3 Places to Visit in Idaho for Educational Experiences

Sponsored by Visit Idaho

Hello 2021 and the new world of educating our own children. Fancy putting parents in that role!

Just in case you didn’t get what I did there, the educational manifesto I wrote as a teacher had the line,

“Parents are the first and foremost educators of their children.”

That’s right, teachers and schools come second. Don’t fear, you’ve been doing this since they were born and can continue to do it while the school doors are closed.

On the road to Craters of the Moon, Idaho
On the road to Craters of the Moon

Do as we do – let your living experiences do the teaching for you.

Be present with the kids, engage in their curiosities, pursue their passions, and interact with them in the moment.

You’ll be surprised at how much they learn, practically on their own.  

This month we’re revisiting, and celebrating places to visit in Idaho, one of our favorite states in the USA (in partnership with Visit Idaho).

Boise, Idaho
Camelback Mountain, Boise

It’s unlike any other state we’ve visited and blew us away with its beauty, opportunities for learning, and incredible memory making experiences.

So, let’s hit the Idaho road with these three educational experiences designed to teach, but also offer loads of fun at the same time.

Why can’t all classrooms be like that? Do we even want to return to pre-COVID times?

Oh, and by the way, this is learning for you too! Because you are never too old to be wowed by the planet.

Sacajawea Interpretative, Cultural and Educational Center

In the early 1800s, Lewis and Clark were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to explore the land west of the Mississippi River and hopefully find a water route to the Pacific Ocean.

Sacajawea became part of the expedition when her French-Canadian trader husband was hired to be an interpreter for Lewis and Clark.

Sacajawea was integral to the success of their Corps of Discovery Expedition due to her interpretation assistance and knowledge of the tribal lands they were traveling through, in particular, the Agai’dika (Salmon Eater) Shoshone-Bannock, Sacajawea’s own tribe whose homeland was in the vicinity of present-day Salmon, Idaho.

Before visiting the Sacajawea Interpretative, Cultural and Educational Center, I knew of this female warrior by name only. I had little understanding of Sacajawea’s importance and strength.

While small, the interpretative center gives you an educational insight into Sacajawea’s life, her integral contribution to the success of the Lewis And Clark Corps of Discovery expedition, and the perspective of her people and their Salmon and Lemhi River Country.

Sacajawea Center

Most striking is the bronze statue of Sacajawea in the garden holding a young child looking out over the mountains and landscape she loved so much. In writing this post, I have discovered there are more statues in the USA dedicated to Sacagawea than to any other American woman.

This place to visit in Idaho is on a beautiful 71-acre park which offers scenic trails that take you by several fascinating interpretive signs and artifacts. We took a short loop walk along the river and saw a bobcat!

The Sacajawea Center also holds indoor and outdoor concerts in the summer, as well as annual historical events, festivals, family historical programs, kids summer camps and Dutch oven cookouts.

Homeschool Activity

There is a great workbook for kids (access online) where you can learn more about the Sacajawea, the expedition and her people with fun activities like crack the codes, learn Indian Hand Talk. and make your own tipi.

Land of Yankee Fork State Park, Challis

Here is your opportunity to step back in time and learn a little about the mining history of Idaho.

The Land of Yankee Fork State Park is in Challis, Central Idaho, along the Salmon River Scenic Byway (one of our favorite US road trip experiences).  

As mining towns do, they boom, and they bust. This area was thriving between 1877 and 1911 with the towns of Bonanza, Bayhorse, and Custer supporting it. Not too long after that the bust came, and the people left behind the crumbling remains of ghost towns.

A trail was used during the old mining days that took supplies from Challis to the Yankee Fork Mining District, and you can follow this historic trail along a 98-mile loop drive.

Not only will you get to visit ghost towns, but the river and mountainous scenery is beautiful. There are also plenty of ATV, mountain bike and hiking trails in this area.

This loop drive will take you along rivers, mountains, and scenic vistas to the various attractions.

Here are your stops along the way:

Interpretive Center

Land of Yankee Fork Museum
Land of the Yankee Fork Museum

Start at the Interpretive Center with an informative video sharing the history of the area and development of the mining towns. You can then explore the artifacts in the small museum.

Ready for your homeschool activity?

The Center’s engaging scavenger hunt is a great way for kids to learn more about this region. It was a fun learning experience that helped our girls to connect with life back in the mining days.

Challis Bison Kill Site

There is a short, paved pathway from the Interpretive Center that takes you to the Challis Bison Kill Site, where early inhabitants of the Round Valley captured bison. Archaeological excavations uncovered the bones of about 30 bison as well as glass beads and stone tools spanning across different time frames.

Bayhorse

Bayhorse land of the Yankee fork idaho
Bayhorse ghost town

The Bayhorse Mining District was among the longest running lead and silver producers in the state of Idaho. The town had a population of about 300 people.

Bayhorse is well preserved with the Bayhorse Saloon, numerous cabins, the beehive kilns, the stone Wells Fargo building, and a large stamp mill.

