If you think Idaho is all potatoes, you are missing out! With pristine hidden hot springs, dramatic mountain peaks and cute towns, we can pretty confidently say that Idaho is one of the most underrated states in the U.S.
If you’re like us and you love the outdoors, but can’t stand the crowds at popular destinations, Idaho may just be the perfect spot for your next road trip.
We’re going to share a sample itinerary that brings you through some of the best the state has to offer. With just a week, you certainly can’t see it all, but this is a good start!
Best Places to See in Idaho with just One Week
We know that not all road trips are created equal. Maybe you have less time or you just don’t want to feel rushed. We get that. We’ve labeled each stop on the itinerary as “Idaho Must” or “If you have time”.
Those marked “Idaho Must” were our favorites and we think they are great stops on any Idaho road trip. The places marked “If you have time” are still worthwhile, but only if time allows. Click any of the links to jump down to that section.
Idaho Must Visits
If you have more time in Idaho
Secret Hot Springs between McCall and Boise
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McCall: Cute Town with a Lake View
This upscale cabin town sits on the south shore of Payette Lake. We were there in the middle of the week and got the vibe that most of the houses in McCall are ritzy second homes because damn were they nice.
We hunkered down for a bit and tried some cute coffee shops like Mountain Java and Fogglifter, while sampling the brews at Salmon River Brewing. If you’re looking for a spot to relax in the evening, Lakeside Park is a great spot for a sunset view.
Whether you are staying in a hotel, living in a campervan or RV, or you’re trekking in the backcountry, here is everything you’ll want to pack for the road. Plus tips and advice on making your next road trip go as smoothly as possible!
Secret* Hot Springs between McCall and Boise
We got a great tip from a friend who’s from Idaho about a special hot springs that is lesser known than many of the big names. This kind of “local” place is right up our alley, so we made sure to stop here. Set within a creek, there are two pools for relaxing in the steaming water.
When we were there, the water was a bit high and the downstream pool was flooded but it would be really nice later in the summer. With the sun shining through the trees, the minerals in the rocks making the sand sparkle (seriously!) and just a couple other people soaking, it was seriously magical. If you’re visiting McCall, we’d highly recommend this hot spring.
So how do you get there? Read below…
*Important Note: In an effort to not geo-tag every secret spot we know, we are not going to share the name or location of these hot springs. However, if you are traveling through this area of Idaho, please send us your email and we will kindly (and automatically) send you directions to this local hot springs. We just don’t want this place to be overrun with people, thus ruining the whole vibe.
Looking for more hot springs in Idaho? Hint: There are tons! We put together a list of all the must-see Idaho hot springs, including how to get there and what to expect.
Boise: Hip City with a Friendly Vibe
We recently read an article titled something like, “up-and-coming cities in the US to visit before they get too cool” and Boise was on there. (Along with our hometown, Minneapolis!) With accessible bike trails, a lively brewery scene and fantastic farmer’s markets, we can understand how it made the list.
Things to do in Boise:
Rent a city bike and pedal the Greenbelt, a series of paved bike trails alongside the Boise River.
Take that bike all the way to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. For $6 you can tour the grounds and see where some of the worst criminals of the west were held. There are also short hiking trails behind the penitentiary that will give you a good view of the city.
For a change of scenery after the Old Penitentiary, right next door are the beautiful Idaho Botanical Gardens.
Go brewery hopping! We enjoyed 10 Barrel and Payette Brewing and wish we had time to try more!
Explore the Boise Saturday Farmers Market! The market takes place every Saturday from April to October, and it is huge! There are different sections for food vendors, artists and people selling local produce, and we were seriously impressed.
Where to eat in Boise:
Paddles Up Poké –This restaurant serves up poke bowls (a Hawaiian raw fish salad). It was so good we stopped back two days in a row, something we never do. That should tell you enough how good it is. If you like fish at all, make sure you stop here.
