Top 10 Scenic Drives in Idaho

The rest of the world may associate Idaho with potatoes, but those in the know value it for its overwhelming natural beauty and outdoorsman appeal. From the serrated peaks of the Rocky Mountains, to vast prairies, to sweeping desert terrain, this state is a cornucopia of once-in-a-lifetime photo and recreational opportunities. Ernest Hemingway described it as “a wonderland of surprises.” With only a short time here, you’re likely to agree. With one of these scenic drives as a starting point for exploration, prepare to enjoy this Idaho wonderland and the memory of the experience for years to come:

No. 10 – McCroskey State Park

McCroskey State Park Idaho
Flickr user: Amber

Starting Location: Moscow, ID
Ending Location: Farmington, WA
Length: 61 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

The roads on this route may be rough and only suitable for 4WD vehicles, but the views within McCroskey State Park are worth the trip and trouble. The forest there is full of cedars and ponderosa pines that periodically line up just right to afford sweeping vistas of the Palouse prarie below. The recreational area at Iron Mountain is ideal for a picnic to refuel with several hiking trails to explore the region more closely.

No. 9 – Seven Devils Mountains

Seven Devils Mountains Idaho
Flickr user: Nan Palmero

Flickr user: 9977722@N02

Starting Location: Cambridge, ID
Ending Location: He Devil, ID
Length: 97 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This visually appealing drive skirts the outer portion of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest before diving into the heart of Hell’s Canyon, home to superb views and treacherous heights. The peaks are part of the Rocky Mountains and play host to a wide array of wildlife, from black bear to mountain goats. Athletic types may enjoy the challenge of climbing He Devil with an elevation of 9393 feet.

No. 8 – Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway

Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway Idaho
Flickr user: Laura Gilmore

Starting Location: Grand View, ID
Ending Location: Jordan Valley, OR
Length: 106 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

For unparalleled desert scenery in the state, there’s no better route than this byway through the Owyhee Uplands. The sights include steep canyons along the Owyhee River, rim-rocked plateaus dotted with sagebrush, and an earthy palette that’s almost too picturesque to be real. Gas stations are few, so take advantage when you can, and keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, coyotes, and badgers.

No. 7 – Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Idaho
Flickr user: Todd Petrie

Starting Location: Ashton, ID
Ending Location: Harriman, ID
Length: 19 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Cross the Warm River that isn’t always so warm into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest for an ideal way to spend a morning or afternoon. Wildflowers are rampant in spring, but the forest is beautiful throughout the year with a thriving population of elk and moose. The stars of this trip, however, are the Lower Mesa Falls and Upper Mesa Falls, which are a short and easy hike off the main road and exhibit impressive speed and power.

No. 6 – Lake Coeur d’Alene

Lake Coeur d’Alene Idaho
Flickr user: Idaho Fish and Game

Starting Location: Coeur d’Alene, ID
Ending Location: Potlatch, ID
Length: 101 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

On one side of this drive lies Lake Coeur d’Alene and on the other is the Coeur d’Alene National Forest, so there’s no shortage of woods to explore or refreshing spots to swim. In St. Maries, stop at Hughes House Historical Society to learn about the region’s rich logging history. Then, in the Giant White Pine Campground, take a photo beside a 400-year-old tree that is nearly 200 feet tall and over six feet around.

No. 5 – Sawtooth Drive

Sawtooth Drive Idaho
Flickr user: Jason W.

Starting Location: Boise, ID
Ending Location: Shoshone, ID
Length: 117 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Beginning in the portion of the Rocky Mountains known as the Sawtooth Range and ending in the desert, travelers along this way may feel transported between worlds. Dip your toes in Kirkham Hot Springs near Lowman, or plunge all the way in one of the lakes at Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Once out of the mountains, tour one of two lava tube-formed caves – Shoshone Ice Cave and Mammoth Cave for truly unusual scenery.

No. 4 – Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

Northwest Passage Scenic Byway Idaho
Flickr user: Scott Johnson

Starting Location: Lewistown, ID
Ending Location: Lolo Pass, ID
Length: 173 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

When explorers Lewis and Clark traveled through this region, their path was very similar to this route. Consequently, historic markers related to their discoveries are plentiful, including a large portion of the drive passing through the Nez Perce Reservation, with descendants of ancestors likely known to them. Steelhead trout are abundant in Clearwater River, and hikers may enjoy the Colgate Licks Trail that terminates at two hot springs.

No. 3 – Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

Pend Oreille Scenic Byway Idaho
Flickr user: Idaho Fish and Game

Starting Location: Sandpoint, ID
Ending Location: Clark Fork, ID
Length: 34 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Passing through the state’s panhandle forests and by the northern part of Pend Oreille Lake, this drive has plenty of recreational and photo opportunities. This 1,150-foot deep lake is the fifth deepest lake in the country, and it attracts visitors for boating and fishing throughout the year. Trestle Creek Recreation Area is known for its swimming, and the not-much-further Denton Slough Waterfowl Area is a birdwatcher’s paradise.

No. 2 – International Selkirk Loop

International Selkirk Loop Idaho
Flickr user: Alvin Feng

Starting Location: Sandpoint, ID
Ending Location: Sandpoint, ID
Length: 287 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive goes on a tour of two states and two countries, beginning in eastern Idaho, then going up into British Columbia, Canada, and through part of Washington before looping back to the town of Sandpoint. Make sure you have your passport before setting out, and consider taking a gondola ride up a 6,400-foot mountain at Schweitzer Mountain Resort for stunning views. In the Canadian town of Creston, the Glass House is an unusual attraction of note, built by a mortician entirely from embalming fluid bottles.

No. 1 – Teton Scenic Byway

Teton Scenic Byway Idaho
Flickr user: Diana Robinson

Starting Location: Swan Valley, ID
Ending Location: Victor, ID
Length: 21 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

When it comes to mountainous panoramic views and diverse wildlife, it’s difficult to beat the Grand Tetons seen on this scenic byway where – despite being located in Wyoming – they feel close enough to touch. In the spring, wildflowers cover the valley regions, and Snake River affords the opportunity for boating and fishing fun. Thousands of years shaped the terrain, from the jagged peaks to the ancient lava flows, and this one route provides the privilege of being witness to its latest incarnation.

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