Alexandra Baackes worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
Like many around the world, I’ve found myself staring forlornly at my calendar lately. Lovingly planned events and trips pass by, unrealized due to the global pandemic that has forced many of us to slow down and reflect for a bit. This week, I was meant to be leaving for a very special journey: my long-awaited first trip to Idaho.
While it’s my (cancelled) party and I’ll cry if I want to – and let’s face it, I have shed a tear or two – today I’m choosing to focus on the positive. Postponing my trip to Idaho has given me even more time to fine-tune my itinerary and dream about the details and science suggests trip planning can boost mental health. According to studies by Cornell University and the University of Surrey, the anticipation of the adventure can increase feelings of happiness and hope, and reduce anxiety – conclusions any travel addict will enthusiastically vouch for.
From supporting local businesses by taking advantage of current flexible booking terms, to reaching out to your network to ask for advice and build connections, there are so many ways in which planning a trip to Idaho can leave you floating on good vibes right from your own home. The travel industry is bursting with love and gratitude for anyone willing to #plannowtravellater and #postponedontcancel, these days!
While my original itinerary was meant to take me through the highlights of Boise, Stanley, and Sun Valley, all this extra time to dive into adventure options and discover hidden gems means I’m not just planning my first trip to Idaho – I’m planning my second and third while I’m at it too!
Some of my best friends and fellow travelers have been singing the praises of Idaho for years, including bestie Katie Williams, a Twin Falls native who currently blogs about all things Boise; my soul sister Silvia Lawrence, a Norway expert, who declared Idaho her favorite place from her U.S. road trip – despite the fact that, she noted, she did not consume a single potato; my dear Kristin Luna, a recently converted Sun Valley ski-enthusiast, and my girl Kristin Addis, an Idaho supporter who recently took a hot-springs inspired road trip through the state.
They all helped pique my interest in visiting Idaho. And while it’s a state I’ve been craving to tackle on my scratch-off state map for years, I know now that when I do get there, it will be all the sweeter.
Here’s everything that’s so worth waiting for.
Boutique + Unique Accommodation
As a lover of both great design and supporting local entrepreneurs, there’s nothing I love more than beautiful boutique accommodations, at any price range. (Lucky for me, and other travelers to Idaho, it’s known for being an incredibly wallet-friendly and high-value destination!)
Boise boasts The Modern Hotel, one of the wave of chic renovated motels sweeping America, with free bikes to explore the nearby Boise Greenbelt and a restaurant guests rave about. In central Idaho, the sleek and modern Hotel Ketchum caught my eye with its local art, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, and an onsite taco and tequila lounge. The Harkness Hotel, which I discovered via my friend Silvia’s recommendation, seriously might just be worth a detour to McCammon all by itself (though the town of Lava Hot Springs, just ten minutes away, also adds to the appeal). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this former McCammon State Bank building (built in 1906) has been lovingly renovated into a luxury hotel with an onsite spa, a gift shop (built in the original bank vault), and intimate rooms.
But Idaho has plenty to offer for those willing to think outside the box – or four walls of a hotel room – as well.
The Glamping Domes at Miracle Hot Springs in Buhl will set you back less than $100 per night, leaving plenty of travel budget for an onsite massage or private hot spring rental – and making for a pretty charming Instagram backdrop.
And finally, as a lover of all things cute and quirky, let me tell ya – if Idaho hadn’t already been on my bucket list, it would have shot up there when The Big Idaho Potato Hotel opened. This truly stylish over sized potato – words I never thought I’d type before – is now a highly sought-after Airbnb on 400 acres of farmland. I don’t think I could dream of leaving Idaho without staying in this charming tribute to the much-loved state food.
Back Bends + Active Adventures
As a yoga instructor and eternal student, I’m always looking for ways to zen out in new destinations – and Idaho has several! From yoga in a greenhouse in Boise to yoga on Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, to paddleboard yoga with Idaho SUP Yoga , there’s no need to neglect your practice while on the road.
I love to move on and off the mat, which is a big part of what makes Idaho a dream destination for me. From skiing in Sun Valley (the home of the world’s first ski resort chairlift) to floating down the Boise River; from paddleboarding to Shoshone Falls, the “Niagara of the West” to kayaking in the Snake River Canyon; from whitewater rafting down the Payette River to hiking through the Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho is literally bursting at the seams with adventure activities of every adrenaline level. Clearly, I’m going to have to come back in multiple seasons to hit all of them.
Hot Springs + Cold Drinks
Two of Idaho’s most proud draws are its hot springs and its cold beers! With over 130 soakable springs, Idaho can proudly claim more than any other state in the country – many of them are well-guarded secrets so you’ll have to befriend a local to uncover those locations. Not so under wraps? The bustling local brewery scene, no surprise coming from the biggest barley-producing state in the nation.
In addition to man-made springs like the Miracle Hot Springs mentioned above, or The Springs in Idaho City, where you can indulge in creature comforts like private soaking pools and spa treatments, mother nature also offers an array of her own options.
One that charmed me sideways was the Boat Box Hot Spring near Stanley, which did involve a bit of human intervention to create. A human-sized cauldron fed by a spring makes for an out-of-this-world outdoor hot tub, while a small bucket allows you to cool down with water from the river running below you.
At spots like Kirkham and Bonneville Hot Springs, it’s a nature-made experience. Tiered levels allow adventurers to experience the magic of a hot waterfall, something I’ve experienced just once before on all my world travels in a remote corner of Guatemala. No passport required for this version. Intrigued? Don’t miss my friend Kristin’s hot-spring led road trip around Idaho!
As a non-beer drinker, I don’t feel I’m the one to extol on those virtues. But I was pleasantly surprised that Idaho has plenty of craft beverages for me to enjoy, too.
Meriwether Cider, Stack Rock Cidery, Coeur d’Alene Cider Company, and Meriwether Cider Company are just a few of the cider hot spots that traverse the state, while half a dozen local distilleries serve up artisan liquors including, you guessed it, potato vodka. And vino fans, don’t despair, Idaho has three American Viticultural Areas and according to my friend Katie, the Sunnyslope Wine Trail near Boise is a “must sip” destination.
I guess I must still be a kid at heart though, because nothing got me to pull up and add to the saved locations on my Idaho Google Map as quickly as the STIL, a Boise-born ice cream shop scooping booze-infused ice creams, as well as beer and spirits pairings.
Big City Bliss + Small Town Smiles
With a drool-worthy restaurant scene, an impressive street art beat and a wide range of enticing cultural institutions like the Boise Art Museum, the Discovery Center of Idaho, and the Idaho Botanical Garden, Boise by all accounts has all the perks of big city living – with the smiles of a small town.
But outside a few cities, you can largely have Idaho to yourself. From tiny towns to the rural outdoors, Idaho has something to offer at all ends of the spectrum.
As you can see, I’m smitten – and I haven’t even boarded my flight yet. Now that you’ve got an idea of what I’m excited for, I’d love to hear any further suggestions from those that know and love Idaho best!
Feature image credited to Katie Williams.