Park season came early this year. With a relatively mild winter and warm weekends in May, hundreds of folks and families flocked to area parks to celebrate and recreate.
Boise ranks 29th for most parks per capita, according to the Trust for Public Lands’ 2018 ParkScore index, moving up six spots since 2017. It also maintained it’s top dog park area title with nearly seven dog parks per 100,000 people. Those rankings reflects all of Boise’s 90 community, neighborhood, dog and pocket parks — and more than 140 Valley-wide. Then add the Boise Foothills and its Ridge to Rivers trail system and other free-access public lands to Boise’s robust collection of parks — that includes several near the heart of Downtown —and they become civic assets that helps put Boise on those great-place-to-live lists.
A park is a key component to quality of life, says Boise Parks and Rec Director Doug Holloway.
“As open land disappears it’s more important than ever that we make places for people to go,” he says. “It proves that want strengthens communities are places where people can gather.”
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Kick your shoes off and step onto the cool green of one of Boise’s fantastic parks. Here’s a breakdown of the Valley’s main parks:
Esther Simplot Park
Established: 2017, 3206 W. Pleasanton Ave., Boise
Esther Simplot Park is a 55-acre, $16-million beauty in Boise’s Whitewater Park Boulevard neighborhood. It’s filled with winding paths that lead you around three large ponds, bridge overlooks, open grassy picnic and play areas.
What makes this park: Esther Simplot is all about water and Boise’s outdoor and river sports scene. It’s adjacent to Quinn’s Pond and includes two of its own, Esther Simplot ponds 1 and 2. Also, Friendship Island in pond 1 offers a spectacular view of the Boise Foothills.
What you can do: You can sun on the sandy beach and swim in Quinn’s Pond. A little farther down you’ll find great fishing. Idaho Fish and Game stocks this pond in the spring. Standup paddleboarding also is popular. It’s free if you bring your own board. Idaho River Sports, 601 N. Whitewater Park Blvd., rents them for $20 for the first hour, $5 for every half hour after. They also offer SUP lessons and yoga classes.
From Quinn’s you can travel through man-made tributaries to Esther Simplot ponds 1 and 2. Pond 1 also has a dedicated swimming area for young children.
Playground: Yes, but this one is a bit different. There are no swing sets or slides. Instead you’ll find colorful poles of different heights spaced out on a rubber surface for imaginative play. Plus there are several grassy, open-play areas throughout the park.
Picnic: Yes, there are two large picnic pavilions with tables that can be reserved, plus a pier on pond 1 that has become a popular spot for weddings.
Events: Music on the Water, a monthly summer concert series, will kick off June 1-2. This year’s headliners are Big Wow Band on Friday, Built to Spill on Saturday. Checkout this whole lineup here.
What’s new: The city added a second permanent bathroom and changing area near the Greenbelt entrance at the end of Pleasanton Avenue at Whitewater Boulevard. The Greenbelt path that runs along the park from the 36th Street walking bridge to Main Street is getting a new concrete surface. It’s closed until the end of May. You can take a detour on the Garden City side of the river.
Other details: Dogs are banned from swimming in the ponds after a problem with E. coli in 2017.
Backstory: Esther Simplot is the Simplot family matriarch, the widow of agribuisiness billionaire J.R. “Jack” Simplot, and a beloved arts supporter.
Boise Whitewater Park
Established: 2010, 3400 Pleasanton Ave., Boise
Just around the bend in the Greenbelt from Esther Simplot you’ll find the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation Boise Whitewater Park. This park highlights one of the best aspects of Idaho outdoor life – whitewater. The Gem State contains some of the longest stretches on premiere whitewater in the world. It’s one of just a handful of similar setups in the nation to use WaveShaper technology to create engineered whitewater challenges for kayakers, surfers and boogie boarders. Colorado’s McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, which also built the 1996 Olympic whitewater course, designed and built the feature with Boise Parks and Rec. It opened in June 2012.
