Idaho, the Ultimate Road Trip

Photo by Brandon Hull

THE scenic loop through Idaho's diverse landscapes and towns

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This road trip takes you to some of Idaho’s most unique locations and on some of the state’s most scenic drives. No time to do the whole thing? Don’t sweat it. Pick your favorite parts.

Estimated drive time without stops and little traffic — roughly 27 hours. Estimated full trip distance — roughly 1,417 miles.

1.  Julia Davis Park, Boise

Start your journey in the heart of Boise at Julia Davis Park. This local favorite stretches through the downtown area and has riverfront trails, bocce ball courts, a children’s playground, the Boise Art Museum, Zoo Boise, the Idaho State History Museum, and the Discovery Center.

Next Destination: Head north on the Payette River Scenic Byway. Travel time to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area: 3h 16m (155 miles)

2.  Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Riggins

At its highest point, America’s deepest canyon dives a staggering 7,993 feet to the valley floor below. Hell’s Canyon carves its way along the Idaho-Oregon border next to the Seven Devils Mountain Range. While you are there, be sure to take a guided float trip or jet boat tour between the giant slabs of green and black basalt walls of this mammoth canyon.

Next Destination: Take US-95 north or take the White Pine and Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byways. Travel time to Lake Coeur d’Alene: 3h 49m (222 miles)

3.  Lake Coeur d’Alene

The lake spans 26 miles and boasts more than 135 miles of shoreline. This international resort destination is home to the Coeur d’Alene Resort, Silverwood Theme Park (the Northwest’s largest
theme park), and a never-ending list of outdoor activities. Take a breather here and rest up for your next stop the Route of the Hiawatha.

Next Destination: Hop on I-90 and head east. Travel time to the Route of the Hiawatha: 2h 13m (81 miles)

4.  Route of the Hiawatha

Make sure you bring your camera along for this portion of your epic road trip. The route of the Hiawatha is a converted rail-trail that winds alongside the St. Joe river for 15 miles. Ride your bike over 7 beautifully crafted trestle bridges and cruise through 10 train tunnels. The trail is all downhill (fun for the whole family) with shuttle buses to transport you back to the top.

Next Destination: Take I-90 east, take exit 101 for Reserve St/US-93 S toward Hamilton. Hop on the Salmon River and the Sawtooth Scenic Byways. Travel time to Sawtooth National Recreation Area: 8h 13m (420 miles)

5.  Sawtooth National Recreation Area

This area is the epitome of everything that is Idaho exploration. In fact, it could be a vacation in and of itself. The area has 300 high-mountain lakes and 700 miles of trails to explore. You may struggle to choose just one day’s worth of activities, so stick around and explore if you have the time. You’ll certainly have action-packed days ahead.

Next Destination: Take the Sawtooth and Peaks to Craters Scenic Byways. Travel time to Craters of the Moon: 1h 30m (72 miles)

6. Craters of the Moon

Spaning 750,000 acres, Craters is roughly the same size as the state of Rhode Island. This vast ocean of lava-coated terrain includes lava tubes, cinder cones, and fissures. Venture out for a 15-minute light walk to the top of the Inferno Cone for a view of the vast lava formations.

Next Destination: Follow US-20 E/US-26 E/US-93 N to S 4300 W in Madison County. Travel time to Yellowstone Bear World: 1h 41m (104 miles)

7. Yellowstone Bear World

“Bear World! Bear World! Bear World!” is what you will likely hear chanted from the backseat as you pull in to see the free-roaming wildlife habitat that is Yellowstone Bear World. Get an up close and personal view (from the comfort and safety of your own car) of bison, mule deer, elk, white-tail deer, moose, American black bear, grey wolves, and the infamous grizzly bear. This drive-through park offers a unique view of wildlife that you won’t get anywhere else. You’ll even get to pet bear cubs!

Next Destination: Take US-20 to Idaho Falls. Travel time to Museum of Idaho: 23m (21 miles)

8. Museum of Idaho, Idaho Falls

The museum is a nonprofit that is devoted to bringing first-class exhibits to the State of Idaho. The museum preserves cultural and natural history by showcasing exhibits such as the Race for Atomic Power, Local Idaho History, Eagle Rock, and the Children’s Discovery Room. Be sure to plan your visit ahead of time as the museum is closed on certain days for new exhibit set up.

Next Destination: Follow I-15 S, I-86 W and I-84 to ID-50 S in Jerome County. Travel time to Shoshone Falls: 2h 18m (159 miles)

9.  Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls

Did you know that Idaho has a waterfall that is taller than Niagara Falls? Shoshone Falls is a jaw-dropping 212-feet tall and is at its best during the spring and early summer when the water flow is high. The Shoshone Falls/Dierkes Lake Complex is operated by the City of Twin Falls and has playgrounds, groomed picnic areas, hiking trails, and a swimming area. Make sure you visit the scenic overlook for an unforgettable family photo.

Next Destination: Travel west on E 3700 N Rd. Travel time to Balanced Rock: 50m (34 miles)

10. Balanced Rock, Castleford

This is one of the most unique natural formations you will ever see. This world-famous rock weighs over 40 tons and is 48-feet tall. The wind has slowly etched every crevice of this boulder to form one of nature’s most curious balancing acts. Stop for a picnic and snap some pictures to add to your impressive and expanding road trip photo album.

Next Destination: Take US-30 W and I-84. Travel time to Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park: 1h 40m (84 miles)

11. Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Bruneau

This is the perfect place to wrap up your road trip adventure. Over 12,000 years ago the Bonneville flood waters receded leaving a large amount of sand. The wind transported the sand to Idaho’s Bruneau Basin, and Bruneau Dunes State Park now boasts the highest single-structured sand dune in North America. In addition to the sandy waves, Bruneau is home to Idaho’s largest observatory. Gaze at the stars, climb the 470-foot dune, rent a sandboard, and surf the family-friendly sandy waves.

Next Destination: Take I-84 back to Boise. Travel time to Boise: 1h 19m (65 miles)

Go to visitidaho.org for resources and more travel ideas like this itinerary.

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