THE BEST NATIONAL PARKS IN IDAHO

black lava mountain in background at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho

Post Summary: A complete rundown of all the national parks in Idaho.

Idaho has long been an overlooked state when looking for where to explore in the US. While Idaho may not have the glory of Utah’s Mighty 5 or the throngs of visitors who jam into Montana’s Glacier National Park, Idaho has its own collection of national parks that more than merit a visit.

While not as known, Idaho’s National Parks are staggering in their beauty, scope, and historical relevance. 

As someone lucky to call Idaho home, we’ve been exploring the national parks in Idaho and are excited to show you some of the best that Idaho has to offer. 

Read on to discover which national parks in Idaho you’ll want to put on your Idaho bucket list. 


Interested in more Idaho content? Check out our other articles below:

The Best Time To Visit Idaho (A full rundown)
51 Fantastic Things To Do In Idaho
57 Bit of Idaho Trivia To Impress Your Friends With
25 Fun Things To Do In Idaho’s Panhandle


6 AMAZING NATIONAL PARKS IN IDAHO

IDAHO NATIONAL PARKS LIST

1. Yellowstone National Park
2. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
3. City Of Rocks National Preserve
4. Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
5. Minidoka National Historic Site
6. Nez Perce National Historic Park

FAQS ABOUT IDAHO’S NATIONAL PARKS

Are there any national parks in Idaho?

Yes, Idaho does have parks that are units of the National Park System. However, they aren’t national parks like Arches National Park or Joshua Tree National Park; they are national monuments, national reserves, and national historic sites.

That being said, Idaho does have a tiny portion of a famous national park on its land, so I guess you could say there is ONE national park. It rhymes with schmellowstone. We’ll get into more detail below. 

**Want more cool Idaho trivia? Check out our post on fun facts about Idaho.**

How many national parks are in Idaho?

Idaho has seven parks that are part of the National Park System (NPS). There are also four historic trails that cut through Idaho that the NPS manages. We’ll get into all six of the parks and trails in the post.

While Idaho has seven parks, one of the parks, Craters of the Moon, is a national monument and a preserve, so it’s counted as two parks. For a visitor, there’s no need to differentiate them! It’s all in the same area, so for our purposes, you can consider it one.

Is there a national park near Boise?

The closest Idaho national park to Boise is the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. It’s roughly 97 miles away and takes 1.5 hours to drive there. It’s a great day trip from Boise.

After Hagerman, here are the distances for the remaining national parks near Boise:

  • Minidoka: 131 miles away from Boise
  • Craters Of The Moon: 70 miles away from Boise
  • City of Rocks: 208 miles away from Boise
  • New Perce: 286 miles away from Boise
  • Yellowstone: 387 miles away from Boise

National Parks In Idaho Map

Here’s a general idea of where Idaho’s national parks are located. If you want a Google map, you can use this link here for a more specific Idaho national parks map.


YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Colorful Hot Spring at Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Yellowstone National Park spans three states and is TECHNICALLY in Idaho too. One percent of Yellowstone is in Idaho, 3 percent in Montana, with 96 percent of it in Wyoming. So it’s a little bit of a stretch to say it’s in Idaho…but we’re doing it! You know why? Because we’ll take any chance to talk about Yellowstone and how amazing it is.

Yellowstone is America’s first official national park, and IMHO should be on every family bucket list. Simply put, there is nowhere else in the world like Yellowstone.

Famous for its geothermal wonders, visitors will love seeing the vivid hot springs, churning mud pots, and exploding geysers. When you’ve gotten your fill of steaming fumaroles, you’ll want to dive deeper into the park’s natural wonders by chasing waterfalls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone or observing the throngs of bison that graze in the Hayden Valley.

Animal lovers should grab their binoculars and see if they can spot grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, elk, and goats in the Lamar Valley, aptly dubbed “the Serengeti of the West.”

Bison swimming in river at Yellowstone National Park.
Bison spotting in the Hayden Valley.

