12 Best Scenic Drives in Idaho

Idaho Scenic Byways

If a trip to Idaho is in the works, be sure to plan for some time spent exploring the beautiful sights found along the scenic routes all across the state.

Idaho is a large and beautiful state. There are towering snowcapped mountains, gurgling streams, rapid rivers, the excitement of the city, and the solitude of the plains. Guests can spend days hiking wilderness trails, whitewater rafting, or checking out the world-renowned golfing greens. But to truly get an understanding of the best of Idaho tourism, then take a road trip along its scenic roadways to discover Idaho’s delights and treasures.

Lake Coeur D’Alene Scenic Byway

In the northern region of the state where sparkling lakes abound, tourists will find the Lake Coeur D’Alene Scenic Byway. Considered one of the most beautiful drives in Idaho, the Lake Coeur D’Alene road trip is a fantastic way to see Idaho’s wildlife like deer, elk, and moose as well as its feathered friends such as the bald eagle and osprey. Be sure to bring along some binoculars.

My Public Lands Summer Road Trip: Coeur d’ Alene in Idaho
My Public Lands Summer Road Trip: Coeur d’ Alene in Idaho by mypubliclands

Starting off at the junction between Interstate 90 and Idaho 97, the route gracefully travels along the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene – home to both bald eagles and osprey which make up the largest nesting population in the Western states. We suggest taking a break to explore the Mineral Ridge Trail for not only incredible panoramic views of the lake but also several learning stations that provide information on the local botany and animal life.

As you continue the journey through gentle hills and lush forests you’ll eventually reach the quaint town of Harrison – marking the official ending point of this byway where Idaho 3 meets White Pine Scenic Byway and its southern route to Palouse.

Prepare yourself for a leisurely drive along Idaho 97; a two-lane winding road sans passing lanes – it’s 35.8 miles long so plan for 1.5 hours when heading out!

International Selkirk Loop

Embark on a journey of discovery and explore the wonders that await you around every corner on the International Selkirk Loop! This breathtaking 280-mile scenic drive takes travelers across the picturesque Selkirk Mountains, spanning both Washington and British Columbia. Along the way, travelers can marvel at the stunning rivers and lakeshores which have played an integral role in its rich and vibrant history. Historically, these waterways were used by native tribes, explorers, gold miners, and early settlers for transportation and travel.

International Selkirk Loop
The International Selkirk Loop by exit78

Today, the International Selkirk Loop serves as a vast playground for visitors who wish to take part in year-round recreation activities, enjoy stunning views, and discover unique cultures in charming small towns. Notable highlights include the longest free ferry ride on the continent across Kootenay Lake and the opportunity to become one of few travelers who cross an international border while on a National Scenic Byway – making it one of the Top 10 Scenic Drives in the Northern Rockies. Indulge in this unforgettable adventure and explore the many surprises that lie ahead!

Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

In the north-central region of Idaho is the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. Traveling along highways 12 and 13, drivers can trace the path followed by Lewis and Clark. Along the way, travelers will pass the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers, drive along steep mountain ridges, and get an up-close look at the land of the Nez Perce Indians. The trip lasts approximately 4.5 hours and is 191 miles long.

Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, Clearwater River, U.S. Route 12, East of Lewiston, Idaho
Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, Clearwater River, U.S. Route 12, East of Lewiston, Idaho by Ken Lund

Throughout the year, visitors can take in views of stunning rock formations and snowcapped mountains. But come wintertime, extreme weather conditions may be encountered at higher elevations—so be sure to check the forecast before heading out.

Spend a day or even days discovering the history that this byway has to offer. Stop by Spalding’s Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center to gain insight into Idaho’s native population, who have been living there for over 16,000 years. Pay a visit to Canoe Camp State Park, where Lewis and Clark built canoes to continue their journey, aided and supported by the Nez Perce people. Hear tales of courage associated with Heart of the Monster – said to be drops of blood spilled from a creature once eating all the animals in the area. And finally head to Lolo Pass, a mountain pass occupying a space in both the 1805 Lewis and Clark Expedition and the 1877 Nez Perce War.

Take time to savor fishing spots near Clearwater Lake, spot local wildlife, and admire remarkable natural vistas on your journey—discover why Idaho is called the Gem State with the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway.

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

The southwestern region of Idaho is characterized by rolling valleys, hot springs, towering trees, and high mountains. It offers 6 scenic drives, but the most famous one is Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Along this roadway, guests will see the deepest river gorge in North America, and the canyons of Idaho, and be able to watch wildlife. To fully appreciate the sites along the way, spend some time at the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Cambridge.

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway by tbishopcmsm

Often referred to as Idaho’s own Grand Canyon, this majestic landscape is a must-see for any visitor or local alike. To get a proper look at this majestic wonder, take the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which spans 22 miles and provides stunning views of the canyon’s rugged terrain.