10 Barrel Brewery – Always busy, and for a good reason, 10 Barrel serves up some awesome pints and one of the best food menus I’ve seen at a brewery. Ben says try the P2P Porter if you like dark full flavor beers.
Boise Saturday Market – Not only does Boise have a Saturday farmers market, but 4 or 5 blocks of N 8th Street in the heart of downtown are blocked off for this massive market every week. From art stalls to curbside musicians to craft wines and street food, make sure to travel through Boise on a Saturday. The market runs from mid-April to Christmas from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Read Next: Read all about the best things to do in Washington State (our favorite US state!)
Bruneau Sand Dunes
When we say that Idaho has diverse landscape, we aren’t kidding. Not too far south of Boise (62.3 miles to be exact), you can find sand dunes! If you’re headed to Twin Falls, a stop here is a nice way to break up the drive.
What can you do at the Bruneau Sand Dunes?
Picnic near a small lake surrounded by dunes
Take a dip in the lake to cool down!
Learn about the history of this landscape and the wildlife at the visitors’ center
Climb up one of the dunes to get a great view (wear closed toe shoes because the sand is super hot!)
Rent a sand board from the visitors’ center and try boarding down the dunes! (One board costs $15 per day, or you can rent two for $25.)
Spend the night if you’d like – there is camping here.
Cost: $5 entrance fee per vehicle
Thousand Springs State Park
If you’re driving from Boise to Twin Falls, this makes a great stop. The area is full of springs and waterfalls and there’s a nice little walk to you take to get close to them. You can also rent paddle boards and kayaks from Hagerman Valley Sports if you have some time to kill. There’s a grassy area perfect for picnicking and soaking in the view.
How to get to Thousand Springs: Getting to Thousand Springs is a little tricky. Along Highway 30, there is a big sign that says Thousand Springs Resort. Don’t stop here. You have to pay to park or use the picnic tables and it is on the opposite side of the river from the actual springs.
We stopped because we were confused about how to get to the springs, but we ended up figuring it out. If you make it to this “resort”, you’ve actually gone too far. Turn around and right after you cross over the bridge, turn east on the State Fish Hatchery Road through the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area.
You will work your way through some farm roads in the direction of a road called “Thousand Springs Grade”. Google it head of time because you will likely have little to no cell service around there. This steep road leads you into a park right next to the Thousand Springs.
If you’re in the area, a stop at Balanced Rock is a cool addition to your trip. Just as the name implies, this rock formation is the epitome of a balancing act. The base is just 3 feet by 17 inches, and the top reaches 40 feet high. That gives a whole new meaning to the term “top heavy”!
I wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to make a stop here, as it’s just a rock. All you can really do is “ohhhh” and “ahhh”, take a few pictures and maybe have lunch at the picnic table in front of the rock if you really want to. And that’s about it. But, if you’re in the area, it’s pretty cool sight. We spent the night at the Balanced Rock campground about 1 mile away, so it was a fun stop for us.
Photographer tip: I’d recommend going in the late afternoon or at sunset for the best lighting. We arrived in the morning and had some harsh light.
Camping nearby: Just 1 mile from Balanced Rock is an amazing campground that is completely free! There are 6 campsites along the river in a small gorge. There is lots of greenery, birds (and bugs), and it is a really gorgeous setting. There are clean pit toilets, carports, picnic tables, fire rings and grills.
Twin Falls: Impressive Waterfall & Famous Bridge
There is not much to the town, there are some sites around Twin Falls that you can’t miss while in Idaho. If you’re in time crunch (or just want to get out of the city), you don’t have to stay the night. These attractions can be seen within a couple of hours.
Things to do in Twin Falls, Idaho
Shoshone Falls: Known as the “Niagara Falls of the West”, this gigantic waterfall is tucked deep in the Snake River canyon. It’s a $3 fee per vehicle, but totally worth it. You can walk out on to a platform and feel the power of the falls as it sprays you in the face. The park itself has a couple shaded areas that would be perfect for a picnic.
