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The Gem State – noted for bucket list memories, hidden surprises, dramatic views and thrilling adventures.
Unlike its western neighbors, Idaho does not top any lists for big number of national parks, however a whopping almost 60% of the state land is federally protected and available to quench your thirst for outdoor adventures.
The beauty of Idaho is unsurpassed and so different to what you’re used to in Australia. You can move through areas of high mountain ranges to wildflower filled meadows, crystal clear alpine lakes, rivers filled with hot springs, and miles of caves and fields made from long ago erupting lava.
Its ruggedness lends itself to unobstructed and raw adventures that you can experience without long lines and crowds typical of other popular outdoor adventure regions in the country.
You’ll see we rate some of the top Outdoor Idaho adventures below as the best we’ve ever had.
That is no exaggeration and is an evaluation based on years of exploring over 20 US states, IN-DEPTH, and visiting over 50 countries around the world.
Idaho is in our top 5 states to visit in the USA. It captured our heart and will continue to capture our plane tickets to return and travel deeper.
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Idaho is to hike any one of the thousand trails across the state. There are hikes to suit all levels, styles, and interests and will include views, hot springs, wildlife, and wildflowers.
For longer backpacking adventures, consider the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48 states. You’ll find beautiful scenery, hot springs along trails that follow the wild Salmon River.
Of course, smaller trails abound that are perfect for family travelers.
We enjoyed the short Tubbs Hill Hike along Lake Coeur D’Alene with plenty of secluded swimming beaches along the way. Camel Back Mountain in Boise was a short hike that offered spectacular views of the city and the short hike to Mesa Falls was a wonder not to miss (see below).
Combine your hike with a natural hot springs reward at the end at Goldbug Springs along the Salmon River Scenic Byway. Hike for 2-miles up 1,359ft to soak those aching muscles in a natural hot spring that’s fed by a creek and spills down into waterfalls below. You’ll have exquisite Idaho mountain views from your cliffside perch.
Fishing, Including Fly Fishing
There are thousands of miles of rivers, streams, lakes in Idaho, which pretty much makes fishing in Idaho an angler’s dream.
The waterways have 42 game species which include giant white sturgeon, wild trout, catfish, smallmouth bass, salmon, and steelhead. No wonder it is known as a premier fishing spot in the USA, if not the world, especially for fly fishing!
Wrangling chinook salmon in the summer is a favorite outdoor activity in Idaho as they make a nearly 900-mile trek from the Pacific Ocean to the heart of Idaho.
Some of the best places to go fly fishing in Idaho:
- Silver Creek is one of the most famous fly-fishing streams in the world
- Henrys Fork—a spring-fed stream known to most anglers as the greatest river in the world It’s world-renowned for its challenging dry fly wade fishing for big rainbow trout.
- The South Fork is one of the top blue-ribbon trout streams in the state of Idaho, if not the nation.
Paddling: Kayaks and SUP Boards
Pick a lake. Any lake. Idaho has over 2,000 named lakes. All most likely with a view to remember. It may seem like a sedate and simple activity, but paddle boarding in Idaho will give you that solitary moment to soak up its beauty.
We all need ZEN outdoor adventures when we travel.
Our pick is Redfish Lake in the Stanley region. Not only does the sparkling glacial waters make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean, the jagged peaks of the Sawtooth’s in the background will leave you in awe.
We also loved paddle boarding on Lake Coeur d’Alene, and Lake Pend Oreille and Payette Lake are also Idaho favorites for paddling.
But wait, Boise has outdoor paddling adventures as well on the Boise River.
Another favorite summer activity in Boise is floating the six-mile stretch of the Boise River from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park on a tube. More than 125,000 people take the two-hour trip downstream each year. Keep an eye out for wildlife and bridges to jump off along the way.
Idaho has many great trails through its vast wilderness to explore on horseback riding. You can pick from short, one or two-hour trips or half to whole day and sunset adventures with expert and friendly guides that cater to all riding levels.
Idaho even has guest ranches which offer unplugged getaways with a focus on horseback riding.
One of our favorite horseback rides around the world was in the Sawtooth Wilderness area of Stanley, Idaho.
We rode through Ponderosa forests beside sparkling lakes, gaining 200-feet in elevation we emerged from the forest to striking views of the jagged Sawtooth range.
The expansive view opened to include the sparkling Redfish and Little Redfish lakes. It was all kinds of WOW!
VIDEO: Horseback Riding Stanley
You know if you’re going to come all the way from Australia to Idaho, you want to make sure you are experiencing the BEST of everything.
With more navigable whitewater miles than any other of the lower 48 states, Idaho is known to have the best whitewater rafting in the USA, AND highly noted around the world.
You’ll find iconic multi-day trips, like the Middle Fork of Salmon, which National Geographic ranks as one of the top three whitewater river trips in the world, and easier half-or-full day trips based out of Stanley that feature rowdy rapids and scenic views.
A trip on the Salmon is on our Idaho Bucket List for our next trip.
You can find other whitewater rafting trips in areas like the Main Payette, Hells Canyon, and the Snake River.
