Much of Idaho has an unspoiled beauty, with rugged slopes and towering peaks, a vast expanse of timberland, scenic lakes, wild rivers, cascades, and spectacular gorges. From the northern Panhandle, where Idaho is about 45 mi (72 km) wide, the state broadens south of the Bitterroot Range to 310 mi (499 km) in width. The Snake River flows in a great arc across S Idaho; with its tributaries the river has been harnessed to produce hydroelectric power and to reclaim vast areas of dry but fertile land. To the north of the Snake River valley, in central and north central Idaho, are the massive Sawtooth Mts. and the Salmon River Mts., which shelter magnificent wilderness areas, including the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area, and the Idaho Primitive Area.
In the central and north central regions and in the Panhandle there are tremendous expanses of national forests covering approximately two fifths of the state and constituting one of the largest areas of national forests in the nation. Idaho's jagged granite peaks include Mt. Borah, which is 12,662 ft (3,859 m) high. Hells Canyon, which at one point is 7,900 ft (2408 m) below the mountaintops, is the deepest gorge in North America. The state also contains Craters of the Moon National Monument and a protected grove of ancient cedars at Upper Priest Lake.
Rushing rivers such as the Salmon and the Clearwater, and many lakes, notably Lake Pend Oreille, Lake Coeur d'Alene (often described as one of the world's loveliest), and Priest Lake, as well as the state's mountain areas, make Idaho a superb fish and game preserve and vacation land. The state is especially inviting to campers, anglers, and hunters (Idaho has one of the largest elk herds in the nation). The state's climate ranges from hot summers in the arid southern basins to cold, snowy winters in the high wilderness areas of central and northern Idaho. The capital and largest city is Boise; other cities of importance are Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.