in 2020. It drastically increased by 1.2 million from the previous year. Visitors from other states comprised 30% of the annual total. This significant increase in park visitation is attributed to the fact that more people have become aware of how outdoor activities play a major part in trying to safely attain a certain degree of normalcy during this pandemic. And speaking of the pandemic, it is best to check the safety measures each park is undertaking thru the website provided in the list before heading to your intended destination, or prior to booking for reservations as needed.

That said, here goes my Top 10 Idaho State Parks, in no particular order, from among the total of 30 awe-inspiring state parks that we have in the Gem State. 

  

The Top 10 Idaho State Parks

1. Lucky Peak State Park

The first on the list of the Top 10 Idaho State Parks is conveniently located in the southeast of Boise - Lucky Peak State Park. It is a well-loved hangout of locals during the summertime.

Lucky Peak consists of three units. Sandy Point is only ten minutes away from Boise and is right at the base of Lucky Peak Dam. Sandy Point uniquely takes the form of a horseshoe, believed to symbolize good luck, and where the state park cleverly got its name. A popular picnic area in the Treasure Valley, there’s a long stretch of sandy beach, with pavilions and grills, grass-covered lawns, beach volleyball courts, and a large swimming area with shallow waters where kids can safely play with water toys.  During winter, folks get to enjoy the 12-disc golf course, wildlife viewing, and fishing.

On the north bank of the Boise River lies Discovery Park right below Lucky Peak dam. It offers horseshoe pits, picnic areas on grassy lawns, waterborne restrooms, and volleyball. Parties and get-togethers can be held in the pavilions for reservation.

A full-service marina, Spring Shores is a hit for water enthusiasts. It has two boat ramps, watercraft rentals, spacious parking, and a convenience store.  

     Operating Hours

     Discovery Park and Spring Shores: sunrise to sunset, daily

     Sandy Point Hours: 8 am - 4 pm 

     Address:   74 Arrowrock Rd, Boise ID 83716

     Phone:  (208) 334-2432

     On pets: Dogs are allowed in Discovery Park and Spring Shores only

     Allows overnight: No

                 To check current water levels, fees, and other updates, please visit the Parks and Recreation website. 

                 You can also check out their FB Page @LuckyPeakStatePark.

 

2. City of Rocks National Reserve

The City of Rocks, also referred to as the Silent City of Rocks, is located in southern Idaho close to the border of Utah. The City of Rocks National Reserve has an approximate area of 14,000 acres of mountainous terrain. It provides shelter to 6.2 miles of the California National Historic Trail. With hundreds of amazing rock formations made entirely out of granite and quartz crystals, it is one of the most ideal sites for granite-face climbing.

Aside from rock climbing, people go to the City of Rocks for horseback riding, mountain biking, auto touring, exclusive hiking, and more. It is also best for snowshoeing and skiing during winter.

     Operating Hours

     Visitors Center:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, daily

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

     On pets: Dogs are allowed in campsites and on trails

     Address: 3035 Elba-Almo Road (Hwy 77 Spur) Almo, ID 83312

     Phone: (208) 824-5901

                 For more information, check the website here.

                 Or go to their FB Page @CityOfRocksNPS.

 

3. Bruneau Dunes State Park

If you are after a road trip adventure like no other, Bruneau Dunes State Park is the place to be. You can go horseback riding, hike over the vast sand dunes or get on the rentable sandboards and surf through the sandy waves. Lakes at the foot of the dune make fishing activities possible in the park as well.

With camping opportunities year-round, folks have ample time to gaze at the stars through various telescopes in the state’s largest observatory -  Bruneau Dunes Observatory. It is also where North America's tallest single-structured dune can be found, with its peak at 470 feet from the desert floor. This is one of the reasons why it made the cut to the Top 10 Idaho State Parks!

     Operating Hours 

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours subject to change per manager discretion.

     Address: 27608 Sand Dunes Rd. Bruneau, ID 83647

     Phone: (208) 366-7919

     On pets: Dogs are allowed, also in campsites

For park reservations and other details, check the website here.

