No doubt about it, Idaho is referred to as “The Gem State” because of all the incredibly rad things to do here in the summer!
Welcome to Idaho, an adventurers paradise. If you’ve never visited Idaho, you are missing out on some of the absolute best hikes, mountain biking, lakes, rivers, climbing, and camping in the world.
Idaho is unlike any other state in the US both in the lack-of-accessibility-and-infrastructure kind of way and in the get-lost-in-gorgeous-nature kind of way.
And let me just say, if you’ve only been to Boise, you haven’t experienced Idaho.
While Boise is rad compared it to other large cities, however, it’s still suburbia and it’s not the epic outdoors like so many of the fun things to do listed below. But, if you are looking for less crowded infrastructure, decent mountain biking trails, hipster restaurants, grocery stores to restock at, and great hikes only a few hours away, then Boise might be a perfect destination for you.
In this blog, however, we are not covering Boise so that we can turn our attention to all the other incredibly awesome things to do in Idaho in the summer.
For those of you who need way more wilderness, sharp jagged mountains looming over your tent, trails that require topographical maps, free hot springs in a natural setting, and local food served up without a huge price tag, then these things to do in Idaho in summer may very well be the motivation you need to escape the rat race for a long weekend, or even a month, and go explore Idaho’s vast, yet very accessible, wilderness.
Are you ready to get inspired? Let’s do this! Here are 21 of my absolute favorite things to do in Idaho in summer.
1 | Boat on a Lake
Who doesn’t love boating on a lake? You have so many great lakes to choose from in Idaho! These are a few of our favorite lakes that are great for paddleboarding, kayaking, waterskiing, waterboarding, and inner-tubing:
- Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint
- Redfish Lake, Stanley
- Payette Lake, McCall
- Lake Cascade, Cascade
- Bear Lake on the Utah/Idaho border
- Priest Lake, Coolin
- And, of course, the famous Coeur de Alene
All these lakes also have nice sandy beaches to play at if boating on the lake isn’t a part of your dream vacation.
Have fun on the lake with a SUP!
This SUP is super affordable, pumps up quickly, includes a backpack, hand pump, and repair kit, and even comes with a dry bag to keep your belongings safe while playing on the lake. Buy here on Amazon
2 | Escape to the Moon
It’s taken many trips through Idaho for us to finally check out Craters of the Moon National monument. It is unique for sure! Unfortunately because of COVID, the caves were closed when we were there, however, it’s a short detour to drive the 7-mile scenic loop and the campground here is incredible. If you have the opportunity to camp here, you will be amazed by the stargazing here!
3 | Photograph a Waterfall
Idaho has many beautiful waterfalls to check out. One of the easiest to get to, and possibly one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of America, is Shoshone Falls. This multi-tiered waterfall is even higher than Niagara Falls! Mesa Falls is another breathtaking falls and its set in a beautiful forest.
One of our favorite waterfalls is Bridal Veil Falls in the Sawtooth mountains! It’s a pretty easy hike to get to the falls and the camping around Stanley Lake is wonderful
Related Blogs: Best Campgrounds in Idaho
4 | Jump In An Alpine Lake
One of the best parts of the Sawtooths is how accessible the alpine lakes are and when the weather gets warm in the summer, jumping into some of our favorite lakes like Bench, Goat, and Alice is the perfect thing to do in Idaho in Summer.
Related: 5 Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooths
Chill in a Hammock by a Lake
We love hiking with our Wise Owl hammocks and getting to rest our tired lakes while chilling in these comfy hammocks! Buy here on Amazon
5 | Go For a Hike
There are waayyyy too many hikes to list here, but I promise there is a hike for everyone in Idaho. Remember Idaho is still home to many bears so remember to hike with bear spray.
Personally, my favorite hike in Idaho is to Pioneer Cabin near Sun Valley. It’s as close to a European Refugio as you can get in the States. Granted there was no bar or restaurant serving up amazing food and drinks, however, the alpine surroundings are unlike anything else you’ve seen in the States.
