Author: Jane

Work and travel in Omaha, Nebraska: 4 weeks as a digital nomad in America’s Heartland

Work and travel in Omaha, Nebraska: 4 weeks as a digital nomad in America’s Heartland

Why work and travel in Omaha, Nebraska? I have three reasons for you: midwest nice (it’s a real thing), tasty food (except for something awful called a Runza) and sports (I have never seen volleyball fans like I saw in Nebraska). But wait…there’s more! R 

My digital nomad journey: lessons I’ve learned (and relearned) working remote from around the U.S.

My digital nomad journey: lessons I’ve learned (and relearned) working remote from around the U.S.

Whether you call it digital nomading, location independent, extreme remote work or something else, this not-so-new lifestyle is something that a lot of new people are choosing. My best friend and I are two such people. We are living and working remotely from various places 

An Idaho State Parks Challenge: 27 parks in one year is the best way to see the Gem State

An Idaho State Parks Challenge: 27 parks in one year is the best way to see the Gem State

The Idaho State Parks Challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. It was maybe the best decision we made in 2020.

Exploring City of Rocks National Reserve as part of an Idaho State Parks Challenge
Exploring Idaho one park or rock at a time.

Idaho is a pretty big state. With an area of 83,570 square miles, it is the 14th largest state in the U.S. It is also an odd shape and covers some diverse landscapes. There are a lot of mountains. There are also dense forests, alpine lakes, large lava fields, acres of farmland (those potatoes have to come from somewhere) and so many hot springs. The only thing we do not have a lot of is people and cities, and we are not complaining about that.

With so much natural wonder to see in Idaho, it can be a little daunting to know where to start. May I suggest our state parks? There are 27 of them located all over the state and a visit to them will introduce you to a whole new Idaho. And if you want to geek out like us, try the Idaho State Parks Challenge.

Note: the number of state parks in Idaho has changed over the years. You may see a sign or read a list with misinformation. The number 27 comes directly from the Idaho Department of Parks and Rec website. I would check with them if you have any questions about current and former state parks.

Why a challenge?

When the pandemic ruined all of our travel plans for the foreseeable future, we needed something to look forward to. In an effort to make some sort of travel plans, I mentioned, more in passing, that we could attempt to visit all of Idaho’s state parks. R answered immediately: “Mission accepted.”

We decided to see if we could visit all of Idaho’s state parks in less than a year and I think this decision saved 2020 for me. We spent the summer planning and going on adventures. Most were just weekend getaways and microtrips, but they alleviated the travel itch in a big way. I remember standing at the top of one of the sand dunes in Bruneau Dunes State Park and laughing out loud. It was hot. My feet were on fire and the wind was blowing sand into my face. But I was so happy in that moment simply because I was on an adventure. I was an hour away from my house, but it felt like I was much, much further.

Girl on top of a sand dune with a lake and more sand dunes in the background during an Idaho State Parks Challenge
So happy on top of a sand dune.

Why you should plan your own Idaho State Parks Challenge

I am vocal about the love I have for my home state. But this challenge taught me more about Idaho than I could have imagined. If you choose to complete the Idaho State Parks challenge, you will explore landscapes so vast and different that you will have a hard time believing you are still in the same state.

By visiting Idaho’s state parks you will…

  • Gain an appreciation for those early immigrants who used the Oregon Trail to cross and settle this country. You will see the ruts from their wagons and their signatures carved into stone.
  • See wildlife both big and small and you may even capture a National Geographic-worthy photo.
  • Cover a lot of ground and see SO many mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and rock formations.
  • Enjoy moments where it feels like you are the only person on earth. We had entire parks to ourselves at times.
  • Have an experience that is really quite wonderful and rewarding.

Have I convinced you to start planning yet?

Canoe on Winchester Lake at dusk as part of an Idaho State Parks Challenge
A perfect evening at Winchester State Park.

How to get started planning your challenge

If you are feeling super ambitious and you have the time, you could plan one epic road trip to visit all of the parks. Driving time would be around 45 hours.

We broke our challenge into six separate trips. They were all weekend getaways except for one longer trip to upstate Idaho. Given the time it takes to drive that far north for us and the number of parks in that part of the state, we opted to tackle it in one big trip. But the other trips we were able to do over a weekend and did not require us to take any time off work.

Note: click on the name of each park below to read specifics about that park and our experience there.