What you can do: Bring your own kayak or board and it’s free to ride the waves. Idaho River Sports does rent kayaks for $20 for the first hour, $5 for each additional half hour. Check BoiseWhitewaterPark.com for the wave schedule, which changes throughout the week.
Other details: Park and enter through Esther Simplot Park. You also can gain access on the Garden City side, but street parking is limited.
Picnic: There are no official picnic areas nearby but there are two in Esther Simplot Park. However, there are benches and a bridge overlook from where you can watch the action on the water.
What’s new: A $7.3 million expansion is in the works that will extend the water park a half-mile stretch downriver to Veterans Pond. Construction started in March to create more engineered obstacles for different abilities and to restore the riverbank. It should be complete in 2019.
Julia Davis Park
Established 1907, 700 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise
Julia Davis Park is all about civic tradition and pride. Set near the Downtown core, this 89-acre park is the city’s oldest and now the hub of Boise’s Cultural District. Zoo Boise, the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Historical Museum, Discovery Center of Idaho and the Idaho Black History Museum all share a border with its grassy expanse and tree-lined paved paths. From the entrance, it’s a short walk to the main Boise Public Library, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy and Annex, Boise State University and the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts.
The Memorial Rose Garden at its center, with its quaint gazebo, is a popular setting for weddings.
What you can do: Jog, walk or bike on the Greenbelt that runs from 8th Street to Broadway Avenue. And you can take your picture with one the largest sculptures of Abraham Lincoln in the country. Take a relaxing paddleboat ride on the large pond on its east end.
Playground: Kids ages 2 to 5 can enjoy the playground near the entrance on 3rd and Myrtle streets that also gives access to the Discovery Center.
Picnic: The park has two large covered pavilions that can be reserved.
Events: This park is the site for some of the Treasure Valley’s most beloved events, including Art in the Park — a three-day art fair and sale that benefits the Boise Art Museum — the Idaho Humane Society’s benefit “See Spot Walk” and Zoo Boise’s Easter EGGstravaganza.
Backstory: Julia Davis and her husband Thomas became one of the largest ranching families in the region. Thomas donated 43 acres to create the city’s first park the year she died of typhoid.
Notes: The Gene Harris Bandshell suffered a fire on its roof in April. The city plans to restore the structure over the summer. It’s currently fenced off. Also, Zoo Boise is expanding into the park by 1.5 acres. There is a construction zone on the southeast side of the zoo.
Ann Morrison Park
Established: 1959, 1000 S. Americana Blvd., Boise
At 153 acres, Ann Morrison is Boise’s largest civic park, and it offers the most diversity of activity of any of other of the city’s parks. It’s filled with wide expansive grassy areas for play and picnics, and provides access to the Boise River.
What you can do: You name it. The park’s east end has sports cricket and soccer fields and softball diamonds, so there are club matches and games during the year. You can play horseshoes and bocce ball, and work out at an outdoor apparatus gym sponsored by Bodybuilding.com. It has a disc golf course, horseshoe pit, tennis and volleyball courts, and walking paths with access to the Greenbelt and Boise River. During the summer, you can get drenched in the large spray fountain at its center.
Playground: Yes! This is one of the largest playgrounds in the city and can entertain kids up to age 12.
Picnic: There is one picnic pavilion and several shaded picnic tables throughout the park.
Dogs: Dogs can be off-leash from sunrise to sunset Nov. 1 to Feb. 1.
What’s new: Dog Island! The city is transforming the park’s Duck Island, previously inhabited by waterfowl, into a year-round off-leash dog park. There is no completion date yet, but the city is working to make it happen soon, says Boise Parks and Rec’s Holloway.
Backstory: Ann Daly Morrison was the wife of Harry Morrison, co-founder of the engineering firm Morrison-Knudsen that built the Hoover Dam and other massive structures around the world. Ann died in 1957 of leukemia. Morrison built the park at his own expense, then deeded it to the city in 1959.
