Idaho is known for its crystal lakes, shimmering streams, rugged mountains and desert landscapes. With over 4.5 million acres of wilderness in the state, getting back to nature can be as simple as taking a hike on a nearby trail or strolling along a lakeside beach. Nature centers are another opportunity to experience the great outdoors and learn along the way. No need for a cooler or tent – just grab the kids and celebrate 75 years of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at these these six beautiful nature centers.
1. Water Life Discovery Center: Located near Sandpoint, the Discovery Center is a habitat education and interpretive area on the shores of the Pend Oreille River. It is a self-guided educational center that combines a fish hatchery, nature trails, overlook bridges, wildlife watching areas, interpretive signs, and underwater viewing opportunities along a stream and a pond. It is home to white-tailed deer, moose, muskrat, mink, and river otters. Birds are found in abundance. Bald eagles, osprey and waterfowl grace the river while woodpeckers and songbirds prefer the wetland forest.
2. Lewiston Wildlife Habitat Area: Located in Lewiston, this urban, wildlife-friendly oasis is registered with the National Wildlife Federation as a “Backyard Wildlife Habitat Area.” Its five-acres let guests observe wild birds, mammals and aquatic creatures. A paved path snakes through meadows and a small forest planted with a variety of trees and shrubs. Deer, coyote, raccoon, rabbit, skunks, amphibians, reptiles and over 115 bird species have been observed here. Other features include a rock fountain and meandering stream that spills into a small pond and an underwater viewing window that provides a glimpse of crayfish, snails and tiny fish. Benches along the trail are set amid flowering plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other insects. An observation gazebo is outfitted with one-way glass and surrounded by bird feeders, providing up-close wildlife viewing.
3. MK Nature Center: Located near downtown Boise, the MK Nature Center is frequented by mule deer, raccoons, mink, herons, kingfishers, beaver, countless songbird species, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Descendants of the fish originally placed in the stream still swim here. Chinook and kokanee salmon are introduced annually and the three sturgeon are one of the most popular attractions. Native plants are everywhere and thus butterflies, bees and birds are abundant. Another favorite feature is the four underwater viewing windows where native fishes can be viewed. The indoor visitor center offers has interpretive exhibits, hands-on displays and activities. Watch the fish web-cam here or enjoy this video about the MK Nature Center.
4. Edson Fichter Nature Area: This 29-acre nature area is located in south Pocatello, just behind Indian Hills Elementary off of Cheyenne Avenue. Various species of high-desert plants and a riparian corridor created by the Portneuf River that winds through the site allows numerous species of wildlife— from songbirds to mule deer – to call this area home. The Portneuf Greenway Foundation trails system runs through the Nature Area, making it a popular stopover for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. There are walking/bike paths in a section of the Nature Area, dotted with interpretive signage inspired by the artwork and writings of the Nature Area’s namesake, the late Edson Fichter. There is a small, natural outdoor amphitheater, a fishing pier/observation deck next to the river, and a beautiful community flower garden.
5. Salmon Outdoor Classroom: Situated on a 4-acre site near Kids’ Creek Pond in Salmon, this area was restored to its natural habitat, including converting a straightened water channel back to a meandering stream. Walkways were developed and a floating platform was added to the pond. The outdoor classroom is used by area schools, but the public is also welcome to visit the site to enjoy observing wildlife and the surrounding scenery. As with many outdoor areas, the Salmon Outdoor Classroom has the capacity to engage children and adults with the natural world in a quiet and unassuming way.
6. Fischer Pond in Cascade: Fischer Pond is located on Highway 55 on the south side of Cascade – look for the brown highway information sign. This pond is a couple of acres in size and is stocked every two to three weeks with rainbow trout. There is plenty of easy access shoreline and a big dock for fishing. An outdoor aquarium with viewing windows to watch fish will open in mid-May. The handicapped accessible aquarium, which will offer information about fish life cycles and species identification in a fun, entertaining setting, can be reached on a blacktop path connecting to a trail system.
Visitors may explore the outdoor sections of these nature centers from dawn to dusk. The indoor visitor/interpretive centers have varying hours of operation so please check with Idaho Department of Fish and Game Regional offices to confirm times.