Trip breakdown:

One fun thing about our trips is that we didn’t just visit state parks. We managed to do and see other fun things as well. R got to see Balanced Rock for the first time. We bought beautiful rings with opals mined in Spencer, Idaho. I checked off my last Idaho county. If you are going to be visiting a particular area, it is worth seeing what else might be nearby.

Side note: every challenge needs a good checklist. Since I could not find one that I liked, I created my own. If you too are looking for a good checklist for your Idaho State Parks Challenge, check out this option in my Etsy store.

Girl with Balanced Rock in background as part of an Idaho State Parks Challenge
R + Balanced Rock

When should I start my Idaho State Parks Challenge?

Today! Honestly, anytime is the right time to visit Idaho’s state parks. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

If you visit in the wintertime, please note that some parks will not be open or will only be partially open. For example, Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to the Bruneau Dunes Observatory. But your only option to experience it is after the sun goes down in the summertime.

With that in mind, winter can also be a wonderful time to explore Idaho. Many state parks have winter activities like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The crowds will be a lot smaller and you may have an entire park to yourself.

Cross country skiing at Ponderosa State Park.
Wintertime state park fun at Ponderosa State park.

If you enjoy spending time on the water, then summer is your best bet. We experience all four seasons in Idaho and it is not pleasant to go swimming during three of them. R and I ended up completing our Idaho State Parks Challenge in one summer. This meant that we enjoyed a lot of lake time. But it also meant that things were hot. There were a few times when I wished it had been a little (or a lot) cooler.

I suggest you figure out what you like to do and plan your park visits around that.

How much time should I spend in each park?

The amount of time you spend in each park will depend on the size of the park and the activities you want to do. Thousand Springs State Park, for example, is made up of seven different units. If you want to see them all (and they are unique and worth a visit), an hour or two is not going to cut it. However, there were plenty of parks where all we did was enjoy a picnic and a stroll. An hour was fine in that case. Below is a chart depicting each park, how much time we spent there, which activities we enjoyed, which activities we missed, and an assessment of our visit.

Idaho State Parks Challenge list of parks and time spent at each

Each park is unique. However, there are some that are more memorable than others and for different reasons. In fact, R and I have different must-see lists.

B’s not-to-miss parks

  • Thousand Springs: this park has so many different features and things to do. A whole weekend is really not enough time to see it all, particularly if you want to visit other places like the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Favorite areas include Ritter Island, Malad Gorge and Box Canyon.
  • Bruneau Dunes: this place is so unique and climbing on sand dunes is fun (just make sure it isn’t too hot).
  • Bear Lake: I have yet to visit another lake in Idaho like Bear Lake. Most of Idaho’s lakes are beautiful. But they are very cold and have rocky bottoms. Most get deep really quick as well. Bear Lake has a wonderful sandy bottom, is shallow for a long time and is warmer than our usual alpine lakes. And the color! It is like nothing else outside of the Caribbean.
girl in turquoise water at Bear Lake State Park during an Idaho State Parks Challenge
Turquoise water at Bear Lake.

R’s not-to-miss parks:

  • Farragut State Park: this park has history (WW2 submarines), activities (frisbee golf, hiking, boating), and scenery (cliffs, trees, and lakes). So it was a littler sampler of R’s favorite things. Our time here was interrupted by a freak wind storm, and it was still awesome.
  • Ashton to Tetonia: Of the three trails in the Idaho state park systems, this was the fave. The reason? The Teton mountain range stands impressively in the horizon. This is one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in Idaho, and that is saying something. On this converted former rail road you can stroll along and soak up the scenery.
Teton mountain range on Ashton to Tetonia trail during an Idaho State Parks Challenge
I mean come on…
  • McCroskey: And speaking of scenery, have you heard of the Palouse? Driving the ridge road through McCroskey State Park will be an introduction. The best time to see the view of the unique rolling hills of this area is when the canola fields turn bright yellow. It is stunning.

What should I pack to visit Idaho’s state parks?

If you are visiting the state parks during the summer like we did, do not forget your sunscreen. Idaho has decent elevation and you do not want to run around without sun protection. Also, you are going to need a swimsuit. Many of Idaho’s state parks are located on rivers, lakes and reservoirs. And if it is hot, you are going to want to get in the water. Drinking water and insect repellent are also must haves.

If you go exploring in the winter, dress warm and be prepared for all four seasons. We get snow in Idaho and a lot of it in some parts. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in a blizzard without proper clothing.

