Boise, the capital city of Idaho, is a sweet gem of a town nestled in the green of nature, which we discovered while researching the best commercial hot springs in Idaho and the best free hot springs in Idaho. With numerous trails, parks, canyons and forests, alongside a winding river and a nearby lake, there is plenty to keep the adventurous entertained – whether it’s hiking, biking or kayaking that floats your boat, or a quiet exploration of the city.
For those of a more laid-back approach to life, there’s the Idaho wine country to sample – either in the wineries themselves or in town at one of the many Boise wine bars. History buffs will find something to please, too – with museums, an old penitentiary and historical monuments competing for your eager attention.
For wildlife lovers there is the World Center For Birds of Prey, and a small zoo.
Art connoisseurs may well find something inspiring in the Boise Art Museum, while shopping enthusiasts will enjoy browsing the local glass and other gift stores.
And don’t forget to book yourself and loved ones on a Boise Scavenger Hunt – a worthy few hours spent following the clues to discover the secrets of the town!
Let’s start with the renowned Boise River Greenbelt, a series of tree-lined trails and parks hugging the water’s edge.
Boise River Greenbelt
The Boise Greenbelt, also called Garden City, is a stunning piece of land that runs either side of the Boise River and boasts the city’s best parks and the majority of Boise’s wine tasting rooms.
The Boise River provides more than 25 miles of scenic paths for biking, hiking, jogging and picnicking along. On your walk, see if you can spot the Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center with its waterfalls and fish in their natural habitat.
Go Wine Tasting
As mentioned above, you’ll find most wine tasting rooms in Garden City. If you want to head to the source, you’ll need to drive to the wineries in the Snake River Valley west of Boise, an official American Viticultural Area.
The zone around Chinden Boulevard in Garden City is your best bet for a wine-fueled local evening out, where you can also enjoy a variety of cool music venues and artists’ studios as you walk or bike from wine bar to wine bar.
Go Ice Skating
Boise, one of the most metropolitan cities in Idaho, also happens to offer a fair share of ice rinks for those interested in the sport. If you’re among those looking to go ice skating in Boise, we first and foremost recommend the Idaho IceWorld, with everything for a great afternoon out – from arcades of fun to fitness centers and two HL-regulation-size ice rinks.
The seasonal Ice Ribbon, a public skating area that encircles Indian Creek Plaza, is a curved ice path for visitors to skate around just 25 miles from Boise, and makes a great place to put on your holiday list. It organizes around 200 festive winter events every year from late October onwards – so get your skates on and get over there!
Relax In A Hot Spring
Idaho is one of the most hot-spring-packed states in the US, with over 100 mineral pools promising a lot of soaking diversity in all shapes, forms, temperatures, purposes and properties – too many to list here! Instead, we’ve compiled a separate and very inspiring list of the best all-natural as well as commercialized hot springs in Idaho to suit all budgets and personal outdoor preferences.
Go Rafting Or Jet Boating On The Boise River
The Boise River Guided Rafting, Swimming and Wildlife Tour offers those aged 3+ a fully equipped, three-hour tour for up to 7 people with an expert and knowledgeable local guide. You’ll see lots of wildlife, such as great blue herons, rainbow trout and various types of ducks and birds.
If you want a private trip, please call ahead to schedule a chartered raft.
The Hells Canyon 5-hour jet boat tour takes place in Hells Canyon, one of North America’s deepest river gorges, 154 miles north of Boise. The perfect place for a jet boat ride, groups aged 5+ can speed through the Wild River section of the Snake River beating the rapids and being treated to some unique views as you learn about the area’s Native American history from your guide, with a stop for a pre-prepared lunch on the way.
There are other companies too, including Marriott Bonvoy Tours, that offer equally worthy river tours.
Go On A Boise Scavenger Hunt Adventure
Urban Adventure Quest offers a great alternative to the traditional sightseeing tour, giving you the chance to discover Boise in a unique way through a scavenger hunt.
“The city becomes a game board on this walking tour with an Amazing Race–style twist where you’ll learn a bit of local history and discover both popular and lesser-known sights as you solve clues and tackle challenges to complete the adventure.”– Urban Adventure Quest
You can book a max of five per scavenging group, aged 7+, and the hunts tend to last two to three hours. You can walk, or hire a bike or scooter.
Operation City Quest has a self-guided scavenger hunt using an app – your goal is to complete challenges and find items around town and collect points to beat the other teams.
Other scavenging options include The Boise Bash, Holiday Scavenger Hunt in Boise by Holly Jolly Hunt, Wacky Walks and Let’s Roam Boise.
There are a few escape rooms to choose from – our favorite for its attention to detail is Escape From Mystery Manor. You have 60 minutes to find clues, solve puzzles, and open locks in order to reach your goal and escape in time. Awesome effects, friendly and helpful staff and just the right amount of challenging to make you wonder if you’re ever getting out!
Meanwhile, Amazing Escapes Boise has a new game out for teams of up to 7 players – Perilous Paradox. Can your team figure out what’s happening and prevent reality from unwinding before it’s too late?
Explore The Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Old Idaho Penitentiary will be popular with history-tourists and the morbidly curious alike. It contains 19th-century prison cells and gallows, and an array of historic military weaponry.
The Idaho Territorial Prison opened its doors in 1872 to some of the most desperate and meanest criminals in the West. It closed to inmates in 1973 and is now open for you to explore – take a curious stroll through solitary confinement, cell blocks, and the gallows.
The best way to relive the Old Pen’s exciting past of daring escapes, scandals, and executions is by booking a guided tour or educational program ahead of your visit.
