Idaho has over 30 scenic byways criss-crossing all over and providing access to the Gem State’s grandeur. With gas prices already low and predicted to drop even more heading into this summer we’ve put together the Great Central Idaho Road-trip for you to get out and see some of the best parts of the state. The driving tour loops start in Boise but can be joined at any point and links into cross country routes Interstate 84 and US Highway 20 for fun little detours.
Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway – Highway 21
Driving north out of Boise almost immediately is Lucky Peak State Park and Arrow Rock Reservoir with plenty of water sports and relaxing beaches. Be sure to stop in the historic mining town of Idaho City and transport back to the days of the ole west. Stops can be made at many historical markers along the highway and interpretive trails and signs. If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, whitewater rafting on the South Fork of the Payette is some of the funnest and most accessible whitewater in the state. As you pass over into the Sawtooth valley be sure to stop at Stanley Lake for great evening light on the peaks. A quick list of sights along this road trip route below as well as a link for more info:
- Lucky Peak State Park and Arrow Rock Reservoir
- Idaho City
- Granite Creek Interpretive Trail
- Lowman Fire Interpretive Signs
- Kirkham Hot Springs
- South Fork Payette River
- Stanley Lake
Stanley and the Sawtooths
The quaint little town of Stanley nestled amongst the giants of the Sawtooths makes for a good picture any day of the year so be sure to have your camera charged and ready. Positioned between the White Clouds, The River of No Return, and Sawtooth Wilderness Areas and within the Sawtooth National Recreation area you’ll have no trouble getting lost in nature. Hiking, Mountain Biking, Rafting and Boating on the lakes are some of the many actives one can find in this beautiful valley. Depending on how many days you plan to spend on your road trip we recommend that you spend at least one night in the Stanley basin. There are various lodging and cabin options in town, but there are plenty of campsites tucked away begging to be discovered and have you pitch your tent.
Sawtooth Scenic Byway – Highway 75
As you head south out of Stanley stop and grab a milkshake in Smiley Creek for the drive over Galena. You’ll want to pull over and stop plenty on the drive over the pass to take in the expansive views on both sides, thankfully there are plenty of pull out outs, historical markers, and a view point. As you’re heading down watch the Big Wood River grow in size as it flows alongside the highway. A quick side adventure can be had at Galena Lodge or you can stop along the highway and try your best to spot a mountain goat high on the peaks of the Boulder Wilderness Area.
Ketchum and Sun Valley
For the nice weekend road trip we recommend spending the second night in Sun Valley again with various lodging options and plenty of great camping spots close to town. Whether your looking to experience the history of the first year around resort or looking for even more time in nature you can find it here. Regardless of if you spend your day on the trail or getting pampered at the spa be sure to hit the town for a few drinks and dinner. one thing is for sure that a day or two won’t even scratch the surface of what this hidden gem has to offer.
The Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway
Starting at Three Island crossing of the Snake River, the Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway driving tour follows the route of the pioneers as they crossed the Idaho desert. Take a journey back in time as you walk in the ruts created by thousands of emigrants in search of a new home. Much of this route appears the same today as it did when pioneers traveled this route. Although there are many historic landmarks such as the hot springs site, Canyon Creek, and Mayfield, the main attraction along this route is Bonneville point looking down onto the Boise valley. What a way to end a road trip as well watching the sunset from where settlers used to pass through.
Bonus Byways and Adventures
- Just south of the junction with Highway 20 on Highway 75 is Black Magic Canyon which is a basalt slot canyon with otherworldly rock formations.
- Just east of the junction with Highway 75 on Highway 20 the pristine Silver Creek and its meandering springs.
- The loop can actually start via the Payette River Scenic Byway-Highway 55: heading north out of Eagle and is a beautiful drive along the roaring river. Rainbow bridge is the highlight of this journey and is about the same drive time as the other loop.
- If you choose start on the Payette River Scenic Byway you get the bonus of connecting back to the loop via the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway into Lowman.
This 347 mile loop can be done by the bold in about 6 and a half hours. But I would challenge anyone to drive this route and not be pulled out of their car by some of Mother Nature’s finest artwork. What makes for a relaxing getaway weekend also packs enough side adventures and exploring to fill a life of summers. Where else can you see so many different wilderness areas, forests, rivers, and mountain towns all within in a short drive and since it loops there is no backtracking any mileage! Drive safe and we’ll see you soon!