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Guests on a Guided Tour of the Old Pen

The Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) offers various virtual and in-person programs that tie Idaho’s rich history into current events. If you are looking for things to do in Boise and beyond, ISHS sites offer something that appeals to all Idaho history enthusiasts. ISHS Members can receive exclusive discounts and offers on special programs and events throughout the year. Not a member yet? Sign up today to start taking advantage of discounts, early event registration, and other exclusive benefits!

Are you interested in being the first to know about new events and offers? Sign up for the Idaho State Historical Society’s monthly e-newsletter! 

Upcoming Events & Programs

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Annual/Recurring Events & Programs

The Idaho State Historical Society serves over 110,000 people each year through educational programs, inspiring exhibitions, fun events, genealogy and family history, research use, and technical assistance. Annually, over 15,000 school-aged children benefit from ISHS programs and visits.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding COVID-19 protocols. 

Old Pen Comic Boko Strip of a Prison Riot and Guard with Tear Gas

2023 Dates:

Saturday, March 25 – Free to ISHS Members! Member registration begins February 14. Public registration opens February 21 at 10:00 am. Note: This event is sold out!

Saturday, April 29 – Registration begins Tuesday, March 28 at 10:00 am.

Saturday, May 27 – Open to ages 13+ (with adult accompaniment).

Saturday, July 29

Saturday, August 26

Saturday, October 21 – Free to ISHS Members!

One of the site’s most popular programs, these events benefit Old Idaho Penitentiary education programs and operations. Join Big River Paranormal as they use their unique equipment and knowledge to attempt to connect with prisoners and guards of the past.

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is considered one of the most haunted destinations in Idaho, and has been featured on television shows such as Ghost Adventures, The Lowe Files, Haunted Towns and Destination Fear.

Individual registration is $40 each. Participants must be at least 18 years old (Photo ID Required). Arrive at 9:00pm, Doors open at 9:15 pm. Event from 9:15 pm to 2:00 am.

Saturday, March 18 – Sunday, March 26. Experience a unique tour of the Idaho State Penitentiary and its rarely seen prison cemetery. Explore the final moments of incarcerated individuals and their final resting places. Discover why more than half of the cemetery is filled with “Unknown” markers (or often no markers at all) and why some names cannot be found in any prison register.

Cemetery Tour registration includes a self-guided tour of the prison the day of your visit and access to open site exhibits.

This event is FREE for Idaho State Historical Society Members! Member Presale begins Tuesday, February 14 at 10:00 am. Become a Member at Public registration ($15 per person) is available now at

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is open extended spring break hours March 18-26, 2022 (12:00 pm to 7:00 pm daily, last admission 6:00 pm). Cemetery Tours at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 5:00 and 6:00 daily.

– Guests must be 18 or older to attend Cemetery Tours unless accompanied by an adult. Recommended for ages 13+ due to graphic content.
– Tours are limited to 25 people per session.
– Idaho State Historical Society event tickets are non-transferable and nonrefundable.

Saturday, April 8, 2023. Join the Old Idaho Penitentiary for a history of Boxing at the Pen, including hands-on boxing training (and a fundamentals class and conditioning class), along with presentations on the history of boxing at the Idaho State Penitentiary. Idaho’s Marin Boxing Academy will hold two sessions at 9:30 am and 11:10 am.

Each training session is limited to 100 participants, so advance registration is recommended. No previous boxing experience required. No age restrictions (recommended for ages 12+). Adult Training (ages 13+): $12. Youth Training (under 12): $8. Register now at

General site admission also available at the door.

History presentations are included with event or site admission, along with a limited time only boxing exhibit and display of artifacts. Additional vendors, including baked goods, coffee and smoothies, will be on-site as well. Presentations at 9:30 am, 11:10 am, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm. Last admission 4:00 pm.

Captivating Conversations is the Old Idaho Penitentiary’s educational experience series, featuring a variety of guest speakers and topics ranging from the history of the Idaho State Penitentiary to the issues facing correctional institutions today.

2023 Dates:

Friday, April 21

Friday, June 9

Friday, August 18

Friday, December 1

This event is free to the public. Recommended for ages 13+ due to mature content.

