The Best Stops for an Adventurous Idaho Road Trip

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Stunning mountain ranges, pristine rivers and lakes, and an abundance of hot springs, Idaho is a bucket list destination for outdoor adventurers! In this post, we’re sharing the best stops to add to your Idaho road trip itinerary.

The Sawtooth Mountains at sunset in Stanley Idaho

This post was written in partnership with Visit Idaho

What we love most about Idaho was the deeply rooted connection it had with its natural surroundings. From the tree-lined streets of Boise to idyllic cattle ranches of Stanley, this is a state that has fully embraced an active outdoor lifestyle.

The state is absolutely filled with outdoor recreation opportunities, so we tried to incorporate as many of them as we could into this trip.

With SO much natural beauty throughout the state, it feels like every drive in Idaho is a scenic drive—which is why planning a road trip is one of the best ways to explore the state!

In this post we share our favorite outdoor adventure stops to add to your Idaho road trip plan.

What’s the best time for an Idaho road trip?

While there really is no bad time to visit Idaho, summer is the best season for road tripping. The roads will be clear and seasonal closures lifted. 

In the early summer, snowpack will remain at high elevations, preventing you from accessing some backcountry trails. Bugs will also be more prevalent. River levels will be a lot higher and colder, so if you’re interested in rafting or kayaking, early summer can be pretty intense. Feeding off the rivers, waterfalls will also be at their peak.

In late summer, the snowpack will have melted off, allowing you to explore nearly all backcountry trails–however, the potential for wildfire is also greater. Rivers will be lower, warmer, and mellower, good for beginners to try out whitewater rafting. In general, waterfalls will be lower throughout the state.

Getting to Idaho

Idaho isn’t exactly the easiest state to get to in the lower 48, but its remoteness is what keeps it so pristine. If you’re looking for spectacular natural landscapes, without the crowds, then making the trek out to Idaho is certainly worth the trip!

Driving: You can access parts of Idaho with only a 5 or 6 hour drive from Washington and Oregon. You can also reach a great deal of southern Idaho in under 4 hours from Salt Lake City.

Flying:  If you don’t already live in the west, then flying and arranging a car rental is probably going to be your best option. Boise Airport does have a handful of nonstop flights to major hubs across the country and a lot more options if you’re willing to connect. Alternately, you could fly nonstop into Salt Lake City and drive north.

Best things to do on an Idaho road trip

Megan laying in the goldbug Hot Springs in Idaho

Soak away your stress in a hot spring

Relaxing in a hot spring is a quintessential Idaho experience. With over 130 springs around the state, it’s no wonder!

It’s important to note that these are sensitive areas that require respect. Please pack out all your trash, never use soap (even if it’s biodegradable!) in the springs, and avoid trampling surrounding vegetation.

Here are a few of our favorite natural hot springs:

If you’d rather go to a more established facility, which often offer more private soaking areas and have amenities like restrooms, check these out:

Check out this post by The Mandagies for more locations.

An alpine lake with mountain peaks in the distance and pink wildflowers in the foreground

Take your pick of epic hikes in the Sawtooths

We’ve never seen mountains quite like the Sawtooths before. These jagged mountain peaks pierce upwards towards the sky from densely covered pine forests. 

This is an incredible area to grab your hiking gear and hit the trails! With over 700 miles of trail, 300 high mountain lakes, and 40 peaks over 10,000 feet, there’s plenty of wilderness to explore.

Here are a few highlights:

You can find tons of other hikes on AllTrails.

Megan riding horseback in the sawtooth mountains

Go horseback riding with the Redfish Lake Corrals

If hiking isn’t your thing, or you just need a break from human-powered adventures, go on a trail ride with Redfish Lake Corrals near Stanley. They have a number of different guided rides ranging from 1 hour to all day. Shorter rides will give you a chance to enjoy the scenery, and longer rides will take you to one of the many stunning alpine lakes.

We really enjoyed our experience with the Redfish Lake Corrals. Our guide was a born & raised local with tons of knowledge of the area and lots of stories to share as we took in the incredible scenery.

See available rides here

Shoshone Falls at sunset

See the “Niagara of the West”—the massive Shoshone Falls

This massive waterfall—212 feet high and 925 feet wide—is actually taller than Niagara Falls, which is why Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls, ID has been dubbed the “Niagara of the West.”

The falls were formed during the Bonneville Flood over 14,000 years ago during the Pleistocene ice age. The surrounding plain is composed of basalt layers, but the falls themselves were formed due to trachyte and rhyolite layers that are more resistant to erosion. When Lake Bonneville flooded into the Snake River and carved the canyon, these harder layers formed a nickpoint that created the falls.

