Boise, Idaho, used to have a reputation as a sleepy, boring kind of town. That’s all changed over the past twenty years as the population of the city and surrounding metropolitan area has boomed to over 600,000 people. It may be a big city now, but there’s still a part of the downtown that evokes that relaxed, smalltown feeling.
Julia Davis Park, which stretches out along the banks of the Boise River, is just a half-mile from the steps of the Idaho State Capitol Building and most of downtown Boise. With a wide variety of sights and activities, It’s the perfect place for a family to spend a day.
Inside the 87-acre park, you can start off at the Idaho State Historical Museum or next door at the Boise Art Museum. My kids always wanted to head straight for the history, and I don’t blame them. The museum is small, but packed full of relics and displays that tell the story of Idaho’s past from prehistoric times through the pioneers coming west on the Oregon Trail and straight into the 21st century. On the grounds of the museum is a pioneer village, showing how settlers lived in the 1800′s.
From there, it’s a short walk through the park to our favorite little zoo, Zoo Boise. I used to go there regularly with my kids when they were toddlers. It’s big enough to keep an exotic assortment of animals, but small enough to see everything without wearing down the youngest members of the family.
The best part, at least according to my kids, is the extensive children’s area of the zoo. It’s where my son first came face to face with a Komodo Dragon, and my daughter first felt the tickle of a butterfly landing on her nose. There are plenty of slides, tunnels, and hands-on activities to keep kids busy for a few hours. Myself, I could just sit and watch the meerkats for most of an afternoon.
Zoo Boise has a brand new exhibit called African Plains, featuring giraffes and lions (not in the same enclosure, I hope). Other animals you’ll see at the zoo include tigers, bears, bald eagles, lemurs, and snow leopards.
There are other activities in and around Julia Davis Park, including a children’s science museum, the Idaho Black History Museum, Boise Trolley Tours, playgrounds, rose garden, paddle boats, and the Boise River Greenbelt.
If you have any time left in your day, head on down the Greenbelt to the Morrison Knudsen Nature Center, a 4.6-acre fish and wildlife experience that features a mountain stream, waterfalls, and wetlands. There are multiple viewing windows for the kids to see how fish develop from tiny eggs into full-grown trout, whitefish, or kokanee. You’ll even see nesting geese, turtles, beavers, and wild ducks. The Center also has a large education building where kids can learn about all the different animals that make their home in Idaho.
There’s no better way to show the circle of life, at least in the fish world, than in a place like the MK Nature Center. In fact, this was the first “field trip” we took our son on after he was born, and we always go back there when we make return trips to visit our old hometown of Boise, Idaho.
There’s even more to Boise’s downtown than Julia Davis Park, the Boise Greenbelt, and the MK Nature Center, but those three sites alone should keep any family fairly busy for a day or two.
All photos by Phil Corless