Of course, the entire Sawtooth Wilderness is home to so many epic hikes as well. Find the top hikes in the Sawtooths here.
Related: 13 Best Hikes in Idaho
Be safe! Carry Bear Spray!
Even though we have never come across a bear while hiking, we always make sure to carry one, if not two, bear sprays while hiking in Idaho. This bear spray on Amazon is cheaper than the one I just bought at Walmart
6 | Camp in a State Park
Idaho State Parks have some of our alltime favortie campgrounds such as:
- Ponderosa State Park
- Henry’s Lake State Park
- Massacre Rocks State Park
- Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park
I love how affordable Idaho State Parks are and that many are located on the water so it’s easy for the entire family to be happy.
7 | Explore an Ice Cave
It took me may trips to Idaho to realize that there are a lot of really rad caves to explore here. Here are some great Ice Caves to explore in Idaho:
- Darby Wind and Ice Caves
- Niter Ice Cave, Grace
- Q’emiln Park Caves, Post Falls
- Shoshone Ice Caves, Shoshone
- Craters of the Moon, Arco
- Paris Ice Cave, Paris
Don’t forget a headlamp
I love this Biolite 330 headlamp because it is super bright but also has a low setting so I can use it to read at night in my tent and not keep everyone awake. It is also rechargeable with a USB. Buy here on Backcountry
8 | Backpack the Wilderness
Idaho has quite a few great backpacking trips. We have our eyes on doing the entire Alice-Pettit-Toxaway Loop. We’ve day hiked Alice and it was fantastic!
Many of the best hikes in the Sawtooths can be backpacked and you don’t need to apply for a permit ahead of time. Just fill out a permit at the trailhead.
Related Blog: Complete Backpacking Pack List
9 | Bomb a Downhill Mountain Biking Trail
Our absolute favorite place to go downhill mountain biking is The Grand Targhee Resort on the backside of the Tetons. This resort is gorgeous and has great riding for newbies as well as hardcore mountain bikers.
Sun Valley has another of our favorite rides, Corral Creek, and nearby Galena is filled with flowy trails. Brundage Mountain is another great destination especially for those with great MTB skills.
Cute Bike Shorts
Be comfortable on the trail while looking good hanging out at the bar afterwards with these padded bike shorts.
10 | Ride a Historic Trail
The Route of the Hiawatha near Coeur de Alene is considered the “crown jewel” of the rail to trail rides. With 10 train tunnels and 7 sky-high trestles along this historic 15-mile mountain biking route. The best part is that it’s mostly downhill and you can get a shuttle back to town.
If you prefer sticking to asphalt, the 24 mile long North Idaho Centennial Trail runs between Higgens Point State Park on Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Idaho–Washington border, where it joins the Liberty Lake Stateline Trail. It has great views of Lake Coeur d’Alene and parts of the Spokane River.
History buffs might also enjoy a trip to Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, which has the largest concentration of Hagerman horse fossils in North America.
Watch now: Biking the Hiawatha Trail
Bring a camelback
There’s limited water along this trail. Carrying a camelback is a good idea especially if you choose to bike it both ways.
Related Blogs: Healthy Hiking Snacks (Great for a long bike ride like this!)
11 | Soak in a Natural Hot Spring
Kirkham Hot Springs is a great hot spring if you are looking for hot springs in a natural setting that are easy to get to. Located right along the highway, these gorgeous rock pools sit right next to an ice cold river making it easy to cool off in between soaks. Because this is located so close to Boise and it’s so easy to get to, it can get really crowded. We waited until sunset so we could enjoy the springs by ourselves.
For the perfect Instagram pic, check out Boat Box Hot Springs near Stanley or Sunbeam Hot Springs just a few miles further down highway 75.
Quick Dry Towels
These quick-dry towels are great for hiking with. They pack down really small and are super absorbent. Buy here on Amazon
12 | Hike to a Hot Spring
I think Goldbug Hot Springs is one of the most scenic hot springs, however, it requires a bit of a trek to get to. Located near Salmon, Idaho, these hot springs also tend to draw quite a crowd so get up early for this hike.