Note: When we arrived in early June, the water wasn’t nearly as high as it is earlier in the year. When the water is high, the falls is on both sides of this rock formation. Imagine that!
Perrine Memorial Bridge: Spanning across the canyon, this engineering feat is a sight to see. For the best views of the bridge. park at the Twin Falls Visitor Center and walk to either side. If you’re lucky, you’ll might catch some BASE jumpers leaping of the bridge!
Fun Fact: Near the bridge, there is a monument for Evel Knievel, who attempted (and failed!) to jump across the mile-wide Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle a bit further down the river. And no, he did not die in this crazy stunt!
Perrine Coulee Falls: Less than a mile from the Perrine Memorial Bridge, the small Perrine Coulee drops from the canyon rim straight down. You can take a short hike up to it and even walk behind the falling water.
Note: If you are on a big road trip of the Western US (like we were), the best way to head to Utah is south from Twin Falls.
Craters of the Moon
As you drive north from Twin Falls toward the mountains, you’ll notice a change in the landscape that becomes a bit eerie. The rich farmland slowly turns into black volcanic rock that stretch for miles.
Today, this is the Craters of the Moon National Monument, but 2,000 years ago this area was a hot swirling molten mess with lava flowing underground and spewing out of the earth.
Stop in the visitors center to get a map of the driving route and see the exhibit explaining how the area was created. The driving route takes about 30 minutes total, but we spent about 2 hours exploring the twisted trees, lava fields and old hallowed-out lava tubes.
Some of our favorite sites were Devils Orchard, the Inferno Cone, “snow cone” spatter cone, and the Indian Cave (be sure to get your cave permit before entering the cave. It’s free, but it gives you details on how to preserve the landscape for the future). There are some campgrounds in the national park that looked nice, but pretty crowded with other travelers.
Ketchum: Cute Ski Town
Do you ever arrive in a new town and just know right away that you’re going to love it? Well, that’s how we felt about Ketchum. Small but not too small, cute buildings surrounded by mountains and a river nearby… It all adds up to our kinda place!
Things to do in Ketchum:
Visit Earnest Hemingway’s grave. We were just as surprised as you! We visited one of Hemingway’s homes in Key West a few years back and just assumed that’s where he was buried, since much of his literature is based on South Florida and Cuba.
We had no idea that his final resting place is in Idaho, but when you see how stunning this area is, you’ll understand why. (Apparently, Hemingway was quite the fly fisherman, too!)
His grave is near the back of Ketchum’s small cemetery, and is between two large trees. It is not flashy or ornate, which is just what you’d expect of Hemingway.
Have a cuppa’ joe. We spent a day working at the Java in Boise and were super impressed with the strong coffee, the fast Wi-Fi and the vibe. So when we learned that there is a Java on Fourth in Ketchum also, we decided it would be a great place to grab breakfast and get some work done.
You’d never guess this cute house-converted-coffee-shop is a local chain, and they serve up some great food (try the Hippie Breakfast Burrito) and specialty drinks (Bowl of Soul: espresso, Mexican chocolate, steamed milk and whip). Soak up sun on the porch or cozy up inside on the comfy couch.
Cheers with the local brew. If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we’re huge fans of breweries, and like to try them out whenever possible. We stopped into Sawtooth Public House and picked up a growler of the Freeheeler Rye IPA, which was pretty good.
The beers are a little pricy (growlers range from $15 to $30) and pints are $5-7, but we would have like to join in on their Tuesday night trivia. Next time!
Take a hike. Take a little drive up into Sun Valley and stop at any of the little turnouts along the way. We went for a little stroll by the river and soaked up some sun (ohhh, that’s why it’s called “Sun Valley!”).
Go biking. Whether you prefer road biking or getting high in the mountains, Ketchum will satisfy your pedaling soul. Known for world-class mountain biking, this town of 2,720 has a staggering 10 bike shops! Rentals seemed to average around $30 for the day, or $20 for a half-day. If it’s road biking you prefer, the hundreds of miles of flat trail in and around town make a great path to explore. There are bike share rentals near the visitor’s center, so you can pay based on how much time you use it.
