Whether you’re gazing out over a crazy quilt of inhabited wilderness, taking a stroll around hundreds of cozy, iconic farmhouses dotting the countryside, or perhaps admiring warm and comfortable towns, Idaho is the Northwest’s hidden treasure.
One thing you may not know about the “Gem State” is that it was not previously named Idaho. It was initially part of Colorado, simply noted as “Colorado Territory,” and was admitted to the Union only in 1890, as the 43rd state.
During that time, Idaho was one of the most liberal places in the U.S. The state fully endorsed radical policies such as women’s suffrage (1896) and prohibition (1916), even before they became federal laws. Idahoans were also extremely vocal in their support for Free Silver.
According to political consultant George Willing, Idaho tends to mean “gem of the mountains” in the Shoshone dialect, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll quickly realize that this gorgeous area is way more than farms and potatoes.
The panorama here seems to be mostly wilderness, but it’s peppered by a complex of simply magnificent sharp peaks, dramatic canyons, rushing rivers, splendid waterfalls, deep valleys, and friendly small towns. Awe-inducing, snow-capped cliffs are a backyard sight from nearly every corner of Idaho.
No matter how you look at it, Idaho is the ideal place if you are looking to enjoy both the untamed beauty of the landscape and the blissful community lifestyle that western America has to offer.
The pleasant stranger’s grin. The traffic wave of kindness. The eagerness for selfless devotion to those in need. Without a doubt, Idahoans are some of the most good-natured people you’ll ever meet.
Pro & Cons of Living in Idaho
You may not be aware, but Idaho is a great place to pursue your American dream. Maybe it’s not the first spot that comes to mind when considering the best site to live for you or your family, but we politely disagree. Idaho is a true hidden treasure, overflowing with opportunities, where you can find everything you need for a comfy existence.
What is more, according to Forbes, the state’s capital city, Boise, was the fastest-growing American city in 2018, and close to 26% of the nearly 80,000 newcomers in 2018 arrived from California.
Moreover, since the pandemic began, 194% more individuals moved into Idaho rather than choosing to leave, as statistics show. Montana was also a great choice in this period.
Idaho is indeed a magnificent undiscovered gem, highly appreciated for its good standard of living, sense of safety, thriving economy, low unemployment rates, and exciting outdoorsy scenes. Besides, the distinctive artsy heritage will never cease to amaze you.
Regarding cons, there might be a few, such as the fact that winters can be bitterly cold, public transportation is bothersome, the infrastructure requires some attention, and if you are a fan of deluxe shopping, Idaho is definitely not for you.
When trying to determine where to live, there are some aspects that everyone should take into account: living costs, job prospects, and average home value. For parents or future parents, factors such as access to high-quality public schools and crime levels are also relevant.
When putting together this list of the 20 best places to live in Idaho, we gave consideration to all these variables. Can you guess the head of the list?
20. St. Anthony
Located in the heart of the Henry’s Fork River valley, St. Anthony is one of the most cost-effective towns in Idaho. With a population of 3,598, it is a tight community with low crime rates.
This lovely town furnishes several city parks and walking paths, providing a wide variety of activities. Moreover, located northwest of the city, you might find St. Anthony Sand Dunes, a 10,600-acre expanse of white fine sand, home to one of the largest herds of wintering elk in the U.S.
The only drawback is the lack of public schools nearby. Nonetheless, there is one school available at all grade levels, with good performance and the highest standards. The median home price in St. Anthony is $212,900.
19. Mountain Home
If you prefer a more intimate setting, this town is a great place to call home. In this small town of just 14,526 people, the median house price is only $234,200, and the cost of living is 15.7% lower than the U.S. average.
When compared to other cities and towns in Idaho, Mountain Home has a crime rate that is lower than nearly half of them. And did we mention the fact that it’s very pretty?
Once referred to as the valley’s diamond in the rough, Kuna is attracting more and more people thanks to its distinctive features. Situated only 18 miles south of Idaho’s capital city of Boise, it’s becoming increasingly recognized due to its exceptional quality of life.
And why wouldn’t it be? You are close to the city in case of an emergency, but far enough away to uphold a small-town vibe, with little to no traffic, crowds, or fuss.
Living here offers a diverse range of housing options, easy access to numerous leisure facilities, excellent schools, great healthcare, outdoor adventure, an unpolluted sky, and a fully immersive community of 23, 937 people, where everyone knows everyone.
North of Coeur d’Alene, Hayden may be one of the finest places to stay. Living here, on the western banks of Hayden Lake, nestled among tall, dense pines and breathtaking mountain views, is totally special. Blue skies and forested mountains best describe this region.
As a suburb of Coeur d’Alene, Hayden offers a plethora of dining and entertainment opportunities. Furthermore, you might go shopping in the town’s business district, where local independent small shops evoke memories of the former Hayden. Who said you can’t have the best of both worlds?
