Idaho lies in the Rocky Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, with its northernmost edge bordering Canada. The proximity of the Pacific Ocean tempers the extremes of the seasons, especially in the western part of this L-shaped state. Yet, from its northern panhandle to its southern valleys, Idaho showcases the dramatic extremes of nature.
A rare experience for birdwatchers is a winter visit to Lake Coeur d'Alene, in Northern Idaho. Peaking in mid-December, a growing concentration of bald eagles comes to feed on kokanee salmon en route to spawning grounds.
Sports enthusiasts and nature lovers flock to the southwestern and central portions of the state. Internationally renowned Bald Mountain is home to the famous Sun Valley Ski Resort, which opened in 1936. Luxuriously styled after European ski resorts, Sun Valley was the cradle of alpine skiing in the U.S. and the first ski facility in the world to use chair lifts.
In the same valley, catch the Trailing of the Sheep Festival every October. Once a stronghold of Basque and other immigrant sheepherders, the land between the Sawtooth Mountains and the desert below still sees annual migration. Visitors can witness sheepdog trials and see hundreds of sheep led straight through the town of Ketchum on their way to winter pastures.
To the southwest, the 778,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area features the majestic peaks and river valleys of the Sawtooth Range. The park offers exceptional whitewater rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, camping, hunting and fishing.
Ten miles wide and 7,993 feet deep, Hells Canyon is the nation’s deepest river gorge, chiseled over eons by the course of the Snake River among the Seven Devils Mountains. Nearly 900 miles of hiking trails crisscross Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
Return to civilization in Boise, in West Central Idaho. The state’s capital and its largest city brims with museums, including the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which celebrates the Basque contribution to Idaho history. View the city on foot via the urban trail network that follows the Boise River. Boise was named Best Town Overall in the Western U.S. in 2010 by Outside Magazine.