Sunday, May 7, 2023. 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm (last admission 4:00 pm). Join us for SquawkyFest at the Old Idaho Penitentiary – our very first Beerfest and Brewer’s Competition all in one! 

Squawky was an alcohol that those incarcerated ‘brewed’ here at the Old Pen. The name may have derived from everyone squawking like birds once they got a few cups in. Men who were incarcerated at the Old Pen grew their own fruit and vegetables, prepared their own meals, and even had a canning plant outside the walls where they could collect ingredients. Key ingredients and flavors that squawky might include were apples, oranges, potatoes, grapefruit, or prunes. Add in some yeast and sugar and let ferment for a few days – and you have Squawky! 

In our first SquawkyFest competition here at the Old Idaho Penitentiary, in collaboration with Idaho Brewer’s United, we are asking breweries to concoct their very own version of ‘squawky’. Using the key ingredients of squawky, breweries will create their own beer/cider for the public to enjoy and vote on who’s is the best. Stroll around the site while sipping on your favorite breweries’ squawky. Along with the local breweries we will have food trucks, and local vendors. You can also join our staff for presentations throughout the day on the history of the site and moonshiners that resided here at the Old Pen. 

This event is 21+. Registration ($20 per person) begins on April 11 at 10:00 am.

Sunday, May 28 (12:00 pm – 5:00 pm, last admission 4:00 pm). Enjoy a summer Sunday at the Old Idaho Penitentiary in celebration of Dennis the Cat, the Old Idaho Penitentiary’s historic animal mascot. Join staff for Prison Pets presentations (free with your pet food donations for Simply Cats and the Idaho Humane Society), limited edition Dennis merchandise, food trucks, local vendors, and more!

Registration ($10 per person) begins Tuesday, April 25, 2023 at 10:00 am. This event is FREE for Idaho State Historical Society Members! Become a Member at

Between 1952 and 1968, Dennis lived among the staff and residents of the Idaho State Penitentiary, becoming one of the site’s best liked and most respected figures. Upon Dennis’ death in 1968, the prison population buried him nearby within the main yard, fashioning a durable engraved headstone marking his resting place during his funeral services. Today, guests of the Old Idaho Penitentiary regularly pay their respects at his stone, the only marked grave within the prison walls.

Dennis the Cat Poster Contest 2023

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is excited to announce a contest for Idaho artists to submit original artwork inspired by the site’s own Dennis the Cat. The Old Idaho Penitentiary will use the winning artwork as the event poster for its annual Dennis the Cat Day event on Sunday, May 28, 2023. The winning artist will also receive a family membership to the Idaho State Historical Society, along with a private tour of the Old Idaho Penitentiary for the artist and up to nine guests (must be 18+ to attend).

Idaho State Historical Society staff will select the winner. Dennis is an Old Idaho Penitentiary figure that is loved by all, so any resident of the state of Idaho is welcome to submit an entry. While artwork can be any medium, it must be submitted in a digital format. (.jpeg or .pdf preferred) for production. (Limit one entry per person. The Old Idaho Penitentiary will reserve the right to use the artwork for promotion and merchandise).

Contest opens: March 17, 2023

Submissions due: April 7, 2023 by 5:00 pm MST.

Winner announced: April 25, 2023 at 10:00 am MST.

Only one winner will be selected and will be contacted directly, then announced on the Old Idaho Penitentiary social media channels.

In addition to supporting local artists, this contest assists in the Idaho State Historical Society’s mission to preserve and promote Idaho’s History.

Submit your digital entry to along with your name, age, mailing address, phone, and email. Contact the site with any further questions.

More information on Dennis:

Dennis’ obituary from The Clock (June 1968): Dennis-the-Cat-Obituary.pdf (

2023 Dates: July 9 – August 5 (Mondays and Wednesdays 7:00 am – 8:00 am; Saturdays 9:00 am – 10:00 am)

2023 pricing coming soon. Registration begins Tuesday, June 6 at 10:00 am. Discounts for ISHS Members available!