Highlight: Hiking to the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring overlook and the nearby Fairy Falls Waterfall.
Cost: 35$ per private vehicle
When To Visit: The best time to visit is in the summer when the park is entirely accessible and the weather is excellent. If you want fewer crowds, early June and late September are great off-peak times.
Camping: 12 campgrounds available with over 2000 sites.
NPS SITE: Yellowstone National Park

Read Next: Yellowstone is a beast of a park. Check out all our Yellowstone articles to help plan your adventure in the park.


Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Young man with backpack on walks through lava cave at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.
Explporing Indian Tunnel. Image courtesy of NPS.

Craters of the Moon is one of Idaho’s most unique national parks, with its surreal landscape of molten lava and underground tunnels. An extreme and desolate park, you’ll want to bring your hiking shoes and a sense of adventure as you traverse the 618 square miles of black lava.

Created from lava bubbling up through fissures of the earth, you can hike the paved trails or drive the 7-mile Scenic Loop Trail to see the incredible lava formations.

Adventurers will love strapping on a headlamp and exploring the five caves (and the bats that live in them!) open to the public. Be sure to get a permit at the Visitor Center before you head out to the cave.

The park is also an International Dark Sky Park which means it has zero light pollution at night, making it a fantastic place for dark sky photography and camping.

TIP: Craters of the Moon is a great add-on to a road trip from Boise to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. You can visit the park for an hour or stay for the night. 

Woman in blue shirt walks dow a paved path at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Highlight: Hiking to the top of Inferno Cone for panoramic views of the park.
Cost: $20 per private vehicle
When To Visit: The park is open all year, but peak visitation is from early June to September. Spring is a great time to see the wildflowers popping up through the lava.
On-Site Camping: Lava Flow Campground has 42 sites.
NPS Site: Craters of the Moon

*If you’re interested in a tour of Craters of the Moon, check out the guided tour below that leaves from Twin Falls, Idaho!


City Of Rocks National Reserve

Huge rocks in the distance amongst sagebrush and a dirt road.
Elephant Rock at City of Rocks. Image courtesy of NPS.

The City of Rocks National Reserve is one of only two national reserves in the US. A national reserve has a bit of a murky definition, and to be honest, I couldn’t quite figure out what makes something a national reserve. Nevertheless, there are only two! Either way, the area is stunning.

If you’re curious like me, Ebey’s Landing in Washington is the other reserve.

Dubbed “the Silent City of Rocks,” this 14,000-acre reserve is a landscape of white spires, arches, dramatic overlooks, and spellbinding granite formations. With 700 climbing routes, this national reserve is known for being one of the best climbing sites in the world. But if rock climbing isn’t your speed, there’s still plenty to explore.

The City of Rocks Loop is a 6.8-mile trail that gives you a fantastic overview of the landscape. You can revel in the beauty of the granite sculptures and also enjoy walking through a canopy of pine trees. For visitors wanting something shorter, the Castle Rocks/Backyard Boulders Trail (1.5 miles) will take you to some of the park’s most interesting rock formations and pictographs on the rocks.

Shadow of a man looking out at a starry night sky.
City of Rocks’ lack of light pollution makes it perfect for star gazing and astral photography. Image courtesy of NPS.

Highlight: Sunset at Window Arch is perfect for an evening drink or stunning photography. 
Cost: No admission fee
When To Visit: The park is open year-round. Spring and fall offer the most comfortable weather, as summers can get uncomfortably hot.
Camping: City of Rocks Campground has over 60 sites.
NPS Site: City Of Rocks


Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Scenic overlook of river at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.
Views from the scenic drive. Image courtesy of NPS.

The Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is a small park perfect for anyone who loves fossils and archeological digs. Located in Southern Idaho, about 30 minutes away from Twin Falls, the Hagerman Beds are rich with fossils, and every year paleontologists find thousands of new fossil fragments.

The monument is famous for having the largest concentration of Hagerman Horse fossils in the world. The Hagerman Horse is a small horse that predates the horses brought by the Spaniards. You can see the Hagerman Horse skeleton at the Visitor Center.

The park includes an informative Visitors Center where you can look at fossils discovered at Hagerman, two scenic overlooks, and the six-mile out-and-back Emigrant Trail. The park’s small size means it can be visited in a few hours or as an addition to the nearby Thousand Springs State Park.

TIP: For the most accurate directions on how to get o the Visitor Center, use the directions on the official site here.

