These are two loaded questions, with loads of answers. You might even say lodes of answers if you get the pun. One of the first draws to Idaho was prospecting for gold, silver, and other lode deposits. As with several other western states, prospectors found lode deposits of precious metals during the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating the Idaho Territory.
According to the US Census Bureau, Idaho was the fastest growing state during the last year with a 2.2 percent population increase (2016-2017). So, what’s drawing people to Idaho today? Well, loads of things.
Idaho has a vigorous economy with the highest entrepreneurship rate in the country and one of the highest job growth rates. Idahoans also enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates in the US.
In the last year, the number of jobs grew by 2.6%, a rate even faster than the population growth. Only four states had a higher job growth rate. This brought Idaho’s unemployment rate to 2.9%, one of the lowest in the country. By comparison, the US unemployment rate is 4.1%.
Many people don’t realize the importance of the technology industry to Idaho’s economy. In Eastern Idaho, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) was established in 1949 as a nuclear reactor testing station. In fact, America’s first nuclear power plant, Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR1), is on site and open for tours. INL is the leading research and development laboratory for nuclear energy in the country. The lab is currently managed by Battelle Energy Alliance with several subcontractors.
In southwest Idaho, HP opened a campus west of Boise in the 1970s to start a new technology hub for the state. HP’s printer division currently employs over 1,500 people in the Boise area. Micron came later and has over 6,000 workers in Boise making memory chips that are sold worldwide.
With the technology sector foundation laid by INL in eastern Idaho and HP and Micron in the west, other companies have built or started up here. ON Semiconductor and Plexus Corporation are two of the medium size tech employers in the state. Cradelpoint and Clearwater Analytics are headquartered in downtown Boise, with other tech companies in Boise and elsewhere in the state.
Idaho doesn’t have an ocean view but provides plenty of majestic mountains, pristine lakes and wilderness, thundering waterfalls, gorgeous gorges and canyons, and thriving wildlife. You can enjoy Idaho’s beauty whether you take a hike, a drive, a bike, or a horse. If canoes, kayaks, and rubber rafts are your choice, there are whitewater options galore.
Central Idaho is home to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, a vast landscape of forest, mountain, gorge, and swift water. After deciding to pursue a less-treacherous route to the Pacific in 1805, Lewis and Clark called the Salmon River, which flows through here, the River of No Return. The headwaters are near Redfish Lake, the most inland point for Pacific salmon to spawn. Redfish is the largest, and one of many incredibly beautiful alpine lakes in central Idaho, but it’s just about the only one you can drive to.
Idaho has designated several routes for scenic driving to appreciate many mountain vistas, from the International Selkirk Loop up north to the City of Rocks Back Country Byway on the original California Trail near Idaho’s border with Utah and Nevada. One of the most interesting is the short loop within Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco.
Idaho’s natural lakes are beautiful, and one, Lake Pend Oreille, is over 1,000 feet deep. Some of the most notable lakes in Idaho are in the north. Priest Lake is northwest of Pend Oreille, and Lake Coeur d’Alene is to the south. Lake Coeur d’Alene’s south end is mysterious and beautiful as it is fed by the St. Joe River snaking between the adjacent Round, Chatcolet, and Hidden Lakes.
Some of the state’s notable waterfalls are found near cities by the same name – Post Falls, American Falls, Idaho Falls, and Twin Falls. The largest waterfall in Idaho is Shoshone Falls, near the city of Twin Falls and easy to view from a city park overlook. Upper and Lower Mesa Falls are also spectacular, falling over 100 feet and 65 feet, respectively, along Henry’s Fork of the Snake River – accessible via the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. Idaho Falls is perhaps the most accessible of any major waterfall. Idaho Falls is a unique diagonal waterfall on the Snake River, right in downtown Idaho Falls. The city’s greenbelt trail offers many visitors places to sit, paint, jog, photograph, and enjoy.
Idaho’s larger cities are all within a short distance from winter skiing and summer water skiing. But what makes Idaho unique is it’s touted to have more whitewater opportunities than any other state in the continental US. The Snake, Payette, Salmon, Lochsa and other rivers offer intense whitewater opportunities, and some of the quieter rivers and creeks are well known for family float trips via raft or inner tube. It’s a common past-time to float into downtown Boise on a hot summer day.
Trails are also getting better all the time. Boise, Ketchum, Lewiston, and Idaho Falls sport greenbelt parks and trails along their downtown rivers. Pocatello and Caldwell do the same for creeks in their urban spaces. Coeur d’Alene, McCall, and Sandpoint take advantage of their beautiful lakefronts with parks and trails. In Twin Falls you can venture along the rim of the Snake River Canyon with its city trail. Two of the most famous trails are converted railroad grades in northern Idaho – the Trail of the Hiawatha and the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.
Last but not least, it’s the Safety
Idaho enjoys the lowest crime rate in the western US. Crime rates in nearly every category are significantly lower than the national average and the other western states.
Back in Idaho’s prospecting days, some Gems were found, too – hence the Gem State nickname. This was just a short list of a few things that get people excited about Idaho. When you visit Idaho you’re sure to find some gems of your own.