IDAHO OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Amidst the natural beauty of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming that is so commonly talked about, Idaho gets a little bit lost in the shuffle. The truth is, historically surveyors actually got lost on the Continental Divide when drawing state lines and that is how Idaho ended up with such a unique shape, aka Idaho’s panhandle. A very small portion of Yellowstone National Park lies in Idaho, but outside of this Idaho does not have a National Park. It does though earn some pretty incredible bragging rights for its wilderness areas, canyons, and hot springs though. We hope our Idaho destination guide stirs a craving for you to experience the state yourself.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT IDAHO
Idaho is a year-round destination, but as with much of the Pacific-Northwest, when you travel will vary what you can do. Summers are beautiful in Idaho, it never gets too hot, and the air is dry, making it an awesome destination for rafting excursions. If you are a skier or snowboarder, Idaho has over a dozen ski resorts to check out.
Top Outdoor Activities in Idaho
Hiking – Idaho offers untouched wilderness in the Sawtooth and Boulder Whitecloud Mountains.
Skiing – Idaho is home to 18 ski resorts (7 major resorts), many of which offer great backcountry opportunities. Sun Valley, Idaho was even one of the first ski resorts in America.
Hot Springs – Idaho is home to more soakable hot springs than any other state. Even better is that some are tucked off the beaten path and require an adventure just to get there, while others are right off the highway.
Hang-gliding – Idaho’s mountains create incredible thermal air currents for hang-gliding and paragliding fun.
Biking – Biking is big in Idaho. There are trails all over the state connecting cities and wilderness areas to one another. Make sure to check out the Route of the Hiawatha, a former railroad route that is now a 15 mile bike path with 10 train tunnels and 7 sky high trestles. In Idaho biking isn’t just during the non-snow months, some of the mountain resorts rent “fat bikes” which are hefty mountain bikes outfitted with thick tires for hitting Nordic trails.
Climbing– There are opportunities to climb in most of the wilderness areas. The City of Rocks National Reserve in Almo, ID is a climber’s dream—literally a “city” of spires and climbing routes.
Fishing – Alongside Montana and Wyoming, Idaho offers incredible river fishing and high mountain lakes for catching all kinds of fish.
White Water Adventures – Idaho has more miles of whitewater than any other state in the lower 48. From beginner half-day trips to multi-day trips on the Salmon River, there is something for everyone. Whether it is on the Boise River, the Snake River or the Payette River, take your pick for a memorable adventure.
Getting To Idaho
Idaho’s biggest airport is in Boise. One of the most difficult parts of Idaho travel is that everything is spread out and accessing sites on different sides of the state can take a significant amount of time. Spokane, Washington and Missoula, Montana offer great nearby airports depending on your final destination in Idaho. Sun Valley also has a regional airport and more direct flights are being offered.
Must-See Outdoor Areas in Idaho
If you are a fan of desert-scapes, Craters of the Moon National Monument is located in central Idaho and is a volcanic wonderland fit for exploring. There is a scenic 7-mile loop drive you can take or park and get out exploring on cave and hiking trails.
The Sawtooth Wilderness area near Ketchum (just under 3 hours from Boise) is home to some of the most jagged mountain landscapes in the state. Dotted with deep canyons and raging rivers, alongside incredibly steep Rocky mountains, this is a great area for climbing and hiking, as well as whitewater fun.
Frank Church- River of No Return Wilderness is the largest protected wilderness area in the lower 48 states. The vast area offers rugged mountains alongside canyons cut with beautiful rivers. A once in a lifetime experience is exploring this area by raft on a multi-day guided river trip, plan ahead- very few permits are given out yearly!
The Seven Devils Mountain range sits just above Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which is the deepest river gorge in North America, 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon. Located near the Idaho-Oregon border, this area offers lots of opportunities for high-altitude hiking, climbing, and lakes. There is a 27-mile loop that circles each of the seven devils and offers you an incredible overlook down 8,000 feet onto the river flowing through Hells Canyon.
If you are visiting neighboring Montana, it should be noted that the drive North from Boise to Missoula along US-12, US-13 and ID-55 is stunningly beautiful as it follows rivers through the mountain and travels through unique small off the beaten path towns. There are only about 3 traffic lights in 400 miles so it’s a unique scenic drive through pristine wilderness.
Top Idaho Towns to Explore
Boise, located in southwestern Idaho, is the most populated city in Idaho and the state’s capital. You can access expansive hiking and biking routes from town that venture into Hell’s Gulch with over 130 miles of trails available. Boise’s urban trail system known as the Boise River greenbelt is also a great place to explore along the river. If you are a birder, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area is just 20 miles south of town. The region is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is home to falcons, eagles, hawks, owls, and other large predatory birds. The best time of year is mid-March through June when the 800 pairs of raptors come to the area to mate and raise young.
Coeur D’Alene Idaho is in the northern panhandle of Idaho, situated on the Coeur D’Alene Lake. It’s where the hustle and bustle of city life meets nature’s playground. There are two major ski resorts nearby, Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort and Silver Mountain, which offes year round fun from skiing in the winter to summer outdoor concerts, gondola rides, and mountain biking trails. Make sure to check out the 23-mile paved North Idaho Centennial Trail which extends to the Idaho/Washington state line and connects to the even longer Spokane River Centennial Trail. Just in case you need more trails, Tubbs Hill is full of more trails to explore.
Stanley is right in Central Idaho, on the banks of the Salmon River, and is where Western meets funky/hip meets outdoor junkie. Stanley is a very, very, very small town, but it’s your one-stop shop for rafting and mountaineering outfitters for the Sawtooth wilderness. It is also your gateway to the Frank Church Wilderness. If you exhausted from all the adventuring, take some time to relax and camp on the shores of Redfish Lake.
McCall is a small tranquil resort town, located on the south shore of Payette Lake just northwest of central Idaho. The town has great art and a vibrant calendar of unique festivals. Nearby Ponderosa State Park has exceptional camping and trails. McCall has three ski areas just outside of town, Brundage Mountain being the biggest, that all offer winter skiing. Whether McCall is your destination or you’re just passing through on your way to the mountain it is a great little town.
Sun Valley is home to the first chairlift in the United States, so skiing culture here runs deep. But that’s not all there is to do. Sun Valley has epic fly-fishing, bike trails, hiking, and a bunch of awesome restaurants to check out after a long day outside.