Take An Hour To Explore The Basque Museum & Cultural Center
The cozy Basque Museum & Cultural Center contains exhibits and collections that give interesting insights into Basque immigrants and their heritage, history and culture through photographs and video interviews. There’s a small interactive corner for children and a room dedicated to Ernest Hemingway. Check out the preserved rooms and belongings of the Cyrus Jacobs Rooming House next door to the museum (included in the $5 admission). The staff is friendly and the building is air conditioned.
World Center For Birds Of Prey
At the World Center For Birds of Prey, you’ll meet a plethora of birds of prey eye-to-eye and learn from their enthusiastic and knowledgeable carers how they fly, hunt, survive and thrive.
This center offers live bird demonstrations and interactive exhibits which are great for all ages. We especially loved meeting the birds, and the exhibit on falconry. Outside there is a trail and gazebo with beautiful views over Treasure Valley.
Buy tickets online or at the door.
There’s a gift shop on-site. Admissions and purchases support conservation programs worldwide.
Check the opening hours on their website before you go.
This is a small zoo and one that failed to impress us, though we have included it on this list to at the very least raise awareness. When we visited, some of the animals seemed lonely and bored.
This review about sums it up, sadly:
Idaho State Capitol Building
This building, which cost $2 million to build, was completed in 1920 with the contributions of architects John E. Tourtellotte (Connecticut) and Charles Hummel (Germany). They used four types of marble in their design: red marble from Georgia, gray marble from Alaska, green marble from Vermont, and black marble from Italy. Architectural inspirations included St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The first thing you’ll notice is the dome, and it, and the interior overall, are well looked after and a pleasure to visit. To go deeper into the history and interesting details, we recommend taking a tour, though you are welcome to enter and wander around yourself. Don’t miss the exhibition space on the second floor!
Other buildings worth seeing in Boise: St John’s Cathedral, the Train Depot.
Idaho State Museum
The Idaho State Museum boasts three floors of more than 514 artifacts, 800 photographs, and 46 individual multimedia exhibits that have been designed to inspire all ages – a visit here is fun, and will give you an appreciation of the connection between Idaho’s land and its people, from the Native Americans and early settlers to the gold and silver miners. Hands-on displays will entertain children and teens (and the young-at-heart, too).
Also worth a visit if you’re there with kids: The Boise Discovery Center for hands-on math, science and technology exhibits (also great for the young and young-at-heart!).
Boise Art Glass
Boise Art Glass is more than a gallery and shop, as, along with a variety of handmade items ranging from sculptures, chandeliers, jewelry, craft supplies and more on display, they run classes too, and offer live glass-blowing demonstrations. Boise Art Glass is independently owned by a professional artist who can teach you to hand-make an item of your choice in their Glassblowing Studio.
Call ahead to reserve your spot.
Boise Art Museum
Housed in a wonderful Art Deco building, downtown’s small Boise Art Museum offers interested guests large galleries displaying contemporary works by modern artists, many of them local, and an outdoor sculpture garden. We loved the beautiful quilt art. A nice place to go if you need to get out of the heat or rain, and great to combine with the other museums in the complex.
Free on the first Thursday of each month.
Photography not permitted.
Idaho Botanical Garden
The peaceful Idaho Botanical Garden is a lush 15 acres of greenery, sun and shade, and seasonal colors to soothe the stress away. While it has nothing on the St Louis and Denver botanical gardens, it makes a great destination to relax in for an hour or two. Enjoy the roses, children’s play area, and koi pond.
Ann Morrison Park
The beautiful and spacious, 153-acre, riverside Ann Morrison Park offers an open-air hive of relaxation and activity in equal measure, depending when you go. Labor Day Weekend, for example, it hosts the Spirit of Boise – a hot air balloon festival. Sometimes it gets too windy for them to launch, but the sight of so many balloons filled up is incredible in itself.
Another treasure is Treasure Valley Dog Island- an island devoted entirely to dogs who can frolic off the leash.
The Ann Morrison Park is a great place for walking along the river or having a picnic with loved ones.
Kathryn Albertson Park
The other side of the road from Ann Morrison Park is the Kathryn Albertson Park, gracefully landscaped and converted from being the horse pasture of a local philanthropic family. It offers beautiful nature walks, numerous photo ops, and a wonderful venue for weddings.
Note: the sign at the entrance says, “Boise’s Habitat Park.” There are several ponds to walk around. In summer, all the flowers are out, making for stunning photo opportunities.
Other parks to see in Boise are Julia Davis Park, Camel’s Back Park, Hyde Park, and Barber Park.
Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area
Heading out of town now, we recommend a visit to Bogus Basin. In winter, it’s an amazing giant snowboarding/skiing/tubing destination. In summer, take your bike along, or challenge yourself to their giant parkour tower.
Lucky Peak State Park
Great for hiking, great for paddleboarding- and every which way you turn, there is another spectacular view of rolling hills and accessible coastlines to take advantage and photos of!
Pay your $5 at the unmanned station in the clean-green parking area, and display your pass on your dashboard to avoid penalties from the rangers. Then grab your picnic basket and go enjoy the lake – a popular cool-off destination for Boise locals in summer.
Bring your own water and snacks. There is a marina store, but it isn’t very big.
Hulls Gulch Nature Trail
Green, green as far as the eye can see! Hulls Gulch Nature Trail offers a system of interlinked trails to choose from – giving you the freedom to tailor your route to your own time and energy.
Park at Camel’s Back Park, at the end of 9th Street, or along Sunset Peak Road in the foothills. Don’t miss the Foothills Learning Center to discover some useful interpretive signs and informative interactive displays.
Doubtless, we’ve only scratched the surface here of all the things to do in Boise, Idaho, but you can clearly see it is a buzzing, active, historical and wine-loving city that promises something for everyone – whether you’re an early riser or a night owl!
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the most up-to-date information, we always recommend you do your own research before you travel to a particular locale, and check with official sites. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!