Beginning in Copperfield, Oregon near Oxbow Bridge, the byway crosses into Idaho before leading drivers along its narrow two-lane pavements and steep grades. Along the way, travelers will have the opportunity to learn about the canyon’s history and visit places such as Hells Canyon Park and Hells Canyon Reservoir, which was formed when Hells Canyon Dam was completed in 1968.

The journey ends at Hells Canyon Dam at Idaho Power/U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center, where you can find more information on the byway and learn more about the area. With its breathtaking views and informative stops, the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is an absolute must-visit for anyone looking for an unforgettable adventure in Idaho.

City of Rocks Backcountry Byway

From the towering granite structures in the City of Rocks to the amazing animals at Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, the South Central region of Idaho has much to offer, like the 49 miles of the City of Rocks Backcountry Byway. The road begins in Albion and ends in the historic town of Oakley. Be sure to spend some time in the City of Rocks, a special favorite for those who enjoy hiking and rock climbing.

City of Rocks at Sunset - Idaho
City of Rocks at Sunset – Idaho by petechar

Starting at Albion, the route continues south past Pomerelle Ski Area and Lake Cleveland Recreation Area before reaching Connor Creek, where Cassia Creek has cut a gap between the Jim Sage and Cotterrell Mountains. From there, drivers will take the Elba-Almo Road along the valley cut by Cassia Creek until they reach Almo.

At the visitor center in Almo, travelers have the opportunity to explore the City of Rocks National Reserve. For those interested in RV camping, Castle Rocks State Park features 38 accommodations, while nature enthusiasts can take advantage of over 60 primitive tent campsites scattered across the property.

City of Rocks is renowned for its historical significance, as it was a major landmark on the California Trail from 1843 to 1869. Its walls, pinnacles, and spires are popular among climbers, containing more than 700 mapped routes and featuring granite varying from almost 3 billion years old to 25 million years old, representing two distinct magma intrusions. Names written in axle grease on exposed rock faces serve as a reminder of the pioneers who passed through here.

Beyond City of Rocks, the backcountry byway continues northwest along a deep canyon cut by Birch Creek, flanked by high volcanic cliffs and the Middle Mountain to the west and the Albion Mountains to the east. Historically, this stretch was utilized by the Kelton-Boise Stage Line, while today it is used by local ranchers to transport their cattle to summer pastures. The route eventually culminates in Oakley, known for its concentration of old stone and wood-framed buildings, each listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pioneer Historic Byway

In southeastern Idaho history abounds. From the old west town of Franklin to the traditions of the Shoshone and Bannock Indians there is much to see. Travel along the 127-mile Pioneer Historic Byway to see the town of Franklin, the Lake Wildlife Refuge, and the city of Preston where the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” was filmed. Also, in the region are the stunningly beautiful sights seen along the Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway.

Spanning 127 miles from the Idaho-Utah state line to the Idaho-Wyoming border, this stunning byway offers sights to behold including remarkable scenic views, geological wonders, and numerous historical sites.

Pioneer Historic Byway Marker
Pioneer Historic Byway Marker by jimmywayne

At the beginning of your journey, you’ll visit the Bear River Massacre Site, where California volunteers attacked a winter camp of Native Americans in 1863. This site allows you to pay homage to the tragic event, as well as observe both the beauty and harshness of nature.

Continuing northward, you’ll come upon Black Canyon Gorge. Here, a lush river flows through solid black lava rock walls, creating an awe-inspiring scene and a great spot to get out of your car and enjoy some fresh air. Not far from here is Soda Springs, home to its own tourist attraction: the famous Soda Springs Geyser. Every hour, it shoots up to 70 feet in the air – not something you see every day!

Right before reaching the Wyoming state line, make sure to take a detour to Wayan and the Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It’s here you’ll find amazing wildlife-watching opportunities, especially during peak migration season when thousands of birds flock to the marsh. Plus, there’s a gravel road that circles around the area – making it easy to take in all that Grays Lake has to offer.

The National Pioneer Historic Byway has countless attractions and activities for adventurers of all kinds. Whether you’re looking for breathtaking views, want to learn more about Idaho’s history, or just want an excuse to get out and explore – this scenic route is one of Idaho’s best-kept secrets and shouldn’t be missed.

Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

Embark on a journey of breathtaking beauty along the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway. Spanning 33.4 miles from U.S. 95 to the Montana state line, this byway takes you through some of Idaho’s most spectacular landscapes. From lush farmlands and river deltas to rocky shores sculpted by glaciers and the floodwaters of Glacial Lake Missoula, you can take in all the majestic views at the various pullouts provided along the way.

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho by U.S. Department of the Interior

Whether you’re looking for a quiet getaway or an adventure-filled holiday, the region has something for everyone. In summer, you can swim, fish, hunt, golf, hike, water ski, and bird watching; while winter offers perfect skiing and snowmobiling conditions. With varied accommodation options ranging from undeveloped mountain campsites to RV parks near the water’s edge, as well as lakeside resorts and motels, you’re guaranteed to find something that suits your needs. Allow about 1.5 hours to truly appreciate this gorgeous stretch of nature – it’s an experience you won’t forget!

