For folks living outside the region, Idaho is probably most famous for the stem tubers we love to turn into French fries. Yes, potatoes are the number one thing Idaho is known for. But there’s so much more culturally significant to the state than just these veggies.
Well, since it is the number one thing folks know about Idaho, let’s look at these illustrious tuber vegetables. The often-overlooked root veggie has been synonymous with the state for centuries since the plant became the number one export of the state. In fact, Idaho is responsible for the growth and export of about one-third of the potatoes in the United States, at about 13 billion pounds each year.
The starchy vegetable thrives in the state’s warm days and cool nights climate, with loads of irrigation provided by the ice melt of the mountain ranges of the gorgeous state. The rich volcanic soil doesn’t hurt, either.
The state celebrates its potatoes even on their license plates. They read: Famous Potatoes. Several cultural events and specialties of the state theme around this famous vegetable.
Though you might not think it possible to notice, approximately 73% of Americans prefer Idaho potatoes over those grown elsewhere. The reason? The exact climate and terrain result in these tubers growing “fluffier” than others, meaning they’re less greasy and heavy. Folks enjoy Idaho potatoes in many ways, from French fries to mashed potatoes, topping a shepherd’s pie, or filled to the brim as potato skins. The number one way enjoyed in the state, though, is the baked potato, smothered in amazing toppings.
The Potato Drop
One of those cultural things in Idaho focused on the potato has the name “the potato drop.” Yeah, sounds a little odd. But come New Year’s Eve, that GlowTato, a giant dazzling potato replica, dropping in Boise is hard to forget. Join in on the countdown and enjoy the fireworks show after.
Ice Cream Potato
Another potato-themed local thing is the ice cream potato.
Don’t worry, the “potato” doesn’t taste like one. They’re not crazy enough to ruin both good things. Instead, the ice cream potato looks just like one. The tasty treat, created by Westside Drive-In, comes out at fairs, local events, and special days, in the form of vanilla ice cream coated I cocoa powder and shaped to look just like a potato. They come topped with whipped cream and other sweet treats that mimic toppings you’d put on a baked potato.
The Gem State
Second only to Africa’s incredible gemstone mines, Idaho earns the nickname of the Gem State quite legitimately. The state has the largest variety of gemstones in America, with opals, jade, sapphires, garnets, star garnets, jasper, and many others.
It was once believed that the name “Idaho” came from the Shoshone Nation, their name of “gem of the mountains.” However, it was discovered that a mine owner, trying to boost the fame of the gems in the state made up the name. But the nickname stuck because, well, it fits.
Rockhounding (that is, rock hunting), happens to be a favorite activity in the state, and visitors are more than welcome to join in on the hunt. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some great stones to bring home. If not, stop by a rock shop to find something you’d like to take home with you.
Idaho happens to be one of the few places in the world where you can find star garnet. In fact, the only other place is India. Because of this, the stone is the state’s stone. The unique stone features asterism, that is a star-shaped pattern within the gem. The four-pointed star is most common, but occasionally a six-pointed star may be found.
The stone comes in brownish-red or purple-red to reddish-black colors, ranging in sizes from golf balls down to sand particles. They can only be found within the panhandle of the state. One of the best places for this occurs in Panhandle National Forest along Emerald Creek Garnet.
Some of the best trout fishing in America occurs in Idaho. The rivers teem with the fish, caught often by experts and amateurs alike. Rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout, steelhead trout, and others make their home here, though spread throughout the state.
The natural beauty of the rivers is enough to keep the whole family entertained, though, even if not everybody wants to toss a hook in the water. Nature trails, swimming holes, beaches, and, of course, stunning mountain views all surround the rivers, lakes, and streams where the tasty trout live.
Lentils Capital of the World
Not only does Idaho grow a heaping ton of potatoes every year, but the state is also the actual lentils capital of the world. The Palouse region of Idaho has earned this title, covering the north-central area of the state into parts of Washington.
The first lentils were planted here in 1916 and the climate and soil helped the crop boom. Now, the region actually produces approximately 95% of the world’s lentil supply.
Scenic Mountains and Rivers
If you have the chance to take a long drive through Idaho, do it. The state is known for its scenic routes for good reason. The stunning mountain ranges along long, quiet roads, the glistening glacier pools, and all that beautiful farmland seems endless and endlessly breathtaking.
Idaho contains literally thousands of mountains, including some peaks that belong to the Rocky Mountain Range. The highest peak in the state is Borah Peak, with an elevation of 12,654 feet. You may also hear of it by the name Beauty Peak or Mount Borah.
One specific natural feature made famous in the state goes by the name Hells Canyon. The deepest gorge in North America runs along the border of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. The Snake River carved the gorge thousands of years ago, resulting in this remote, gorgeous, and intriguing canyon. No bridges or roads cross the 7,993-foot-deep canyon.
Within Hells Canyon, archaeological research occurs, looking into the history of the Nez Perce Nation that once lived there. Relics from the time include cave paintings, rock carvings, arrowheads, and others.
Within the canyon, a three-dam complex exists, generating nearly 1,200 megawatts of electricity. This provides about 70% of the state’s hydroelectricity.
Over 240 Hot Springs
Some folks outside the area might not realize it, but Idaho is home to over 240 hot springs. The geothermal pools make up the largest collection in a single state within the USA. 130 of these pools are viable for humans to enjoy soaking in.
Interestingly enough, Boise’s Capitol building is the United States’ only capitol building heated by geothermal energy. The rest of the city benefits from this energy as well, as it is the oldest and biggest system in the country. Other locations are looking at the design as a model for sustainable energy.
The state fruit of Idaho happens to be the huckleberry. This delicious fruit grows in the Rocky Mountains from June to August. You can forage for the berries yourself (ideal times run between July and early August). Eat the berries in pie, jams, tarts, muffins, scones, or raw.
And, of course, you’ll find plenty of huckleberry products throughout Idaho, in ice creams, candies, pies, and more. The fruits contain loads of antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients. Folks say the berries taste like a mic between raspberries and blueberries.
Another iconic food in Idaho is the finger steak. These are strips of steak, battered and deep-fried. You eat them with your fingers and enjoy them along with other staples of the state, like French fries and huckleberry pie.
The finger steak was invented by folks at Milo’s Tavern in Boise in the 1950s and they’ve stuck. You can find them almost anywhere in the state, from local greasy spoons to sit-down restaurants.
Idaho happens to have one of the most “neutral” accents in the country. Often, companies looking for have used Idahoans as guinea pigs for solicitors. Locals say they have a distinctive accent, and they certainly do on given words, like “Boise.”
The 212-foot waterfall, Shoshone Falls, has earned the nickname of the Niagara of the West. The stunning waterfall cascades down from its source of the Snake River, in southern Idaho. The waterfall pushes over 20,000 cubic feet of water per second, with a standard flow range between 10,000 and 12,000 cubic feet per second. The waterfall, taller than Niagara, has also attracted tourists for a long time. First records show tourists visiting in the mid-1800s. Even folks making their way along the Oregon Trail were known to deviate from the course to visit the stunning natural wonder.
The First Atomic-Powered City in the World
Another amazing thing about Idaho is that the state is host to the first atomic-powered city in the world. Arco, located in Butte County, went live in 1955 as an all-nuclear city. The Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX III reactor charged the city for an hour. It may not seem like a lot, but it was a huge step forward in energy. The small town is still viable, liveable, and non-radioactive. Lots of tests have proven it.
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