Ski or board. If you visit Ketchum in the winter months, spend a day at Sun Valley Ski Resort, where the first chair lift was invented!
Stanley, population: 63. This dirt road town features Old West-style buildings that’ll make you wonder if you’ve stepped back in time. Surrounded by the snow peaked Sawtooth Mountains and flanked by the rushing Salmon River, this is the Idaho we pictured.
Stanley Baking Company and Cafe: A visit in Stanley isn’t complete without a stop at this local jaunt. With a breakfast menu that’ll make you wish it was morning all day long, and a wide selection of baked goods and handcrafted beverages, you might just need to return here a second time (like we did!).
Tip: If you like healthy twists on breakfast fare, you’ll love the Bear Bowl, which combines quinoa, grilled seasonal vegetables, greens, poached eggs, with an almond crème and coconut amino sauce that’s to die for!
Where to camp near Stanley:
There is plenty of free camping near Stanley. Just about every quarter mile, you’ll see rustic campgrounds with fire rings and picnic tables. The free ones tend not to have bathrooms, but there are a handful of public restrooms along the road. If you want a little more comfort, the campgrounds near Redfish Lake cost $18 per night.
Hike the Sawtooth Mountains
Stanley isn’t just a cute town – it’s the gateway to one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the nation and some of the best hiking in Idaho. The Sawtooth Mountains deserve at least a full day of exploration, and more if you have the time!
For a moderate hike that culminates with alpine lake views, the 10-mile round trip trek to Sawtooth Lake is a good choice. We went in early June and came across snow about halfway up. We kept going over the snow pack and reached Alpine Lake, which blew us away with its majestic beauty.
We trekked on a bit further to Sawtooth Lake, which was still completely frozen over, but we imagine it would be stunning later on in the summer.
Other full day hikes in the Sawtooth Mountains:
Alice Lake Hike: 12-mile round trip with a 1600-foot elevation gain that leads you to a picturesque view of the El Capitan. We really wanted to go on this hike but decided against it since the lake would still be frozen over in early June. If you do decide to go on this moderate to difficult hike, please take a picture for us!
Big Casino Creek Hike: With the destination of the Casino Lakes, this difficult 12-mile round trip with a 2760-foot elevation gain is supposed to be a worthwhile hike with great views of the White Cloud Mountains.
The largest alpine lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness, Redfish Lake is easily accessible by road. Whether you stop for a picnic lunch with a view or for dinner and drinks at the Redfish Lodge, a visit to this lake is a nice addition to your time in the Sawtooths.
Tip: There are showers and laundry facilities open to the public near the resort. Showers are $2.00 for 5 minutes of hot water.
Custer Ghost Town
If you’re a history buff, a stop at Custer will be super interesting to you. If history’s not your thing though, you could skip this stop. Just 23.5 miles from Stanley, lie the remains of Custer – a town that boomed with the gold rush, but soon crumbled when the hunt for gold moved elsewhere.
A couple preserved buildings remain, and you can walk through them. There are signs explaining important parts of the town, so you can walk around on a self-guided tour and learn about the city’s history.
Note: On the way to Custer, you’ll see Bonanza – another, smaller ghost town. It hasn’t been preserved in the same way, and people actually own the dilapidated houses and live on the property. You can drive past, but it’s not nearly as interesting as Custer (in our opinions). The most noteworthy part of Bonanza is the graveyard, which is a half mile up a dirt road.
Unless you’re a huge fan of wild west, there is not much to do or see in this town other than one strip of shops and restaurants that have wooden facades. We wanted to have a quick work break at Odd Fellows Café before heading back south to Gold Bug Hot Springs. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend going out of your way to get here unless you have the time.
