At the young age of ten, I became a California Boy. After being born and raised on the East Coast, my father had taken a job in the sunny land of movie stars and beaches and off we went to Los Angeles. I fell in love instantly. Warm temperatures year round, mountains and nature made me learn how to appreciate the great outdoors, even with the Hollywood sign always glaring at me from a distance. And there were few better places to come into your teenage years than Venice Beach. But it wouldn’t last forever, as my father once again moved us 450 miles up to California coast to San Francisco. Suddenly, the sun wasn’t following me every second of every day, but rather, I met a new friend who would be with me for the next 21 years, Karl The Fog.

After spending the first 15 years of my life always on the move, San Francisco would become my home. I loved the city and the incredible nature and people that surrounded it. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Even though I lived across the street from an incredible beach in Pacifica, I found myself needing change. As it turns out, my parents, my brother and his wife needed a change in their lives also, and they packed up and headed to Idaho in the summer of 2015. ‘Idaho?’ I asked myself. What’s in Idaho besides potatoes? Having promised my parents that I would visit their new home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I thought the month in between would be a good time to get to know the state a little better. In partnership with Visit Idaho, I road tripped through the entire state, documenting it all on my Instagram, and what I saw and experienced amazed me to the core. I knew after that month long adventure that I did need change in my life, and that change was leaving California, the state I loved and lived in for most of my life, and trading it in for the quiet and laid back life that Idaho is.

There are a million reasons why I made this change, but here are the top 11 reasons why I moved to Idaho.

Boise

Let’s start with my new home, the capital of Idaho, Boise. Home to just over 200,000 residents, the city is the most populated in the state but barely breaks the top 100 of populated cities in the United States. This creates a phenomenal atmosphere of laid back city life, as even in the middle of downtown, the city never seems chaotic. The downtown neighborhood hosts a booming food and bar scene, with 8th Street being the epicenter. Last night, my first full night as an Idahoan, I enjoyed half-off top shelf Tequilla Tuesday and tasty nachos at The Matador. But to get there, I walked by about 50 new and trendy looking restaurants that should keep me busy eating and drinking for the next couple of years. But, as testament to the perfect mix of urban and nature that Boise is, the city is flanked by the beautiful Boise Mountains to the North and the Boise River, which runs right through the city. Along the river, a 25-mile walking and biking path known as the Boise Greenbelt can provide an outdoor escape for even the busiest of city folk. There is a reason why Boise was named the sixth best city to live in by Conde Nast Traveler, and I am quickly agreeing with their verdict.

And I would be lying if I didn’t say part of my decision was financially based. Check out buildings like the 110-year-old historic Owyhee. They have some of the nicest apartments in Boise, and even then, they are still a fraction of the cost I was paying in San Francisco.

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The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic is a favorite summer event of Idahoans. Photo via Visit Idaho on Flickr.

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In the short time I have been here, I have witnessed some very colorful sunsets. And thanks to these west facing reflective windows, I didn’t even need to leave my apartment to get a cool shot.

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Balloons fly over the Boise River. Photo via Visit Idaho on Flickr.

The Wilderness

The wilderness of Idaho is nearly unparalleled by any other U.S. State. At the top of the heap is the 2.3 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, which is the largest area of protected wilderness in the continental United States. Jagged mountains, roaring rapids, canyons and lakes consume the state, providing endless adventure for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers. With all the unspoiled wilderness, it may come as a shock to learn that Idaho is the only US state without a National Park, although the federal government has tried, most recently with the White Cloud wilderness area. Thomas Stanford, a state lawmaker said in the 1920’s “The creation of such a National Park would not add one speck to the beauty of nature’s work.”

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The Sawtooth Mountains as seen from the small town of Stanley, are just part of the millions of acres of wilderness land in Idaho.

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There aren’t many beaten paths to stray from, but if you do, you will be rewarded with untouched wilderness, like this untouched powder in behind Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

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Just one of the views along the snowmobile track with Selkirk Powder Company.

The Rivers

107,651 miles of rivers snake through the Idaho wilderness, with each one as visually breathtaking as the next. Many of these rivers are home to some powerful rapids in the spring and summer months, making Idaho an ideal location to test your white water rafting skills. But even without the rapids, the countless rivers make for great photography during any season, as well as a nice recreational break during the hot summer months, as locals descend to the rivers for swimming and rafting.

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The rivers are a popular scene to photograph, especially in the snowy winter.

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This bridge that crosses the Lachsa River reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The Salmon River runs through Stanley Idaho and makes it’s way to the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance.

 

The Mountains

Mountains, mountains, mountains. They are everywhere in Idaho and are some of the most impressive and photogenic in the entire country. As a photographer, I find no other scene as visually appealing as snow capped mountains and I plan to photograph as many Idaho ranges and peaks as I can in the coming years. The famous Rocky Mountains also run through eastern Idaho, providing countless hiking and photography opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

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The Sawtooth Mountains sit under a sunset sky near Stanley, Idaho.

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Everywhere you look, imposing mountain tops briefly make an appearance from the thick cloud cover.

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The early winter view from Bald Mountain in Sun Valley.

 

The Hot Springs

Idaho has the most usable hot springs in the United States, with 130 being deemed ‘soakable’ out of the 340 that dot the state’s landscape. Some are well known and information about their locations can easily be found online, but many are remote, and only known by a select few locals. These hot springs and their less warm swimming hole relatives are perfect weekend getaway locations for a group of friends and a couple growlers of local beers.

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Even in the middle of winter, nothing beats a hot spring and a growler of local beer.

