From glassy-blue glacier-fed lakes and enormous reservoirs to crystal-clear swimming holes, Idaho is polka-dotted with some of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Made up of mostly untouched mountainous terrain, the Gem State is home to a significant stretch of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Snake River Plain, all of which feature spectacular, scenic, and tranquil bodies of water to explore and enjoy.
Add to these pristine lakes, the highest waterfall, and the deepest gorge in the country, and Idaho takes the prize for being one of the best spots for adventurists, outdoor lovers, or anyone simply wanting to soak up the beauty of nature. If you feel like getting your feet wet, here are some of Idaho’s most splendid lakes.
1. Alice Lake
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The largest lake and a top tourist destination deep in the Sawtooth Wilderness, a federally protected wilderness area within the Sawtooth Mountains, Alice Lake is a spectacular alpine lake that rests at 8,600 feet above sea level. The Idaho lake is surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery, ranging from winding creeks and waterways to dense forests and woodland with jagged mountain peaks in the distance, which attract photographers from around the world. The lake lacks water-based sporting activities due to being frozen well into the summer, although it does offer excellent hiking and biking with several well-maintained trails around the shoreline.
2. Alturas Lake, Idaho
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Alturas Lake is a spectacular alpine lake situated in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the Sawtooth Valley. Spanning from 21 miles south of Stanley to 30 miles northwest of Ketchum, Alturas Lake is the second-largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area with easy access along the northern shore, which also features several campgrounds and private camps. In the winter months, Alturas Lake has some of the best terrain and conditions for cross-country skiing and is home to one of two groomed Nordic trail systems in the Stanley Basin. Summer offers excellent fishing and birdwatching as well as hiking and mountain biking.
3. American Falls Reservoir
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American Falls Reservoir is all about enjoying the outdoors, with more than 56,000 acres of water that supports a variety of activities such as pleasure boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing, and swimming. Splendid forested landscapes surround the lake, along with camping and picnic areas, recreation areas with boat ramps, fishing docks, and playgrounds, and offers a wealth of land-based activities such as hiking, mountain biking, bird and wildlife watching, and backpacking. Built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation by impounding the Snake River with the American Falls Dam, the reservoir traverses the nine-story dam and is located near the city of American Falls, 23 miles south of Idaho.
4. Anderson Ranch Reservoir
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Situated along the South Fork of the Boise River, the Anderson Ranch Reservoir is part of the Idaho reservoir system, which provides irrigation water and hydroelectric power for local southwest Idaho farms. The 4,730-acre reservoir offers a variety of land and water-based activities to visitors, from camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking to pleasure boating, fishing, swimming, wakeboarding, and water-skiing. The reservoir features several campgrounds ranging from basic to modern as well as a few boat launch ramps and private businesses that sell bait, in addition to other essential lake-lubber services. The 380 miles of varied terrain and spectacular scenery in winter is ideal for a variety of snow-based sports, such as snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
5. Lakes in Idaho: Arrowrock Reservoir
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One of three major reservoirs built to irrigate the parched Boise Valley over 100 years ago, the Arrowrock Reservoir stretches 18 miles up the canyon and spans 3,141 acres of water with a depth of 260 feet. Located at the confluence of the main channel and the south fork of the Boise River, the Arrowrock Reservoir is just a 30-minute drive from Boise and, due to a lack of visitors, is an ideal spot to enjoy nature at its best. Arrowrock Reservoir offers smooth and calm waters for water-based activities such as leisure and powerboating, wakeboarding, water-skiing, and sailing, is renowned for excellent fishing, and has a few campsites along the shoreline that offer camping, picnicking, and swimming.
6. Lakes Near Me: Bear Lake
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Dubbed the “Caribbean of the Rockies” due to its exceptionally clear, turquoise waters, Bear Lake is one of the most visited lakes in Idaho, not only for its spectacular beauty but also for its endemic fish species that call the lake home. Split proportionally between Idaho and Utah, the natural freshwater lake is a popular destination for water-based activities such as swimming, fishing, sailing, and scuba diving as well as hiking, mountain biking, raspberry picking, and wildlife watching. The Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Idaho side of the lake and is home to a diverse range of wildlife such as moose, muskrats, mule deer, swans, white-faced ibis, and sandhill cranes.