Goldbug Hot Springs
This hot spring is far from secret – just search it on Instagram and you’ll find plenty of photos to inspire wanderlust. We were a little worried that it would be crowded and we’d be left disappointed, but ohmygosh were we wrong. Goldbug is perhaps the most spectacular of all the hot springs in Idaho, and one of our favorites we’ve visited anywhere in the world.
After the 2-mile hike, we arrived at these hot springs around 5 p.m. and were the only ones for a couple hours. We had the pools to ourselves until two other couples planning to spend the night as well arrived later on in the evening.
Tip: Try out all the different pools, as they all have different temperatures – some are very hot while others are lukewarm.
How to get to Goldbug Hot Springs: We put together a detailed guide to visiting Goldbug Hot Springs on our sister site, including how to get there and what to expect.
Tip: For the best experience, camp overnight at the springs. I promise you won’t regret it. Remember you are not allowed to camp within 500 feet of the fall. Also, try to go on a weekday instead of a weekend for your best chance of avoiding crowds.
Idaho seriously surprised us and we can’t wait to go back someday. We’d love to return to some of these spots (especially Ketchum and the Sawtooth Wilderness!), or make it on to other places like Coeur d’Alene and Sands Point.
You might also like…
- Hiking in Idaho: Best Trails for Every Level
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We want to hear from you!
Have you been to Idaho? What are your top road trip destinations? What would you add or change? Leave your comments below!
Comments (25) on “One Wild Week Road Tripping in Idaho”
Hi guys! I shot you an email about the hot springs! Shoot me a reply we are headed north today!
I am on a roadtrip in idaho. It is absolutely gorgeous! I just sent an email about the mccall hot springs.
Thanks for the email. Just sent you the directions! Have a great road trip in Idaho!
Hello! First off you two look your having a blast exploring Idaho, your right it does have sooo much offer other than potatoes, I was born and raised in south west part of the state but I have lined in and love northern Idaho! Sandpoint is a epic road trip!
Loved your blog on things to do in Idaho. Can you please share the directions to the secret hot spring between McCall and Boise. Thanks!
Hey Harsha, we got your email and replied back with the directions. Hope you have a great time!
I am in love with this post. All these places yall traveled and the beautiful locations and stops that were captured. Idaho definitely has some hidden jewels and people like you are making that known for others to read like me. I would like to add maybe stopping in Coeur D’ Alene and getting a hot stone massage from Hayden Yoga & Massage. Or even unwinding with yoga, they offer some great classes if that is more your style.
Okay, so it may not fit in with the outdoor vibe you’re looking for, but I think you dismissed Twin Falls’ attractions a bit prematurely by overlooking the Herrett Center for Arts & Science. The museum packs a lot in a small space, including world-class archeological collections, an art gallery, the state’s biggest and most advanced planetarium, and a public observatory with a 24" research-grade telescope for public viewing. The museum is free, but there’s a nominal admission to planetarium shows.
Also, the downtown area has had a recent facelift and is offers a burgeoning nightlife scene now, including unique eateries and pubs.
You had me hooked at planetarium! Thanks for the additional tips in Twin Falls.
Hi there- we have a summer trip planned to Idaho this year-and would be interested in your hot spring local as well. Safe travel to you both- many thanks, Kevan.
Hey Kevan, we would be happy to share it with you. Would you be able to send us your email in our contact us form? We’ll be sure to send the directions to you right away!
Hi there! We are visiting McCall this weekend and we were wondering if you could share with us the location of the Hot Springs that you mentioned in the article? Not sure if you can get there in the winter time? Anyhow, we are from Twin Falls and so will be coming to McCall again this summer and would love to know the location. Thank you for posting such a wonderful blog about Idaho. We are from here and so know how truly amazing it is and it was so nice to hear an outsiders perspective. Wishing you the best!
Hi Beth, thank you for your kind words about our website. We would love to send you the directions to the hot springs. Since we want to keep it a secret and not blast it on the Internet, would you be able to send us a quick message on our contact us page and we can send you the directions via email?