Teton Scenic Byway or the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

The eastern region of Idaho is the home of the Grand Tetons, the Lemhi Mountain Range, and the meandering turns of the Snake River. To fully appreciate these sights and more set the course for the Teton Scenic Byway or the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. The roads are abundant in delightful sights such as the ranchland of the Teton Valley, the towering peaks of the Tetons, and the thunderous beauty of the Mesa Falls.

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Sign
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Sign by jimmywayne

Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway

The Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway offers an immersive journey through the historical landscape of the Selkirk Mountains. Beginning in Sandpoint on the northwestern shores of Lake Pend Oreille, the 59.2-mile long byway winds along the eastern side of the Selkirks, tracing the Kootenai Tribe’s ancient trading route to their fishing grounds at Lake Pend Oreille. In 1808, explorer David Thompson took the same path, and in 1863 it became the main thoroughfare for miners and pack animals traveling to Wild Horse Creek, where gold was discovered 120 miles north of Bonners Ferry, British Columbia. When the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in the area, the trail was transformed into a major freight line.

Wild Horse Trail Historic Marker
Wild Horse Trail Historic Marker by jimmywayne

Today, stunning views of glacial valleys carved out during the last Ice Age are visible just south of Bonners Ferry. These lush valleys have been nourished and sustained by rich soil deposits left over from retreating glaciers, and now sustain a wide variety of agriculture throughout the Kootenai Valley. Allow 1.5 hours to travel through this scenic region, and enjoy all that this historic byway has to offer.

Salmon River Scenic Byway

Central Idaho is the home of the Stanley Basin, the Sawtooth Mountains, and the Salmon River and is enjoyed by many with a whitewater rafting trip down this famed river. However, driving the 162-mile Salmon River Scenic Byway also offers plenty of opportunity for adventure. While traveling the Byway, be sure to visit the Sacajawea Interpretive and Education Center, the ghost town of Custer, and the Land of the Yankees State Park.

Salmon River Scenic Byway Sign
Salmon River Scenic Byway Sign by jimmywayne

Idaho tourism offers many roadside adventures. There are ghost towns, historic locations, and big cities all offering adventures of every sort. Come discover the majestic mountains, rolling rivers, picturesque plains, and verdant valleys of this beautiful state. There’s so much to see and do that guests come back over and over again. Come join the adventure!

Sawtooth Scenic Byway

The Sawtooth Scenic Byway is a captivating journey south from the idyllic town of Stanley, down Highway 75. As you make your way through Central Idaho, you’ll be surrounded by picture-perfect mountains and quaint towns full of charm.

Traveling on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Idaho Highway 75, South
Traveling on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Idaho Highway 75, South by Road Travel America

Be sure to take advantage of all the attractions this route has to offer, such as the Galena Summit overlook which provides breathtaking views of the region’s scenery. Or take a day trip to Sun Valley to enjoy some skiing or outdoor activities. Ketchum is another noteworthy destination, where Hollywood stars, millionaires, and writers go to seek respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life – it also offers a wonderful downtown area brimming with delicious eateries and unique shops to explore. Lastly, don’t forget to check out the otherworldly lava rock formations at Black Magic Canyon. So strap in for an unforgettable drive down the Sawtooth Scenic Byway!

St. Joe River Scenic Byway

The St. Joe River Byway offers an unforgettable journey through some of Idaho’s most stunning scenery. Starting in the picturesque town of St. Maries, travelers can admire the tranquil river still home to majestic tugboats. As you meander eastwards along the river, be sure to keep an eye out for incredible wildlife such as bald eagles, ospreys, and even Moose. The waters are deep and clear, providing an ideal habitat for a variety of types of trout.

St. Joe River, Idaho
St. Joe River, Idaho by Walmart Corporate

Further upstream at St. Joe City, the vessels become shallower and faster, with rapids creating a thrilling environment for those wanting a more action-packed experience. With numerous points of interest such as Marble Creek Interpretive Center and the historic Avery Railroad Depot, there is something for everyone.

At 89 miles long and with an estimated 3 hours of travel time, this byway offers all the thrill of adventure without having to venture too far from civilization. So grab your tickets and embark on this wonderful journey through Idaho’s amazing landscape!

Final Word

Idaho offers an incredible array of experiences no matter how you choose to explore them. For those looking for a wider range of landscapes, activities, and attractions in the area, we highly recommend one of these remarkable scenic drives throughout the Gem State. Whether you’re behind the wheel or hitting the great outdoors on a hike, bike, or rafting trip, you are sure to find these trails through Idaho stimulating and rewarding. Put aside some time to take in breathtaking views of rivers, majestic peaks, stunning canyons, and lush forests as you travel down these routes and discover what Idaho has to offer.

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