7. C. J. Strike Reservoir
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Set along the Snake River in southwestern Idaho, the C. J. Strike Reservoir is a 3,000-hectare reservoir and family-friendly lake that is extremely accessible, making it a great summer destination for enjoying outdoor recreational activities and watersports. The 7,500-acre lake was created in 1952 when a hydroelectric dam was built across the Bruneau and Snake Rivers and offers excellent fishing and teems with a variety of regular and big game fish from largemouth bass to rainbow trout as well as a wealth of opportunities to enjoy nature. Camping is offered along the lake’s shoreline at four campgrounds, all of which have shady picnic areas and a boat launch. Things to Do in Idaho
8. Cocolalla Lake
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Located less than 75 miles from the Canadian border in Idaho's northern region, Cocolalla Lake is a little-known 805-acre lake that offers an array of recreational opportunities and watersports throughout four colorful and action-oriented seasons. The southern shore of the lake is mostly made up of wetlands, but both it and the western shoreline are also home to beautiful summer cottages and year-round residences. All types of watersports can be enjoyed on the lake, from canoeing, kayaking, and pontooning to powerboating, sailing, wakeboarding, and water-skiing, and there are plenty of land-based activities like hiking, mountain biking, birding, and wildlife watching. The lake is stocked by a year-round fishery and provides excellent fishing for crappie, channel catfish, perch, and largemouth bass.
9. Coeur d'Alene Lake, Idaho
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Nestled in the Idaho Panhandle at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Coeur d'Alene Lake is a 30,000-acre glacier-formed lake and one of Idaho’s spectacular recreational jewels. Named for the wily trading practices of local Native American tribes by early French traders, the lake was formed by the Missoula Floods over 12,000 years ago, rests at 2,125 feet above sea level, and is fed by the Coeur d’Alene and the Saint Joe. Surrounded by pristine forests and mountains, the lake offers a wealth of recreational and outdoor activities for both locals and visitors to enjoy, including hiking, mountain biking, golfing, wildlife viewing, swimming, cliff jumping, kayaking, fishing, and sailing.
10. Dworshak Reservoir
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Dworshak Reservoir is a 19,000-acre lake near the town of Orofino in northern Idaho that extends into the Bitterroot Mountains and boasts beautiful scenic vistas. Formed by damming the North Fork of the Clearwater River in 1973, the 53-mile long reservoir was once used for logging; however, today it is a popular destination for recreational tourism. Diverse outdoor recreational offerings can be enjoyed throughout the year, like hiking, biking, fishing, camping, game hunting, kayaking and canoeing, and swimming. Dworshak State Park features several campgrounds from basic to modern and there are numerous picnic and recreation areas, children’s playgrounds, marinas for boat launching, and swimming areas around the reservoir.
11. Hauser Lake, Idaho
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Formed by ancient floods that dammed streams and created crystal-clear lakes in northern Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains, Hauser Lake rests at the southernmost edge of the mountains just 15 miles northwest of the picturesque city of Coeur d'Alene. Originally named Mud Lake, the 625-acre lake was named after the governor of Montana, Samuel T. Hauser, and is renowned for its scenic natural beauty and wealth of recreational and outdoor activities. Boating and fishing are the primary recreational activities on Hauser Lake, which is well stocked with a variety of fish species; however, the lake is also home to beautiful sandy beaches which are ideal for sunbathing and swimming, and plenty of campgrounds for backpacking, camping and picnicking.
12. Lakes in Idaho: Hayden Lake
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Located in the scenic Idaho Panhandle in Kootenai County, Hayden Lake boasts a timbered shoreline, pristine sandy beaches, and sparkling water and is one of the most popular recreational lakes in the region. The irregular shaped 3,800-acre Hayden Lake stretches for 7 miles with about 40 miles of shoreline and is surrounded by towering tree-covered mountains that rise to an elevation of 6,000 feet and extend into the Bitterroot Mountains. This panoramic landscape is dotted with permanent residences and vacation rentals, and Hayden Lake's public beach, known locally as Honeysuckle Beach, is an excellent spot for relaxing in the sun and swimming. Hayden Lake also offers superb fishing and other activities like canoeing, kayaking, and sailing.
