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Visit Boise Before Everyone Hears of Its Charms

Boise, Idaho's state capital, could be one of America's best-kept secrets. The City of Trees offers a thriving foodie scene, cultural drawcards, and some of the best green spaces you could ask for. The Ridge to Rivers trail system in the Boise Foothills provides a beautiful escape, and you can go kayaking in the North End or even surf at Boise River Park. You don't have to travel far to see top-notch dark skies either. There's plenty for city slickers and outdoorsy folks to appreciate in this corner of the Gem State. See for yourself.

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01Boise River greenbelt

Boise Capitol Boulevard Bridge Darwin Fan / Getty Images

Alongside the Boise River, the Greenbelt is a well-maintained haven for angling, cycling, jogging, dog-walking, stroller-pushing, and floating on a tube. The 25-mile waterfront pathway connects 850 acres of parkland and is in the middle of downtown. It's a bubble of respite, and like the locals, you can sit in the shade and read, share a meal with a buddy, log a workout, or commute traffic-free. The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial is off the Greenbelt, as is the neat Julia Davis Park, with a zoo and various museums. Albertsons Stadium is nearby too.

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02Idaho State Capitol

Idaho State Capitol seen through a window of a van in the morning of Fall season Darwin Fan / Getty Images

The state capitol building here is arguably one of the most impressive in the nation. It's over 100 years old with a striking dome and rotunda and uses natural light to stunning effect. The gardens are on point and popular for photo ops, and there are catch-me-while-you-can exhibits for those interested in history and politics. You can ring the enormous bell below the front steps for some fun.

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03World Center for Birds of Prey

Twenty minutes out of Boise in the lowlands, you can learn everything you've ever wanted to know about falconry and wild avian hunters like condors, owls, and eagles. The center is Peregrine Fund's headquarters and focuses on raptor conservation, research, and breeding projects to save endangered species. There's an extensive library including books on falconry culture that date back to 1495 and an archive partially donated by the ruler of Abu Dhabi in homage to his father, a falconry enthusiast. Summer renovations in 2022 made the facilities even more accommodating.

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04Treefort Music Fest

Since the early 2010s, the annual Treefort Music Fest in March has transformed into a nationally-known cultural fixture with enough clout to attract stars like Lizzo and TV on the Radio and buzzworthy up-and-comers. The festival elevates POC and women and has downtown Boise thrumming with electricity during the five-day celebration of talent, technology, and the arts. If you're planning a trip to Boise, you won't regret scheduling it around Treefort.

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05Basque Block

Here's a fact you probably didn't know about Boise. It's home to a significant Basque community, about 15,000 folks strong—the largest in the U.S and the third largest in the world behind Argentina and Spain. They're the descendants of early 20th-century immigrants, primarily miners and shepherds, to Idaho's rural areas. At the Basque Market, you can sample tapas called pintxos and hot seafood paella and purchase Iberian goods like olives and ventresca tuna. The Basque Museum and Cultural Center features traditional music, a replica sheep wagon, and genealogy information. You might also catch some pelota being played on the handball court in Anduiza Fronton Building.

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06Freak Alley

Freak Alley is an oft-changing reflection of Boise residents' artistic flair. For over 20 years, the city has welcomed expressive graffiti and colorful murals in this particular nook downtown, and the walls and parking lot here are referred to as an outdoor gallery. You'll see quotes, social commentary, and celebrity portraits. And you may leave inspired to create your own vivid works of art.

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07Old Idaho State Penitentiary

Cell block at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary on July 31, 2013 Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

Right next to the calming Botanical Gardens lies the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Between 1872 and 1973, this was a working prison, and guides will regale you with tales of jailbirds and the crimes that put them behind bars. Does the now-defunct lock-up look like something out of The Silence of the Lambs or American Horror Story? Yes. Is it a must for history buffs? Again, yes. The Idaho Museum of Mining & Geology, also next door, makes a nice double whammy before you unwind among the flowers or go off on one of the desert hikes that leave from here.

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08Hot springs

If you prefer your dips on the toastier side, you'll want to take a day trip to one of the natural warm pools in Idaho. Rocky Canyon Hot Springs is an hour and a half away from Boise. You'll have to do a river crossing to reach the pools, so this excursion won't work with young kids, but it sure is rewarding. Late spring and early summer are the best times to go because the water levels aren't too high, and the temperatures are just right. You could also try Kirkham Hot Springs, which is more family-friendly and a better option in winter.

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09Bogus Basin

Lone hiker on trail at Shafer Butte at Bogus Basin Ski Resort above Boise, Idaho, part of the Ridge to Rivers trail system Anna Gorin / Getty Images

When the cold season hits, it's all fun and games up at Bogus Basin, a mere 16 miles from downtown Boise. Winter sports skiing and snowboarding reign supreme, and there's a tubing chute. Whatever your skill level, you're received with open arms at this non-profit recreational spot. Come spring, mountain biking, horseriding, and hiking take center stage. You can enjoy live music when the weather warms up.

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10Chow down

Who knew the Northwest was a burgeoning culinary hotspot? There are gourmet donuts at Guru Donuts, A-plus Asian food at Mai Thai, and the iconic Idaho spud at Boise Fry Co. The tomato basil fondue with grilled cheese at Fork is moreish, and State and Lemp is the product of James Beard nominee Kris Komori's creativity. A food tour may help you bypass the queues at some of these beloved eateries.

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