No matter the time of year, I recommend you pack some basic provisions and a first aid kit. A lot of Idaho’s state parks are off the beaten track and far from towns. You want to be prepared for anything. We often had a picnic packed since we never knew if we would be around a town when we got hungry. Make sure you have drinking water, food and a full tank of gas.

What will the Idaho State Parks Challenge cost me?

Gas and lodging will be your biggest expenses. If you like camping, then Idaho’s state parks are where it is at. Head to the reservation system to book your spot today. R hates to camp and I don’t love it. So we mostly stayed in hotels and Airbnbs near the state parks. We even crashed at my folk’s house one night. 

Some of the parks have sleeping options like yurts and cabins. We did take advantage of a couple of these overnight stays. In fact, the yurts at Winchester Lake State Park are lovely and even come with the use of a canoe. The whole experience made Winchester Lake one of my favorite state parks experiences. Overnight stays can be a little hard to book during busy times, so you will want to book as soon as possible.

Yurt at Winchester Lake State Park lodging during Idaho State Parks Challenge
Our home for the night.

Park fees

The Idaho State Parks Passport is not a fun booklet that lets you get stamps in each state park (unfortunately). There is no such official program in Idaho. Instead, the passport is a $10 sticker that provides unlimited day-use access to every Idaho State Park. It is only available to Idaho residents and is good for one year (perfect for the Idaho State Parks Challenge). If you do not get the passport, each park will set you back $5.

If you are not from Idaho, you have the option to purchase a Motor Vehicle Entry Fee sticker for $80. You can purchase this sticker at any Idaho state park (with a visitor’s center) or online.

Other things to keep in mind on your Idaho State Parks Challenge

In Idaho, we deal with wildfires. For the most part, wildfires ruin views with haze and smoke. But every once in a while they ruin plans. We had a lot of trouble with a wildfire when we visited Dworshak. You can read about that story in my blog post about Dworshak State Park.

Wildfire in northern Idaho during Idaho State Parks Challenge
This wildfire made for a pretty sunset. It also ruined some of plans thanks to closed roads and power outages.

We have rattlesnakes in Idaho. Thankfully, we didn’t see any, but there are plenty of parks where you need to keep your eyes peeled.

We also have bears and moose, neither of which you want a close encounter with. We saw moose at a distance from the safety of our vehicle in Harriman State Park and we were warned of possible bear sightings at Henrys Lake. Thankfully, we did not encounter any.

The Idaho Department of Parks and Rec website is a great place to research each park. If you have a question about a park that you cannot find online, don’t hesitate to reach out to the park directly. The park rangers are very friendly and passionate about their parks. Asking what their favorite thing to do in the park is a good way to learn something new.

Jake Davis, a park ranger at Dworshak State Park, shared all kinds of useful information with me including the following:

“Certainly though, the most unique thing about this park is the dramatic water level fluctuation. Full pool is 1600’ and minimum pool is about 1450’. I don’t believe there is any other water body in Idaho that experiences fluctuations of this magnitude.”

Who knows what else you may learn by reaching out to the park? Give it a shot and see.

SUP on Priest Lake as part of an Idaho State Parks Challenge
Exploring Priest Lake State Park via SUP.


To be fair, not everything you will see in Idaho will be amazing. There will be times when you understand exactly why early immigrants moved right on through to get to Oregon. It’s okay to not love every park you visit. And not everything we experienced was all sunshine and roses. Just like any trip, things went wrong. A hotel lost our reservation one night and we had to scramble to find a place to stay (they still charged me as well so I had to deal with that after we got home). Google maps took us down a cow trail instead of a road and what should have been a 10-15 minute drive took us about an hour. A wind storm and wildfire caused us a whole heap of trouble and anxiety at two different parks.

However, all of the setbacks were worth the trouble when I think back to riding horses in historic Harriman, looking down at the Oregon trail wagon ruts near Thousand Springs, swimming in the turquoise blue waters of Bear Lake and riding a tandem bike on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Idaho made 2020 not just bearable, but a wonderful experience.

If you are looking for a new challenge or goal or you just want some new insight into the 43rd state, I recommend the Idaho State Parks Challenge.

State park selfies…

Missing Idaho State Parks: how many state parks are in Idaho?

Missing Idaho State Parks: how many state parks are in Idaho?

