It seems like Idaho is the state you drive through to get somewhere else, and for the most part, that’s how we locals like it. But, just in case you’re coming to visit family here, or are on the hunt for hidden adventure, here are nineteen spots in Idaho that prove it’s the most underrated state.
Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.
The Snake River originates in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, snakes around southern Idaho, and then cuts north through Hells Canyon to Lewiston where it picks up the Clearwater River and continues on through Washington, finally pouring into the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities. There is no end to the adventure that can be had on this river. From the world famous fly fishing in Eastern Idaho to the white water rafting in Hells Canyon, it cuts through layers of geological history, forming the deepest canyon in the United States (yes, deeper than the Grand Canyon!). The river brought expeditions seeking water routes to the coast, fur trade, and settlers, so when you trace the Snake River, you trace the history of Idaho.
StanleyStanley, United StatesI don’t know why the Sawtooth area in Idaho isn’t a national park. This area is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever been. Beautiful big mountains, famous river rafting on the salmon river (the longest undamned river in the country), hot springs, skiing in the winter, crazy amounts of wildlife, all american vibe. Right near the river of no return wilderness which is the largest wilderness with no roads into it in the lower 48. Needless to say there are an endless amount of things to do in this area. And since it’s not a national park, a lot of free places to camp! #hiking #extreme #snow #camping
Whether you’re coming from Boise or Twin Falls, Stanley, Idaho is only a three-hour drive. At the junction of State Highways 75 and 21, Stanley is the gateway to the Sawtooth National Forest, and the Salmon-Challis National Forest, and the Boise National Forest. If it’s Idaho wilderness you want, Stanley is the place to start. The town offers all the amenities you need ranging from camping to vacation homes making this the perfect place to experience the Idaho frontier in all its grandeur.
Originally built by the Milwaukee Railroad Company to traverse the Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana, the Hiawatha Trail has since been converted into a 15-mile bike trail. Stop by Lookout Pass Ski Area off Interstate 90, exit 0 in Idaho to rent a bike and purchase a pass, or take exit 5 in Montana to reach the East Parking lot and pay cash for a ticket to ride if you have your own bike. The 1.66 mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel, aka Taft Tunnel, will bring you back into Idaho, then it’s all downhill from there through 9 more tunnels and across 7 trestles. A shuttle will pick you and your bike up at the bottom of the trail and bring you back to the East Parking lot. For a greater challenge, you can always ride back up the trail.
Breakfast in Coeur d’Alene is defined by The Garnet Cafe. Hidden behind Syringa Sushi on Walnut Ave, The Garnet is easy to overlook when you’re cruising for pancakes, so if you miss them come back for lunch. They’re open from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. Formerly owned by the couple who run Syringa’s Sushi, what makes them special goes beyond their comfortable, edgy atmosphere straight to their stuffed waffles and mimosas. The best part is that a majority of their food comes directly from the new owners’ own organic farm just outside of town, The McLane Farms. It doesn’t get any more fresh than this.
Heart Lake is the largest of 38 named lakes in the middle of 260,000 roadless acres known as the Mallard Larkins Pioneer Area between the St. Joe and North Fork Clearwater Rivers. The third of four lakes along the Smith Ridge Trail, Heart Lake can be reached on looped trails from either the north or the south.
When you think of microbrews in the Pacific Northwest you probably don’t think of Cottonwood, Idaho. You may not be thinking of Idaho at all even though Visitidaho.org lists 45 Idaho breweries, and one of those is a good reason to pull into town on your way to Boise. Located on King Street right across from City Hall, the Wolftrack is the quintessential small town Idaho brewery giving Oregon a run for its hops. Join them on Thursdays for Lady’s night, when the gals get a dollar off a pint, or sign up for one of their group painting sessions. Whatever you do, you gotta try a pint of their Kilted Krout, a Scottish Ale with hints of chocolate.
The Kirkwoods started the ranch in 1885 with two cabins. After they left, the ranch went through various owners, including Len and Grace Jordan who rode out the Great Depression raising sheep here. Len would eventually become Governor of Idaho and a US Senator. Today, the Kirkwood Ranch is a Historical Landmark as well as a great place to take the family in the summer. It’s easily accessible by trail from the Pittsburg Landing, by ATV from Lucile, Idaho, or by boat on the Snake River. You can camp out in the old sheep field, walk through history in the museum cabin, or wander up to the Carson “Mansion” just upstream from the farm house.
McCall, Idaho is well known for its beautiful summer days on Payette Lake. You’ll have to book well in advance if you want a hotel room for the 4th of July. But one of Idaho’s best-kept secrets is McCall’s Winter Carnival that takes place at the end of January each year. What began in 1924 with 248 visitors to the Payette Lake Winter Games has grown into a ten-day carnival complete with activities, vendors, multiple parades, and incredible snow sculptures arranged throughout town. According to their website, over 60,000 people will pass through town for the event, many coming specifically to tour the snow sculptures.
The Seven Devils Campground is not big with only ten sites, but it’s a fun place to take the family for the weekend. Enjoy fishing or playing in the Seven Devils Lake, or hike around the area for stunning views of the Hell’s Canyon region. Backpackers can also use this as a base camp for the twenty-seven mile Seven Devils Loop which circles the peaks with an elevation change of 5,000 feet. You can get to the Seven Devils Campground by taking Forest Service Road 517 out of Riggins, Idaho.
Craig Mountain itself is rather unassuming, which is why it’s easy to miss the 115,000 acre Wildlife Management Area surrounding it. Bordered to the south by the Salmon River and to the west by the Snake River, the region stretches north to Waha and east to Deer Creek. Locals enjoy this area year round with hunting, camping, boating, hiking, snowmobiling, and more. There are even warming cabins distributed around the area for winter enthusiasts. Most of your activities will be at 5,000 feet or less, offering easy to moderate hiking and plenty of grand views of the Snake River.
Winchester Lake State Park is the reason I buy the Idaho Parks Pass with my vehicle registration each year. Located just a short way off of Highway 95, this park has easy access and plenty of amenities to keep the whole family happy for days. Pull in an RV and hook up, or pitch a tent and rough it. Fish from the shore or cast from a boat on the lake. Enjoy hiking the easy trails around the lake, and watch the kids play on the playground while you host a BBQ under the gazebo. It’s the kind of place that reminds you why you live here (or why you’re visiting) without taking you too far off the beaten path.