Outdoor recreation in the Sawtooth Mountains and elsewhere in the state is making Idaho a popular destination. Experience it yourself with this 6-day road trip or choose a scenic drive through mountains, farmland, and vineyards.
When To Go
Summer is peak season in most of the state, including Coeur d’Alene, the Sawtooths, and Island Park in southeast Idaho. Wintertime brings tons of snow to the mountains, making Idaho’s mountain resorts like Sun Valley, McCall, and Kellogg, popular destinations for skiers and snowboarders. Spring and fall are also good times to visit the mountain resort towns for biking, fishing, and hiking: The streets are less crowded, and room rates are lower.
Idaho Road Trip Itinerary
Upon arrival in Boise, stretch your legs with a stroll or a bike ride along the Boise River, before heading to the State Capitol (700 W. Jefferson St.) and Basque Block for a few local history lessons. After checking out the city, enjoy some wine and Basque pub fare before having a cocktail and calling it a night.
After breakfast in Boise, get in the car and drive 35 miles (56 kilometers) west to the Sunny Slope area of Caldwell. This is the beating heart of Idaho’s wine country, the Snake River Valley, where you will find about a dozen wineries with tasting rooms. Head back to Boise for dinner and to spend the night.
From Boise, head north along Highway 55 for 2.5 hours until you reach Ponderosa State Park. Check into your reserved cabin and spend the rest of the day hiking and biking around the wooded park that juts out on a 1,000-acre (404-hectare) peninsula into Payette Lake.
Get up early and drive 1 hour (48 miles/77 kilometers) to Riggins for a day of rafting on the Salmon River, world-famous for its wild rapids. Expect to get a little wet along the way, but the river professionals who work this stretch of the river are good at keeping the rafts upright. Or you could book a trip on a wooden dory with Wapiti River Guides.
After shooting the tube all day, head to a restaurant in Riggins for dinner (an elk burger, perhaps?) and a few microbrews.
After breakfast, travel north on U.S. 95, until you come to the Clearwater River near Lewiston, about 2 hours and 110 miles (177 kilometers) from Riggins. Here you’ll find the interpretive center for the Nez Perce National Historic Park, an excellent spot for a picnic and to soak in some of Idaho’s Native American history.
Next, continue heading north on U.S. 95 for 2 hours (116 miles/186 kilometers) until you reach the shores of Coeur d’Alene Lake, where you’ll be spending the night.
Spend the day in Coeur d’Alene frolicking in the lake and relaxing on a lawn chair at City Beach. Nearby, Sherman Avenue has a multitude of cool shops and art galleries to peruse, with a few strategically placed ice cream shops along the way.
Watch the fiery sunset on Tubbs Hill, a nature preserve with scenic hiking trails next to Coeur d’Alene Resort. Your drive back to Boise the next day will take 7 hours (380 miles/611 kilometers).
Scenic Drives in Idaho
Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway
The Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway winds its way through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of bountiful agricultural land, ranging from near the Oregon border to Walter’s Ferry in the Owyhee hinterlands. Parma is the western starting point for the byway. From this spot, the route meanders southeast along the Snake River on a series of well-marked rural roads, passing by family-run farms, fruit orchards, and vineyards.
You’ll go through the winery district of Sunny Slope before ascending onto a sagebrush-dotted bench that skirts the river canyon, where Map Rock near Walter’s Ferry shows ancient petroglyphs. Up here, dormant cinder cones punctuate the landscape, and the deep-canyon rim—long ago carved out by the Bonneville Flood—offers dramatic views of the Owyhee Mountains. Besides cattle, bison, and sheep, also expect to see abundant wildlife, like deer, coyotes, badgers, and red-tailed hawks, along this spectacular drive.
Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway
Spectacular mountain vistas and vast meadows awash in wildflowers combine to make this stretch of pavement, along Highway 21 east of Boise to Sawtooth and Stanley Lakes, one of the most beautiful drives in Idaho. Several angler access roads branch off the highway and lead down to meandering Valley Creek, while other spur roads lead south off the highway to campgrounds at the foot of the Sawtooths.