Camel’s Back Park
Established: 1932, 1200 W. Heron St., Boise
Nestled by Boise’s quaint Hyde Park neighborhood in the North End, Camel’s Back Park is a gateway to the Boise Foothills’ Camel’s Back and Hulls Gulch Reserve, part of the Ridge to Rivers trail system, with dozens of miles of mountain biking, hiking, running and off-leash dog trails. From its grassy flat to its epic uphill climb to the plateau’s top that offers a glorious view of Downtown Boise and vistas beyond, it’s got a cool, kickback vibe.
What you can do: The park has wide-open play areas that can be scheduled for soccer teams and pickup community games. You can play tennis and volleyball. One of the most popular activities is climbing Camel’s Back hill. Kids like to try to run up the vertical sandy path at the front. On the east side, you’ll find a staircase carved into the hill that leads to the top, and more running trails on the backside. The park is a popular place for boot-camp workout groups, and you can do your own workout on the outdoor gym provided by Bodybuilding.com.
Picnic: There is one shaded picnic area that can be reserved.
Playground: The playground got an update in 2014 with more swings, slides, and lots of things to climb on and through.
Dogs: Dogs are required to be on leash in the park proper, but there are sections of trails behind the park that are off-leash, so keep an eye on the signage.
Events: Camel’s Back is the site of Hyde Park Street Fair in Sept. 14-16. It’s a throwback to the 1970s with lots of tie-dyed clothing, belly dancing, arts and crafts and three stages for entertainment, including a main concert stage that features the some of the best Boise bands.
Backstory: The Lemp family donated the 11 acres for the park to the city. The family produced two Boise mayors, John, a brewer, who served in 1875-76, and Herbert F. who was elected in May 1927 but tragically died after receiving a head injury playing polo shortly after.
Kathryn Albertson Park
Established: 1989, 1001 N. Americana Blvd.
Filled with trees and waterways, Kathryn Albertson Park flourishes with migratory wildlife and peaceful areas to reflect on the beauty of nature.
What you can do: This is a place to connect with nature, go birding, meditate and enjoy what Boise’s outdoor ethic has to offer. It’s a popular spot for prom and wedding photos. There are wide, paved footpaths that wind through the bird and wildlife sanctuary where you can stroll past glass-like ponds and listen to the birds. You can relax in outdoor gazebos or by the fountain, and a cross-section one of the world’s largest ponderosa pines.
Picnic: There are no designated picnic areas, but two gazebos are available for gatherings.
Dogs: Dogs (except service dogs) are not allowed in the park from March 1 to June 1. Otherwise they are allowed on leash.
What’s new: There is a proposed plan to improve the park by the Albertson Family Foundation that would add new elements, such as a pond deck, a scenic overlook, more paths and a meadow.
Backstory: Kathryn Albertson was the wife of Joe Albertson founder of the Albertsons grocery store chain. In 1989 Albertson gave 41 acres along the Boise River in Kathryn’s name for a nature park. Joe died in 1993. When she died in 2002, Kathryn Albertson was known as one of the nation’s top philanthropists. The family foundation continues its giving in Boise, supporting and improving the Boise Whitewater Park, Rhodes Skate Park, and building the future mountain bike skills park at Boise’s Military Reserve.
Kristin Armstrong Municipal Park
Established: 1927, renamed in 2016, 500 S. Walnut St., Boise
Originally established in 1918 as a family campground, it was taken over by the city in 1927. It was closed briefly in 1938 when it became a haunt for the city’s hobos and unsavory types, then reopened a few years later as a general day-use park. In 2016, Mayor Dave Bieter renamed Boise Municipal Park for Boise’s three-time Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Kristin Armstrong. She won all three in the time trial event, the last one at age 42 at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It’s shady 28 acres lie along the bank of the Boise River east of Downtown and connects to the Boise Greenbelt.
What you can do: Picnic! With 11 sites, this is Boise’s No. 1 spot for a picnic or a reunion. You can fire up a barbecue, play bocce ball, and look for migratory birds. Also, it is walking distance to the Morrison Knudsen Nature Center.
Playground: It has a large playground for kids ages 2 to 12, with swing sets and slides and climbing apparatus.
Dogs: Dog, alcohol and smoking are prohibited.