Visitor Center display of the Hagerman Horse at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.
The Visitor Center is where you can see fossils. Image courtesy of NPS.

Highlight: Doing a ranger-led program to better understand the fascinating science and discoveries behind the fossils.
Cost: No admission fee.
When To Visit: The park is open year-round, but spring and fall offer the most comfortable weather. 
Camping: No camping is available in the park.
NPS Site:
Hagerman Fossil Beds

Read Next: Hagerman is an easy trip to make from Boise. Check out other fun day trips from Boise.


Minidoka National Historic Site

Two old building sites from Minidoka.

The first historical park on our list is Minidoka National Historic Site. It’s not an easy park to visit, but an essential one in understanding and remembering tragic and unjust moments in US history. 

Minidoka is an internment camp where over 13,000 Japanese-Americans were made to live during World War II. Minidoka is just one of several camps in the US where over 100,000 Japanese people lived after an executive order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt forced them out of their homes and into incarceration camps.

The Visitor Center is open in the summer and on weekends only. Weekends in the summer are also when they offer free ranger-led tours that give you a more in-depth look into the place. If visiting outside those times, you can take the self-guided 1.6-mile trail to see the remaining historic structures.

Sign at Minidoka Park that says "Honor Roll" and lists the people who lived at Minidoka who also served in the US Army.
Names of the people who were forced to live at Minidoka and also served in the US Army. Image courtesy of NPS.

Highlight: 30-minute film about Minidoka at the Visitor Center narrated by incarceration survivor and actor George Takei.
Cost: No admission fee
When To Visit: On the weekends in the summer.
Camping: No camping is available in the park.
NPS Site:
Minidoka


Nez Perce National Historic Park

Five workers putting up a traditional tip at New Perce National Historic Park.
Putting up a tipi at Nez Perce National Historical Park. Image courtesy of NPS.

The Nez Perce National Historical Park serves to memorialize and educate about the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) people and their importance to the culture and history of the US. 

Unlike the other national parks in Idaho, the New Perce Park is not a singular place to go but is spread over various sites that span Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.

The best place to start in Idaho is at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitors Center near Lewiston, Idaho. The area includes museum exhibits about the Nez Perce people, including a movie, ceremonial objects, clothing, weapons, and tools. 

You can also walk the short trails to historic sites like the Lapwai Mission Cemetery and Watsons, a historic general store.

If you want to explore beyond the Visitor Center and see other sites associated with the historic park, like Canoe Camp and the Weippe Prairie, check here for the complete list.

An old vintage camper next to a sign that says "Welcome to Weippe."
Additional sites that aren’t near the official Viisor Center, include the Weippe Prairie.

Highlight: Watching a ranger-led demonstration at the Visitor Center of how they put the tipis up.
Location: Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Visitor Center is 10 miles east of Lewiston, ID, on US Highway 95 and 3 miles north of Lapwai, ID, on US Highway 95.
Cost: No admission fee
When To Visit: All year
Camping: No camping is available in the park.
NPS Site:
Nez Perce NHP


National Historic Trails

Informational sign about Lake Pend Oreille.
Sign on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

Those are the official national parks of Idaho, but Idaho also has three historic trails and one geologic trail that the NPS manages. You can learn more about them below.

  • Oregon National Historic Trail – This infamous trail follows the journey of thousands of early settlers heading west in the early 1800s to Oregon in search of better farmlands and more opportunities. The trail covers six states and 2000 miles. Wagon ruts can still be spotted on parts of the trail.
  • Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail – This historic trail follows the expedition of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark and their team, including Idaho-born Sacagawea. Their three-year exploration included heading west to explore America’s newly acquired western portion of land through the Louisiana Purchase. The trail covers sixteen states and 60 tribal nations and nearly 4900 miles.
  • California National Historic Trail – The California Trail follows the largest migration of people in American history when in the late 1800s, over 200,000 people headed to California in search of gold and better economic opportunity. The trail covers 10 states and 5000 miles.
  • Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail – Over 15000 years ago, a torrential ice dam burst, causing massive flooding that forever changed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. The trail covers four states.

We hope you enjoyed our post on the national parks in Idaho. Which one will you be going to first?

Happy travels!

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