History Lives in Idaho – Five Fascinating Ways

Cataldo Mission -living history in Idaho

Five ways to step back into Idaho’s living Western heritage

Sacajawea Interpretive Center Salmon Idaho

History lives in Idaho. Firstly, attend a powwow to experience this living history . Soak up the atmosphere and watch the dancers spin. Listen to the chanting and drumming of a tribal culture that dates back hundreds of years. Six first nations people call Idaho home. Their living cultural diversity is ever-present and fascinating to learn more about. So,check out the exhibits at the Visitors Centre at the sprawling Nez Perce National Historical Park and get a trail map to help you explore. The Nez Perce, who call themselves the Nimiipuu, still live in the prairie lands west of the Bitterroot Mountains, part of the Nez Perce reservation. Then, drive the Northwest Scenic Byway. This section of US Highway 12 gives visitors access to some of the Lewis and Clark sites, places related to the Nez Perce Trail and pioneer era history. 


nez Perce Natl. Historical Park Visitors Centre
Idaho. Lewiston. Nez Perce Visitor Center and Museum.

Take a tour of the Idaho Penitentiary

2. The Idaho Penitentiary, opened in 1872 in the capital of Boise. and was home to some of the old west’s most desperate criminals. While there, experience over 100 years of Idaho’s unique prison history with a visit to Solitary Confinement, cell blocks, and the Gallows. It’s a chance to relive the Old Pen’s exciting past of daring escapes, scandals and executions.

history lives in Idaho at the ID Penitentiary
The Idaho Penitentiary image credit Caroline Davidson

Walk in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark

3. Lewis & Clark’s mission to explore the Louisiana Territory, northwest from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean, took them through 16 states. They followed the Lolo Trail (a section of  the Nez Perce Trail – the path of Chief Joseph and his tribe’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to reach Canada). Next, they travelled through the harsh landscape of the Bitterroot Mountains then along the Clearwater River heading west through Idaho. Ending their journey where the city of Lewiston now stands. It was in Idaho that they met Sakajawea, a Lemhi-Shoshone woman. Sakajawea is credited as instrumental in the success of their exploration and crucial to their survival.

Lewis and Clark Visitors Centre Museum

Full Idaho history immersion with extraordinary museums.

No ordinary museums here! Head to Moscow the Appaloosa Museum’s self-guided exhibits, interactive kid’s area and learn that Idaho is the birthplace of the this coveted and beautiful spotted horse breed.

Onwards to Blackfoot you’ll find the quirky and surprisingly entertaining Idaho Potato Museum. Idaho, of course, is famous for its potatoes but the history of the industry is engrossing. If that isn’t your jam (or perhaps your mash), then seeing the world’s largest Pringle or Marilyn Munroe wearing a potato sack is definitely worth the price of admission!

Lastly, don’t forget to have your picture taken with the big potato out front! I’ve been there several times and can’t wait to go back next visit to Idaho. Spuds rule!

Another not to miss is the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise.

Marilyn Monroe makes a surprise exhibit at the Idaho Potato Museum
Idaho Potato Museum

On a mission– history lives in Idaho

The Cataldo Mission in Coeur d‘Alene’s Old Mission State Park, is Idaho’s oldest building. It was founded by Catholic missionaries and Coeur d’Alene tribe between 1850 and1853. Historically it is also the oldest surviving mission in the northwest. Its exhibits, parish house and Jesuit church are an illuminating window on the complicated relationship between the European settlers and one of the Idaho tribes.

Cataldo Mission history in Idaho
The Cataldo Mission, Coeur d’Alene Old Mission State Park