Tall, rocky mountain ranges just out on either side of a narrow river at Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Idaho

Explore Idaho: Must-See Natural Attractions in the Gem State

Tall, rocky mountain ranges just out on either side of a narrow river at Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Idaho

Explore Idaho: Must-See Natural Attractions in the Gem State

If you love the outdoors, you'll definitely want to visit Idaho. The Gem State offers a treasure trove of natural attractions to enjoy.

If you’re a nature lover, start your engine and get ready to road trip through Idaho. The mountainous state is a wonderland of lakes, forests, and sheer scenic splendor. From the deepest river canyon in the U.S. to the snow-capped peaks of the high Rockies, the Gem State offers a full treasure trove of epic landscapes but is less crowded than its more famous Pacific Northwest neighbors, Oregon and Washington.

Lake Coeur d’Alene

Golden sand beaches backed by lush forest covered mountains make Lake Coeur d’Alene a destination worth a stop, even for those just traveling across the northern tip of the state on I-90. Home to the largest urban area in northern Idaho, the city of Coeur d’Alene, the lake spans more than 25 miles and is a one-stop, full-service recreation destination with endless activities for those who want to relax in glorious natural surroundings.

The still waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho are pictured with deciduous tree-covered mountains surrounding the lake, and a clear blue sky with rolling hills in the background
Source: Shutterstock

Watersports lovers can play all day in the clear emerald water of the lake. Parasailing, kayaking, small boat sailing, and wakeboarding outfits abound on the city beach side. Rental and charter boats allow for exploration of the wilderness coves and far reaches of the lake, where bass and salmon wait for savvy fishermen. Hikers and bikers enjoy the well-established trail networks right outside the city. The options include Mineral Ridge Scenic Trail and Idaho Centennial Trail.

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area

Forming the border between Idaho and Oregon, the Snake River carves a nearly 8,000-feet deep path through the rugged landscape along Hells Canyon, the deepest river canyon in the country. Located just north of Boise on I-84, this natural marvel is easy to visit on a day trip from the city or as a scenic detour while passing through the state. The five-hour Hells Canyon Scenic Byway loops through the mountains around the canyon, offering riverside playtime and breathtaking views.

Riding the rolling rapids of Snake River deep into the canyon on a raft is one of the most exciting ways to explore the area and see Hells Canyon up close. Beyond the green waters of the Snake River, the entire Hells Canyon National Recreation area spans more than 600,000 acres and offers hiking and horseback riding into the wilderness interior.

Shoshone Falls

Higher than Niagara Falls at 212 feet and set against a stunning backdrop, Shoshone Falls is located just minutes outside the city of Twin Falls in the southern part of the state, making it an easy attraction to visit when cruising I-84. Walking out onto the observation deck provides great views of the crashing falls, while the swimming area in the glassy calm waters below provides relief from the summer heat on a sticky afternoon.

A stunning aerial view of Shoshone Falls in Idaho, with steep grey cliffs and bright green trees and bushes surrounding the falls.
Source: Shutterstock

Sawtooth National Recreation Area

One of the largest wilderness areas in the country, Sawtooth National Recreation Area is just two hours due east of Boise on State Highway 21. Home to more than 300 alpine lakes cradled beneath snowcapped craggy peaks, Sawtooth is an absolute nirvana for outdoor sports enthusiasts. The area primarily attracts locals and those who have done some serious homework to discover the best hidden outdoor spots.

From sail boating on Redfish Lake to backpacking through Wood River Valley, the massive public park is overflowing with opportunities for camping and outdoor escapes from the daily grind. For taking in the sights while remaining comfortably in a vehicle, the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway winds through different ecosystems in the park and ends in the town of Stanley.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Visitors can walk out onto an alien landscape and ponder the passage of time at a cosmic level at Craters of the Moon National Monument, where a frozen lava field stretches for miles in every direction. Located along Highway 26 between Boise and Idaho Falls, this awe-inspiring scenic stretch has a visitor’s center that organizes guided tours of the lava tubes and cones daily during the summer season.

The dry, brown rocky landscape of the lava fields at Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho, with three volcanic hills in the background in front of a bright blue sky
Source: Shutterstock

If you want to explore the scenic wonders of the great outdoors in a far less crowded setting, consider a road trip through Idaho. If you love it, spread the word with photos and travel tips on our Facebook page.