13. Hells Canyon Reservoir
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Marking the border between Idaho and Oregon, the three Hells Canyon Reservoirs are among the most scenic locations in southwest Idaho. Hells Canyon Reservoir is the farthest north of the three Hells Canyon reservoirs, the other two of which are the Brownlee Reservoir and the Oxbow Reservoir. Stretched along 25 miles of the Snake River and boasting 2,412 acres of water, Hells Canyon Reservoir has a depth of 81 feet and offers excellent fishing and a variety of water-based activities such as jet-boating. Over 50 miles of hiking trails can be accessed from Hells Canyon Reservoir, and the Hells Canyon Creek Information Station is open to visitors during the summer months.
14. Lakes Near Me: Henrys Lake
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Nestled in the magnificent Caribou-Targhee National Forest in the far north corner of Eastern Idaho, Henrys Lake is a stunning mountainous body of water that sits at an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level. Situated on the southwest side of the Henrys Lake Mountains just over the border from both Montana and Wyoming, the 6,500-acre lake attracts thousands of visitors every year, who come to enjoy superb fishing, hiking, and camping. Several wetland areas along the shores attract and protect a diverse range of birds, waterfowl, and wildlife, and the area is surrounded by spectacular mountainscapes of the Centennial and Henrys Lake mountain ranges.
15. Independence Lakes, Idaho
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Located in the Sawtooth National Forest, the Independence Lakes are made up to four tiny alpine lakes that can be found at the end of one of south-central Idaho's most popular hiking trails in the Albion Mountains. The four small lakes can be reached by a relatively comfortable 3-mile hike on a well-maintained trailhead, which passes the popular climbing spot of City of Rocks. The most significant lake features about a half-mile of shoreline and is stocked with a variety of fish species including rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and bluegills, providing excellent fishing. The other lakes are considerably smaller and are thought to be unproductive for anglers.
16. Island Park Reservoir
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Island Park Reservoir is a 7,000-acre reservoir and recreational paradise located southwest of West Yellowstone. Formed by the dam built across Henry's Fork, a tributary of the Snake River, the Island Park Reservoir is surrounded by the magnificent Caribou-Targhee National Forest and boasts 64 miles of shoreline with several campgrounds and boat ramps operated by the US Forest Service. The Reservoir offers a wealth of recreational opportunities, including four major boat ramps providing access for canoeing and kayaking, pleasure boating, pontooning, jet-skiing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and sailing. There is excellent fishing in the lake, as well as sandy beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
17. Idaho Lakes: Lake Cascade
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Formerly known as the Cascade Reservoir and now fondly called “the Mile-High Playground,” Lake Cascade is a beautiful 12,200-hectare lake and natural playground for adventurers, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers. Well-stocked with a variety of fish, including coho salmon, kokanee salmon, trout, and smallmouth bass, the lake is a fishing haven for anglers and recreational fishers. It is also home to Lake Cascade State Park, which features over 2,000 campsites and a boat ramp for launching craft and offers hiking, mountain biking, and birdwatching in the summer, along with snowmobiling and skiing in the winter months.
18. Lake Pend Oreille
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Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest lake and the fifth deepest in the country, with depths reaching 1,152 feet. Set in a valley carved by glaciers from Canada and surrounded by two national forests, the 38,000-hectare lake was formed during the last ice age and resembles the shape of an ear. It was used for testing equipment by submarine researchers during World War II, but today its picturesque waterways and rocky banks are reserved for recreational purposes such as pleasure boating, fishing for rainbow trout, sailing, and swimming. The dense woodlands and lush landscapes around the lake are home to a plethora of wildlife, including grey wolves and grizzly bears.