                 FB Page is @BruneauDunesStatePark.

 

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4. Eagle Island State Park 

At eight miles west of Boise, the 545-acre Eagle Island State Park is a favorite destination in the Treasure Valley. The Boise River bordering the north and south of Eagle Island gives it an idyllic setting. Aside from the grass-covered picnic areas, swimming beach, and waterslide, it features five miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding, a 19-hole disc golf course, and exciting zip lines. Paddleboards are also available for rent. This park is also popular for snow tubing during winter.

     Operating Hours

     Visitors Center:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, daily

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

     Address: 165 S Eagle Island Pkwy Eagle, ID 83616

     On pets: Dogs are allowed along park trails, along the Boise River, and in open fields.

     Allows overnight: No

Please visit Parks and Recreation website for updates.

                 Or go to their FB Page @eagleislandstatepark.

 

5.  Castle Rocks State Park 

Castle Rocks State Park features granite rock formations and monoliths, making it seem like a smaller version of the City of Rocks. Rock climbers from other countries are captivated by its challenging routes. The historic backdrop that dates back to more than 2 million years makes activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain climbing more dramatic and exciting.

It is believed that people have been coming to Castle Rocks since thousands of years ago. It is home to Idaho’s largest pinyon pine forest. Campsites, clamping yurts, bathrooms, and showers are available in the park.

     Operating Hours

     Visitors Center:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, daily

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

     Address: 3035 South Elba-Almo Road (Hwy 77 Spur) Almo, ID 83312

     Phone: (208) 824-5901

     On pets: Dogs are allowed

     Allows overnight: No

                 Please visit Parks and Recreation website for park reservations and other updates.

                 FB Page is @CastleRocksStatePark.  

 

6.  Harriman State Park

Harriman State Park is a part of the 16,000 acres of wildlife refuge in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It is popular for fly-fishing at the Henry’s Fork River that is flowing eight miles through it. The river trails make it more accessible for anglers. Other activities in the park include horseback riding, hiking, and ranch tours. You’ll also get to see elk, moose, and the world’s largest waterfowl species - the Trumpeter Swans. Harriman State Park is 38 miles away from Yellowstone National Park.

Events like weddings, retreats, conferences and the like can be held in Harriman where facilities for rent are available. 

     Operating Hours

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

     On pets: Dogs are allowed in the parking lot only

     Address: 3489 Green Canyon Rd Island Park, ID 83429

     Phone: (208) 558-7368

Pls click their website here for more information and updates.

                 Or visit their FB Page @Harriman-State-Park-316240675169741.

 

7.  Hells Gate State Park

True to its name, Hells Gate State Park is situated at the Snake River’s downstream entrance to the deepest Canyon in North America which is Hells Canyon. It is said that the state park is what remained of the enormous Ice Age floods some 15,000 years ago. Located In Nez Perce County just 4 miles from downtown Lewiston, this public recreation area abounds in lush greens and wildlife.

The whole family has many trails to enjoy for some biking and hiking. For gatherings, cabins are available for rent. There are large campsites to accommodate everyone throughout the year, and so is boat moorage. Exciting jet boat rides up the Snake River, steelhead fishing, having picnics on riverbanks, or biking in Clearwater and Snake Rover trail are among the activities at Hells Gate State Park.

     Operating Hours

     9 a.m. to 5 p.m daily; closed on Holidays

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

     Address: 5100 Hells Gate Rd Lewiston, ID 83501

     Phone: (208) 799-5015

     On pets: Dogs are allowed in most areas but not on the beach or in buildings. They must be leashed all the time and cleaned up after. 

                 Please visit Parks and Recreation website for park reservations and other updates.

                 Or go to their FB Page @hellsgatestatepark.

