Idaho is a large state, but not all of the land is densely populated. Most of the people in the state live in the southwest corner, also known as Treasure Valley, with Boise being the largest metropolitan area. The mighty Snake River that flows through the region attracted early settlers and continues to be a natural resource for wildlife, industry, and recreation. The various counties in the region each have something to offer families who are considering building a new home in Idaho, whether it’s sweeping vistas, award-winning schools, or outdoor adventures.
Size: 7,697 square miles
Major cities: Homedale, Murphy, Grand View, Marsing
Median property value: $120,500
Bordering Oregon and Nevada, the southwest corner of the state is home to Idaho’s second largest county: Owyhee. The northern part of the Owyhee County is considered to be part of the larger Boise metropolitan area, so it’s a good choice for people who want to be near the city but not actually in it. Characterized by basalt canyons and the Owyhee Mountain range, most of the county is high intermountain desert, with the lowest elevation being around 2,000 feet. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy mountain hikes, camping, fishing, waterfalls, hot springs, and sand dunes. The farming communities don’t have the strongest schools in the state, but the mild weather makes it great for retirees and people who like to be outdoors all year long.
Size: 604 square miles
Major cities: Nampa, Caldwell, Parma, Melba, Middleton
Median property value: $131,300
Just to the north of Owyhee County sits the much smaller but more densely populated Canyon County. With easy access to both outdoor recreation and the attractions of Boise, this area is perfect for families who want the best of both rural and urban environments. Educational opportunities abound, with two universities, the state’s largest community college, and public, private, and charter schools. Much like northern Owyhee County, the mild climate attracts people who enjoy being outside year-round, which has also made it one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the state. Many residents make the short commute to Boise to enjoy a lower cost of living and a more suburban feel.
Size: 1,060 square miles
Major cities: Boise, Meridian, Kuna, Eagle, Star, Garden City
Median property value: $232,500
With almost a quarter of the state’s population, Ada County is also home to the state capital and five other cities. The southern end of the county is made up entirely of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, so the majority of the population lives in the north surrounding Boise. The county has a vibrant culture with access to good jobs and many different types of communities. With the largest school district in the state, families are able to choose either their neighborhood school or one with a specialized curriculum, making it a great choice for growing families. The thriving metropolitan area offers a wealth of job opportunities, a booming nightlife, and a higher degree of diversity than other parts of the state. Although the cost of living is higher, the area has much more to offer than some of the more rural regions of Idaho.
Size: 3,101 square miles
Major cities: Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry
Median property value: $137,800
Just east of Ada County is Elmore County, where the horizon stretches farther and the houses are more spread out. Although there are plenty of office and healthcare jobs, the area is dominated by agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Like many of the more rural areas in the state, the county is rich in opportunities for camping, rock climbing, river sports, cross-country skiing, and more.
Size: 410 square miles
Major cities: Payette, Fruitland, New Plymouth
Median property value: $136,400
Just north of Canyon County and with Oregon bordering on the west, Payette County has three main cities, each of which has its own school district. If you’re looking for a small, safe, quiet community with quality schools, this is an area to consider. About an hour from Boise, Payette County offers families access to the many cultural amenities of city life but with all of the benefits of living in a small town. Avid golfers will also enjoy the public Scotch Pines Golf Course, which is adjacent to Payette Municipal Airport, the "friendliest little airport in the west.”
Size: 566 square miles
Major cities: Emmett, Letha, Ola, Sweet
Median property value: $143,000
Named after the state’s nickname (the “Gem State”), Gem County surrounds scenic Squaw Butte. Locals love the annual Cherry Festival celebrating the bounty of the orchards in the fertile valley. Rich in pioneer history, the quaint downtown district in the county’s largest town of Emmett is home to locally owned shops in buildings rich with local history. A rural area proud of its friendly community, this cozy county is less than an hour from Boise but feels like a different world. The quality of schools is above average compared to others in the state, so this is an excellent area for families with young children to consider.
Size: 1,907 square miles
Major cities: Idaho City, Crouch, Horseshoe Bend, Placerville
Median property value: $188,300
East of Gem County and northeast of Ada County, Boise County is a sparsely populated rural area with scenic byways and rolling foothills. Once the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho City is known for its gold rush history. These days it still evokes the feel of a rugged western town with wooden sidewalks, antique stores, and a local saloon. Locals enjoy outdoor activities in the nearby Sawtooth Mountains. The excellent public schools attract families, but the area is also home to the many retirees who enjoy the quiet, scenic surroundings.
Size: 1,474 square miles
Major cities: Weiser, Cambridge, Midvale
Median property value: $140,600
Washington County lies just north of Payette and Gem Counties and is bordered on the west by Oregon. Home to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the area is scenic all year long, whether covered in lush greenery or shimmering snow. This region is ideal for those interested in rural living with jobs centered around agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry. Families interested in building on large properties with farming potential should consider Washington County when searching for suitable land. The picturesque small town of Cambridge offers spectacular mountain views and a close-knit community.
Size: 1,370 square miles
Major cities: Council, New Meadows
Median property value: $160,700
Just north of Washington County you’ll find the even less densely populated Adams County. Avid skiers enjoy Brundage Mountain ski area for groomed trails and backcountry adventures. Other favorite winter activities include snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. In the warmer months, locals enjoy camping, hiking, and picking wild huckleberries on the trails. As a rural county, Adams supports many jobs in agriculture, forestry, and administration. It’s also home to many retirees seeking a quieter lifestyle in the scenic countryside.
Size: 3,733 square miles
Major cities: Cascade, Donnelly, McCall
Median property value: $246,300
In the central part of the state just east of Adams County lies Valley County, so named because of the Long Valley that cradles the Payette River that runs through it. Dubbed Idaho’s Adventure Corridor, the county offers family-friendly recreation for all seasons. Natural hot springs located throughout the area are the perfect way to end a day of snowboarding, or just a good reason so get away for the weekend. The Payette River Basin offers rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and a network of trails for those who prefer to keep their toes dry. With good schools, safe neighborhoods, and plenty to do year-round, Valley County is a great place to raise kids.
No matter what your lifestyle is or what stage of life you’re in, Idaho has something to offer: family-friendly neighborhoods, exciting nightlife, outdoor activities for people of all skill levels, and welcoming communities. Although existing properties are certainly available, there is also plenty of land for sale, offering you the opportunity to build a custom home that exactly matches your needs. If you’re thinking of building a new custom home in the Treasure Valley region of southwestern Idaho, visit the Adair Homes branch in Caldwell to ask questions about the local area, get help with your land search, or get started with the homebuilding process.