Idaho State Study

Known for potatoes, gorgeous mountain scenery, and a slower life style, it’s time for an Idaho State Study.  We’ll start with a bit of history about the state.

Priest Lake in North Idaho

Little Bit O’ History

Idaho was home to the Nez Perce, Kootenai, Kalispell, Coeur d’Alene, Shoshone-Bannock, and Northern Paiute tribes in the times before European settlement.  Many of the tribes and place names in Idaho (especially Northern Idaho) are French because French trappers were the first to explore the area thoroughly and they named the people and places they found. Though Idaho was not included in the territory purchased by Thomas Jefferson, it was explored by Lewis and Clark anyway.  At the time of the Louisiana Purchase Idaho was claimed by the British who had some fur trading forts in North Idaho, along the Columbia, and on the Washington and Oregon coast.  Shortly afterward Idaho was explored and exploited by American trappers.

The Pacific Northwest including Oregon, Washington, and  part of Idaho became a United States territory in 1846 when a treaty was made with Britain dividing Canada from the United States along the 49th parallel.  It was all called Oregon territory.

This is the Snake River in Southern Idaho at the little town of Twin Falls. Southern Idaho is a huge basalt plain formed from volcanoes. Here you can see that the river has cut though the rock forming a canyon. Southern Idaho is also very dry, either scrub land or desert. But, if irrigated, it also makes great farmland. Photo by Levieuxchiendetalus, CC license, Wikimedia.

The first permanent American settlements were formed by the Mormon pioneers in southeast Idaho.  These early pioneers farmed the land.  Later other settlers looking for timber and precious gems moved to the wooded, mountainous areas further north.

North Idaho is granite mountains covered with pine forests, dotted with lakes and streams, and brimming with precious metals and gems. The major industries in the north are mining and timber, and, increasingly, tourism. The towns of Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint are especially tourist friendly. This is a picture taken from the top top of Schweitzer Mountain, which has a popular ski resort in the winter.

The Idaho territory was pieced from the Oregon and Dakota territories by Abraham Lincoln.  Later Montana and Wyoming were taken from the Idaho territory and made into separate states.   Idaho became a state in 1890.

Kayaking on Lake Pend Oreille. In the summer people play in the lakes, hike, fish, and camp. In the winter they ski on the many excellent slopes.

Idaho Geography

The northern and central parts of the state are mountainous and covered with pine forests.  They are rich in timber and precious gems, including silver.  The southern part of the state is drier and flatter, making excellent farmland when irrigated.

This is Boise, Idaho, the capital and largest city in the state. It is in the dryer southern part of the state, but located right on the edge of the forested areas so it’s not far to beautiful wilderness areas. Photo by Kfengler, CC license, Wikimedia.

Idaho Fabulous Facts

  • Idaho is famous for its potatoes, but its nickname is actually The Gem State, due to the massive amounts of mining in its history and the fact that every type of gem in the world can be found in Idaho’s mountains.
  • The name Idaho is an invented word, which some claim came from Indians living in the area, but these claims are dubious.  The name was first proposed by George M. Willing, a Washington lobbyist, who claimed the name meant “gem over the mountains”, but it doesn’t mean that in any language as far as anyone can tell.
  • The state fruit is the huckleberry, held almost in reverence by locals, who will never tell outsiders where the best picking places are, so ask in vain; you’ll never know.
  • The state song is “Here We Have Idaho” which, like most state songs, is really, really bad.

And here we have Idaho
Winning her way to fame, silver and gold
In the sunlight blaze and romance lies in her name
Singing, we’re singing of you
Ah, proudly too all our lives thru.
We’ll go singing, singing, of you singing of Idaho.

  • The capital is Boise (pronounced Boys E)
  • The motto is Esto Perpetua  (Let it be forever)
  • The Idaho Flag is blue with the state of Idaho seal in the center.

  • Hells Canyon in southwest Idaho is the deepest canyon in the United States, deeper than the Grand Canyon even.  At the bottom of it is the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia.
This is a view of Hells Canyon in south western Idaho. At the bottom of that canyon is the Snake River. Photo by Dsdugan, released to the public domain.
  • The world’s first nuclear power plant was built in Arco, Idaho.
  • About 1.3 million people live in Idaho, a low enough population density that you can still see the stars.
  • It is illegal to fish from a camel’s back in Idaho.  You never know when you’ll be tempted so be forewarned.

Idaho Map

Color an Idaho Map using this free printable from Layers of Learning.  Label the major cities, mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers.

Click on the picture to get your free printable.

Additional Layers

  • Learn more about the Idaho state seal and what the symbols mean.
  • Find out what weird laws exist on the books in your town or state.
  • Learn about Lewis and Clark and the route they took across the country.
  • Star garnets, a precious gem can only be found in two places on earth, India and Idaho.  Idaho has the only six pointed star garnets.
  • Not only does Idaho produce potatoes by the truckload, but they are also the place where frozen convenience food, in the form of frozen French fried potatoes, was first invented by J.R. Simplot in the 1950s.  So perhaps McDonalds owes its success to an Idaho farmer.
  • I’ll bet you didn’t know there’s a World Potato Congress.
  • Idaho borders Canada on the north and along this border, clear from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Lakes, a long swath is cut in the forest to mark the boundary.

More From Layers of Learning

The state of Idaho is also covered more deeply in Layers of Learning Unit 4-4, which includes each of the Mountain West States.  You might like to follow up your Idaho State Study with a look at more of our Geography Lessons.  We have explorations for every one of the states, along with a lot of other geography learning and fun on our Geography Page.  You might also enjoy our topographic maps lesson or United States Bingo.  We also invite you to look at our Curriculum Guide and our Catalog to see all of our units and planners.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.