When we first started traveling in 2015, Idaho wasn’t even on our radar, now I’d almost contemplate moving there! We’ve been to all the states surrounding Idaho, but somehow this beautiful state hadn’t made it into our itinerary until 2017. I was blown away with how great Idaho is, especially for adventurers like us.
Idaho is the perfect destination if your road trip revolves around adventures like hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and all the myriad of water sports that the Great Lakes of Idaho provide a playground for.
Surrounded by 3 mountain ranges and sitting adjacent to the magnificent Lake Pend Oreille, it’s no wonder why people flock here for outdoor adventure.
While you can quickly escape the crowds to get lost on the many miles of hiking and MTB trails in Sherwood Forest or Schweitzer Mountain Resort, you can also find easy trails near town or chill and soak up the sun at City Beach. Lake Pend Oreille is also a perfect lake for power boating and I so wish we had rented a boat to get a day of wake boarding and inner tubing in.
When your kids have had enough of swimming and jumping into the water, you absolutely have to head over to Panhandle Cone & Coffee for the absolute best ice cream ever.
The small town charm of Sandpoint draws festivals, art shows, and concerts every year. Victor and I had a fun evening dancing and singing at The Festival at Sandpoint. This popular concert series that comes to Sandpoint every summer may not be your favorite hit artists, but the environment is super fun, friendly, and happy.
The fun at Schweitzer Mountain Resort doesn’t end with just MTB either. This is a great destination for hiking, trail running, zip lining, panning for gold, picking huckleberries, disc golf, geocaching, horseback riding, and more.
For delicious pies and jams, as well as organic meats and produce, hit the Farmers Market on Saturdays 9am-1pm or Wednesdays 3pm-5:30pm from early May to mid October.
What brought us here was the rock climbing but it wasn’t the only thing that kept us here.
Q’emiln Park is one of the best sport climbing destinations for families that we discovered. The parking here is easy, the approach is super short, and the routes are well bolted or top-roped. Q’emiln is really cool because it’s forest though you’d never expect it when driving through the farmland to get there.
Related blog: The Best Sport Climbing Destinations to Take Your Kids
In the park, there is also a large, wide river to play in and rinse off in after a day spent rock climbing. And is also a popular boating destination and way less crowded than nearby Coeur de Alene.
Plus, if you take the short walk across the bridge that spans the river, you can enjoy a delicious cold beer at Post Falls Brewing Co while taking in the views overlooking the river.
On the way to or from Post Falls: Stop in Coeur d’Alene for a nice dinner, some yummy ice cream at Sweet Peaks, or just a night in town.
McCall could very well one day be our home. We absolutely fell in love with camping at Ponderosa State Park. It’s very close to town and we loved that you can get anywhere in town from the campground by bike. And don’t miss the opportunity to go skateboarding/cruising on the paved trails surrounding the campground
Ponderosa State Park has an amazing trail network. Be sure to hike, run, or MTB the Huckleberry Bay Loop. Go at dawn for amazing views of Payette Lake.
Payette Lake became one of our absolute favorite lakes to swim in. You can walk down to the shore by the campground loops and have fun jumping off the docks. If you rent a boat for the day, it’s even better. Some days the lake will be glassy for the entire day!
In the morning, ride into town and grab some coffee (and wifi) at Mountain Java. Seriously do not miss the Farmers Market (open Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from June 10th to mid-October or until the snow flies). The McCall farmers is one of our all time favorite farmers markets. Grab some grass-fed meat from Butler Grass Fed, Yak Stix, organic bread, homemade pies, sweet (non-GMO) corn, veggies, and peaches. Stop at Salmon River Brewery for a drink or grab a burger at My Father’s Place but definitely don’t miss the waffles from Payette Liege Waffles food truck right by Salmon Rive Brewery (only open in the summer).