19. Lucky Peak Lake
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Located just outside of the capital city of Boise, Lucky Peak Lake (sometimes called Lucky Peak Reservoir) is a 1,140-hectare lake that stretches across three counties. Set along the Boise River, the lake is home to Idaho's most visited state park, Lucky Peak Reservoir State Park, which is situated at the north end of the lake and boasts a beautiful sandy beach for excellent swimming and beach volleyball. At the opposite end of the lake is the Lucky Peak Dam Recreation Area, which has a boat ramp, a lovely beach, and several picnic tables. Lucky Peak Lake offers all types of recreational activities, from boating, fishing, and swimming to camping, hiking, and canoeing.
20. ID Lakes: Magic Reservoir
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The Magic Reservoir was formed in 1909 when the Big Wood River was dammed to provide irrigation water for local farming, and it has provided recreation to both residents and visitors for the past century. Boasting 3,700 acres of water and surrounded by spectacular natural scenery, the Magic Reservoir is home to two small settlements on the eastern and western shorelines, one of which has its own airport. The lake has many boat ramps providing access for powerboating, sailing, and water-skiing activities during the warmer months, but fishing is the favored sport at Magic Reservoir, which is stocked with perch, brown trout, rainbow trout, and smallmouth bass.
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21. Lake Near Me: Palisades Reservoir
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Set in a beautiful river valley east of Idaho Falls in southeast Idaho, Palisades Reservoir is a 16,000- acre lake formed by the impoundment of the Snake River with 70 miles of shoreline, the southern end of which extends into Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park. Surrounded by verdant forests and majestic mountain vistas in the distance to create spectacular scenic views, Palisades Reservoir offers a wealth of outdoor recreational activities for both summer and winter, including camping, fishing, game hunting, wildlife viewing, and a variety of watersports. Numerous boat-launching ramps provide anglers excellent access to the reservoir's fishing sites, which are well-stocked with brown trout, cutthroat, kokanee salmon, and mackinaw all year round.
22. Payette Lake, Idaho
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Nestled beneath the peaks of the West Mountains and enshrouded by the Payette National Forest 100 miles north of Boise, the breathtaking Payette Lake, and its sister body of water Little Payette, are known as being Idaho's Four-Season Playground. Set in Idaho's Long Valley, Payette Lake spans more than 5,000 acres with a depth of over 300 feet and has been welcoming visitors since the late 1800s, from Native American tribes and frontiersmen to Finnish settlers. The lake is renowned for its excellent fishing, particularly for mackinaw, along with brown and rainbow trout, and is a favorite among sailors. who come out to enjoy a range of watersports such as canoeing, kayaking, jet-boarding, wakeboarding, and water-skiing. Payette Lake completely freezes over in winter, so ice-fishing and ice skating keep the winter “lake lubbers” entertained.
23. Priest Lake
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Hailed as being Idaho’s “Crown Jewel,” Priest Lake is an ethereal body of water that rests in the northernmost portion of the Idaho Panhandle and extends for 19 miles. Naturally created some 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, the ancient lake is comprised of two bodies of water – the Lower Priest and Upper Priest – that are connected by a thoroughfare and provides year-round outdoor recreation along its white sandy beaches. While the lake still operates a lumber industry, it is best known for year-round entertainment, which includes hiking, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, and a variety of watersports in the summer, along with snowmobiling, ice-fishing, and cross-country skiing in the winter.
24. Twin Lakes
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Known for its spectacular natural scenery of towering mountains and dense forests, northern Idaho's Twin Lakes are two unforgettable bodies of water. The 850-acre crystalline lake is made up of two bodies of water, the upper and lower lakes, the upper of which stretches over 500 acres with a maximum depth of 20 feet, while the lower is 350 acres with a depth of 60 feet. Connected by a narrow 10-foot channel, the lakes are a favorite for enjoying a range of outdoor activities, such as fishing, pleasure boating, wakeboarding, and water-skiing as well as land-based adventures like hiking and wildlife watching.
25. Williams Lake
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Williams Lake in Lemhi County is a fly-fishing haven, attracting anglers from all over to fish for rainbow trout in the clean, clear waters. Located about 15 miles south of the city of Salmon in the central region of Idaho, the 185-acre lake was created when a landslide blocked Lake Creek about 6,000 years ago and is now surrounded by thickly forested canyon walls and boasts a depth of 185 feet. In addition to providing an excellent spot for fly-fishing, it is also a birder’s heaven, where a diverse variety of large raptors, shorebirds, and songbirds can be seen on and around the lake. Water-based activities include boating, kayaking, and swimming, while ice-fishing is popular in the winter.