Missing Idaho State Parks Overview When B and I started our Idaho State Parks Challenge we were a little confused on how many state parks there actually are in Idaho. It seems like this should be pretty clear. So our first step was to get 

Ponderosa State Park: water, snow, and crowds

Ponderosa State Park: water, snow, and crowds

State Park Overview Ponderosa State Park is in McCall, Idaho, which is two and a half hours north of Boise. Boiseans enjoy this park in all seasons, with hiking, boating, cross country skiing and mountain biking accessible in a pretty area. Pros: Lots to do 

Hells Gate State Park: much less scary than the name would imply

Hells Gate State Park: much less scary than the name would imply

Learn a little history or ride a jet boat at the lowest point in Idaho (733 feet) when you visit Hells Gate State Park. The name sounds a lot less inviting than this park actually is.

Lewis & Clark Discovery Center at Hells Gate State Park
Discover something new about Lewis & Clark at the Lewis & Clark Discovery Center (😉)

State Park Overview

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hells Gate State Park is located near Lewiston and is on the banks of the Snake River. A Nez Perce fishing village used to be in this location. Nowadays, the main focus of the park is still fishing, only instead of canoes people use fancy jet boats.


  • Interesting history
  • Nice historical walking trail
  • Fishing
  • Jet-boating
Information sign about Lewis & Clark at the Hells Gate State Park Discovery Center
Lewis and Clark came through this area on their trek. The walking trail by the Discovery Center has informative signs to help you understand what it was like for them.


  • If you aren’t into boats, there is not much to do
  • Hot temperatures (due to the low elevation)
  • Closing down the Discovery Center during COVID really made me mad

What To Do at Hells Gate State Park

  • Fish
  • Jet boat
  • Learn about Lewis and Clark and Native American history


They have a really nice Discovery Center visitor center with flushing toilets, boat ramps, indoor showers and a small marina. For a list of all amenities, visit the Department Parks and Rec website for Hells Gate State Park.

Crowd situation

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Almost no one was there when we visited. Maybe they knew the Discovery Center was shut down and stayed away. Or maybe they realized how hot it was and chose to stay in air conditioning.

Unique to Hells Gate State Park

Lewis & Clark Discovery Center.
See that rope? The Discovery Center was a big tease.

A little history about Hells Gate State Park

I tried to find the origins of a name as unwelcoming as Hells Gate, but it turns out there are actually quite of a few places named this around the world. Let’s just go with the idea that the park is on the shore of the Snake River as it goes through one of the deepest canyons in the U.S.

The park was developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which seems fitting as a main part of the park highlights the L&C Corps of Discovery. In 1971, the Army turned it over to Idaho Parks.

You can see ancient history here, geologically speaking. The area was carved out by ice age floods 15,000 years ago. More recently, you can learn a lot here about the Nez Perce Tribe that lived in this area. And those travelers that they came in contact with (L&C) in 1805.

Explore nearby

Our experience at Hells Gate State Park

We took a back road to get to the visitor center at Hells Gate State Park which gave us a scenic view along the Snake River. This area is pretty hot and brown in the summer and I don’t know that I would want to visit it without getting in the river. Since jet boating is one of the main reasons people come to Hells Gate State Park, we looked into taking a ride. However, most rides were full days (which we didn’t want to dedicate that much time to) and I have already been jet boating on the Snake so we decided to just check out the Discovery Center. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, the Discovery Center was roped off. Were there any other visitors there? No. Could we have checked it out safely? Yes. Oh well. 

Hells Gate State Park signage.
Check out the river and the canyon and hills. This sums up this State Park.

We were able to go on a nicely done nature/history trail along the river and next to the visitor center. I learned all sorts of stuff from the placards, like that Lewis and Clark tried to name the Snake River the Lewis River. It didn’t stick. After we walked around for a while we went and checked out a pier and saw some fisherpeople out doing their thing.


If you enjoy fishing and jet boating, Hells Gate State Park is the place for you. It is hot and dry most of the year, so make sure to drink lots of water and wear sunscreen.

Note: we visited Hells Gate State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!

Related posts you might like:

Or if you want to see all of our posts, visit Past Posts.