13 | Relax at a Hot Pool
We usually stick to the natural hot springs but then when we discovered the Hot Pools in Lava Hot Springs, we were in heaven. It’s nice that you can choose the perfect temperature to sit in and some of the pools have jets, which are so great for our constantly tired muscles! There are multiple pools of varying degrees from 102 to 112.
14 | Climb in City of Rocks
City of Rocks is a must-do for any climber, but even if you don’t know how to rock climb, the large boulders surrounding the campgrounds are really fun for kids to play on and makes for an incredibly scenic destination.
Bring an 80 meter rope
We were just climbing here and I wish so much we had a longer rope because quite a few routes need a long rope so that you don’t have to double rope rappel.
15 | Shop at a Farmer’s Market
Idaho has some of the best farmer’s markets in the US. We always look forward to stopping at the farmer’s market in McCall, however, it is not operating the summer of 2020. There is a great farmers market nearby in Donnely or click here for a complete list of farmer’s markets in Idaho.
16 | Float a River
There are a lot of great places to jump in a river in Idaho, but probably the easiest, most family friendly place to float a river is in Lava Hot Springs. Right in town are a half dozen vendors renting tubes. I highly recommend renting the quad tubes. They are more stable and can even handle going over the big waterfall before the floating dock. The floating dock is where we chose to put in and felt very safe.
Also, wear water shoes or old tennis shoes so you can push off any rocks along the way. We did it for 2 hours and felt like that was the perfect amount of time. We even skipped the shuttle so we could get in a little more exercise however, the shuttle makes it very easy to do this adventure with younger kids.
17 | Play at a Waterslide Park
While you are in Lava Hot Springs you have to play at their swimming pool and waterslide park. There are 5 waterslides, spring diving boards, high dive platforms, indoor pool with climbing wall and basketball hoop, and a huge grassy area surrounding the pool to relax on under the shade of trees. It was a very memorable experience, especially for our younger two kids.
If Lava Hot Springs isn’t along your route there are other fun waterparks in Idaho such as:
- Rexburg Rapids, Rexburg
- Roaring Springs Water Park, Meridian
- Ross Park, Pocatello
- Boulder Beach, near Coeur de Alene
- Silver Rapids, Kellogg
If you want to try a free, natural rock slide, check out this one near Priest Lake.
18 | Free Camp in the Wilderness
Idaho is full of free campgrounds. Some of our favorite places to free camp include Trail Creek Road or Clear Creek Road near Sun Valley, numerous BLM spots near Stanley, and Darby Canyon near Driggs. Check Campendium for over 200 free camping areas in Idaho.
Bring Your Throwing Axes
We love when we find wide open spaces where we can set up targets and practice with our throwing axes! Be sure to practice safely!
19 | Stargaze
One of the best parts about Idaho is how undeveloped it is, which means fewer lights and more visible stars. We’ve had some of the best nights of stargazing in Idaho.
Great Opportunity for some Night Photography
This is the camera we have and use for all our night photography.
20 | Go Whitewater Rafting
Idaho is the “whitewater” state and has plenty of epic rivers to raft down. The upper, middle, lower, and forks of the Salmon River provide many opportunities for easy floats or intense rapids.
The Snake River winds its way through Hell’s Canyon and has drops that rival the rapids of the Grand Canyon.
21 | Drive a Scenic Highway
We’ve zigzagged our way through many of Idaho’s beautiful highways. My personal favorites have been highway 12 between Kooskia and Missoula, Highway 21 from Lowman to Stanley, and Teton Scenic Byway. There are so many more great drives in Idaho, check out Visit Idaho’s complete list of scenic drives here.
Related Blog: Road Trip Playlist
And that’s a wrap. All the fun and exciting things to do in Idaho in the summer. Idaho really is a must see and has something for everyone. If you need help planning your trip to Idaho, click over to our blog Adventure Road Trip Itinerary through Idaho.
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