The yard is calling you… Enjoy the morning sunshine against the sandstone walls of the historic Old Idaho Penitentiary, as we present Yoga in the Yard! Previous yoga experience is suggested, but all levels are welcome (18+ only). This is a small, intimate experience, limited to 15 people per session (spaced properly for social distancing and the safety and comfort of our guests).

Guests must bring their own equipment and a water bottle.

Saturday, August 12, 2023 (6 pm-10 pm, last admission 9:15 pm). Join the Old Idaho Penitentiary for the eighth year of the 32 Cells Art Show, featuring brand new works by local artists inspired by Idaho landscapes, architecture and crime scenes. Artwork will hang on prison cell doors for viewing. All pieces will be available for purchase.
Admission registration begins Tuesday, July 11 at 10:00 am.
Due to the graphic nature and subject matter of this show, it is recommended for ages 13+ only.
All admission proceeds Idaho State Historical Society education programs.
September 14-16, 2023. Ready for a movie night at the Old Idaho Penitentiary? Join us for the premiere of 13 brand new short films by local filmmakers inspired by true Idaho State Penitentiary stories. The Old Idaho Penitentiary and Idaho State Historical Society are partnering with i48, Idaho’s 48-Hour Film Festival and Competition, for the third annual 13 Stories event, a brand new film competition and showcase.
Admission registration begins Tuesday, August 8, 2023 at 10:00 am.
Thursday-Saturday, September 14-16, 2023. Doors open at 7 pm, with screenings beginning at 8 pm. Guests can explore the Old Idaho Penitentiary before screenings begin.
Thursday’s screening includes an awards ceremony and reception for 13 Stories filmmakers.
Concessions and no-host bar available on-site, along with no-host bar. Parental discretion is advised. Guests under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Saturday, October 7, 2023 (7:00 pm – 6:00 am).  Due to popular demand and at long last, the Old Idaho Penitentiary is offering guests a chance to stay overnight! Sleepless in Stripes is a simulated prison experience, beginning with check-in, mugshots and even a souvenir “uniform” shirt! Guests will have chowtime in the yard and inmate “rec” time activities, a ghost tour of the site with Behind the Scenes exploration, and an overnight stay in our historic cell houses.

Registration begins Tuesday, September 4, 2023 at 10:00 am. Idaho State Historical Society Members register early beginning Tuesday, August 29 at 10:00 am.

This is an 18+ only experience. Photo ID is required at the door. Pricing information for 2023 coming soon.

Friday, October 27 and Saturday, October 28, 2023. Watch this space for more information coming soon!

Friday, October 14, 2023 (6:00 pm – 10:00 pm, last admission 9:00 pm). Ever wonder what it looks like in those off-limits areas of the Old Idaho Penitentiary? This is your chance! Visitors will be allowed to explore some buildings and cells that are normally closed to the public. Stationary guides will be on hand in each area to answer questions and share stories.

Registration begins Tuesday, September 4, 2023 at 10:00 am. Idaho State Historical Society Members register early beginning Tuesday, August 29 at 10:00 am.

Pricing information for 2023 coming soon.

This event is recommended for ages 13+ due to graphic content and some obstacles including low visibility and uneven ground.
Note: This is not a fully accessible tour. Most behind the scenes areas require walking up and down stairs. Only a limited number of people will be allowed in each area at one time, so lines may form. Arrive early as lines will be cut-off at 9:30 pm.

November 10 and 17, 2023 (6:00 pm – 10:00 pm, last admission 9:00 pm). Old Idaho Penitentiary staff and volunteers will provide site tours at 6:30/7:30/8:30 (limited capacity/first come first served), or take a self-guided tour and explore the Old Idaho Penitentiary on your own!

Registration begins Tuesday, October 10, 2023 at 10:00 am. Free for Idaho State Historical Society Members.

Bring a flashlight and dress for the weather. This event is recommended for guests 13 and older due to mature content and site safety hazards.

December 14, 2023 (12:00 pm – 5:00 pm, last admission 4:00 pm). Saturday, December 14 marks the 48th anniversary of the Old Idaho Penitentiary being open to the public as a historic site and museum! $1 admission! Tickets available at the door. Free for Idaho State Historical Society Members.

