The Old Idaho State Penitentiary is such a cool piece of history in the middle of Boise. Even though I lived in Boise for the majority of my life, I had never actually been to the Idaho Penitentiary — until now. The Old Idaho Penitentiary was the state prison in Idaho for more than 100 years, but is now a museum of its history. It is now one of my favorite things to do in Boise.
Click the links below to skip to any of the following sections:
History of the Idaho Penitentiary
Visiting the Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Hauntings at the Penitentiary
History of the Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Opened in 1872, the Old Idaho State Penitentiary was a functional prison until it was closed in 1973. The first building, the Territorial Prison, was built in 1870 — which is impressive because Idaho was not made a state until 1890.
Visiting the Basque Block in downtown Boise, Idaho
A little more than 600 prisoners were able to be housed in the prison at any time. In its 101 years, there were 13,000 prisoners through the Old Idaho Penitentiary, 215 of them being women. Ten people were executed at the penitentiary.
There were more than 500 escapes from the Old Idaho Penitentiary, although only 90 of those inmates remained at large after their escape.
Modern Day History
The prison is now owned and operated by the Idaho State Historical Society. When you visit, you can see Solitary Confinement, cell blocks, and the gallows. There are also 30 historic buildings and special rotating exhibits, including the J. Curtis Early Memorial Exhibit, which is a collection of weaponry throughout history. The weapons range from Bronze Age to modern day. The collection was donated in 1999 to the state of Idaho.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary also holds dozens of events throughout the year, including Ghost Tours, yoga in the yard, fundraisers, and field trips.
In 1973, the Old Idaho Penitentiary was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visiting the Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Old Idaho Penitentiary is open seven days a week except for any major state holidays.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary is open seven days a week: Noon to 5 p.m.
Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Last admission is at 4:15 p.m.
Admission fees for the Old Idaho Penitentiary are $6 for adults (13 years and older), $4 for seniors (60+), and $3 for children (6-12 years old).
You can do a self-guided tour any time the Old Idaho Penitentiary is open. Guided tours are available starting in summer 2019 on a first-come, first-serve basis:
Saturday and Sunday: 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30
Old Idaho Penitentiary Hauntings
Many groups and visitors have claimed that the Old Idaho Penitentiary is haunted. Idaho paranormal group Boise Ghost Hunters, as well as the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” and a number of other groups have conducted investigations.
Driving to or hiking Table Rock Boise, Idaho
According to the Old Idaho Penitentiary website, “Some, including ‘Ghost Adventures,’ have captured strange/unexplainable images on their cameras. Others claim to hear voices or be physically touched, or sense a ‘heaviness’ or ‘strange feelings’ when visiting the site, specifically in Siberia (solitary confinement cells) and the Gallows Room in the Maximum Security cell house. We continue to leave it to the individual to decide for themselves whether this is a ‘haunted’ site or not.”
Although you can believe what you want about the penitentiary, there were more than 100 deaths at the site during its operation. Although I find the outdoor courtyards pleasant, the first time I visited I got a weird feeling while visiting the cells — like I immediately knew I wanted to leave the area.
Hello my name is Shane McKay
And I’m part of a paranormal investigation group called Raven paranormal out of Jerome idaho .
And would like to know how we could or can do an investigation in this historical paranormal hot spot .and if so we would sign waivers any thing to do this .
Thank you so much.
Hi Shane! I do not run the penitentiary, so I am not sure. But, I do know they do regular tours – so definitely reach out to them and they can help you out. Here is some contact info for the Idaho Historical Society: https://history.idaho.gov/contact/