5 Best things to do in Boise, Idaho

February 2, 2021
Boise River Greenbelt from Eagle, Idaho is one of the best things to do in Boise, Idaho.

Boise is a clean, attractive and undercrowded city.  The Boise River runs on one side of the town, and the Boise Mountain Foothills backdrop the other.  The downtown vibe is self-aware and family friendly.  There are a lot of good reasons to visit — or move to — Boise, Idaho.

When we travel, we inevitably ask ourselves if we would consider moving to the town, region, etc. we are currently exploring.  Boise gets an uncomplicated yes.  Whether you like to hike, ski, or fish, or drink microbrews and walk your dog down safe, city streets, Boise is an unblemished area to explore the wilderness, raise your kids, and chase your little city dreams.

If you’re spending a few days in the area, there are some original things to do within a half hour drive.  Below are five of the best things we did while spending a four-day weekend with local family.

1. Boise River Greenbelt

Boise River Greenbelt has lots of rope swings tied into the trees.  This is the best thing to do in Boise, Idaho.

A 25-mile stretch of parked-out river runs from Lucky Peak State Park to the town of Eagle, northwest of Boise.  The trail is endlessly gorgeous, even from the road.  You can enjoy a leisurely stroll minutes from downtown yet feel miles away from the buildings.  This is arguably the best thing to do in Boise, Idaho.

If you’re a fisherman, find a quiet stretch and drop a line in the evening water.  If you own or rent a bike, cycle the path from one end to the other.  Bring your inflatable swan and float the summer day away.  If you don’t own an innertube you can rent one at Barber Park.  Stretches of the river have sandy shore to lay down a towel or plant a camping chair in the water.  We found several rope swings and spent the evening launching ourselves from the trees.  It doesn’t really matter where you park along the river.  This is the easiest way to have a good time in Boise.

2. Kuna Caves

Kuna Caves are a hard to find, but a special place to explore.  An old lava tube out in the farmland.  One of the most unique things to do in Boise, Idaho.

The Kuna Caves are lava tubes about 20 miles south of Boise.  At the end of a tricky dirt road is a steel ladder that descends about fifty feet into an unmaintained cavern.  The Bureau of Land Management says the cave should not be visited by the general public… yet it is frequently visited, and no barriers prevent one from doing so.

What makes this cave special is the subtle, human touch of spray paint.   The entire quarter-mile cave is decorated with a galaxy of graffiti.  Everything from names and gang tags to beautiful designs and profane personal statements cover the course of the dusty cavern.  You will need to scamper through a few low points to see the whole cave, but the dirty pants are worth it.  

3. Table Rock

Hiking Table Rock is a thing to do in Boise, Idaho.

The Boise Mountain foothills form the northern border to Idaho’s largest city, and Table Rock is the most popular hike in the foothills and one of the best things to do in Boise, Idaho.  The moderate, 3.7-mile RT hike gains 900 ft. of elevation, and leads to a large, flat rock surface overlooking the city.   A 4,500 lb., six-story cross punctuates the landmark.

Views from the top are expansive and satisfying.  Boise looks green and healthy from up here.  The neighborhood to the right has some magnificent properties to covet.  

Hang your feet over the granite cliffs and enjoy a Coke-Zero with your fellow, dry-mouthed laborers.  Be sure to bring plenty of liquids because it’s a dusty shuffle back to civilization.  

4. Old Penitentiary

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is a classic prison with lots of stories made beautiful by rose gardens along the buildings.

Old prisons make very cool tours.  The Old Idaho Penitentiary opened its doors in 1872 and housed Idaho’s most wanted inmates for 101 years.  The prison grounds have been transformed into rose gardens, so strolling these institutional walls can be an oddly beautiful experience.  

Some of the highlights are:  the wall of shanks; “Siberia” and “The Cooler”, where groups of men were crammed into closet-sized cells to “recall their manners”; a museum of wicked machine guns and grenades from WWI/WWII; the gallows; the Merci Train from France; and the women’s prison.  

Perhaps the greatest part of the tour are the myriad stories of the prisoners that decorate the walls.  Each placard has a picture of the inmate and lists their history and crime descriptions.  I have a new favorite crime:  Burglary in the nighttime.  And guess which state (other than Idaho) produced the most criminal inmates?  It was Missouri.  The “show me your hands” state.  Congrats, Missouri, on your many traveling felons!

5. Kathryn Albertson Park

Kathryn Albertson Park is a relaxing place to enjoy the scenery just outside Downtown Boise.  For pet owners this is some thing to do in Boise, Idaho.

Just outside downtown Boise, along the Boise River, are two parks across the road from one another.  Ann Morrison Memorial Park is a large, grassy space full of trees and geese.  On one end is a spectacular dog park — it is literally an island with foot bridges — and the dogs behave as if they’re running the place.  Our autistic boys were in wild dog heaven.  If you have kids who love dogs this is definitely one of the things to do in Boise, Idaho.

Kathryn McCurry met her husband, Joe Albertson (of Albertsons Grocery fame), at the University of Idaho.  In what sounds like a Romantic-Horror movie plot device, Joe “accidentially” spilled acid on her leg in a chemistry class, and they fell in burning love.  Can’t you hear the voiceover guy now?  

The riverside park is considered part of Boise’s Ribbon of Jewels named after prominent local women.  Kathryn was strong and caring and the Albertson family donated lots of money to local universities.  K.A. Park was dedicated in 1989 and designed to be an attractive home for wildlife in downtown Boise.  The park is full of water features, gazebos, lily pads, birds and wildflowers.  It takes about an hour to slowly stroll the grounds.  

Notes

Best With Children: Greenbelt, Penitentiary

Best Time to Visit: Depends on your activities. We prefer Summer.

Best Nearby RV Campground: Boise Meridean KOA

Kuna Caves: Be careful with your car. The dirt road has deep ruts.

Map of Boise.

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