The prison first housed inmates in 1872 when it served the Idaho Territory. It became the Idaho State Penitentiary after Idaho’s statehood in 1890. 13,000 inmates called the penitentiary home at one time or another, including over 200 women, and inmates as young as ten and eleven years old. Today their stories are told through a wide variety of special exhibits and preserved cell house structures that allow guests to experience a taste of mid-century life as an inmate. The site also includes the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit, a world class collection of historic arms and armament dating back to the Bronze Age and featuring brand new exhibits on the war efforts of Idahoans during World War I.

February 14, 2024. Looking for something other than roses or chocolates this Valentine’s Day? The Old Idaho Penitentiary is offering a unique alternative to your typical V-Day dates. Stroll through the site, snuggle up with your Valentine and find the true meaning of “ball and chain,” with special exhibits on love stories and love letters from the Idaho State Penitentiary.

Free for Idaho State Historical Society Members.

Admission includes our Valentine’s Day “Partners in Crime” scavenger hunt, featuring unique looks into the site’s historic residents and what they loved – love of money, love of power, or commitment to those they loved.

The site will be open for self-guided tours in all publicly accessible buildings. Dress warm and bring a flashlight!

Old Idaho Penitentiary Events

Built in 1870, the Old Idaho Penitentiary is one of only four territorial prisons open to the public today. During its 101 years of operation, the site saw escapes, scandals and the effects of Boise’s transition from the “wild west” to a mid-20th century capital city. Step inside the four walls of the prison yard and imagine a life of confinement as steel doors close behind you.


Adults viewing an Exhibit at the Idaho State Museum

Camps at the Idaho State Museum bring history to life through activities, games, and hands-on learning opportunities. Campers explore the Museum exhibits and beyond to learn about the people, places, and animals that make Idaho great! Camps are offered during spring and summer breaks for students in grades K-8.

Family Second Saturdays will take place on the second Saturday of each month. Families are encouraged to drop in any time to create and learn together through these hands-on activities.

All ages welcome! Free with Museum admission.

Since the early 1860’s, Hispanic Idahoans have helped build the Gem State into what it is today. Latinos continue to play an integral role in the state’s success; contributing to the economy, enriching the state’s culture, and strengthening community.

Día de los Muertos is a Hispanic holiday that blends indigenous Aztec rituals and Catholic practices. This holiday acknowledges and celebrates the deceased with what they enjoyed in life, from food to hobbies to personal effects. Some modern traditions include coming together to build altars with calaveras (or skulls), cempasuchitl (or marigolds), and favorite foods of the deceased.

To learn more about upcoming Día de los Muertos events, the history of the holiday, or to hear from some of the Hispanic community in Idaho, visit the Idaho State Museum’s social media pages for up-to-date information. 

Maureen O’Hara was an incredible, versatile actress who called Idaho home at the end of her life. Born in Ireland, this famed movie star had such vibrant red hair and green eyes that Herbert Kalmus, the inventor of Technicolor, utilized O’Hara to promote his invention. O’Hara gracefully moved from period adventures to comedies and dramas, like “Miracle on 34th Street.” In 2015, O’Hara passed away at the age of 95 in her Boise home; her legacy on and off the silver screen lives on today.

Come to the Idaho State Museum to get an exclusive look at the Museum’s Maureen O’Hara collection, featuring items spanning her career, and enjoy a showing of her classic holiday film, “Miracle on 34th Street.” 

Learn more about this movie showing and pop-up exhibit on the Idaho State Museum’s social media pages. 

Nuestras Voces, a monthly virtual Spanish-speaking program, discusses a variety of topics from past to present around Idaho. Moderated and facilitated by Idaho State Museum’s Spanish-speaking staff, meet a variety of community members from different cultures talking about contemporary challenges, historical perspectives, or light-hearted stories from across Idaho.

Make sure to pick up a tasty beverage from our partners, Bitner Vineyard, beforehand. (PS- check out this link about their winery and scholarship fund for Hispanic/Latino students at the College of Idaho:

Find out about upcoming Nuestras Voces events by following the Idaho State Museum’s social media pages. Recordings of each event are posted after the live event on the Idaho State Museum Facebook page and YouTube channel. This is a complementary program; space is limited to the first 100 registrants per event. Programming is presented in Spanish.

