Boise, Idaho, (pronounced BOY-see), the state's capital, is a youthful, outdoorsy, hip small city. It has attracted hordes of newcomers who work for its many high-tech companies.
Start your tour of this easily navigable city at the state Capitol, a particularly fine example of Classic Revival architecture. (The building is heated from underground hot springs.) The Old Idaho Penitentiary Museum will introduce you to life in the big house as it was in the 1870s. The adjacent transportation museum has a collection of vintage buggies and other horse-drawn vehicles.
The Idaho Historical Museum at Julia Davis Park has a re-created saloon and exhibits on the Chinese miners who came to the territory in great numbers in the 1860s. At the Idaho Basque Museum and Cultural Center, you can learn about the culture of the Basques who immigrated to the U.S. from the Pyrenees Mountains of Europe. There are several Basque restaurants, historic buildings, grocery stores and social centers on Grove Street, an area known as the "Basque Block." The block also is home to one of the country's only microdistillery/restaurants.
The nearby Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, on Boise's Greenbelt, honors Anne Frank as a model of respect for all people, regardless of background.
Though it can be seen by appointment only, the National Interagency Fire Center focuses on the ways firefighters and smoke jumpers use the latest technology to battle forest fires. It's open year-round, but only a limited number of tours take place during the summer fire season.
You can see eagles and falcons up close at the World Center for the Birds of Prey, a preserve devoted to protecting raptors. If you can take your eyes off the birds, you'll be impressed by the view of the valley as well. The Morrison Knudsen Nature Center is a wildlife park that re-creates each of the ecosystems present in Idaho.
If you want to meet some of Boise's outdoor-minded residents, you can find plenty of them walking, jogging or riding their bikes along the Boise Greenbelt, a 25-mi/40-km trail that follows the Boise River through town.
Two notable events on the city's calendar are the award-winning Shakespeare Festival (June-October) and the Boise River Festival (June).
To the southwest of Boise, near Nampa, is the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of Lake Lowell and more than 100 islands in the Snake River that are accessible by boat. Birders will be ecstatic when they see the number and variety of waterfowl that stop there. Nampa is the site of the annual Snake River Stampede in July, one of the top rodeos in the country. It includes nightly entertainment by top-rank country-music entertainers.
To see an old silver-mining town, make the scenic 45-mi/70-km drive northeast to Idaho City. Highlights include Boot Hill and the Boise Basin Museum, a one-time post office that now has displays about life in Idaho City during the mining boom. There's good, easily accessible downhill skiing during the winter at Bogus Basin, about 16 mi/25 km north of Boise.
For something truly unusual, head to Bruneau Dunes State Park, 64 mi/103 km southeast of Boise, where you'll find sand dunes as high as 470 ft/140 m, some of the tallest in North America. They're great for climbing.
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