Idaho: Sun Valley, rodeos, wildlife, lava cones and fossils

Idaho's gorgeous landscapes draw visitors from all over the world. (Shutterstock)

Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all. If you’re coming to Idaho, you’ll find breathtaking mountains, lakes and canyons, plus outdoor activities for year-round fun: skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, fishing and river rafting. You’ll also find theater, dance and opera in Idaho’s capital, Boise, a desert city dubbed the “Athens of the sagebrush” for its vibrant cultural life.

Idaho has two nicknames — the “Gem State” (because nearly every known type of gemstone has been found there) and the “Potato State” (on account of a crop that Idaho’s farmers produce in abundance). The state’s spectacular scenery has always been a major draw for visitors, and Western heritage is also a point of pride: Native American tribal life, working ranches, cowboys and rodeos are all part of the mix.

There are six national wildlife refuges in Idaho, providing habitats for a wide variety of animals, including moose, elk, deer, bears, otters, bald eagles and migratory birds such as Canada geese. Visitors are welcome, so come and bring your camera!

If you’re a bird-watcher, don’t miss the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in southwestern Idaho. This pristine setting is home to 20 species of raptors, including prairie falcons, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and barred owls.

Read more about Idaho and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.

(State Dept.)

The great outdoors

Intrepid skiers should head for Sun Valley or Schweitzer Mountain, two of Idaho’s world-famous ski destinations. Sun Valley, in Ketchum, has five-star hotels, chic restaurants, spas and boutique shopping. Schweitzer Mountain, near the towns of Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, offers a family-friendly environment with tons of activities, such as tubing, showshoe hiking and treasure hunts. Both resorts have gorgeous slopes — and ski runs that accommodate novices, advanced skiers and everyone in between.

Two downhill skiers take to the slopes in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Thinkstock)

Summertime is perfect for exploring Idaho’s Snake River Canyon, which has two major waterfalls and numerous springs.

Pack a picnic lunch and go rafting on Idaho’s Snake River, where you can relax in beautiful surroundings. (Thinkstock)

Cowboy country

For Western-themed entertainment, check out Idaho’s lively rodeo scene. From June through September, cowboys and cowgirls compete in barrel-racing contests and more, displaying riding skills, quick reflexes and dazzling showmanship. Rodeos are held throughout the state — and there’s plenty of good food on hand too.

In Idaho, rodeos are a long-standing tradition. Cowboys ride bucking broncos, but also wear helmets for safety. (Thinkstock)

Lunar landscapes and fossils galore

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, in central Idaho’s Snake River Plain, is a protected area featuring volcanic lava fields that resemble the moon’s craggy surface (hence its name). This rugged, remote site has solidified lava flows ranging in age from 2,000 to 15,000 years.

The lava fields at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument offer intriguing terrain for visitors. (Thinkstock)

In south-central Idaho, you’ll find echoes of an even more distant past at the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, named for the zebra-like ancestor of today’s horse. More than 180 animal species and 35 plant species have been found at hundreds of fossil quarries here, harking back to the late Pliocene Epoch, 3.5 million years ago.

A mounted, fossilized skeleton of Hagerman’s Horse, an Ice Age mammal, is displayed at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Hagerman, Idaho. (NPS photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Potato power

Did you know that potatoes are fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free and are an excellent source of nutrients? You would if you visited the Idaho Potato Museum, which extols the virtues of Idaho’s signature crop. Located in Blackfoot, the one-of-a-kind museum — built in 1912 — displays the world’s largest potato chip (made by the Pringles Manufacturing Company) and features educational potato facts and trivia.

Among its many exhibits, the Idaho Potato Museum features an extensive collection of Mr. Potato Head toys. (Idaho Tourism)

Sweet confections

The huckleberry is the official fruit of Idaho, and it’s used in popular local desserts like huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry pie and huckleberry cheesecake — try them all!

Huckleberry cheesecake, an Idaho favorite, will tempt your palate. (Shutterstock)