8 Nicknames for Idaho and the History Behind Them

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A large stone building with columns and a domed top next to green grass and bushes
Idaho's monikers are based on many things, from its landscapes to potato production

Idaho is in the Pacific Northwest, bordered by Canada to the north and six other states surrounding it. While many are familiar with the state capital of Boise and the region's stunning outdoor areas, most non-locals don't know much else about this unique state. For example, did you know that there are many nicknames for Idaho?

Some may have heard of the Gem State or the Potato State, but what about the nickname of the Whitewater State? Or, do you know why Idaho is referred to as the Gem of the Mountains? To find out, keep reading for eight of the state's nicknames and their history.

8 Idaho Nicknames

Forested and snow-capped mountains with red flowers in the foreground
Gem of the Mountains is one of the older nicknames for Idaho

Gem of the Mountains

The Gem of the Mountains nickname dates back to the origin of the state's name itself. The actual meaning of Idaho is debated, but some claim it to mean "gem of the mountains."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs indicates this might ring true, as many name translations are directly attributed to natural and geographical elements. Idaho's topography includes mountains, canyons, waterfalls, and other well-hidden state gems. Given the state's abundant natural resources and mountainous terrain, this is a fitting nickname.

Gem State

The Idaho name of the Gem State refers to the abundance of gems, including jasper, coral, and jade, found across the state. Idaho also contains the minerals of gold, silver, and zinc. Rock collectors flock to Idaho to try their luck at finding minerals, gems, and fossils on open public lands.

An interesting Idaho fact is that the state is only one of two places in the world where you will find the rare Star Garnets. When cut, the stone displays a characteristic four-to-six-pointed star pattern that sparkles brilliantly. Idaho has officially dubbed the Star Garnet the state gem. You may also see the Gem State nickname adorning license plates.

Michael Vi/Shutterstock.com
A baked potato-shaped structure with a sign saying "Idaho Potato Museum"
Idaho is well-known as the Land of Famous Potatoes due to its agricultural industry

Land of Famous Potatoes

The Land of Famous Potatoes relates to Idaho being renowned for growing the vegetable. In fact, potatoes grown in the state are considered such high-quality that they are designated with a "Grown in Idaho" label. This phrase is a registered trademark, as is "Famous Idaho Potatoes."

Reverend Henry Spaulding planted the first potato in Idaho in the mid-1800s, just a few years before the Idaho Territory was formed. Since then, J.R. Simplot has been credited in part with developing and marketing the Idaho potato we know today.

Their size and overall quality make the Idaho potato ideal for cooking, baking, and freezing. The latter led Simplot to become the first supplier of frozen French fries to the McDonald's corporation in 1967. Today, the Idaho Potato Commission has taken over the marketing for their famous spuds. This includes promoting them through the Idaho Potato Truck and mascot, Spuddy Buddy.

"World Famous Potatoes" or "Famous Potatoes" has even been featured on license plates on and off since 1948 and is included in the primary license plate design today. You can learn more about this important crop at the Idaho Potato Museum.

Little Ida

Little Ida is an affectionate nickname for Idaho, although it is less well-known. It is thought to describe Idaho's size, as it is generally smaller than other states comprising the American West. The exact origin and meaning of the name remain unknown.

A field of green crops with a mountain range in the background
Potato State is another nickname related to Idaho's potato production

Potato State

Idaho is also known as the Potato State for its contributions to the American potato market. Idaho leads the United States in production, with nearly one-third of all US potatoes grown here.

More than 300,000 acres are devoted to the potato crop, with a significant majority in the Snake River Valley. Of the 13 billion pounds of potatoes harvested yearly, roughly two-thirds are turned into processed products. About 30% are sold fresh directly to the consumer market, with a small percentage grown for their seed.

Spud State

The Spud State is another moniker connected to the signature Idaho potato. You'll find the use of the term spud throughout the state. Just south of Idaho Falls, the annual Spud Day has been held since 1927. At the event, you can take in activities such as the Miss Sweet Potato Pageant or Potato Picking Contest in honor of its namesake vegetable.

The Spud State also references the regional popularity of its signature homegrown sweet. The Idaho Spud Candy Bar was created by Thomas Smith in 1918. The candy bar has a cocoa-flavored marshmallow center and is coated in chocolate and coconut. The best part? It is shaped to look like an Idaho potato!

One of the nicknames for Idaho is the Land of Many Waters
Idaho has numerous bodies of water, leading to the Land of Many Waters nickname

The Land of Many Waters

Idaho's nickname of the Land of Many Waters is a fitting tribute to its topography. According to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the state has 880 square miles of water covering its surface. Some of this is due to its over 2,000 lakes, including its largest and deepest, Lake Pend Oreille.

The rest of Idaho's waters range from simple streams to raging rivers. The largest river in the state is the Idaho landmark Snake River, one of the largest tributaries of the Columbia River. This famous river extends 779 miles through the state.

Whitewater State

Due to the prevalence of rivers in Idaho, you probably won't be surprised at the next nickname. River rafting enthusiasts often use the Whitewater State to describe this desirable destination. Whitewater refers to how the river churns over boulders and creates a signature white, foamy appearance.

Whitewater rafters and kayakers are drawn to the over 3,500 miles of suitable rivers available in Idaho. From the Snake River to the Salmon River, adventure seekers will find numerous rivers to meet their skill level. This nickname also fits Idaho well because no other state in the lower 48 boasts this many miles of whitewater.

In Summary

The nicknames for Idaho offer a hint of this Pacific Northwest State's incredible beauty and resources. The Gem State nods to its abundant gems and rare minerals, including the state's official Star Garnet. The Land of Many Waters and the Whitewater State describe the state's appeal to adventure and water lovers.

Don't forget the impact of the potato, either. At least three nicknames pay tribute to Idaho's contribution to the agricultural industry. Whether you prefer munching French fries or rafting whitewater rapids, you'll see that Idaho's different names genuinely fit the bill.

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Written by Jodi K Monroe

jodikmonroe FORMER WRITER Jodi is based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, within easy reach of the beaches, mountains, and airport. Journal in hand, she has explored North America and parts of Europe so far.

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