Idaho is a big, beautiful state. That means there’s a lot to see – with at least 32 designated scenic byways or backcountry drives to explore. Idaho is known for its ‘taters, but you’ll see so much more than just potato fields. What you will
uncover in The Gem State is even better: rugged mountains, millions of acres of wilderness, and world-famous lakes and rivers.
Put Idaho on your list the next time you want to plan a road trip that involves driving along some of the most scenic and wild country you’ll ever experience. You’ll want to have your camera ready!
1. Teton Scenic Byway
Melissa Davidson Photography
It’s hard to imagine anything prettier or more spectacular than the Teton Mountain range in eastern Idaho. The Teton Scenic Byway traverses the western slopes of the Tetons in Idaho, which definitely don’t get as much press as the Tetons do from the Jackson, Wyoming side. But it’s a well-kept secret that you’ll want to explore. Be sure to stop in the Emporium in Victor for a huckleberry shake and up the road in Driggs hop on a hot air balloon to fully immerse yourself in mountain grandeur.
2. Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway
The panhandle of northern Idaho is extremely beautiful with its enormous high alpine lakes. Along Idaho 97 and hugging Lake Coeur d’Alene, this 35-mile drive is the perfect opportunity to see bald eagles, the largest population of nesting ospreys in the Western states, tall evergreens, and stately homes; all with plenty of pull-outs for photo ops.
3. Salmon River Scenic Byway
This route follows the Salmon River through the Salmon-Challis National Forest into the stunning and rugged Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho. For amazing scenery, it’s hard to beat. The tiny towns of Challis and Stanley are rare gems. The byway retraces the steps of Lewis and Clark as they searched for an easier route to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. Can you imagine what they were thinking when they stumbled upon this wild backcountry?
4. Payette River Scenic Byway
You will be blown away by this scenic byway that covers 111 miles on State Highway 55 in eastern Idaho. Must stops include McCall, Smiths Ferry, Horseshoe Bend, Rainbow Bridge and Boise, which is the state capital and the largest city in Idaho. Huge sections of whitewater abound, and activities such as rafting, camping, kayaking and fishing are plentiful.
5. Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway
This unique byway covers some interesting and diverse landscape that includes high desert, large lava flows and some of the state’s tallest mountains, including Mount Borah, the highest peak in Idaho. Craters of the Moon National Monument in central Idaho will make you think you landed on another planet.
6. Pend Oreille Scenic Byway
Back into northern Idaho for more picturesque views of glass-like water, Pend Oreille Scenic Byway goes along State Highway 200 all the way to the Montana border. Lake Pend Oreille is the largest in the state, so if you love water and spectacular views, this quiet drive will knock your socks off.
7. Owyhee Uplands Back Country Byway
With quintessential western scenery, this loop is located 80 miles southwest of Boise. The landscape is vast with high desert scenery, sagebrush, rolling hills, mountains, meadows, and rivers. It’s also special because it’s uncrowded, remote and rugged. It would make for some good camping if you have time.
8. International Selkirk Loop Scenic Drive
Don’t forget your passport! The Selkirk Mountains span eastern Idaho, southern British Columbia and western Washington. The loop starts way up there in Sandpoint and goes in a counter-clockwise direction. The International Selkirk Loop is 280 miles of gorgeous rivers, lakes and mountains. It is designated as one of only 32 All-American Road National Scenic Byways in the U.S. and one of the top 10 scenic drives in the Northern Rockies.
9. Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway
Bear Lake, which straddles the Idaho-Utah border, is called the Caribbean of the Rockies because of its turquoise waters. The 54-mile byway begins in the town of Soda Springs, home to the world’s only “captive” geyser that spouts into the air every hour. There are 13 official Oregon-California Trail sites located in the Soda Springs area. Also located along this unique byway is the small town of Lava Hot Springs, which is home to some of the most famous natural hot springs in the country. It’s a fun day for the whole family if you get a chance to soak in one of these non-sulfur hot springs pools located in several places throughout town. Lava is a quick half-hour drive from Pocatello.
10. City of Rocks Back Country Byway
Located in south central Idaho, the City of Rocks Back Country Byway encircles the Albion Mountains on State Highway 77. The drive goes through historic and rural areas. The last stop ends in Oakley, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and contains the state’s largest collection of old stone and wood-framed buildings. The City of Rocks National Reserve is a mecca for technical rock climbers and described as rivaling Yosemite National Park.
11. Sawtooth Scenic Byway
The Sawtooth’s stunningly beautiful wilderness will show you why Ernest Hemingway fell in love with and moved to the Sun Valley area. The Sawtooths are called “America’s Alps” for a reason. This drive promises to leave you breathless. It’s that beautiful. The resort towns of Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley await your arrival.
As you can see, there is so much to explore along the scenic byways in Idaho, even if it’s from the car…with the windows rolled down.
Have you taken any of these epic drives through Idaho? Share your stories in the comments!