Idaho is known for its natural beauty thanks to areas like the Sawtooth Mountains and the over 2,000 lakes which cover the landscape! To make the most of a road trip in Idaho, you can include some of the scenic drives in the state to better appreciate the mountains, forests, and rivers.
To help you plan your driving experience, we’ve taken a look at the best scenic byways in Idaho and put together this list.
If you’re short on time, just taking these drives will give you an appreciation for Idaho’s diverse beauty, but it would also be easy to turn many of these routes into multiple days of adventure. There are lots of opportunities for hiking to see waterfalls, going on a river rafting ride down the Snake River, or hiking on mountain trails.
The opportunities for exploration are endless, so you’re guaranteed to have a trip with memories that last a lifetime!
1. Idaho Scenic Drives: Sawtooth Scenic Byway
Distance: 115 miles
Time needed: 3 hours to 1 day
Every drive in Idaho should include some time in the Sawtooth Mountains, and this scenic drive is top of the list when it comes to amazing views!
We’d highly recommend setting aside some time to make stops along this drive, especially if you’re an outdoor enthusiast.
The route from Shoshone to Stanley passes right through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which covers 756,000 acres full of mountain streams, incredible vistas, and alpine lakes. There are plenty of options for camping, hiking, boating, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Another unique stop to make along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway is the Shoshone Ice Caves, where you can take guided tours nearly 100 feet below the surface of the earth into the impressive ice caves formed by volcanic activity many years ago.
When to go: Spring through summer is the best time to drive the Sawtooth Scenic Byway so you can enjoy the outdoor activities on offer.
2. Idaho Scenic Drives: Teton Scenic Byway
Distance: 70 miles
Time needed: 2.5 hours to 1 day
Teton Valley is one of Eastern Idaho’s most visited locations. The drive starts in Swan and ends in Ashton, winding its way through the foot of the Grand Teton Mountains and passing through the historic towns of Victor and Driggs, where fur trappers once held annual gatherings.
The majestic snowy peaks of the mountains set the backdrop for the entire drive, and you’ll pass through forests and get some incredible views of the Snake River. This drive also takes you through Targhee National Forest, another of Idaho’s amazing wilderness areas.
Targhee is known for its awesome hiking trails through rugged mountains, spectacular ski slopes in winter, and beautiful spring flowers which make the area so popular among photographers. There are lots of campsites in Targhee, or other options for accommodation like the Grand Targhee Resort if you want to spend more time in this area.
In Ashton, the Teton Scenic Byway connects with the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, which is another of the best drives in Idaho.
When to go: Typically, spring through summer are the best traveling seasons, but this drive also gives you access to lots of winter activities like skiing or biking. Just keep in mind that road conditions in winter can be a bit trickier to navigate.
- This is a great Idaho scenic drive to add to your itinerary if you’re road tripping from Salt Lake City in Utah to Yellowstone
3. Idaho Scenic Drives: Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
Distance: 30 miles
Time needed: 1 hour to 1 day, depending on how long you want to explore
Plummeting over 100 feet, Mesa Falls is one of Idaho’s most stunning natural landmarks. Comprised of the Upper and Lower Falls, these picturesque waterfalls were formed from volcanic activity many years ago.
The falls themselves may be the crowning treasure of the drive, but this scenic byway in Idaho will also bring you through the beautiful landscape between Ashton and Island Park, where you’ll get views of the river gorge and the surrounding forest.
You’ll also drive right through Harriman State Park, which is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The park is full of trails for hiking, and there are also opportunities to take horseback riding tours of the area.
Once you reach the Mesa Falls area, you can stop by the Mesa Falls Visitor Center to learn more about the geology of the region. There is a short, paved pathway that leads to the platform overlooking the majestic Upper Mesa Falls. If you want to see Lower Mesa Falls, there’s a trail about two miles long which is well-maintained and easy to hike.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that in the winter, this route is no longer open for vehicles and is groomed for snowmobiles. For those with adventurous spirits, the falls themselves are accessible by skiing or snowmobiling during the winter.
When to go: This scenic drive in Idaho is only open from spring through fall. It’s a good idea to check road conditions at any time of year before starting on this drive.
4. Idaho Scenic Drives: Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway
Distance: 62 miles
Time needed: 3 hours to 1 day
Hell’s Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, and this scenic byway in Idaho will take you right along the Snake River for stunning views of the 10-mile-wide canyon. You’ll definitely want to pack your camera for this adventure!
This drive is right on the border of Idaho and Oregon, so it is a perfect spot to include if you’re on a road trip through the Northwest region of the United States.
If you’re looking for a bit of excitement, then we’d highly recommend including a river rafting experience. After seeing the Snake River from high above on the canyon ridge, you can get a different perspective while floating on an inner tube or jet boat!
The Hell’s Canyon Recreation Area also has plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking. After a day of adventure, you can relax in naturally heated geothermal springs found at Mundo Hot Springs, located in Cambridge, Idaho.
When to go: Spring through fall are the best times of year since the drive can become difficult in the winter.
5. Idaho Scenic Drives: International Selkirk Loop Scenic Drive
Distance: 280 miles total
Time needed: 1 day to 1 week, depending on stops
The Selkirk Loop winds its way through Idaho, Washington, and even some parts of Canada and has been recognized as one of the top 10 scenic drives to take through the Northern Rockies. This incredible drive will bring you through landscapes of snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, and pristine lakes.
To fully appreciate the beauty of the Selkirk Loop, we’d highly recommend planning for at least three days of driving or up to a week or more if you really want to get the most out of the experience.
There are options for accommodation along the way ranging from secluded campsites to riverside resorts to hotels in the cities on the route.
In the Idaho portion of the Selkirk Loop, you’ll pass through Priest River which is known for its outdoor activities like boating, fishing, hiking and skiing. You can also make a stop in Bonners Ferry, which is located at the convergence of three mountain ranges and is known for its historic downtown area and casinos.
Pro tip: If you plan on traveling the entire Selkirk Loop, make sure you check border crossing regulations between the United States and Canada.
When to go: The Selkirk Loop is drivable year-round; summer is best for water activities, or if you’re more interested in skiing or snowmobiling, then winter is better. It all depends on what type of adventure you’re interested in!
More Tips For Your Idaho Driving Vacation
- Be aware you could be crossing time zones within the state of Idaho! Whilst most of the state is on MST/MDT (in line with Montana & Wyoming), if you’re in the panhandle (including Coeur d’Alene) – broadly in line with Washington state, then you’re on PST/PDT!
- You can see many of the most scenic parts of Idaho on our Seattle to Yellowstone road trip that takes you through the heart of Idaho.
- Extend your journey further with these scenic drives through Wyoming, including the Beartooth Scenic Byway and the incredible Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway
- Visit Idaho has a fabulous online publication to help inspire your Idaho road trip even further; grab your online Idaho Roadsider as a great companion
- Always check road conditions with Idaho 511 before you set out, particularly in the winter months.
- Never forget an important item on your family road trip again! Check out our road tripping essentials for families, and grab your free printable checklist below!
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