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Laying claim to hot springs in the high desert and rugged canyons that channel thrilling whitewater runs, the Gem State’s diverse landscapes are the perfect settings for off-the-grid getaways. The scenery ranges from rocky to surreal in such notable outdoor spots as the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Craters of the Moon National Monument, and City of Rocks National Reserve. In central Idaho, the resort town of Sun Valley draws skiers and snowboarders to its famous slopes.
Eastern Idaho serves as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, which spills into the state from neighboring Wyoming. Rugged adventurers often head to Idaho’s northern panhandle, where the Snake River rushes through remote Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. In Boise, the largest city, Idaho’s rugged side gives way to one of the nation’s fastest growing metropolises. While many people know Idaho best for its “famous potatoes,” as the official license plates declare, it’s increasingly popular for its craft breweries and burgeoning wine regions.
Road-trippers often include landlocked Idaho on a grand tour of the western states. And since Idaho is a sparsely populated and mostly rural destination, you’re going to need a car to get around. In the greater Boise region, buses connect outlying areas to the center, though the majority of residents still drive. And while there are no public transportation links between most towns, Greyhound operates statewide intercity bus services. Most air passengers arrive at the Boise Airport (BOI), where major airlines offer frequent service direct to many U.S. and Canadian cities.
Idaho’s distinct seasons each have their own draws, with winter and summer ranking as the most popular for their wide range of outdoor activities. For winter action, head to the highest elevations, where heavy snow keeps ski towns hopping all season. As the snow melts in the mountains, spring wildflowers blossom; by May, rushing rivers kick off the rafting season in a place sometimes referred to as the capital of American whitewater. With generally sunny and balmy weather, summer is prime time at natural parks and on hiking trails. Warm weather lingers through September and October, when the changing of the leaves show the state in full color.
More than 60 wineries dot the Snake River Valley, where a wide variety of grapes grow in the ancient volcanic soils. The valley was designated in 2007 as the first American Viticultural Area in Idaho. Its low profile makes for a more laid-back touring experience. It’s common to find winemakers pouring flights in their low-key tasting rooms, many open by appointment only. Sipping your way along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail gives you an easy introduction to the young Idaho wine scene.
Hikers climb up shifting mountains of sand in Bruneau Dunes State Park, where you’ll find the largest single dune in North America. Trails trace across the park’s varied landscapes, which range from windswept sands, to marsh, to lakes popular with fishers. The visitor center also rents sandboards, which let you zip down the slopes like a snowboarder in the desert.
In the Snake River Valley flows one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the United States. While you might hear it referred to as the Niagara of the West, Shoshone Falls is, at 212 feet (64.6 m), actually higher than the East Coast’s famous Niagara Falls. Melting snow dripping from the Rocky Mountains make spring the ideal season to see the water thunder over its wide rim.