Adams County, Idaho

Adams County, Idaho location and sign

On March 3rd, 1911, the Idaho Legislature set aside the northern end of Washington County for Adams County, Idaho. They named the new county for the second president of the United States, John Adams. The county’s official web site has this to say:

It is comprised of 1,376 square miles of mountains, forests, rivers, and high desert and is bordered on the west by Hells Canyon, North American’s deepest river gorge. Our county is home to approximately 4,000 residents and include [sic] the communities of Bear, Council, Cuprum, Goodrich, Fruitvale, Indian Valley, Mesa, New Meadows, and Pinehurst. Council, Idaho is the county seat and is known for being the meeting place of the Nez Perce and Shoshoni Indians.

Adams County is a great recreational area. Here you can camp, fish, hunt, hike, swim, horseback ride, and pick huckleberries. In the winter, there are plenty of activities such as snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and downhill skiing. We welcome you to Adams County!

Sounds like the civic boosters wrote that, but the fact is that Adams County is a beautiful piece of land.  It is home to lots of recreational opportunities. And indeed, before white settlement, the Nez Perce and Shoshoni were known to gather in the valley of the Weiser River.  One non-Native visitor described this as a council meeting. From that description came the name of the town that grew up to be the county seat. Native Americans may have met here in the past, but the 2010 US Census shows that only 1% of the County population is Native American.  

Adams County, Idaho, Farmland
Driving Across Adams County Farmland

The Weiser River Flows through Adams County, Idaho

Two rivers flow north to south across west central Idaho, both eventually draining into the Snake. The Payette River lies further east, outside of the borders of Adams County.  The Weiser River, however, flows through the center of the County. Both rivers provided access to the gold fields in the mountains to the north.  The Weiser River Valley proved easier for travel in those days before anyone even dreamt of U.S. Highway 95,.  Thus it became the preferred route for supplies traveling up from the Boise area. The county’s website has a fascinating page on the history of the county and its various communities. 

Council–The Adams County, Idaho Seat

The Adams County, Idaho, Court House
The Adams County Courthouse, Council, Idaho

Council got its start when George and Elizabeth Moeser moved their family to the area in 1876. The Council Valley Post Office came into being on November 19th, 1878. The town grew up around it, especially after the railroad arrived in Weiser, some fifty-two miles to the southwest, in 1882. By 1898, the railroad had reached Council which had shortened its name two years previously, dropping the word “Valley.”

The town had the typical western boom and bust cycles. It grew with the discovery of gold in the Seven Devils district. When the gold boom fizzled out it withered, only to grow again with the introduction of the lumber industry. Today just over 800 people call Council home, down from a high of 899 in 1970.

Notable Adams County, Idaho Persons

Perhaps Council’s most famous native son is James Rainwater, born in 1917 in Council where his father ran the general store. Rainwater didn’t spend much time in Council.  His father died in the 1918 Influenza Epidemicand his mother then moved to California. But he grew up to work on the Manhattan Project, and in 1975 won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Few, if any, of the “Notable Natives” listed on Council’s Wikipedia web page made their mark in the town itself. 

That said, a 2015 shooting put Council on the nation’s front pages when two Adams County deputies shot and killed a local rancher who was in the process of dispatching a bull injured in a car accident on Highway 95. In a nation confronted with a seeming rash of incidents where civilians have been killed by police officers, the death of Jack Yantis made the news probably more from the reaction of the town folk. In a community of 800, 75 people marched in protest of Yantis’ death and 200 showed up to a town meeting called by the County Sheriff. 

New Meadows, Adams County’s Other Town

The PIN Station in New Meadows, Adams County, Idaho
The PIN Depot, New Meadows, Idaho

Twenty-five miles north of Council lies the only other incorporated town in the county, New Meadows. The Pacific and Idaho Northern (PIN) Railroad built their depot in 1910 and the town of New Meadows began in 1911. The depot marked the northern end of the railroad, originally designed to connect the northern panhandle with the rest of the state. To this day, U.S. Highway 95 remains the only north-south corridor across the state and is the longest highway in the state. At New Meadows, Idaho Highway 55 turns east then south from US 95, to follow the Payette River through Valley County and take traffic to the Boise area. The PIN depot functioned as intended until 1972 and has since been purchased and kept in repair by the Adams County Historical Society.

For more information on the P&IN Railroad Depot and the history of New Meadows, check out this video posted by the Idaho Heritage Trust.

Recreation in Adams County, Idaho

Brundage Ski Hill, Adams County, Idaho
Brundage Ski Hill, Adams County, Idaho

East of New Meadows, on the Adams/Valley County line lie two ski areas, Brundage Mountain and Little Ski Hill. Little Ski Hill is the older (and smaller) of the two. Originally built as the Payette Lakes Ski Area in 1937, it has the only lighted run in the area.  It has as well a biathlon range, 30 km of cross-country trails, and a 25-meter ski jump. In 1961, Corey Engen, who had taught at the “resort” for many years, developed Brundage Mountain nearby. Brundage Mountain has 1800 feet of vertical drop, five lifts including a high speed quad, but no lights. Engen, a former Olympian, laid out the runs and the resort was developed using money furnished by J.R. Simplot, the Boise agrobusiness tycoon. 


 The Snake River’s Hell’s Canyon forms the western edge of Adams County (and the Idaho/Oregon State Line). The deepest river gorge in the nation is not easily accessible from anywhere in Adams County.  Nonetheless, the canyon draws a moderate to heavy number of visitors each year. In the wilds between US 95 and the Canyon lies the ghost town of Cuprum (Latin for Copper). A mining town that got its post office in 1897, Cuprum looked forward to a promising future that never arrived. Today it is home to a few remaining buildings and summer cabins for folk from out of the area.  For a look at the countryside around Cuprum, especially the Kleinschmidt Grade Road, check out today’s video.

For more about the state of Idaho and it’s forty-four counties, visit my Idaho–the Gem State page.


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