The Gem State
Idaho is located in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. The average summer high temperature across the state is 87 degrees, with the average winter high around 20 degrees (often snowy and much colder). Boise is the capital and largest city. Most of the land north of Boise is National or State Forest. A few major attractions include Craters of the Moon National Monument (volcanic park with vast fields of seemingly lifeless lava), Coeur d'Alene lakes (Northern Idaho city with recreational lakes), and Shoshone Falls (sometimes called the "Niagara of the West”). The Seven Devil's area, part of the Rocky Mountains, and Sun Valley, a resort city, are popular for skiing. Food available in Idaho is generally traditional American, but some of Idaho's specialties are specific to the flora and fauna of the area, such as Idaho Rainbow Trout (a species of salmon) and famous Idaho Potatoes. Different from the public transportation systems in larger American cities, Idaho has no mass transit to speak of. The only Amtrak stop in the state is in Sandpoint in the far northern panhandle. Otherwise you’ll need to drive or fly to get around. For more information, view the cultural learning guide below or visit www.visitidaho.org.
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Hemingway Memorial in Sun Valley. Photo by Magnus Manske.
Visitors can enjoy many Ernest Hemingway historical sites in Ketchum. The Ketchum/Sun Valley Historical Society outlines Hemingway-related spots in the area including the Ernest Hemingway Memorial and his gravestone at the Ketchum Cemetery at their website.
The Ketchum Sun Valley Ski & Heritage Museum is home to an Ernest Hemingway exhibit along with several other permanent and rotating exhibits on topics like mining and Native American culture. A separate ski museum also educates visitors on the history of skiing in Sun Valley and the United States.
For a glimpse into the pioneer history of Sun Valley, visit the Blaine County Historical Museum in Hailey, ID. Exhibits on mining, Chinese culture, family life and ranching are among the many historical topics included at the museum.
For participants living in or visiting northern Idaho, consider visiting Burgdoff Hot Springs. In winter, visitors can swim in the natural hot springs, stay in rustic cabins and explore the surrounding backcountry area.
Participants with some time to travel may want to visit Boise, the capital of Idaho, located approximately 3 hours from Ketchum. Some Boise attractions that cultural exchange participants may be interested in include:
Idaho Tourism Websites
The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to experience the U.S. and its culture.
Art museums, galleries and centers
Sun Valley has an active art scene including over 20 art galleries with works from local and international artists. Participants can enjoy an Evening Gallery Walk, a free event that is held nine times a year. On the walks, visitors can visit Sun Valley art galleries for special exhibits, refreshments and to meet the artists.
Sun Valley Center for the Arts hosts many cultural events, including performances, lectures and an arts and crafts festival. The center hosts six exhibitions each year, often with a focus on contemporary art, and also opened a second location in Hailey, ID in an historic house where the poet Ezra Pound was born.
Located near the Sun Valley ski resort, the Kneeland Gallery has rotating monthly exhibits and often features artists from the Western United States.
The Boise Art Museum focuses on 20th century American art in its permanent collection and also features visiting exhibits from American and international artists.
Company of Fools is a theater company in Sun Valley. In addition to their performances, the Company of Fools also offers classes, workshops and events.
The Sun Valley Opera House hosts winter and summer performances and live HD cinema performances from New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Ballet Idaho is based in Boise but also tours throughout the state.
Bald Mountain . Photo by Greg L. Wright.
Many Americans are passionate about sports – and not just baseball and football! Get a glimpse into the culture of American sports by watching or participating in a favorite U.S. sport or recreational activity in your local area.
There are two ski areas in Sun Valley - Bald Mountain, also known as “Baldy”, and Dollar Mountain. Advanced skiers and snowboarders tend to visit Baldy while beginner and intermediate skiers and boarders often prefer Dollar Mountain.
Daily, weekly and monthly passes at the Wood River YMCA let participants stay healthy during their cultural exchange program. Fitness classes, a climbing wall, exercise studios and swimming are available at the YMCA facilities.
Brundage Mountain Resort in McCall, ID is home to skiing, snowboarding and terrain parks for winter sports enthusiasts.
In warmer months, Payette Lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, incuding the Payette Cup Regatta on the first weekend in June.
Idaho is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to enjoy all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.
Idaho's Sawtooth National Forest & Sawtooth National Recreation Area are excellent spots for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Visit the website for more on this recreation area and for safety information like road closures, alerts and warnings.
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is described as a “weird and scenic landscape” made of lava flows from the past 15,000 years. Today, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities in the park, while summer visitors enjoy hiking, birdwatching, cave walks and more.
The Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center at Sun Valley Lodge is the place to go for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Sun Valley. Rental equipment, storage and a restaurant are available at the center.
Visitors will enjoy outdoor ice skating at Sun Valley Lodge. Figure skating and hockey-style skates are available for rental year round.
Participants visiting or living in central-Western Idaho near McCall may enjoy Payette National Forest for camping, hiking, kayaking, hunting, skiing and snowmobiling, depending on the season.
Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area in Boise is a winter activity area for outdoor activities like snowboarding, skiing, cross-country skiing and tubing at a low cost.
One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.
Idaho might be best known for its potatoes, but visitors may not know how versatile the potato can be. It can be used in a variety of ways and in many types of cuisines – from French to Irish to Italian and more. Idaho cuisine also finds inspiration in its pioneer past. Hearty meals fit for cattle ranchers and cowboys, like wild game, fish, bison, beef and Idaho's rainbow trout, are still common in Idaho today.
In Ketchum, the Idaho’s Bounty food co-op lets members shop for fresh Idaho foods from local farms.
For the latest on food in Sun Valley, check out the yum! blog from Sun Valley Magazine and read about dining in Ketchum, ID.
Idaho Food Festivals
The Sun Valley Harvest Festival in September is an excellent opportunity to try local and regional cuisine at Sun Valley restaurants and venues.
The Emmett Cherry Festival in June celebrates the abundance of cherries that grow in the area with a multiday carnival. Orchards allow visitors to pick their own cherries, and the carnival hosts activities like cherry pie eating contests, live entertainment, a parade, and food vendors.
For a unique and local perspective on American culture, be sure to check out festivals and events near where you're living or working in Idaho. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about the local American culture by experiencing it firsthand.
Wagon Days on Labor Day Weekend in September celebrates the mining history of Ketchum with antique markets, food, music and the Big Hitch Parade filled with wagons, buggies and carriages.
The Trailing of the Sheep Festival in October focuses on the culture and history of the American west and the local community of sheep ranchers and herders. Events include the Big Sheep Parade, the Folklife Fair, and presentations and performances.
The Winter Wonderland Festival runs from November to January and celebrates the holiday season with a gingerbread village, Winter Wonderland Gala, Christmas concerts, carolers and much more.
The Sun Valley Nordic Festival is a festival focusing on Nordic skiing in the Sun Valley area. The festival has races, tours, demonstrations and other events during a week in late January/early February.
The McCall Winter Carnival is a community event that celebrates winter with a torchlight parade, fireworks, snow sculptures, a Mardi Gras parade, and other fun events.
In October, the Sun Valley Jazz Jamboree brings five days of music to Sun Valley.
While hosts often assist with housing during participants' time in the United States (and au pairs live with a host family), participants will often need to be actively involved with securing appropriate housing during their programs. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.
It's also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.
General Housing Information
Idaho Housing Resources
Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Idaho participants include:
- Craigslist - Idaho
- American Homestay Agency
- Hostelling International
Classic American Wagon. Photo by Jeffrey G. Backes.
Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options. Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in your local community.
Because most people living in Idaho own cars, public transportations options are rather limited, so it's important to investigate travel options and plan ahead, whether you're going to and from your work site or planning a short trip to see other areas of the state.
Sun Valley/Ketchum Area
Sun Valley Express shuttle carries passengers on the two-and-a-half to three-hour drive between Boise and Sun Valley.
Mountain Rides provides public transport for the Sun Valley area, including commuter buses and a free town bus.
ValleyRide Bus transportation is available in Ada and Canyon counties between Boise, Caldwell and Nampa.
Bus services are available in southern and western Idaho, connecting to a single Amtrak train station in the north of the state at Sandpoint via Spokane, Washington. See the Amtrak Route Atlas for information on Idaho bus stations and train service.
Participants in Idaho can use the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:
Emergency Management Agency
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov
- Idaho FEMA updates on Twitter @femaregion10
Volunteering in your local community is a great way to interact with Americans or even others in your program to expand your skill set and get more exposure to your new environment. Volunteer organizations are always looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a fun option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.
The Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley needs volunteers, including dog handlers, cat socializers, thrift store helpers and other positions.
Volunteer at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and get involved in the local community.
The Hunger Coalition in Bellevue, south of Ketchum, needs volunteers for many types of tasks, including fundraising, food drives, loading the Mobile Food Bank Van, and more!
The Idaho Food Bank has locations across Idaho and need volunteers at their regional warehouses and branches.