Idaho’s natural space stretches for miles, so to see and explore as much of this pristine state as possible, hop in the car and jump onto one of the state’s many scenic byways. A good starting point is Boise, the state capital, where you can fuel up for an active day with a spike of energy from Big City Coffee and Café. Boise is Idaho’s biggest city, and it’s also big on outdoor adventures, such as mountain biking, or skateboarding on land, and fly-fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, or kayaking on the Boise River. East of downtown, hike and bike in the Military Reserve, a 734-acre natural area in the lower Boise Foothills. For a loop hike with scenic cityscape views, try the Central Ridge Trail, which connects to multiple trails in the Reserve.
Travel Tip: While in town for fuel and before heading to the next location, it's a great time to check that your vehicle is up to the adventure. And if you break down, remember the Travel Peace of Mind Package, included with the KnowYourDrive® program from American Family Insurance, can help cover the costs of things like hotels, food, or transportation should you end up stranded far from home.*
Bruneau Dunes State Park
Just an hour’s drive down I-84 E from Boise, Bruneau Dunes State Park is the perfect stop for soaking in a touch of desert air. Boasting the tallest single-structured sand dune in the U.S., visitors can hike an hour up to the top for 360-degree views of the park. Rent a sandboard at the visitor center to “surf” down the park’s smaller dunes. Along with the sand, there are marsh, lake, and prairie habitats where you can watch for wildlife, such as bald eagles, tundra swans, and in early morning and early evening, coyotes and black-trailed jackrabbits. After climbing around the dunes and fishing for bluegill (purchase a fishing license in advance) at one of the lakes, head over to the Bruneau Dunes Observatory in the evening for fascinating stargazing. To stay in the area, camp out at one of the available sites or rent a one-room cabin with the comforts of home: power, heat, and air conditioning.
Thousand Springs State Park
Though it’s possible to drive along this scenic byway without stopping, the views of farmland, charming small towns, and wildlife habitats are worth pulling over for a longer look. Less than 70 miles long and only a short trip from the Dunes, this byway connects Thousand Springs State Park to Snake River Canyon, which was formed millions of years ago. Along the way, stop for a soak in one of the route’s namesake natural features, such as such as Banbury Hot Springs or 1,000 Springs Resort. Before you arrive at the state park itself, pop over to Cloverleaf Creamery for a cold treat or cone.
Sometimes referred to as Magic Valley for its diversity and unique landscapes, this park offers seven separate, yet connected units to explore. To see an impressive waterfall just upstream from the Snake River, head to Malad Gorge. Just north of the Gorge, go hiking or mountain biking on Kelton Trail, a former 1800s stagecoach route that carried wagons rolling west on the Oregon Trail. At Billingsley Creek, there’s an indoor horse arena, fishing access, and trails to explore on foot, horseback, or by bike. To paddle crystal-clear waters, head to Ritter Island, another area rich in history where you can see flowing springs and get a glimpse of early 1900s dairy farms. Also in the area is the Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon, one of the largest springs in North America, plus Niagara Springs, a National Natural Landmark, and nearby Crystal Springs.
Shoshone Falls Park
Drive south for another hour and a half to check out what’s often called the “Niagara of the West,” 212-foot Shoshone Falls. Located in Twin Falls, the cascading waters form one of the tallest and largest natural waterfalls in the U.S. If a more exciting adventure is calling, visit the nearby Shoshone Ice Caves to discover lava rocks and underground caves. Just north of the falls is the farming and dairy city of Shoshone, where you can stop to grab a bite to eat at places like Shoshone Snack Bar, offering nostalgic bites and treats.
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Craters of the Moon
A little over an hour by car northeast from the town of Shoshone, you’ll encounter the hauntingly beautiful, hardened lava landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Unlike anywhere else in Idaho, Craters of the Moon is made of over 60 lava flows, estimated to have erupted between 15,000 and 2,100 years ago. Approaching the visitor’s center from the highway feels otherworldly, with farmlands turning to lava fields. The scenic, drivable loop within the preserve runs about seven miles long and provides access to trailheads where you can see cinder beds and surreal hardscapes. For an epic sunset, head over to Cinder Cone, and then, stick around to see stars light up the sky. Craters of the Moon was designated as an International Dark Sky Park due to its total lack of light pollution, resulting in unobstructed views of the Milky Way, shooting stars, and other celestial wonders.