Founded as a gold-mining town, Lewiston was the initial capital of Idaho. It is located in the state’s north-central region, surrounded by heavenly farmland hills and spectacular views of Hells Canyon. From cruising on the Snake River to hiking in the Waha Mountains, this precious city has something for all its 33,039 residents’ tastes.
The town’s economy depends on lumbering and agriculture, augmented by small manufacturing. Other than that, the majestic Snake River is navigable around this area, giving Lewiston the distinction of being the uttermost inland harbor east of the west coast, aside from being Idaho’s only seaport.
Stunning, amusing, stereotypical Rexburg can be found in Madison County. Fenced by potato farms and some of the most spectacular scenery of mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes, it resembles the idyllic small town depicted in all Christmas movies.
Rexburg has been ranked as one of the safest cities in the United States, and its 29,658 residents have access to a variety of nearby attractions. From outdoor sports and family activities to excellent dining and shopping options, it offers everything one might need.
14. Idaho Falls
One of the gems on the Snake River, Idaho Falls, reached its acme, emerging as one of the best-kept secrets in Idaho. Large enough to grant access to modern facilities and cultural attractions, but small enough to preserve the Western lifestyle, Idaho was recognized as one of the Top 10 “Hottest Small Cities,” according to Inc. Magazine.
Big enough to accommodate a zoo, a professional baseball stadium, and the Idaho Museum, yet modest enough to offer cozy evenings in front of a stone fireplace, Idaho Falls will meet all your expectations. This, blended with culture, art, downtown shops, restaurants, and overall quality of life, makes it one of the prime locations in Idaho.
Star is a charming little town nestled between Boise and Middleton, only a 15-minute drive from all of Eagle’s popular attractions. It is convenient to live here due to a diverse range of community parks as well as an excellent education. The City of Star provides an array of outdoor recreation, dining hot spots, and close-by wineries.
The violence rate is so low that it is almost non-existent. Plus, because of the highly-rated public schools, it’s an awesome place to start a family, particularly if you enjoy small-town living. Star is a beautiful spot to be, and the 11,259 characters you will meet there are equally lovely.
Dubbed the “Smile Capital of the United States“, Pocatello was founded as a vital stop on Idaho’s first railroad during the gold rush. Named after a Shoshone Indian chief, nowadays it is mainly populated by heirs of the 19th century Mormon settlers.
Pocatello proudly possesses a wide range of the hallmarks found in a college town, such as a zoo, museums, or golf courses. Yet, despite its friendly atmosphere, some of its 57,029 inhabitants say that the lack of diversity in this city can be quite disappointing.
Established 15 miles from Sun Valley, right in the core of the Wood River Valley, amidst the spectacular Central Idaho Rockies, Hailey is a 8,887-person community, whose residents embrace the small-town virtues of respect, fondness, and togetherness with one another and with the public at large.
Hailey has been distinguished not only for its excellent schools, higher air quality, and elevated civic engagement, but also for its low crime rate and good employment percentage.
Conveniently located near the Friedman Memorial Airport, Hailey is a mix of diverse people, from families who have resided here for generations to newcomers who want to enjoy both the small-town atmosphere and large city facilities, such as great restaurants and a vibrant arts scene.
10. Garden City
Garden City is almost entirely surrounded by Boise, but somehow it maintains its own city council. It was named after the gardens created by Chinese foreigners who inhabited the area. In fact, Chinden Boulevard, the town’s major street, is a mashup of the two words “China” and “garden”.
Although the Chinese immigrants that once populated Garden City have fallen out of favor, they have contributed significantly to the city’s legacy. Nowadays, it is home to a diligent and diverse community of 11,920 people. As expected, regardless of Garden City’s suburban essence, accessibility to the outdoors is simple.
Ammon, nicknamed the city “where tomorrow begins”, sits immediately between the Ammon Hills on the east and the metropolitan area of Idaho Falls on the west, in Bonneville County.
It is Idaho’s 17th largest community, with a population of 17,726 and three main neighborhoods. Taking into account that many of Ammon’s existing homes were constructed fairly recently, we can infer that the local economy is thriving, alluring new residents with high-paid jobs. It’s not a surprise since the median household income is around $59,000.
Notably, Ammon has been placed among the nation’s fastest-growing communities for the most recent quarter.
Eagle’s history began with peregrine falcons, railways, and a demography of 350, but it has grown to be one of the Treasure Valley’s strongest and most desirable communities. Even though some of its buildings were constructed in the 1900s, Eagle did not turn into a city until 1971.
This exquisite town is an excellent choice for families with children. The town’s awesome public school system and dense population of college-educated adults foster an educational environment.