The 25 Best Lakes in Idaho near me today according to local experts are:
Attraction Spotlight: Idaho Statehouse
A century-old structure, Idaho's Capitol Building is the state’s most significant political and social landmark. Located in Boise, Idaho, the building is home to the state’s legislative and executive branches of government. While the central portions of the Capitol Building were completed in 1905, the building’s east and west wings were added in 1919. The design of the building is credited to architects John E. Tourtellotte and Charles F. Hummel.
Prior to taking on this project the two had worked together on St. John's Cathedral, Boise's Carnegie Library, and the administration building at the University of Idaho. The pair was selected to design the Capitol Building due to their design aesthetic, which focused on a liberal use of skylights and white marble to accentuate color within the building. The building underwent a major restoration, which ended in 2010.
The architects of the Capitol Building had a vision for its design that centered on the metaphor of light. Seeing an abundance of light as a symbol of the enlightenment of government, the architects made sure to invite as much light into the building as possible. This is most apparent in the use of the cupola, which is one of the main ways that light enters the building. Few visitors may be aware of the fact that early elected officials who worked in the building had come from farms and ranches. Used to working outdoors, these officials were able to tell time by way of the illumination that filtered in through the cupola. Color is used sparingly in the design on the building and never competes with the white of the marble used to decorate the inside and the outside of the building. What little color is visible also has a symbolic meaning. The green of sagebrush, the red of salmon, and the gray of sawtooths are all represented in the pallet chosen for the design of the building. In this way, visitors are reminded of the natural resources of the state.
Overall, the design of the building is not done according to one prevailing fashion. The designers used a mix-and-match approach in many of the architectural aspects of the building. Borrowing from Egyptian, Greek, Renaissance, and Gothic styles, the building reflects the varied artistic landscape that informed the designers’ aesthetic.
The central rotunda showcases the state seal of Idaho. Drafted in 1891, it is the only state seal created by a woman, Emma Edwards Green. The seal depicts a woman holding scales, who represents justice, freedom, and liberty, standing alongside a miner, who represents the economic development of the state.
The underground atrium wings are also visible from the central rotunda area. The offices and meeting rooms in this area of the building were added to provide extra room for public participation in the legislative process. The motif of light is represented here though the addition of specially designed skylights that give the impression of the accessibility and transparency of government.
First Floor and Rotunda
The first floor of the Capitol Building is home of the treasurer’s office as well as the legislative services office. Though both spaces are striking in their own right, the view of the center of the cupola from the garden level is the focal point of this level. Stepping into the center of the rotunda, visitors will be able to see the eye of the inner dome of the cupola, called the oculus. The supporting structure of the cupola is made visible, so visitors will be able to spot the eight steel columns that support the dome. These columns are covered in a substance called scagliola, a plaster-based material that gives the impression of marble. The floor below the cupola has a very iconic compass rose design. While originally employed in nautical designs, the image of the compass rose was widely used in a variety of architectural applications on land.
The executive offices belonging to the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and lieutenant governor can all be seen on the second floor. Visitors can gain an appreciation of the longevity of the governorship by viewing the specially commissioned portraits of Idaho’s Governors since 1911. Corinthian columns, ornate plasterwork as well as aptly restored furniture all point to the gravity of the many important decisions that have been made inside the Capitol Building. In addition, visitors can see the updated state seal, which was designed by Paul. B Evans in 1957.
700 West Jefferson, Boise, ID 83702
Attraction Spotlight: Zoo Boise
Located in Boise, Idaho, Zoo Boise aims to connect its visitors with animals to inspire and involve them in wildlife conservation. The goal of the Zoo is to increase public awareness and appreciation of wildlife through a variety of educational programs, special events, and hundreds of animals to visit up-close-and-personal.