Rhodes Skate Park
Established: 1992, 1555 W. Front St. , Boise.
Rhodes Skate Board park lies along the underpass beneath the Boise Connector in Downtown Boise. It’s construction was driven by Ada County Highway Commissioner Glenn Rhodes, who saw it as a solution to Downtown businesses trying to keep skateboarders off of their property. Rhodes worked tirelessly to get the park built through fundraising, donated labor and materials and city funds. The 1.28 acre urban skate park opened in 1995.
In 2014, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation gave $1 million to update the park with the latest style obstacles, lighting and public art. The new park opened in 2016. With city funds and a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation, the total cost was $1.3 million.
What you can do: This isn’t your typical park. There’ no picnicking or swing set for the kids. But if you’re a skateboarder you’ll go crazy over this to this concrete urban playground with a course created by Seattle’s Grindline Skatepark Design. It’s new rails, half piles, bowls and other features draw some of the best skaters in the world to Boise.
Events: Rhodes is the site for Skatefort, a mashup of punk music and skating during the Treefort Music Fest each March. It also hosts many skateboard demonstrations and competitions, including qualifying events for the X Games. The Road to the X Games Boise Park Qualifier return for a second year on June 15-16.
▪ J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation will build a mountain bike skills park in the seven-acre flood basin between Fort Boise Park and Military Reserve. It will feature pump tracks and other elements to help cyclists improve their skills. The land is now an off-leash dog area. The city will build a new dog park on the 3.7 acre plot to the west of the basin. Both projects are in the design phase. There is no timeframe for construction to begin, but Parks and Rec director Holloway says, it will be this year.
▪ Bernadine Quinn Riverside Park, between Quinn’s Pond and Main Street, is on track to be developed later this summer.
More Valley parks
Meridian’s Kleiner Park
Established: 2009, 1900 Records Ave., Meridian
Of Meridian’s 21 parks, Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park is a showpiece and one of the most popular parks in the Treasure Valley. It has nearly 60 acres of landscaped green space, two ponds, a central fountain and grand plaza and a promenade with a large bronze sculpture of Kleiner.
What you can do: There’s a variety of activities available at Kleiner Park. You can play basket ball, bocce ball and sand volleyball. Take a bicycle ride or walk on one of its many paths. One of the most popular things to do is go to a concert at the large amphitheater.
Playground: You’ll find a full playground with swing sets, slides, climbing structures and a splash pad for cooling off in the summer.
Picnic: This is one of the best parks for a picnic with four picnic pavilions of from very large to modest that can be reserved.
Events: Kleiner Park is the site for the annual Treasure Valley Kite Festival and the annual Meridian Symphony Orchestra’s Gene Kleiner Day Concert. This year’s is Saturday, June 9.
Backstory: Julius Kleiner was a Russian immigrant who worked in the Treasure Valley’s dairy industry. He founded his own dairy farm on the land that now is the park in 1952. His son Eugene donated the land for the park in 2009.
Lakeview Park in Nampa
Established: 1923, 1227 E. Orson F. Persons Court
This gorgeous 44.3 acre Nampa is one of the oldest in the Treasure Valley. It’s got a little something for everyone with beautiful grassy areas, mature trees, walking paths, a rose garden, a duck pond and an amphitheater.
What you can do: Play ball on the Les Goodman Baseball Field. There’s a horseshoe pit, a basketball court and a sand volleyball court and BMX track. If you need to cool off, splash down at the Lakeview Water Park with swimming pools and water slides. You’ll also find historic military displays, including a jet.
Playground: There is a variety play equipment for kids 2 to 12.
Picnic: There are two large picnic shelters that can be reserved at NampaParksAndRecreation.com.
About Boise Parks
▪ All Boise parks and the Greenbelt are open sunrise to sunset daily.
▪ Dogs must be leashed, unless you’re in a designated off-leash area.
▪ Alcohol and smoking are prohibited at all times. Beer and wine is ok with a permit and at permitted events.
▪ Parking is available but limited in most parks. Be aware that the surrounding neighborhoods may have parking restrictions.