Heyburn State Park

Heyburn State Park

Heyburn State Park is Idaho’s and the Pacific Northwest’s first state park. Created in 1908 (or 1911, depending on who you ask), this park on the banks of Lake Coeur d’Alene set a great example for parks to come. State Park Overview Heyburn State Park 

Farragut State Park: wind, frisbee golf, and deep waters

Farragut State Park: wind, frisbee golf, and deep waters

Forces of nature (wind) tried to keep us away from Farragut State Park by knocking over trees and power lines, but we persevered and got to explore (some) of this beautiful park. State Park Overview Farragut State Park in northern Idaho is located on the 

Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park: Idaho’s oldest building

Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park: Idaho’s oldest building

State Park Overview

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park (that’s a mouthful so it will hereafter be known as Old Mission State Park) in northern Idaho celebrates the first building in all of Idaho: the Cataldo Mission. Priests came to this part of Idaho to convert the Coeur d’Alene tribe. The park’s main event is the Old Mission, but there are other historical structures on site, including the house where the priests lived, some barns and a grinding mill. There is a very nice visitor center that doubles as a museum (for an extra cost). All of this, plus a very scenic spot of land next to the Coeur d’Alene river, makes the Old Mission State Park and easy and enjoyable visit.

Old Mission State Park
Flexing our artistic muscles with this pic at the Old Mission State Park.


  • Interesting history
  • Scenic
  • Easy access


  • Extra charge for the museum
  • Might have some accessibility issues walking up the hill from the visitor center to the mission
  • Small park

What To Do

  • Learn about the Coeur d’Alene tribe
  • Learn about the history of the initial European settlement in Idaho
  • Feel the history walking through Idaho’s first building
  • Have your wedding here…really
Note the fee warning. Not just for entrance.


They have a nice visitor center with flushing toilets and vault restrooms up by the building. For more information, visit the Department of Parks and Rec website for Old Mission State Park.

Crowd situation

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There were only three other groups visiting while we were there. It was lovely to feel like you have the park practically to yourselves.

Unique to Old Mission State Park

The history! You can only see the oldest building in Idaho at the oldest building in Idaho. 

Fascinating Idaho history.

A little history about Old Mission State Park

The Old Mission was built by the Coeur d’Alene tribe faithful to the cause between 1850 and 1853. They used local wood and materials and built it in the wattle and dab method. After they decided to move the mission further south (which was a really sad story, btw) the building fell into disrepair. It was lovingly restored in the 1970s and today is pristine like the year it was built. 

Northern Idaho scenery.
Take a stroll and enjoy the scenery.

Explore nearby

  • Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park. This thing goes right by the mission.
  • Kellogg. This town is scenic and quaint, and you can take the longest gondola ride in America up to the pretty mountains.
  • Lake Coeur d’Alene

Our experience at Old Mission State Park

The Old Mission State Park is conveniently located right off 1-90 and every other time I’ve visited there, it was a quick drive from Coeur d’Alene. However, this time around we drove up from Harrison and very much enjoyed the scenery on the backroads. 

Our first stop was to the visitor center. If you don’t feel like paying for entry to the museum that shares the building, the visitor center is limited in what it offers. The building itself is quite nice, though, with cool architecture. We watched the free movie to get a feel for what the park is all about. (Side note: we recommend watching the videos at visitor centers if they are available. They are usually under 15 minutes and give a great synopsis of the park. And if it is a hot day, they are nice and dark and air conditioned.)

Exploring the park

After our history lesson in the video, we walked across a grassy field to tour the Mission. It was hot outside but felt cool inside. The building is one room and isn’t terribly large, but I really enjoy that it was built and restored as a labor of love. It isn’t as finely crafted as other cathedrals or churches, but its rusticity adds to its charm.

Old Mission State Park Historic Landmark.
This park is legit. Just look at the plaque.

Next stop was the building next door. This house was where the Jesuits lived who worked at this mission. The rooms are finished to be like what you would have experienced in the Mission’s heyday and there are little recordings to explain what life was like for these priests so far away from home and towns. 

Our last stop was to walk around the buildings on a little trail. This was nice as it had a few placards that explained the terrain and also some audio recordings that talked about life from a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s perspective.


You can’t beat the oldest building in Idaho. It’s great this piece of history is preserved so well at the Old Mission State Park.

Note: we visited Old Mission State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!

Related posts you might like:

Or if you want to see all of our posts, visit Past Posts.

Priest Lake State Park: a northern Idaho gem with smaller crowds

Priest Lake State Park: a northern Idaho gem with smaller crowds

State Park Overview Priest Lake State Park is the northernmost state park in Idaho. It is 15 miles from the Canadian border and a beautiful blue lake surrounded by mountains and pine trees. Less visited than its sister lakes (Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille), Priest