 

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8.  Coeur d'Alene's Old Mission State Park

What a joy it is learning about Idaho’s fascinating history thru a day trip at Coeur d’Alene Old Mission State Park! This breathtaking destination filled with unspoiled beauty and wildlife is home to the oldest standing building in the state, the Mission of the Sacred Heart, or Cataldo Mission. It was built in the early 1850s by Catholic missionaries and local tribe members. Coeur d'Alene's Old Mission State Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Here, the visitors get to know in person the dynamics of the coexistence of Jesuit missionaries and the people of the tribe. Aside from the church, amid the picturesque trails are a restored Parish House and two cemeteries.

There is no doubt that bikers in the nearby Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes would love to stop and visit the marvelous park. A place of great heritage and beautiful architecture, it is definitely one of the loveliest venues for a wedding celebration.

Activities include bird-watching, boating, hiking, and picnicking. Aside from a gift shop, you’ll find at the park's visitor center an outstanding exhibition where you’ll witness history come back to life - the "Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet & the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West." 

     Operating Hours

      Visitors Center and historic buildings: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, Closed on major holidays.

      Address: 31732 S Mission Rd Cataldo, ID 83810

      Phone: (208) 682-3814

For park reservations and other updates, visit Parks and Recreation website.

                 Or their FB Page @cdaoldmissionstatepark

 

9.  Heyburn State Park 

The oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest, Heyburn State Park is a public 8,000-acre recreation area comprising 71% land and 29% water. It is a haven for both bikers and paddlers. The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is right on the park and provides a 73-mile track for hiking, horseriding, and cycling. Water enthusiasts have three lakes on which they can paddle their own boat. Otherwise, they can select from what the park has for rent: non-motorized boats, canoes, kayaks, and even paddleboards. Heyburn State Park has one of the largest range of water sport activities in all of North Idaho.

The sight of meadows filled with flowers from the tall Ponderosa pines and tranquil waters is truly mesmerizing. Thankfully, the visitors have more time to relish the peace and serenity as the park offers cabins, cottages, and campsites.

     Operating Hours

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

          This campground is closed during the off-season. 

     Address: 57 Chatcolet Rd Plummer, ID 83851

     Phone: (208) 686-1308

     On pets: Dogs are allowed in most areas but must be on 6-foot max leash, must not be left unattended, and must be cleaned up after.

          Dogs are allowed on the trails. 

Click their website here for more information and updates. 

                Or visit their FB Page @heyburn.park.

 

10. Bear Lake State Park

The Top 10 Idaho State Parks will never be complete without the Caribbean of the Rockies - the Bear Lake State Park. Its exquisite turquoise-colored waters never fail to amaze water enthusiasts and tourists. Another interesting fact about Bear Lake is that it is lying on the border of Idaho and Utah and is split almost equally between them. Yes, half of Bear Lake is in Idaho and the other is in Utah! Its extensive swimming area resulting from the gradual dip to the bottom of the lake is one of the reasons people go there in the summer. In fact, around 15,000 campers go to Bear Lake State Park every year according to their website. Hiking and motorbiking are popular summertime activities as well. Besides snowmobiling, fishing opportunities open in the winter, particularly for the Bonneville cisco which can only be found in Bear Lake. 

     Operating Hours

     Day-use locations within state parks: 7 am to 10 pm; hours may change per park manager discretion.

     Address: 3rd North 10th East St. Charles, ID 83272

     Phone: (208) 945-2325

Click their website here for more information and updates. 

                 Or visit their FB Page @BearLakeStateParkIdaho.

 

Restrictions, Permits, and the Idaho State Parks Passport

The activities that require park visitors to have permits are fishing, hunting, boating and launching a boat, power-boating, water skiing, personal watercraft, jet skis, and any floatplane activity. 

To get into the state parks, Idahoans can purchase the Idaho State Parks Passport for $10 upon online registration of passenger vehicles or motorhomes. This can also be done at any county office of the Department of Motor Vehicle or by mail-in renewals. For non-residents of Idaho however, the annual Motor Vehicle Entry Fee costs $80 for all users. These allow you to visit any of the state parks in Idaho and engage in state park events for one full year, but there are some exceptions as well. For these and other details, please refer back to the corresponding website links I have provided for each of the Top 10 Idaho State Parks.  

 

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