The best time to see Shoshone Falls in its full splendor is during the spring and early summer, when the snowpack is melting off and before part of the river is diverted towards the reservoir upstream. By late summer and fall, the falls are reduced to a trickle or “turned off” entirely.

There are two ways to visit the falls. You can drive there (directions) and view the falls from the observation decks. Parking is $5 per car. Or, you can paddle there and see the falls from the base! Which brings us to our next adventure… 

Michael Kayaking on the Snake River in Twin Falls, Idaho

Kayak the Snake River in Twin Falls

One of the best ways to experience Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls is from in the middle of it! Rent a kayak and paddle through the towering 500 foot volcanic walls to truly appreciate their scale.

It takes about two hours to paddle under Perrine Bridge and back. For a half day adventure, paddle up to Pillar Falls and back (about 4 hours)–this is what we did and it was just the right amount of paddling for us. 

For experienced paddlers looking for a challenge, you can paddle all the way up to the base of Shoshone Falls, which will take about 6 hours round trip and requires you to do a short portage around Pillar Falls.

AWOL Kayak Rentals operates out of Centennial Park and will provide you with everything you need including a life vest and paddle.

Michael walking on a path through the Craters of the Moon National Monument

Explore the out-of-this-world landscape at Craters of the Moon

This national monument is aptly named—Crater of the Moon really does feel like walking through an alien landscape.

The 600 square miles of lava fields were created by over 60 separate flows between 15,000 and 2,100 years ago. In addition to the lava flows, there are 25 volcanic cones (hike up the Inferno Cone for a great view of the landscape) as well as a number of lava tube caves* that you can explore.

You can find more information including a park map here.

*If you’re interested in exploring the caves, you will need a (free) permit and a pair of clothes/shoes that have never been worn in any other cave. This is to protect bats from a devastating disease known as white nose syndrome. Read more here.

Get your adrenaline fix whitewater rafting with Cascade Raft & Kayak

Possibly the highlight of our entire Idaho road trip was a half day whitewater rafting trip—we had an absolute blast! We rafted down the south fork of the Payette River, which contained an exhilarating mix of class III & IV rapids and proved to be the perfect introduction for us.

For more experienced rafters, the nearby north fork is apparently a nonstop class V rodeo ride from start to finish.

Cascade Raft & Kayak has great staff, great facility, and offers a truly extraordinary Idaho experience.

Bruneau Sand Dune

Bruneau Sand Dunes

Home to North America’s largest single-structured sand dune (470 feet tall!), Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park is a great place to enjoy a wide variety of activities, including one very unique sport!

Of course, there are hiking trails and you’ll have the opportunity to climb and explore the dunes. There are also two small lakes on the back side of the dunes where you can swim, SUP, and fish.

Camping at the park is a great way to enjoy the night sky—it is a Dark Skies designated area! There is an observatory in the park with a number of telescopes you can use for stargazing.

But one of the most unique things to do at Bruneau Sand Dunes is sandboarding! Rent a sandboard (it looks like a wooden snowboard), hike to the top of the dunes, and board down!

Megan Bike Riding in Greenbelt Park in Boise, Idaho

Enjoy nature in the city of Boise

Boise is one of those cities that has done a wonderful job incorporating the area’s natural beauty and outdoor spaces into the city’s design. 

If you’re flying to Idaho for your trip, Boise is likely where you’ll start and end your trip, and it’s worth it to spend some time exploring while you’re there. 

Here are some of the ways you can enjoy nature right in the city!

Bike along the Greenbelt

This 25-mile urban park flanks the Boise River as it runs through the city. Not only does this tree-lined park offer residents an outdoor space for recreation, but it serves as a vital corridor for pedestrian and bicycle commuters. You can rent bicycles from one of the many Green Bike stations and take a ride down the scenic paved bike paths.

Tube down the Boise River

We didn’t get a chance to do this personally, but we saw a ton of people floating the river as we biked along the Green Belt. Even one of our brewery tour guides encouraged us to stay an extra day just so we could do it. If you’re looking for more information about floating the Boise River, the city has a great resource about it.

Enjoy an outdoor patio beer at Payette Brewing

While you’re out enjoying the Green Belt, you might want to take a pit stop at Payette Brewing. Their 60-barrel facility and tap room gives you a chance to taste some of their seasonal specials, and the large grassy outdoor space is a perfect place for a game of corn hole. A steady rotation of food trucks also means you’ve got access to some of Boise’s best street food.

Hike and bike in the Boise Foothills

There are 190 miles of trails in the Boise Foothills to explore! Whether you’re a hiker or want to get in some downhill mountain biking, there are miles of trails with your name on them. The close proximity to the city means this is a great place to head for sunset and enjoy the golden light over the city.