Last but not least, climb the hidden gem of The Thinking Spot. Don’t be fooled by Mountain Projects lack of routes. Just ask for info at Gravity Sports about climbing there or click here for our beta about climbing there. When you drive over there, hang out on the beautiful North Beach afterward.
On The Way to or from Stanley: On the way to Stanley you have to stop at the amazing Kirkham Hot Springs. It can be crowded but it’s still worth the stop. Park at 44.072427, -115.541471, cross the bridge, and enjoy moving between the 100-degree springs then polar plunging in the crisp cold river and cliff jumping from the opposite side of the river!
The Sawtooths are easily one of our favorite mountain ranges in the world and you could spend so much time in the area surrounding Stanley.
There are so many epic hikes to alpine lakes, meadows, jagged peaks, waterfalls, and lakes without the crowds of popular national parks. Be sure to hike Goat Lake, it’s short (not easy per se) and one of the most amazing hikes we’ve ever done.
Related blog: Best Day Hikes in The Sawtooth Range
Camp at Stanley Lake but make a reservation ahead of time if it’s summer. Spend a few days at Redfish Lake where there are many scenic campgrounds though Glacier View is the only one that allows RVs.
There is also a great campers resource on the road into Redfish where you can shower and do laundry (always a highlight for us).
If you’re near the town of Stanley, have a post-hike breakfast at Stanley Baking Company and Cafe. There’s a small library in town with free wifi and it’s right next to a yoga studio if you need to stretch after all that hiking.
On The Way to or from Sun Valley: As you drive down to Ketchum be sure to stop and mountain bike the easy and scenic trails at Galena. See the trail map here.
Sun Valley & Ketchum
Perhaps the next best thing to Stanley is the valley that Ketchum and Sun Valley lie in. There are adventures galore in these mountains and you could easily go get lost in them for weeks.
Camp at Boundary Campground and go for a lovely 7 mile MTB ride at Corral Creek (one of the top five MTB rides in Idaho) or ride your bike on the paved bike path into town and grab some bread at Bigwood Bread & Cafe.
If you feel like getting lost (not really lost), adventure into the mountains and go free camping off Trail Creek Road (click here to read our blog on Climbing and Free Camping on Trail Creek Road related blog).
From Sun Valley you have a few great road trip options. You can choose to go south toward Utah, stopping at Shoshone Falls, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Bear Lake, or City of Rocks. You could also head back north towards Missoula, stopping near Mackay for epic scramble hikes and Goldbug hot spring near Salmon.
City of Rocks
If you’re in the wonderful state of Idaho, you can’t miss the opportunity to climb at the famous City of Rocks. There is a route for everyone here and though it’s not an easy approach or lots of easy sport routes like Q’emiln Park, it’s still worth it.
For routes with no approach, head to Breadloaves (Sport and Trad)—perfect for kids.
If you’re okay with hiking far, walk to Tahitian Rocks and Site 18.
Related blog: 5.8 Climbers’ Guide to City of Rocks.
You will want to make time to camp out here as these campsites are amazing for star gazing, scrambling, and silence.City of Rocks is a great destination for your next adventure family road trip!Click To Tweet
If you’re looking for a place to relax and recover, make sure to stop at Bear Lake. Though there are many campgrounds around the lake, East Beach seemed to be the most lovely.
The water of this lake is famous for a reason– you saw how turquoise it was, right?!– and if you have a boat, it’s an epic place to waterski/wakeboard because there’s practically no one else on the lake (at least when we were there in late August).
Gold Bug Hot Spring
And last, for a little more relaxation and gorgeous scenery, check out Gold Bug Hot Springs near Salmon, Idaho.
That wraps up our favorite destinations on an Idaho road trip. We didn’t include Boise on our road trip on purpose. It’s way more suburban that I thought it would be and high desert environments aren’t my thing. That’s not to say you won’t like it and depending where you are traveling to/from, it may be necessary to go there to stock up at Trader Joes since it’s your only real city in Idaho.