With 31,699 residents and a median home price of $796,100, Eagle real estate prices are not only among the most expensive in Idaho, but also in the entire country.
7. Pierce Park
Certain locations might seem identical at first glance, but reveal their true character after a period of time, exposing an unusual mix of ethnic traditions. Pierce Park is an extremely coveted neighborhood, located in Boise’s suburbs, and it is always ranked as one of Idaho’s best places to live.
The median real estate price in Pierce Park is $422,000, which is more expensive than 73.2% of the neighborhoods in the state. In spite of everything, if you’re seeking a suburban area that can merge the feel of rural living with the conveniences of a larger metropolitan area, this might be the right neighborhood for you.
Meridian is Idaho’s second-largest city, with a population of 121,182, and it is probably one of the loveliest places in the state. Meridian residents enjoy a discrete suburban feel and tend to be conservative. The median household income is $63,225, while the average home price is $505,000.
There are countless bars, coffee shops, and parks in Meridian, while the public schools are ahead of the curve. Finally, but not least, the city’s overall crime rate is lower than the national average, making it one of the most secure places to live.
Around 1824, beaver poachers began exploring the area around Ketchum, but it was not until 1860 that this place started to develop. It is a vibrant community of 2,910 people, nestled in central Idaho’s Rocky Mountains and framed by blue skies. Yes, it is a high life that can be measured in far more ways than just vertical feet.
Ketchum, Idaho, has long been a haven for outcasts and daredevils, utopians and romantics, including author Ernest Hemingway, who ended up spending his final years there. Whether you’re a food lover or simply looking for a cool spot to grab a drink with friends, Ketchum has everything you could hope for.
With a low level of risk, free public transportation, and a lot of available activities, it’s easy to see why the area’s housing market is booming. The median home price is $953,100, and the cost of living here is 56.5% higher than the U.S. average.
4. Sugar City
With a population of merely 1,510, Sugar City is the 70th largest community in Idaho. Regarding real estate, not only is it of exceptional quality, but it is also pretty affordable, taking into consideration that the median home value here is $294,200, which is considerably lower than the national average.
It is well suited to properly raising a family due to its almost non-existent crime rate and diverse educational options. However, as some people have mentioned, one disadvantage of Sugar City is the lack of restaurants, but this is to be presumed of an area with not so many residents.
Moscow, Idaho’s most walkable city, is bordered by an impressive natural setting unlike any other in the country. Yet there is something unique about the welcoming tides and smiles that you receive here.
Regardless of your origins, Moscow’s inhabitants cordially encourage you to become part of the community. Don’t be astounded if one of its 26,128 residents strikes up a chat.
Speaking of that, in addition to all those wonderful coffee shops and restaurants, this place offers something for every palate, from pizza to Mexican food, from Asian cuisine to burgers and fries, you name it.
Furthermore, Moscow has a higher concentration of people who work in computers and mathematics than 95% of U.S. cities. The median value of a house is $368,300, and the cost of living is 3.8% lower than the U.S. standard.
2. Sun Valley
Rooted in ski tales and made popular by Hollywood’s elite, Sun Valley is a top-ranked resort, fascinating visitors all over the world. It was set up as a mining town and a railroad center, but it took a man named Count Felix Schaffgotsch to see the potential of this place.
Located 6000 feet above sea level in the spectacular Rocky Mountains of central Idaho, Sun Valley mixes the most enticing characteristics of any winter ski resort in the United States, Australia, or Switzerland. Although it tends to attract the wealthy and famous, it is also a mountain town, populated by 1,503 genuine, upright people.
True, Sun Valley is a ski town, but it boasts an intriguing dose of international culture via music, art, and food. As one of the most expensive places to invest in property, the median home price is $869,300, with a cost of living 64.4% higher than the national average.
And voila! Who would have guessed, right? Boise won the first prize. Renowned as the “city of trees,” it is the state’s capital city, featuring multiple open-air attractions and a fascinating history. Full of local magnetism while having that cosmopolitan vibe, it was founded by fur hunters and quickly developed into a gold mining hotspot.
Though it is one of the area’s largest cities, with a population of 229,766, it remains one of the least expensive places to inhabit, as the median home price is $496,900 and the cost of living here is only 3.6% higher than the national norm.
The pride and joy of Idaho is often lauded as a one-of-a-kind experience due to the thriving Basque culture encountered here, as well as the fact that it caters to nearly every lifestyle, from outdoor activities to vivid nightlife. In fact, Boise’s downtown is manna from heaven when it comes to locally sourced cuisine or sipping tasty cocktails.
All in all, Idaho holds a rare spot at the crossroads of urban and rural life, of cultivated and untamed, sophisticated and raw. Yes, there are wilder places. Yes, there are more populated areas. However, the “gem state” is an awesome place to reside if you value quick access to both.