To the pioneers who charted the Oregon Trail in the 1830s, Boise was little more than a small cluster of trees beside a trading outpost. Boise would maintain this low profile until 1862, when prospectors first discovered gold in the area. Several other gold strikes led to a population surge and, soon enough, the newly minted city was thrust into the national spotlight. Boise has since blossomed into Idaho’s largest city and a vibrant cultural hub, the latter thanks to its growing population of young people. Combine all this culture with unmatched access to the great outdoors, and you end up with an endless variety of things to do.
At the heart of Boise lies The Grove, a sprawling plaza that hosts summer concerts, sunbathers, and kids who cool off by prancing in the fountain. Another draw in the warmer months, the Capital City Public Market brings together local farmers and artisans to sell their produce and crafts. The 208-foot dome of the Capitol Building casts a shadow over these proceedings. The building, which was constructed in 1905, remains the nation’s only capitol heated by geothermal water.
A similarly imposing government building, the Old Idaho Penitentiary locked away its share of Old Western outlaws from 1872 to 1973. Though no longer used for its original purpose, the prison continues to host tours of its cellblocks, solitary confinement rooms, and dreaded Gallows.
Not all of Boise’s appeal lies at its center. The city’s nature-friendly roots are on full display in the lush acreage of its Greenbelt. 30 miles of trails wind alongside the Boise River, which becomes a hot spot for floating, tubing, canoeing, and rafting during the summer. Most rafting trips start in Barber Park, which lies six miles outside the city. For a small fee, a shuttle bus can pick you up after the five-mile float to Ann Morrison Park.
A 10-minute drive outside the city takes you to Lucky Peak State Park. The park’s expansive confines encompass Sandy Point Beach, where cool waters pool at the base of Lucky Peak Dam. Although a bit further away, Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area’s snow-covered peaks make for an ideal wintertime playground.