A short self-guided tour will tell you more about life in this Silver town. 

Bonanza

As we were short on time, we did not make it to Bonanza. It was the largest of the towns and was destroyed by fires in the 1890’s. The remaining merchants all moved to Custer. Today, Bonanza has only about seven tumbling structures, in various states of decay.  

Custer

custer mining town yankee fork idaho
Ice cream at the Empire Saloon

In its hey day Custer had a population of about 600 people.

Self-guided walking tours in Custer tell the story of Idaho’s mining history along its mile long Main Street. Stop into the Empire Saloon for a cheap scoop of handmade ice cream (recess break).

Yankee fork gold mining dredge

You can also take a tour of the 988-rton Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, the largest dredge in Idaho to help get that gold out of the Yankee River. Over its time in use, the dredge recovered an estimated $1,000,000 in gold and silver.

While here, don’t miss:

A soak in a natural hot spring.

Idaho Hot Springs
Sunbeam Hot springs

In this area, you’ll find numerous hot springs by the side of the byway next to the Salmon River. Of course, it is educational.

These springs are caused by the fault line that runs underneath Idaho. This is the perfect, real-life experience for kids and a great lead in (or out) to our next educational place to visit in Idaho.

Sunbeam Hot Springs are right near the old Sunbeam Dam, the only dam ever constructed on the Salmon. The dam was built in 1910 to generate electricity for the nearby mines and is no longer in operation.

We share more Idaho hot spring ideas in this post on things to do in Idaho.

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

craters of the moon national monument Idaho
The drive into Craters of the Moon, Idaho

Life should be filled with wow moments. Driving into the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve was one of those.

We pulled over to the side of the road to soak in the striking rainbow colors of the desert landscape morphing into the black hardened rock of the lava fields.

How did I not know Idaho, was in part, created from volcanic activity? If I read that in a science book I’d probably have forgotten not long after the test had finished.

But now that I’ve walked amongst the black twisted lava beds, I will never forget it.

Text and pictures in a book can only do so much. Walking up a cinder cone and looking out to a field of spatter and cinder cones pretty much brings it to life.

This volcanic wonderland offers 750,000 acres of twisted lava fields, craters, cinder cones and surrounding mountain ranges. It’s in the high desert of Central Idaho, about 175 miles from Boise. It’s an incredible place to visit on your Idaho road trip.

Learn at the Visitor Center

Craters of the Moon, Idaho

Thanks to a few highly informative displays in the visitor center, I learned more about how this region was created by a handful of lava flows.

They oozed out of fissures along the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles (84 km.) to the southeast.

It created hotspots and calderas all the way to its youngest hotspot, Yellowstone National Park. What a fantastic way to lead into our upcoming adventures exploring the USA’s first national park.

By the way, the western edge of Yellowstone and the western slope of the Tetons are places in Idaho! (Incorporate them into your Idaho road trip through this region.)

Things to do in Craters of the Moon National Monument

With its 7-mile scenic loop drive and short, flat trails this is an easy national park to explore in just a couple of hours. Choose the trails that best suit your length of time and interest.

Here are two experiences not to miss.

Inferno Cone

The inferno cone craters of the moon national monument
Walking up the Inferno Cone

Don’t miss the 0.2 mile hike up Inferno Cone. This was my favorite of things to do in Craters of the Moon.

The views of the Great Rift, Snake River Plain and Pioneer mountains and the various cinder cones that lay scattered around are spectacular and showcase creation frozen in time.

Does it get any more real for a child then to climb to the top of a black cinder cone?

Explore the Lava Tubes: Caves Trail

Dip below the surface of the Earth to venture into a series of caves created by molten lava thousands of years ago.

I love venturing through lava tubes and seeing firsthand how these caves were created. It’s so easy to point out the shapes and explain to your kids how they were formed They get it straight away.

Caves Trail is a popular trail that will take you to 4 caves, tubes, and tunnels created by the flow of lava.

Learn about the Stars

One of my favorite things to do is lie under a starry sky and contemplate how big the Universe is and how small we really are.

Keep your children connected to this humbling feeling.

Craters of the Moon National Monument is a designated International Dark Sky Park for its outstanding night skies.

You can stay at very funky looking campsite within the park to see it for yourself, or there are ranger-led full moon hikes during the summer months where you can learn more.

There truly no better way for a child to learn than have them walking amongst Craters of the Moon and experiencing the essence of volcanic activity through their five senses AND their imagination.

Homeschooling: Earn your Badge

Junior Ranger programs are one of our favorite ways to connect to the learning experience within national and state parks.

Get your booklet from the visitor center and complete the required number of activities for your age’s badge level. All activities extend the learning about the flora, fauna, and history of the park.

Junior Rangers will love the lunar like badge they can collect from this park once completed. It was one of the most unique we collected on our 12-month RV trip.

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Comment: What other education places in Idaho would you add to this list?

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