Things to Do in Idaho City

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Idaho City, located in the Boise Basin off Highway 21 just 40 miles from Boise, is a historic mining town.  Gold was discovered nearby at Grimes Creek in 1862.  By 1863, Congress established the Idaho Territory, and Idaho City was the county seat of Boise County. 

Over the next two years, the population in Idaho City soared.  With more than 6,000 people, it became the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, larger than Portland.  The gold strike ultimately produced 3,000,000 ounces which is worth almost a billion dollars at current gold prices.

The mining town suffered several fires and of course the demise of the gold rush.  Now, however, it caters to tourists over the summer.  As a result, there are plenty of things to do for a day or weekend in Idaho City.

Camping Near Idaho City

If camping is your thing, the forest service operates Grayback Gulch Campground just two miles south of town.  The simple campground includes 20 sites shaded by ponderosa pines, several pit toilets, and water. In mid-May, it tends to fill up by Thursday evening.

camping at Grayback gulch campground

Lodging in Idaho City

The Idaho City Hotel, located in the Historic District, is a perfect place to stay in town.  The cozy rooms with a mining boarding house flare have recently been updated.  The lobby includes coffee, beer and light snacks.  Additionally, there are a few camping and dry RV places with a shower and toilet.

Idaho city hotel

Speaking of showers, sometimes I want a good one rather than a spray outside the back of VANgo.  I didn’t try them, but I did see the Creekside Campground & Events Center offers coin operated showers to the public.

Walk the Historic Town

As I mentioned, Idaho City is an old mining town.  While it suffered some large fires, many historic buildings remain intact.  The city has done a very good identifying each one with signs outside.  The Visitors Center provides a map with details of each building on the back.

idaho city

I didn’t know that during the mining days in Idaho City nearly 50% of the population was Chinese.  Thus, I was surprised to see the Pon Yam House.  He sold herbs and other Chinese products and concoctions out of the brick building which was constructed pre-1865

Also, while most the shops, restaurants, and historic buildings are on Montgomery St and Main St., be sure to detour up the hill to see the quaint white church and the oldest Oddfellows Hall still in use today.

Pop into the Museum

In the mix of all the old buildings is the Boise Basin Museum.  The museum features the history of Idaho City and Boise Basin during the gold rush in the 1860’s.  It includes several pictures and artifacts of the once grandiose town which boated opera, theaters, breweries and bowling alleys! The museum opens Memorial Day weekend.

boise basin museum in idaho city

Indulge in a Slice of Pie at Trudy’s Kitchen

There are a handful of restaurants in Idaho City, but Trudy’s Kitchen is famous for its pie.  For $7 a slice, it needs to be pretty big and good!  The most popular is Huckleberry Cheesecake which makes sense given the huckleberry is Idaho’s state fruit. 

Another favorite is the coconut cream pie.  That’s what I ordered.  It was so rich, it took me three different sittings to eat it!

trudy's kitchen

Visit the Pioneer Cemetery

Just outside the city is the cemetery.  It is located on a hill beneath tall stands of pines.  There is a 25-cent pamphlet in the visitors center that identifies prominent Idahoans that have been buried in the cemetery.  It is also located at the gate of the cemetery for donation.

I wondered through the cemetery to see some graves of prominent political figures, saloon owners, and even some unfortunate children with wire cribs marking their graves.  I actually liked many of the unknown graves, marked with moss covered fences.

Additionally, there is one enormous headstone.  The pamphlet states that the headstone is for Donahue, a wealthy Irishman who headed west to avoid the Civil War.  He had no family when he passed, but has the largest headstone in the cemetery because the administrator of his estate received a commission based on the expenses of the estate.  Consequently, the larger the headstone, the more money for the administrator!

Take a Hike

While the town in nice, I visit the mountains for outdoor activities.  There is a trailhead that is walking distance from Idaho City called Buena Vista.  It starts by the runway.  Who knew the tiny town of 520 had a runway?!?  I don’t know what it is for, but next to it is a trail, large parking area, and a bathroom.

The Buena Vista Trail connects to Charcoal Gulch, which makes for a 5 mile out and back.  The trail gradually ascends to a dirt road.  While there isn’t much of a view, the walk along the pine needle strewn path is relaxing.  For more details, see my post Happy Hiking: Charcoal Gulch.

charcoal gulch hike near idaho city

Go Off-Roading

Speaking of dirt roads, they are everywhere!  In fact, there are several behind the Grayback Gulch Campground.  Had I ventured around a bit, I probably could have found a pullout for camping.

For a map of the trail system in the surrounding area, stop in the Idaho City visitor center. They provide them for free.  Next door, is the Seasons Café, Grocer, and ATV rental.  You can get your vehicles there!

Soak in the Hot Springs

After a hike or a ride, soak in some Hot Springs.  Idaho has tons of hot springs.  One of the closest springs to Idaho City is Kirkham Hot Springs.  While it is located east of Lowman and takes about an hour to get there due to the winding scenic highway.

Though right off the highway, the hot springs which are nestled on the South Fork of the Payette River are fed by trickling waterfalls.  For more details, see my post from my previous visit.

payette river at kirkham hot springs

Other hot springs include Pine Flats Hot Springs, Bonneville Hot Springs, and Silver Creek Plunge.  There are also a plethora in Garden Valley: Rocky Canyon, Fire Crew, Boiling Springs, Moondipper and Pine Burl, Groundhog, and Bull Creek.

Take a Scenic Drive

Idaho City is located on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway. Take a drive to Lowman or farther to Stanley. Or detour on to one of the dirt forest service roads. Annie and I drove around for a while in an effort to get to Jennie Lake. Unfortunately a tree had fallen across the road, so we had to turn around, but there are lots of beautiful meadows and dispersed camping, even in the burn area. She had fun running around.

Certainly all these activities can keep you busy for a day trip to or weekend in Idaho City.  ETB

Plan Your Visit

Use this interactive map to see what you want to do, and then plan your trip.

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Published by

Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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