Camping overnight is the best way to experience this park and the starry sky, so arrived prepared. Pack a car survival kit, portable phone charger, and plenty of water and food, as the closest stocked grocery store is 50 minutes away. The Lava Flow Campground provides bathrooms and grills. If you’d rather stargaze outdoors and sleep inside, Silver Creek Motel is around an hour from the park in Bellevue.
After an evening under the stars, hop in the car and swing by the ritzy and relaxing town of Ketchum. While this area is a sought-out winter destination, it also offers all-season activities, such as hiking, bike riding, and relaxing in hot springs. For a family-friendly hike, the White Clouds Loop just north of town is chock-full of stunning views, without the extra elevation. White Cloud can be done as a four-mile loop or a shorter out-and-back for the kids. After a day of hiking, grab a drink and maybe a Buffalo Burger at a local favorite like the Cellar Pub.
If wildflowers and beautiful gardens are on your to-see list, swing by the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, located near Highway 75. Home to exotic and native plants that thrive at high altitudes, the gardens help connect locals and visitors alike to the region’s unique flora. The gardens even offer horticultural classes to teach those with a green thumb how to perfect their craft. At the end of the day, rest up for your next adventure by spending the night at the Hotel Ketchum or the Limelight Hotel, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding nature.
While it’s ranked as one of the top ski towns in the U.S., Sun Valley offers opportunities for outdoor adventure any month of the year. Depending on when you visit, you could go fly-fishing, hiking, or even off-road driving. Or, saddle up for an authentic western adventure by taking a trail ride or wagon ride with Sun Valley Stables. Ride to the top of Dollar Mountain to experience vast, wide-open spaces of the valley. For a more intense activity with over 1,000 feet elevation gain, hike the three-mile (round trip) Proctor Mountain trail. The trail, which is accessible from the Sun Valley Lodge, is lush with lupines throughout the summer. Sun Valley also offers paddleboarding, mountain biking, and cascading rivers with flora and fauna unique to the valley.
Travel Tip: Sun Valley’s lodging can fill up quickly in any season, so be sure to plan ahead by booking your hotel early.
Sawtooth National Recreational Area
Over 756,000 acres of mountains and forests are just a short drive from Sun Valley. The Sawtooth National Recreational Area is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts with activities such as rafting, boating, and canoeing. Part of the majestic Rocky Mountains, the Sawtooth range contains 57 peaks, with over 10,000 feet in elevation gain. Also home to almost 400 alpine lakes, this outdoor haven attracts families and groups looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience with nature.
Before heading out, swing by the Headquarters Visitor Center to get your bearings — the experts here provide educational programs, natural history tours, and give advice on whether to camp or visit for just the day.
Sawtooth Mountains or Lost River Range
At the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains themselves are a multitude of hiking options. Sawtooth Lake hike, around 8.5 miles round trip, is not for the faint of heart. For a shorter distance, the Iron Creek Trailhead provides a five-mile route with views of alpine lakes and the mountains beyond. Park at the trailhead or campgrounds and bring plenty of water as the elevation is steep. Lodging is available close by at campsites or in the nearby town of Stanley. The Sawtooth backcountry is home to mountain goats, elk, and mule deer. So, if you decide to venture into the wild on a backpacking trip, remain alert and always pack out what you bring in to avoid attracting or disturbing any wildlife. Should you decide to go for a drive from Stanley, the Lost River Range is only about two hours northeast.
Redfish Lake and Stanley
Often referred to as “the gem of the north,” the outpost of Stanley has become a regular pit stop for those driving through the area. Sitting at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains, the town provides respite for hiking or biking in the area. After a long day of activities, jump into a pool of natural hot water at one of the many local hot springs. Just ten minutes south of Stanley along Highway 75 pull off at Redfish Lake, a crystal-clear lake positioned between two glacial moraines. Pack a picnic or grab a snack from the gazebo to enjoy the postcard-perfect view: sparkling water bordered by towering evergreens and backed by the Sawtooths.
Travel Tip: Stanley is one of the only main towns in this area before the three-hour drive back to Boise, so fill up on gas and food or water before heading out.
*The KnowYourDrive discount applies only to the following variable coverages, which are typical for most auto policies: bodily injury liability, property damage liability, collision and comprehensive, medical expense, underinsured and uninsured and personal injury protection. Additionally, the discount does not apply to fixed fees that are part of your policy. Travel Peace of Mind package not included with KnowYourDrive in Washington state.