Looking for the best hikes in Idaho? Idaho is the best-kept secret in America and it’s rapidly becoming known among outdoor lovers as the ultimate adventure hub in the US. More and more, people are discovering this stunning state and while I’d love to keep it to myself, there’s too much beauty to keep it a bottled up for only select few. That’s why we’re sharing this roundup of the 13 best hikes in beautiful Idaho and why you need to add them to your bucket list!
In Idaho, nature is raw, real, and untouched. It draws in those who wish to just BE—to coexist peacefully with the beauty of nature. It’s not for tourists, it’s not for casual I-hike-when-it’s-the-cool-thing-to-do travelers, it’s for those who want nothing more than to soak in nature in its true glory.
Ranked in order of best to slightly less best (I can’t say worst), here’s our roundup of the best, most stunning trail hikes in Idaho….
1 | Goat Lake
Distance + elevation gain: 8 miles, 1500′
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate-Strenuous
Trailhead: Iron Creek trailhead
Goat Lake is without a doubt our favorite hike in Idaho and that’s why its on the top of the list of the best hikes in Idaho! While there are certainly beautiful lakes that match the beauty of Goat Lake, none of them are quite so easy to get to.
While the trail is still steep, just 2 hours of hiking will bring you up to this alpine wonderland. The lake is quaint in size but unbelievably blue. Goat Lake is a great place to go for a swim while taking in the amazing mountains that surround the small lake.
2 | Pioneer Cabin
Distance + elevation gain: 7.2 miles (or 8.5 mile loop), 2500′
Trailhead: 43°44’22.0″N 114°13’55.6″W
Located in the beautiful mountains outside of Sun Valley, Idaho’s Pioneer Cabin feels like being transported to a European refuge in the Alps. It’s not hard to see why this is our runner up pick for the best hikes in Idaho.
This hike can be done as an out and back for only 7 miles roundtrip or, can be looped for an 8-mile circuit. Personally, we opted for the out and back version since we were running out of daylight however many people recommend the full loop. If you want to do the full loop click here for details.
The trailhead lies nearly 4 miles down a pretty well-maintained dirt forest road. Once at the trailhead, follow the signs toward Pioneer Cabin, Trail 122. About 30 minutes from the summit, you’ll reach a trail junction. Be sure to make a left and stay on the well worn trail. A long traverse along the mountains to your left and some steep switchbacks, you’ll finally crest a hill and low and behold, beautiful Pioneer Cabin will be before you in front a stunning glacial mountainscape.
As if the view wasn’t enough, the cabin is also free and open to the public to both explore and even stay the night at. The cabin is filled with all sorts of cool gear, journals, and quotes all over the walls. There’s even a cooktop for people who stay the night.
3 | Scotchman’s Peak
Distance + elevation gain: 8 miles, 3700’
Trailhead: 48°09’51.8″N 116°05’53.2″W
Scotchman’s Peak, located just outside of Sandpoint, is one of the most popular peaks in North Idaho. This peak, which is the highest point in the county, provides you with a beautiful panoramic view of Lake Pend Orielle and the vast expanse of mountains beyond making it an easy addition to this roundup of best hikes in Idaho.
The view is stunning but it’s a view that has to be earned with 3700 feet of elevation gain! That’s almost 1000 feet every mile! Needless to say, it’s no easy feat however the well maintained trail makes it doable for families. While this is a popular hike, the early bird will be rewarded with solitude on the trail and on the summit.
P.S. Remember not to feed or approach the mountain goats.
Getting to the trailhead is the real challenge. From Sandpoint, take highway 200 east.
- When you hit the town of Clark Fork, turn left (north) at the Chevron Station onto Mosquito Creek Road.
- A mile or two after turning, Mosquito Creek rd will turn to dirt.
- Continue on the Mosquito Creek dirt road section for 2 more miles until you see a sign on the left side of the road. At this junction, turn right following signs to Trail #65 and Road #2295.
- Take #2295 for 1 mile (4-5 minutes) then turn left on #2294, marked again by a sign for trail #65.
- Take #2294 for .4 miles (2 minutes) then turn left on road #2294a. This road is unmarked on Google Maps.
- Follow this for 2.2 miles (about 10 minutes) and you’ll reach the trailhead
- Note: This trailhead isn’t recommended for RVs (we technically made it there in our 30′ Class C though).