Another adrenaline filled activity in Hells Canyon is to hop aboard Killgore’s aluminum jet boats. Hells Canyon is located in the deepest river gorge in North America abundant with wildlife — this is bald eagle, bighorn sheep, and black bear country.
Biking the Route of the Hiawatha
Yet another outstanding Idaho outdoor activity we loved and continue to rave about, is the Route of the Hiawatha in North Idaho near the border of Montana. It made our top bucket list adventures in the USA.
The forested Bitterroot Mountains provide a spectacular setting as you cycle one of the USA’s most famous rail to trail paths taking in stunning Idaho scenery.
The bike trail is 15-miles on a flat, well-maintained path that is mostly downhill and passes through 9 tunnels and 7 high trestle bridges spanning the steepest parts of the valley.
Be prepared for the first tunnel which is almost 1.7 miles long – that is over 10 minutes riding in the pitch black. Flashlights are essential, as is a jacket as temperatures sit in the 40s.
You can take your own bikes or hire them from the Lookout Pass ski area.
You can catch the shuttle back to the first tunnel, or if you really like adventure, cycle the 15 miles back uphill. We opted for the shuttle.
VIDEO: ROUTE OF THE HIAWATHA
If you want to ramp up your adventure on two wheels, Idaho has plenty of mountain biking trails through exciting terrain from the Boise foothills to epic wilderness adventures.
In the summer, some ski resorts open up their lift services to challenging downhill runs. Many state parks have trails of various skill levels.
Hard core adventurers will want to take on the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. It is a 500-mile figure-eight loop through central Idaho that passes 50 soak-able hot springs in remote areas – the perfect antidote to sore muscles.
If you love waterfalls, you have several stunners in Idaho to chase.
Lower Mesa Falls and Upper Mesa Falls are spectacular waterfalls along the Henrys Fork of the Snake River, deep in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
The water tumbles over million-year-old volcanic rock, down into a narrow valley surrounded by lush foliage, and steep forested cliffs. It’s the first time my girls have been that close to such a powerful waterfall and they were more than WOWED.
Upper Mesa Falls has a short boardwalk that offers multiple viewpoints. Lower Mesa Falls offers a long-distance view of the falls from Grandview Overlook. There is a mile hike between the two waterfalls if you want more adventure.
Hailed as the Niagara of the West, Shoshone Falls is a waterfall on the Snake River approximately 3-miles northeast of the city of Twin Falls. At 212 feet high, it’s actually 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls!
To up the adventure, take the eight-mile round trip kayak journey up the Snake River to the Falls.
Sandboarding Bruneau Dunes State Park
Idaho sometimes even looks like the middle of Dubai!
The Bruneau Dunes State Park, located only an hour from Boise, is home to the tallest single-structure sand dune in North America.
So, for a unique Idaho outdoor adventure, grab your sandboard and get ready to fly down its 470ft face!
Be sure to pause and enjoy the view from the top: the lakes below, the Snake River canyon, and the snow-capped mountains off in the distance.
There are small lakes at the base of the dunes for fishing, fun and camping and hiking trails to explore the area further. At night, you can observe the glittering skies from the Bruneau Observatory located right in the park.
With all these incredible outdoor adventures in Idaho, you will want to have some time soaking up those sore muscles.
Lucky for you, Idaho is home to hundreds of natural hot springs – more than any other state!
Many of the hot springs are actually beside the Salmon River and its tributaries and are accessed right beside the scenic highways!
Look for a small pool bordered by river rocks and the steam rising from the side of the rushing cold river. Don’t rely on people sitting in them though to help you find them, often there is no one even in them!
Snake Pit Hot Spring, right on the edge of Stanley, was the most ridiculously beautiful hot spring we encountered on the Salmon River Scenic Byway with outstanding views of the Sawtooth mountains. And we had it all to ourselves., except for the herd of deer that sauntered past.
Craft Beer Trails
While technically not an outdoor activity, you know us Aussies will find a beer garden somewhere during the summer and claim it as one.
Sampling local craft beer and cider in Idaho is a worthy outdoor activity and one of the best ways to explore local flavors and culture.
With over 80 breweries around the state, Idaho’s craft brew scene is booming, and they are gaining a reputation for unique, fresh flavors that speak the Idaho story.
Idaho is the top producer of barley in the United States, second top producer of hops, and has pristine clear water. All of which contribute to high quality beers you’ll be talking about to your friends when you return home.
In a state as beautiful as Idaho, you’ll want to lay down at night under a starry sky.
From luxurious glamping tents to amenity filled RV parks, and your own private space on public land, you have endless choices for camping in Idaho in your preferred style.
What’s guaranteed are beautiful views, endless horizons, and firepits to roast your marshmallows and engage in the wonderful American camping tradition of S’mores!
We camped in our RV on our Idaho road trip and found stunning secluded spots in the backcountry, RV parks on the edge of the lake, and even a homestay on a family ranch with stunning Salmon River valley views and our own giant hillside waterslide.
More Idaho Posts to read:
- 11 reasons to visit Idaho now!
- 20 Amazing things do in Idaho for first time travelers
- 3 Educational Experiences in Idaho
- Our first family ski trip in 3 Idaho Ski Resorts
Comment: What’s your favorite Outdoor Idaho Adventures? What do you love the sound of the most?