Situated in the northern Mountain West, Boise is in somewhat of a geographic no-man’s land. Neighboring Montana and Wyoming, along with Colorado to the south, are famous for their ski resorts and national parks. To the west lie Seattle and Portland, two of the more important cultural centers west of the Continental Divide.
Boise is mostly regarded as a stopping off point for fishermen heading to Idaho’s many trout streams or snow enthusiasts on the way to popular Idaho ski resorts like Sun Valley.
The capital city of Idaho is indeed a great base for exploring the natural attractions of the state. However, there is no need to board a prop plane or drive through winding mountain roads to find untouched nature. There is plenty of green around, and even within the city limits of Boise.
Nature is part of the fabric of the city, and it blends well with the green urban attractions and eco-friendly businesses that call Boise home. The name of the city itself, which comes from the French les bois (the trees), points to the area’s natural traits. Legend has it that the name came from the trees that grew up along the river that runs through central Boise. Many of those namesake trees are still part of the city’s landscape today.
These features make Boise a great destination for eco-minded travelers. Or, at the very least, they warrant an extended layover for those whose destination is elsewhere in Idaho.
Hotel 43 is one of Boise’s coolest hotels (and arguably one of the hippest boutique inns in the Northwest). It is also one of the greenest. The hotel takes all the necessary small steps to earn the environmentally friendly stamp: the use of glass instead of plastics in restaurants and rooms, energy-efficient lighting, eco-friendly laundering practices and shuttle service to and from the airport. But the hotel also engages in some unique practices that go above and beyond the norm. The 43 donates used linens and bedding to charities and recycles worn décor and furnishings by passing them on to area theaters to be used as props.
Boise has a surprisingly vibrant dining scene. The list of eateries includes several reasonably green restaurants. Kulture Klatsch, a coffee shop that has become somewhat of a legend in the city, serves up plenty of organic treats and offers live music on weekends. With homemade-style dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as organic coffee and desserts, it's a good bet for those who want to give stereotypical chain restaurants a pass.
During the warmer months, visitors can forgo dining out altogether and pick up their edibles at the Capital City Public Market. There, local farmers sell their products in a relaxed environment on Thursday evenings and Saturdays. Unlike some markets that take place on the outskirts of the city, Boise’s version is held in the middle of downtown. During other times of the year, the Boise Co-op is open to the public (though nonmembers pay a 10 percent surcharge). This organization is committed to bringing fresh, organic, sustainable goods to its members throughout the year.
Boise does have a bus system, but it does not offer widespread service. For visitors who want to explore the city in depth and not be bound by restrictive bus timetables, a car is a likely necessary. However, Boise is not a huge city, so walking or biking are reasonable non-car options for getting around. Many of the city’s cultural attractions, restaurants and nightlife venues are located in the compact, easily walkable downtown.
The Boise Greenbelt is a 15-mile paved path that follows the Boise River and passes through most parts of the city, including downtown. It is possible to bike, walk or even skate on this carless road, and get to many of the best attractions in Boise. The Boise area’s Ridge to Rivers Trail System connects some of the non-central areas with the city’s core (and also provides some scenic urban and suburban rides and hikes). Hull’s Gulch Nature Trail is a popular section of the Ridge to River because of the wildlife viewing opportunities it offers.
Zoo Boise is in the midst of ambitious conservation efforts both locally and internationally. About $0.35 from every admission fee goes directly to a fund that aids habitat protection and wildlife conservation. The zoo was also recently involved in a project to strengthen the elephant population in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique by transferring a herd from the famous Kruger National Park in South Africa. Funds were raised by selling stuffed elephant toys at the zoo.
The World Center for Birds of Prey is also located in Boise. Visitors can get a glimpse of these winged predators and learn more about the center’s Peregrine Fund, which helps with protection of the species, at the Velma Morrison Interpretive Center. The interpretive center (admission $7) has educational programs and exhibitions daily.
If people had to choose one image to represent Idaho, it was probably be its river. The Boise River is a central part of the city’s landscape and the waterways outside of the city are known for fishing, rafting and especially for their scenery.
During the summer, thousands of tube-riders jump into the Boise River at Barber Park and float for up to six miles downriver. Strict rules and a good tubing infrastructure keep this stretch of water from turning into a floating garbage dump (though litter is still a problem). There are three “rest areas” with bathrooms, garbage cans and recycling bins.
Barber Park is the starting point for summer tubing trips on the Boise River. But it is also a great venue for morning hikes because there is plenty of wildlife, including foxes, mule deer and the occasional bald eagle.
MNN homepage photo: picmax/iStockphoto