Pro tip: You can easily free camp along the forest roads you have to take to get to the trailhead however there’s an even better free campsite nearby and it’s included in this blog on the best campgrounds in Idaho.
4 | Alice Lake/Toxaway Loop
Distance + elevation gain: 13 miles, 1600′ (18 miles, 3285′ for full Toxaway Loop)
Difficulty: Strenuous (or Moderate as backpacking trip)
Trailhead: Tin Cup Trailhead
Known as the most famous backpacking circuit in the Sawtooth Mountain Range, Alice Lake does not disappoint. While the popular backpacking circuit takes you beyond Alice Lake onto the Toxaway Loop, even if you just hike to Alice in a day, it’s breathtaking.
The route starts from the Tin Cup trailhead, just a few miles south of Stanley. It’s a brief 2-mile drive on a usually well-maintained dirt road. From the trailhead, the signs mark the way. The trail brings you through the forest, up a meadow, and past some small ponds and peaks until you finally reach the alpine wonderland of Alice Lake with amazing jagged mountain views.
You can continue on from here for a 2-3 day backpacking trip (or you could even day hike the entire loop) which brings you back to the same trailhead. The Toxaway loop is 18 miles and has almost 3300 feet of elevation gain however the extra hike is worth it as it takes you over the beautiful Snowyside Pass.
5 | Sawtooth Lake
Distance + elevation gain: 10 miles, 1870’
Trailhead: Iron Creek trailhead
No list of best hikes in Idaho would be complete without iconic Sawtooth. Another popular trek among the Sawtooths is the alpine wonderland of Sawtooth Lake itself. Hiking to this lake is like traveling to a different dimension. Ascending past jagged spires, beautiful lime green trees, and the deep blue waters of Alpine Lake is an experience you will never forget. When you reach Sawtooth Lake, take in the views of the textured mountains all around you and if you’re brave, take a dive into the ice cold alpine lake.
Just like Goat Lake, this route starts from the Iron Creek trailhead and you’ll follow the signs to Sawtooth Lake. Though it’s 5 miles each way, the elevation gain is super gradual making this suitable for only moderate level hikers.
6 | Borah Peak
Distance + elevation gain: 7.3 miles, 5285′
Difficulty: Very strenuous, Class 4 scrambling
Trailhead: Borah Peak trailhead
While we haven’t done this hike personally, Borah Peak is an iconic hike in Idaho and what many consider to be the best hike in Idaho. Borah Peak is the highest peak in the whole state and not only is it strenuous, hot, and long, but it also contains class 4 scrambling along Chicken-Out Ridge to reach the summit. Thus, those with a fear of heights will definitely want to pass on this one. It’s by far the most strenuous trail on this list but that’s only more enticing for some people.
It’s also one of the couple dozen peaks in the lower 48 that gain over 5000 from trailhead to summit. At the top, you’ll be greeted with awesome views of the Lost River range at a summit elevation of 12,662′ but more importantly to most people who tackle this trail, you’ll have bagged Idaho’s highest summit.
Supposedly it takes anywhere between 8 and 12 hours to complete this hike and you’ll want to get a dawn start no later than 6 AM. You can find more info on Hiking Borah Peak here.
7 | Fred’s Mountain via Idaho
Distance + elevation gain: 3 miles (or 6 if you hike down), 1920′
Trailhead: Grand Targhee Resort at Dreamcatcher ski lift
So first things first, this isn’t technically an Idaho hike, however, you have to access it from Idaho which is why I included it. Fred’s Mountain is the summit peak of Grand Targhee Mountain Resort. Along with great mountain biking and skiing, this resort is home to an amazing family-friendly hike.
This trail starts at the Lodge area by the main ski lift and winds it’s way up through beautiful meadows and aspen trees. For the last mile, and on the peak, you’ll have gorgeous views of the backside of the Tetons.
The best part is, once you’re at the top, you don’t have to downhill back. You can hop on the Grand Targhee ski lift for free during operating hours (click here to check their hours).
8 | Goldbug Hot Springs
Distance + elevation gain: 4 miles, 1350′
Trailhead: Goldbug trailhead
You may have heard of this famous hot springs in central Idaho but unlike many Idaho hot springs, it takes some work to get to this one. Among the Salmon wilderness, this steep trail winds its way up sage brush hillside and ascends a rocky staircase. While short, its not an easy walk in the park but the reward is worth while.
