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Places to Visit in Idaho: 3 National Parks in 3 Days

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Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

For many, places to visit in Idaho – or “Little Ida” – are often overlooked, and what a shame that is! With a landscape that varies from rolling prairie and lush forest to stark desert and rugged mountains, Idaho offers unmatched natural beauty. With the help of this Idaho national park guide, enjoy a long weekend in one of America's most underrated natural playgrounds.

Day One: City of Rocks National Reserve

City of Rocks National Reserve
National Park Service

Just across the state line from Utah, City of Rocks National Reserve offers a spectacular jumble of towering granite rock formations that barely seem to belong to this world. Not surprisingly, rock climbing is one of the park's biggest draws, with numerous established routes ranging from 30 to 600 feet. Explore on your own or join the park's Climbing Experience Program to learn more about rock climbing under the supervision of an experienced guide.

Spend the night at one of the 64 campsites scattered among the rock formations, including both drive-in and walk-in sites. Water is available in the camping area, and most sites includes a tent pad, fire grill, and picnic table. The historic village of Almo offers shopping and dining nearby.

Day Two: Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
John Chao/National Park Service

A little less than two hours from City of Rocks, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument lies along the meandering course of the Snake River, where some of America's richest fossil deposits have been found. More than 200 species were discovered here, including Equus simplicidens, the earliest true horse ever discovered in North America.

As you spend some time viewing the fossil displays at the visitor center, try to imagine the landscape as it appeared during the Pliocene Epoch – inhabited by saber-toothed cats, Mastondons, and prehistoric sloths. A variety of seasonal programs are also offered at the visitor center depending of the timing of your visit, and visitors are encouraged to try uncovering fossils for themselves in a simulated dig. You'll find a variety of accommodation and dining options in the town of Hagerman, just a few miles away.

Day Three: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Shutterstock

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a remarkable place with a tumultuous volcanic history. About three hours northeast of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, this Idaho national park encompasses ancient volcanoes and vast lava flows that today harbor a stunning diversity of plant and animal life.

A great place for wildlife viewing and nature photography, the park is most easily explored along the 7-mile Loop Road, which leads to some of the park's most remarkable landmarks. Take the time to hike the Broken Top Loop and explore Buffalo Cave before venturing out into the designated Craters of the Moon Wilderness Area, which includes the Lava Trees and Echo Crater.

Camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Most sites are for tents only, and each includes a charcoal grills, picnic tables, and access to water and restrooms. The nearest services – food, groceries, and camping gear – are available about 18 miles away in the town of Arco.

The spectacular landscape of Idaho’s national parks is best discovered at a leisurely pace. Whether you have a weekend, a week, or even longer, you can be sure that you won't run out of areas to explore. If you find yourself looking for more places to visit in Idaho, be sure to check out some of the state’s other National Park Service sites, such as Nez Perce National Historical Park and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Close up on Joshua Trees
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