Events range from 30 minutes to 1 hour and cover a variety of topics with industry leaders, experts, and professionals.

The Museum will be participating in First Thursdays in March, June, September, and December. Enjoy free admission at the Idaho State Museum during those select first Thursdays from 5pm – 8pm. Visitors may drop in any time after 5pm. Last admission is 7:15pm.

Join us at the Idaho State Museum for “Raising Spirits” where we will feature several Halloween-themed festivities for the whole family!

Participate in activities including a Halloween Museum Scavenger Hunt. Roam around our outdoor Pioneer Village to trick or treat at our historic houses and don’t forget to look at our ghostly graveyard! Feel free to come in costume and prepare to have the time of your life because this eerie afternoon will be one you won’t want to miss!

Each year communities gather to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, observed September 15 to October 15. 

Join us at the Idaho State Museum as we celebrate Idaho’s Hispanic heritage and diverse cultures with music, food, dancing, activities, vendor booths, and a special pop-up exhibit.

Idaho State Museum Events

The Idaho State Museum features over 80,000 square feet of exhibit space with over 500 artifacts combined with immersive, innovative technology to tell the story of Idaho. Visitors can explore all corners of Idaho, from the deserts and canyons of the south to the rich forests of the north. Learn how Idaho’s land and people have shaped and continue to shape each other over time.

The Museum’s two rotating galleries, Syringa and Treasures, provide spaces to expand on themes within the exhibits by highlighting additional artifacts from the collection and acquiring national exhibitions for display.
See below for descriptions of each exhibit and current exhibits featured in the temporary gallery spaces.


ISHS Staff Signing in Guests at the Esto Perpetua Awards

This legacy program of the Territorial Sesquicentennial commemorates Idaho’s past, present, and future. Idaho Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the day President Abraham Lincoln created Idaho Territory in 1863.

Learn More

This year, the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) is celebrating 140 years of serving Idahoans and protecting Idaho’s historical places, artifacts, and stories. To commemorate this anniversary, we are honoring the dedicated, passionate, Idaho organizations and citizens that care for, educate, and tell the story of Idaho and their community. Idaho stories are found in many forms and places, including museums, historical societies, archives, sites, structures, highway markers, artifacts, and more.

The Esto Perpetua Award takes its name from the state’s motto, “let it be perpetual” and for the past 22 years, the Idaho State Historical Society has recognized people and organizations who have preserved and promoted Idaho’s history through professional accomplishments, public service or volunteerism, and philanthropy.

Since the award was created in 1999, ISHS has recognized the inspiring local preservation efforts of more than 160 individuals and organizations throughout the state of Idaho. The work of an Esto Perpetua award reflects a lifetime of achievement and their commitment to and passion for Idaho and its history.

Learn More

National History Day in Idaho (NHD) is a year-long student-led academic program focused on historical research, interpretation, and creative expression for 4th-12th grade students across Idaho. By participating in NHD, students become writers, filmmakers, web designers, playwrights and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history. The experience culminates in a series of competitions at the local and state levels and an annual national contest in June.

Students who participate in NHD build skills that are key to success in college, career, and citizenship.  NHD teaches critical thinking, writing, and research skills. They learn to speak publicly, collaborate with team members, communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences, manage their time, and persevere through challenges.

Learn More

Idaho State Historical Society Events

The Idaho State Historical Society is a unique system of cultural and historic resources whose mission is to preserve and promote Idaho’s history. The Idaho State Historical Society is a trusted guide through our state’s history, offering essential programs to the state on all levels. Committed to its statewide leadership role, the Idaho State Historical Society actively engages communities throughout Idaho to share Idaho’s history and build history literacy.

The Idaho State Historical Society serves over 110,000 people each year through educational programs, inspiring exhibitions, fun events, genealogy and family history, research use, and technical assistance. Annually, over 15,000 school-aged children benefit from ISHS programs and visits.


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