Goldbug Hot Springs consists of 3 pools of a perfect not-too-hot not-too-cold temperature overlooking the valley below. Though a challenging walk, this trail is without a doubt one of the best hikes in Idaho. It can get really crowded here so a sunrise wake up call is highly recommend.
Pro tip: You can even pitch a tent along the trail to Goldbug so long as you follow Leave No Trace principles including camping at least 500 feet away for any water source. This makes it easy to score Goldbug at the most stunning times of day: sunrise and sunset.
9 | Stevens Lake
Distance + elevation gain: 5 miles, 1824’
Trailhead: Stevens Lake trailhead
Just a few minutes away from Idaho’s famous Hiawatha Trail in the lush Panhandle National Forest of North Idaho lies Stevens Lake. Stevens Lake is a hidden gem hike that brings you to an emerald green mountain lake, perfect for a swim on a warm summer day.
If you’ve got more energy, you can even continue on to Upper Stevens Lake which is supposedly even more beautiful.
Note: There are 2 different ways to reach the trailhead. One is via Lookout Pass. When you turn south towards the Ski Pass after exiting, you should see signs pointing right (west) to the trailhead. The other way to get there is 1 exit further west from Lookout Pass. This is the way we went and though it was fine even with an RV, it was very narrow, and due to the well-signed nature of the other access road, I imagine it would be more well maintained.
10 | Schweitzer Nature Trail
Distance + elevation gain: 2.6 miles (or 5.2 if you hike downhill), 1700′
Trailhead: Schweitzer Mountain Resort
Another great hike in North Idaho is the summit trail to the top of Schweitzer Ski Resort. The hike is super peaceful and by mid-summer there are SO MANY huckleberries along the trail! So many that it took us nearly an hour longer because we stopped to pick them so often😜.
At the top, enjoy expansive views of the surrounding hills and Lake Pend Orielle down in Sandpoint.
After the hike up, you can opt to take the free ski lift back down during hours of operation.
Pro Tip: Self-contained vehicles can camp overnight in the parking lot of Schweitzer for only $20 per night (and sometimes they won’t charge you).
11 | Ponderosa State Park Loop
Distance + elevation gain: 6 miles, 640’
Trailhead: Meadow Marsh trailhead
Ponderosa State Park located in the cute lil town of McCall, is a quiet and lush getaway. Ponderosa State Park is forested and sits right on Payette Lake. It’s a popular place to camp and getaway but even if you aren’t camping here, there’s a wonderful 4 miles trail that goes around the Ponderosa SP peninsula.
This trail is a great sunrise or sunset hike and along the way, you could hop in the water and go for a swim.
The trail is well worn and accessed from inside the State Park.
12 | City of Rocks
Distance + elevation gain: 6.3 miles, 1420’
Trailhead: Parking Lot Rock
City of Rocks is famous among the rock climbing community for its incredible sport climbing but even if you don’t rock climb, City of Rocks is a place you’ve got to see once. City of Rocks is a national reserve located about 3 hours southeast of Boise and covers an expansive region of trails and rocks to explore.
There are so many different trails that you could go explore however the 6-mile City of Rocks loop is definitely one of the best hikes in Idaho and is the top trail to explore all the rocky region has to offer.
13 | Tubbs Hill, Coeur d’Alene
Distance + elevation gain: 2 miles, 300’
Trailhead: McEuen Park, Coeur d’Alene
Finally, the easiest but possibly the most fun trail on this list is the radical little hike around Tubbs Hill. Accessed right from downtown Coeur d’Alene, the trail traverses the lakefront peninsula but the best part isn’t the trail, rather the fun cliff jumping spread all around the lake’s coast.
Go at sunrise for beautiful lake views or have a blast jumping into the lake on a hot summer day.
If you’re looking for more of a hike and don’t care for jumping into the lake, you can take a detour up one of the many summit trails.
We hope this inspired your next amazing hike in Idaho! If you have questions, let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @nomadswithapurpose for daily outdoor adventure inspiration!
Related Idaho Blogs:
- 20+ Bucket List Things to do in Idaho
- Ultimate Idaho Itinerary
- Best Hikes in the Sawtooths
- 7 Reasons to visit Grand Targhee in the Summer