A number of Treasure Valley cities, including Boise, Eagle, Kuna, Meridian, Nampa, and Star offer self-guided walking tours of historic sites in the city. It’s a great way to see the most beautiful parts of an Idaho city and learn a little history as well. It’s especially fun to do in the fall when the weather cools off.
Walking tours were typically printed on hand-held brochures, but these days tours are often available through a smartphone app. Even the cities that still have printed brochures typically have an online PDF file that you can download, and either print out yourself or use on your smartphone.
Boise: The Boise Map and Walks app on Android, or the GPSmyCity app on iOS, offers three different short tours of downtown Boise.
For example, one tour is focused specifically on religious sites around Boise. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, buildings like St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral, across from the Idaho State Capitol, feature beautiful architecture. The downtown tour, which starts at the Capitol, hits most of the major museums in town, as well as the Egyptian Theatre and the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. Finally, as the name implies, the galleries walk visits seven of the city’s art galleries.
In addition, the Boise Arts and History Department has a searchable, mapped list of the city’s historic artifacts and public art at www.boiseart
sandhistory.org. While it isn’t a specific tour per se, it has the advantage of letting you find sites near your location, such as the closest art-wrapped traffic box.
The Boise Parks Department also has a downloadable map of the Morris Hill Cemetery, showing the graves of famous Boiseans, at parks.cityofboise.org. They range from Moses Alexander, Idaho’s first Jewish governor, to entrepreneur and philanthropist J. R. “Jack” Simplot.
Eagle: Eagle’s walking tour brochure, available at cityofeagle.org, contains just six sites along three blocks, but it has some amazing structures, including Eagle’s first hotel and bank.
Kuna: The “Walking Tour of Kuna’s History” brochure is downloadable from the Ada County Historic Preservation Council’s website, adacounty.id.gov.
It consists of 11 sites across five blocks of downtown, including the town’s first brick building, which for many years was the Kuna Mercantile under one owner or another but is now more often known as the home of the popular Enrique’s Mexican restaurant. It also includes the former millinery shop owned by the Mercantile owner’s sisters, a former hardware store that is now a bar and barbecue restaurant, and Kuna’s Grange Hall.
Meridian: Meridian, now Idaho’s second-largest city, has not one but two walking tours, a “north” and a “south.” They are both available on the City of Meridian website at meridiancity.org. However, the printable map includes historic locations but without any descriptions.
If you can, go to the site on your smartphone, where you can click on locations to get pictures and historic information, including video. For example, you can visit one of the few remaining depots for the Interurban, which originally ran streetcars across the Treasure Valley from Boise to Middleton.
Nampa: Nampa, now the Treasure Valley’s third-largest city, is one of the cities that’s moved to an app; in fact, the city website doesn’t even have a downloadable PDF of its walking tour yet. The Visit Nampa app, available on both Android and iOS, has 28 sites, including pictures, audio descriptions, and, of course, a map of the sites in its downtown, such as its train depot, now a museum.
The map also includes vintage pictures of buildings that are no longer standing, such as the Dewey Hotel and Nampa’s city hall, torn down in 1991 but commemorated in the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie “Bronco Billy.”
Star: The tiny town of Star is a bit off the beaten path, but it, too, has a downloadable walking tour map of 11 historic sites around its downtown. It’s available at adacounty.id.gov. They include Star’s Interurban station, the Star Mercantile, and a number of turn-of-the-century houses.
If your travels take you farther afield than the Treasure Valley, such as Hailey or Wallace, chances are you can find a historic walking tour there, too. Drop in at the city’s museum or city hall, or check Google or Facebook. No doubt there’ll be someone’s footsteps you can walk in.
TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
Don’t like self-guided tours? Do you get lost? Lonesome? Boise, in particular—though sometimes other cities as well—offers group tours with guides. They’re not free, but you can ask questions.
Preservation Idaho, the state’s historic preservation organization, has its
Walkabout Boise tours on Saturday morning from June through October at
11 a.m. for $12. While you can drop in, it works better to make a reservation because they do sell out. Though each tour hits most of the same sites, each leader has his or her own specialty.
Preservation Idaho also offers a $35 package of five Arch Walk tours once
a month in the summer around a
theme—sometimes outside of Boise—and a single $25 Heritage Walk tour of a particular neighborhood in the fall, but those typically sell out very quickly, so plan ahead.
If you like to nibble while you walk, Indulge Boise offers $64 history tours that include drop-ins at as many as 10 restaurants. Some of the nibbles can be pretty substantial and chances are you’ll have a doggy bag to take home. The tours run year-round.
Not up to walking? Two Boise companies also offer tours on historic streetcars: the Boise Trolley Tour for $20 and the Boise Township Tour for $18.