Travel Guide

by Jessica Sutton

“Ahead and to the west was our ranger station – and the mountains of Idaho, poems of geology stretching beyond any boundaries and seemingly even beyond the world.”

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Idaho evokes images of the Old West, with sweeping mountain vistas, untouched lakes, and classic ranches. The Gem State boasts nearly 5 million acres of designated wilderness that includes red deserts in the south, rain-drenched forests in the north, and even Yellowstone and the Tetons. Yet Idaho is still largely off-the-beaten path for tourism, making it the perfect place to enjoy quiet, intimate getaways.

Alpine Lake, Idaho

Photograph by Jessica Sutton

South and Central Idaho

Where to Visit: Sawtooth Wilderness

Why Visit: The Sawtooth Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountain Range, encompasses 57 peaks over 10,000 feet, crystal clear mountain lakes, and more than 350 miles of hiking.

How to Get There: Fly into Boise and spend a night downtown exploring the Basque Block–one of the largest Basque cultural areas in the country–before driving the three hours to the mountains. Alternatively, fly into Twin Falls and drive through the desert, past Ernest Hemingway’s resting place in Ketchum, and into the Sawtooths. When driving from Twin Falls, visit Shoshone Falls on the way!

Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls en route to the Sawtooth Wilderness

Photograph by Jessica Sutton

The Gem State boasts nearly 5 million acres of designated wilderness that includes red deserts in the south, rain-drenched forests in the north, and even Yellowstone and the Tetons.

Where to Stay: Stay in the classic ranch town of Stanley, rent a lakeside cabin at Redfish Lake Lodge, or bring a tent and camp in the wilderness!

Redfish Lake

Photograph by Jessica Sutton

When to Go: This area frequently puts up the coldest temperatures in the country, so it’s best to go in June through August. Keep in mind, however, that forest fires frequently start in late July or August and sometimes bring smoke to the area.

What to Do: From Redfish Lake, explore one of the dozens of trails that wind through waterfalls, creeks, and craggy mountains, and later unwind in a kayak or pontoon boat. In addition to hiking and camping, this area is famous for world-class fly fishing and white water rafting with up to Class IV rapids on the Salmon River. Finally, take advantage of the first gold-tier dark sky reserve in the United States for world-class stargazing.

Kayaking on Redfish Lake

Photograph by Jessica Sutton

Hiking Alpine Lake Trail

Photograph by Jessica Sutton

Pro Tip: Visit Boat Box Hot Springs on the Salmon River and soak in the “tub”—or, as it appears, an old mining cauldron filled with steaming water.

Northern Idaho

Where to Visit: Three Lakes: Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, and Priest Lake.

Why Visit: These lakes are tucked away in heavily forested mountains, with quaint towns built along the water.

How to Get There: Fly into Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, or Spokane, Washington, which is only a 40 minute drive from Lake Coeur d’Alene. To experience more varied landscapes on the drive, fly into Lewiston, Idaho. Lewiston sits at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers and at the mouth of Hell’s Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. From there, drive 2 ½ hours through the colorful rolling hills of the Palouse into the mountains of the Idaho Panhandle.

Hells Canyon

Photograph by Jessica Sutton

Where to Stay: For an outdoorsy experience mixed with highly-rated restaurants and martini bars, stay along the lake in Coeur d’Alene. The Coeur d’Alene Resort is a luxurious place to rest your head and pamper yourself with spa treatments, but local B&Bs are a favorite here. If you want to experience the pioneering spirit, try the smaller town of Sandpoint on Lake Pend Oreille. Sandpoint’s picturesque brick buildings and charming eateries are framed by stunning mountain scenery and lakefront beaches. The most remote option of the three lakes is Priest Lake, only 15 miles from the Canadian border at its northernmost end. With no towns of over 500 people on the lake, this is the perfect place to camp or stay at a lakeside lodge.

Priest Lake

Photograph by Raina Overburg

When to Go: All of these lakes are year-round destinations, with high tourist seasons in both the summer and winter.

What to Do: In the summer, enjoy a range of activities, from hiking and camping to boating and four-wheeling. Look for special festivals in the area, such as the St. Maries Paul Bunyon Days, a three day carnival that includes logging competitions. This area is also home to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a 73-mile rail trail through Northern Idaho that you can skate, hike, or bike.

 

In the winter, snowshoeing and cross country skiing are popular activities. For downhill skiing and snowboarding, travel to Schweitzer Mountain, located only a few miles outside of Sandpoint.

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes

Photograph by Raina Overburg

Pro Tip: To experience the vast beauty of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, stay in one of the old Fire Lookouts, now converted into cabins available for a very modest rental price through Recreation.gov. Typically built on stilts high on a mountain peak, these lookouts offer 360 degree views of the expansive wilderness stretching as far as the eye can see.

Idaho Panhandle

Photograph by Raina Overburg

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