I want to do everything in this post. I’ve been realizing I’ve long made the mistake of thinking Idaho is nothing but flat boring fields and stuffy little towns. Thanks for the ideas! I sent you an email–would you mind telling me about the hot spring between McCall and Boise?
Hey Cara, I had the same feelings before we started doing research on Idaho and found so many things to do! I sent you the directions to the hot spring a few days ago, so hopefully you got it. Have a great time and let us know how you like Idaho!
I loved your blog and it was so helpful as we are currently traveling through Idaho. Great tips on Twin Falls and Ketchum. We only stent a few hours in Tein Falls and hit all the amazing sights you suggested.
Ketchum had the rails to trails bike ride, which was amazing to ride. I ate a dirty hippie at Java :-).
Stanley and Redfish were a dissapointment. The drive was gorgeous but the campgrounds by Red fish were laden with mosquitos and people on a wed late June. In Stanley much was closed on weds including the bakery you mentioned.
We loved the sawtooth mountains but we opted out of calling and made the long trek back to Boise that same day because of the mosquitoes.
In Boise, the gently we were going to
I would to bike was ruined because of spring floodong and all the motels were booked so at 9pm we opted to keep driving to McCall. Our finial destination is CDA so I guess we sort of did a backwards drive from your blog.
We got to McCall at 1am…We were so glad the next day we had a full day in this city because we found the most amazing place to kayak. The north fork of the payette river. We spent the whole day there and even witnessed a bull moose swimming.
We treated ourselves to staying at Bear Creek Lodge a bit outside McCall but beautiful rooms and afun lodge with games and a pool table and so much more.
Riggins and white water rafting was our next day and salmon fishing.
Moscow Idaho we rode our bikes and not we are in CDA for the 4th July. We will do much bike riding and kayaking here
Wow sounds like you had a great time in Idaho! Glad you found the article helpful!
Im pretty sure all these really cool places above are in Colorado and not Idaho. Idaho is all rednecks and potatoes. Nothing to see here folks.
Haha, very true 😉 You don’t want it overrun with tourists coming to see all the beauty!
Nice article. Little disappointed to read thousand springs resort being called trashy. Were you aware it is a geothermal hot springs indoor pool that is open year round? And 2 minutes down that same road is Miracle Hot Springs and Banbury hot springs as well? They have been around since my mother was a child and are also open year round. Don’t knock it til you try it! 😉
Hi Adrianne, thanks for the comment! You’re right – we shouldn’t knock it till we try it! (We took out that phrase) Though we were a little put off by the ropes everywhere and the fact that you need to pay for the picnic tables or to walk down to the river to view the springs. I bet in the colder months, it is a great way to warm up in hot springs. Idaho is such a special place that there are so many hot springs to choose from. You are lucky to call it home 🙂
Glad you made it to Goldbug! It is such a gem!!! Next time you roll through this area is reccommend checking out city of rocks, just a few hours from Boise (where I live!)…amazing place. Though the Sawtooths are still my favorite place in all of Idaho! We’re doing (hopefully) the Alice-Toxoway loop next month!–last year we got snowed out. Haha. You just never know with those mountains!
Hey amy, thanks for connecting! I just googled City of Rocks and I can’t believe we missed it! It looks amazing! We will definitely need to stop by next time – looks like it would be a great place for rock climbing (so we’ve gotta brush up our skills!).
We wanted to go to Alice Lake, but when we were there it was so snowy – I guess we were underestimating the snow melt in June haha! Next time, we’ll try to make it to Alice and the City of Rocks!
Have an amazing time on your trek – and hopefully you won’t have snow!
And yes, Goldbug was just ahhhmazing! We had a few hours when we were the only ones there around sunset, which was magic!
So that picture in the Goldbug Hot Springs is just amazing. Staying in the pool with hot water, glazing over the mountains and valleys. That is just amazing!
Hey Becky Jo, thanks so much! It was seriously magical. No exaggeration. We had about 2 hours where we were the only people there as the sun was setting, and we couldn’t believe where we were!