The Beer & The Food

Speaking of beer, Idaho is in the midst of a brewing renaissance. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my month long road trip through the state was trying as many craft beers as possible at the cool looking breweries that have a friendly, laid back vibe and tasty food. Idahoans love their beer, and the brewmasters take great pride in the quality of their product. My two favorite breweries so far were Sawtooth Brewery in Sun Valley and Salmon River Brewery in McCall.  I didn’t try nearly enough my first time I was here, so I better start tasting some of the local Boise breweries!

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Sawtooth Brewery in Sun Valley knows how to get your attention. Photo by Ray J. Gadd.

The Snowboarding & Skiing

I have been snowboarding for 20 years now, and there are few activities I enjoy more than flying down a mountain through soft fresh powder. I was spoiled when I got my first taste of Idaho snowboarding. Nonstop early winter storms gave me plenty of powder days as I rode the mountains in Sun Valley and Schweitzer Mountain. Sun Valley is a popular vacation destination year round and is perhaps the best-known location in Idaho. The main town of Ketchum houses great restaurants (and that awesome Sawtooth Brewery!) so there is plenty to do when the chairlifts stop running.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, located just 60 miles from the Canadian border, has the most rideable terrain of any mountain in Idaho, and I covered every inch of it while experiencing daily fresh powder for over a week. The resort itself is a mini town with condos, lively bars, and delicious restaurants. But the mountain sits just 30 minutes from Sandpoint, a quirky and super fun town that sits on the shores of Idaho’s biggest body of water, Lake Pend Oreille. While in town, grab a burger and a beer at either Eichardts or MickDuff’s before heading to a show at the infamous (and newly renovated) music venue, The Hive.

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Ray J. Gadd from Visit Sun Valley tears up some soft stuff as the blue sky begins to make an appearance over Bald Mountain.

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Backcountry CAT Skiing with Selkirk Powder Company was one of the highlights of my 20 years of snowboarding.

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Ray J. Gadd shows off as the mountains behind Sun Valley show a light dusting of early winter snow.

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The powder we found while CAT boarding with Selkirk Powder Company was pristine.

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Ray J. Gadd gets some air as he finishes up a long, exciting day at Sun Valley.

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X-Games Snowboarder Pat Holland slides down a wall of powder at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

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Groomers work through the night at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

The Snowmobiling

I wasn’t very good on a ‘sled’ before my winter adventure in Idaho, and I am still no good, but what a fun time it was. In McCall, I went out in a massive blizzard with my friend Cody from CM Backcountry Rentals, where I proceeded to get buried no fewer than 7 times, but feeling that fresh powder under the machine’s skies was exhilarating. During my time at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, I explored some of the 30,000 acres of backcountry that Selkirk Powder Company has access to, and the views were incredible!

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Cody Monroe from CM Backcountry Rentals assess the route as snow falls during a Snowmobile trip in the mountains around McCall.

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Selkirk Powder Company has access to over 30,000 acres of backcountry wilderness in Northern Idaho.

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Ken from Selkirk Powder Company enjoys the view from atop a peak.

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Early morning at the Selkirk Powder Company base at the top of mountain.

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Cody Monroe from CM Backcountry Rentals turns his headlight on as dark clouds and thick snow make mid-day visibility low.

The Road Trips

I love road trips. I thrive off of them. Either by myself or with friends, I am usually most happy while getting lost on some desolate road in the middle of nowhere. And Idaho was made for road trips. For a photographer, it can be both a blessing and a curse, however, as you will find yourself stopping every five minutes as another dramatic landscape appears around every bend. Not only is Idaho a perfect and beautiful location to road trip, but the entire Pacific Northwest region is equally as adventurous and beautiful. Idaho’s immediate neighbors include  Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta, Canada (home to Banff) so the photography and opportunity to get lost on the road is no better than in Idaho.

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Scenes like this just 30 minutes outside of Sun Valley are normal in Idaho.

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Road trips and great light make for great photographs. This road is close to the town of Hailey.

The road past Red Fish Lake is almost as photogenic as the Lake itself.

The road past Red Fish Lake is almost as photogenic as the Lake itself.

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Low light pollution makes the stars in Idaho shine even brighter.

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The long, empty roads and dramatic sceneary make Idaho an ideal road trip state.

Solitude

Granted, I explored Idaho in the cold winter months, but from what I hear, even during the summer, it’s not hard to find your own little slice of outdoor heaven, as tourism here still is not as busy as some of the above-mentioned neighboring states. I found the solitude welcoming and therapeutic, and it allowed me to also concentrate on my photography without having to worry about others.

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A self-portrait as the moonlight illuminates Bald Mountain at Sun Valley.

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The town of Stanley only has 62 residents, and this is one of them.

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Lake Pend Oreille is the largest lake in Idaho.

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I was the only person standing on this frozen lake in Cascade.

The People

This, above all, is the most enjoyable aspect of life in Idaho. The people here are real. They are passionate. And above all, they are friendly. As I said before, Idahoans are proud of their state, and love showing it off to people who have not yet found the hidden treasure of the Pacific Northwest. But with that said, they will never forgive me if I don’t finish with this.

 

“Please, please don’t tell anyone about how amazing Idaho is. We like our beautiful state just the way it is”

I apologize, but I have to tell people. Beauty like this deserves to be seen and experienced. But hopefully not TOO many people read this. Cheers!

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Rick Welliver teaches boxing to the children of gritty Wallace, Idaho. Every April, the town of 700 gets together to attend Rick’s pride and joy event, Wallace Fight Night.

 

I cannot thank Visit Idaho enough for the support they have given me. In addition to being the friendliest tourism board I have ever worked with, they also have the slickest and most informative website I have ever seen. Check them out and start planning your Idaho getaway at https://visitidaho.org/.


And make sure to tell me when you come through town. Would love to try some of the crisp craft beer and delicious food with you!

Created in Partnership with Visit Idaho