Zoo Boise is a part of the Julia Davis Park and was founded in 1916 under some interesting circumstances. When a monkey escaped from a local circus and was found near Mountain Home, Idaho, the Zoo was started on the park land. During the meat rationing of Great Depression, many animals were donated to the zoo by circuses and others who could not afford their care.
During the next decade, the park and the Zoo began to expand through a series of generous land donations. Eventually the addition of a rose garden, an art museum, and a university were all added to the park. Since then, the Zoo has continued to add new animals, educational programs, and attractions, making it one of the most beloved destinations in Julia Davis Park.
There are hundreds of animals to visit at Zoo Boise, including amphibians, anthropoids, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles. These animals range from all over the world including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
Some of the most featured creatures include the Amur Tiger, The Magellanic Penguins, Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Komodo Dragons, Bald Eagles, and of course, the Lions.
Visitors can also feed giraffes and sloth bears or visit the Zoo Farm. It is open year-round and allows visitors to feed goats, sheep, and llamas for a small fee.
Every summer, the Butterflies in Bloom Exhibit is in full swing. Considered everyone’s favorite attraction at the zoo, visitors will stroll through a greenhouse in full bloom. Hundreds of fragrant flowers and colorful Costa Rican butterflies will engulf visitors as they explore the sunlit greenhouse. This exhibit is included with zoo admission and is open yearly from June through Labor Day.
There are a variety of annual and seasonal attractions include the Eater EGGstravaganza, Mother’s Day Brunch, and various others.
The Zoo Boise Conservation Fund is the Zoo’s effort to turn the act of visiting into action. Portions of every admission ticket and popular attractions goes into the Conservation Fund which supports the protection of wild animals around the world.
Visitors can also “adopt” animals they visit at the zoo for a small donation and will receive an official adoption form and regular updates regarding their new “pet”. It is a great way to get young visitors involved with animal appreciation and conservation.
One of the most interesting conservation attractions to visit is the Conservation Cruise. Visitors will be whisked away on a relaxing cruise through a lagoon on a solar powered boat. On the cruise, visitors will see endangered wildlife roaming free in their natural habitat. All proceedings go to the Conservation Fund.
The zoo provides visitors with unique and engaging wildlife-focused educational experiences to foster a passion and appreciation for animals and their habitats. They also aim to raise awareness regarding conservation and issues and ways they can make a positive impact.
The Zoo’s educational programs include a variety of techniques including animal encounters, tours, nature hikes, ecology game and interactive activities, science-based exploration and research, and even zoo keeper presentations.
For the youngest zoo lovers, there is Preschool Zoo, where adults and their preschool-aged children can participate in activities featuring a different animal each week. There are all sorts of activities such as listening to stories, meeting live animals, and making crafts.
There is also Homeschool Zoo, a similar program aimed a home-schooled children ages 5-7. The course provides the students with laboratory experiments and activities, animal encounters, and classroom discussions. Weekly themes vary and align with Idaho State Science Standards.
Programs are aimed at school and youth groups as well as families and adults. These programs take place during the winter and spring seasons and visitors must pre-register.
There are also a variety of public programs happening daily, including animal presentations and encounters. The most famous animals available for visitors to meet include Sloth Bears and Giraffes.
Back to: Best Things to Do in Boise
Zoo Boise, 355 Julia Davis Drive, Boise, Idaho 83702, Phone: 208-608-7760
RV Parks in Boise, Idaho
Boise, is nicknamed 'The City of Trees' due to its many trees and green spaces, stretches out across over 82 square miles of land and sits at an elevation of more than 2,700 feet above sea level. The city is home to several historic sites of interest and lots of beautiful parks, as well as being a major touristic and cultural hub for the state of Idaho.
Lots of live music and other forms of entertainment can be enjoyed in Boise, Idaho, and some of the city's top attractions include the Idaho Aquarium, the World Center for Birds of Prey, the State Capitol building, the Oregon Trail, and the Boise Greenbelt.
A popular spot for road trips and RV tours, Boise is home to plenty of highly rated campgrounds and RV parks and is a super place to spend a few days or weeks, with a lot of opportunities for outdoor recreational activities like hiking, biking, and fishing. Next Read: Weekend Getaways in Idaho