Megan watching sunset over the Snake River in Twin Falls, Idaho
Sunset over the Snake River in Twin Falls

Idaho Road Trip Location Map

Map courtesy of Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android

We hope you have a blast exploring the Gem State! While you’re planning your trip, you might also find these resources helpful:

Road trip essentials and packing list
The best road trip snack ideas

24 Comments

  1. These photos are absolutely stunning. I’m definitely seeing Idaho in a new light! 😉 (PS let me know when you get to CT!!)

    1. Thank you, Sarah! Idaho is definitely one of the most photogenic places we have traveled through!

  2. I always thought Idaho was like Iowa, but with potatoes. Then my little sister went to college there, and damn. Gorgeous. I wish I had figured that out sooner!

    1. We didn’t have many expectations going into Idaho, either – with states like Montana, Washington and Oregon next to it, we’ve always been a little distracted I guess. But, man, what a beauty it is!!

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for the last few months, and I see this post! Went to watch your vlog, and looks like you were at the Starbucks only a couple blocks away from my house. Walking distance. I live close to downtown Boise. I could’ve shared our house for your wifi working session, and could’ve told you where to eat on your way out, instead of Noodles & Co… Hit me up next time you are in town! Glad you got to go see the Sawtooth, such a special place. Love your blog and vlog. So fun.

  4. Idaho always feels like the last real “gem”, if I can use that term. 🙂 Maybe if you don’t include Montana, it’s just the last Western state that doesn’t have a ton of hype and tends to elude folks when they bust out the highlighter and map to make plans…

  5. I have been researching Idaho forever and am so glad I stumbled across your blog! I was feeling overly ambitious and totally confused about all the places I wanted to see, and here you have them! Listed in a total comprehensive order! 2 questions remain though: were you camping so you didn’t have to time it strictly to get to a hotel? and, on average, how long did it take you to get from one stop to another?

  6. Goldbug hot springs certainly does look epic, what a great photo. Love the post!

  7. Yay! I love that you loved it. I grew up in Idaho and most people who grew up there can’t wait to leave. Until you actually leave and want to come back again! 🙂 This trip looks amazing. Thanks for sharing this amazing state! 🙂

  8. LOVE this. I am dying to go to Idaho (we’re moving to Seattle this week so excited to be in close proximity). I’ve also heard great things about Boise so this itinerary looks absolutely epic. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  9. Idaho seems like an amazing idea and a great destination for a road trip. I’m currently undertaking a road trip in EU, but this seems like a great idea for later! Would you recommend it for autumn?

    1. Winter comes hard and fast in Idaho, but early fall (September) would probably be an excellent time to visit.

  10. Really nice post . Thanks for sharing . I am planning to visit Idaho in this year, Hope your blog will help me out…

  11. Thanks for the tips! Adding Idaho to my USA Bucket List right now.

  12. K. Adams. says:

    I am really glad you have enjoyed your time in this beautiful state (or at least the southern portions.) My husband and I are backpackers and hot spring travelers in idaho, we really enjoy the beauty this state offers. The pictures are gorgeous, but even better in person. Great post!

  13. Idaho seems like a handful of hidden jewels waiting to be discovered. I love blogs like these that uncover places to visit and things to do. The beautiful outdoors are calling everyone to life a happy life and explore while they can.

  14. Great post! We are new to the Boise area (from Oregon and Washington), and we have plans to explore our new home state. This helps us a ton. Yes, Idaho is beautiful and we are discovering all the outdoor activities Idaho has to offer. Thanks again!

  15. Amazing pictures – it made me feel like I was there with you during the trip. It’s awesome how nature ‘hides’ these unbelievable spots for relaxation while you’re on an adventure. I can’t even pick which place you visited I like best! They’re all superb!

  16. You will definitely enjoy north central and the panhandle areas of Idaho the next time you visit. Idaho vistas change dramatically with each twist and turn of the road. I’m a 5th generation Idahoan, and I’ve been north, south, east and west in this state, visited some amazing places, but even I have not made it to all the must-see sites! And the ones I have visited, still need to be revisited in the different seasons. Never get tired of those views. Love, love, love my great state. Warning tho – we’ve managed to stay hidden for quite some time, but are now on the map. The used-to-be non-existent lines are starting to grow. Just say’n.

  17. So glad I found your site via pinterest! We are heading to Idaho from San Francisco in 2 wks. First road trip via a sprinter van and first time to Idaho. We only have 6 days- could you recommend which sites to see w/ that amount of time and maybe the route? Thanks!

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