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Destination Idaho: Idaho City

Idaho City - Nestled in the heart of the Boise National Forest, historic Idaho City located just 36 miles northeast of Boise has roots dating back to the 1860s. The historic landmark was ground zero for the great Idaho gold rush.

The rugged town is the seat of Boise County and has repeatedly been voted one of the top three day trips of the Treasure Valley. Idaho City was founded in December 1862 as Bannock, amidst the Boise Basin gold rush during the Civil War, the largest since the California gold rush a dozen years earlier. Near the confluence of Elk and Mores Creeks, its plentiful water supply allowed it to outgrow the other nearby camps in the basin, such as Placerville, Pioneerville, and Centerville.

As its population swelled, the new Idaho Territorial legislature changed the town’s name to Idaho City, to avoid confusion with Bannack, in present-day Beaverhead County, the southwestern corner of Montana. At its peak during the mid-1860s, there were more than 200 businesses in town, including three dozen saloons and two dozen law offices. Its 1864 population of 7,000 made it the largest city in the Northwest, bigger than Portland.

Wood was the prime source of both shelter and heat, which caused Idaho City to burn four times: 1865, 1867, 1868, and 1871. Five businesses on Main Street burned again in the early hours of June 5, 2015. In 1863, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was established; it was the first Catholic parish in the new Idaho Territory and the church was completed the following year. Idaho City is an important location in local Masonic history. The Grand Lodge of Idaho was founded in Idaho City in 1867. Idaho Lodge No. 1 was originally located in Idaho City but is now in Boise.

During the boom, the greater Boise Basin population numbered in the tens of thousands, but most left the mountains when the gold ran out. Idaho City’s population fell below 900 by 1870 and was down to 104 by 1920. Today the town economy relies mainly on hunting and fishing tourism, and visits to the many historic sites, including the Boot Hill Cemetery. Outside of town, the mining tailings of the era are everywhere.