Idaho is a hidden gem of natural beauty. Its vast, varied, and beautiful ancient landscape is easily overlooked. Being nestled between the West and the Pacific Northwest, Montana and Wyoming attract most of the attention as do Washington and Oregon. However, that means less crowds but very similar terrain as its surrounding neighbors. You'll find large crystal lakes, glacial mountains, winding rivers, tons of fishing, and hot springs galore. Despite driving through Idaho a few years prior but not knowing what I would eventually discover, I was inspired by one of my favorite travel bloggers Be My Travel Muse to explore its many hot springs. While I didn't quite hit all of them, my hot springs tour was definitely a success. Those I visited did not disappoint, especially given many are right out in nature in forests along the river. The best way to experience hot springs. Furthermore, they're surprisingly not crowded, at least when I visited mid September during what I think is a shoulder season. The towns didn't feel as welcoming as I would've expected, but nature welcomes everyone.

My Favorites

1. Sawtooth Mountains

Sawtooth Mountains

Highlights: Mountains, lakes, rivers, hot springs, fishing, hiking, skiing
Suggest Staying: 3-4 days
Stay Around: Stanley or Ketchum
Internet: Weak
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Definitely my favorite area of Idaho due to its mountain beauty and concentration of hot springs. Stanley is the heart of the Sawtooth Range and most centrally located if you plan to spend a few days exploring. There aren’t tons of “typical” hiking trails, but there’s certainly hiking to be had. You could either stay overnight at a few of the towns if you’re traveling along routes 21 and 75 which will save some extra driving, but it’s a nice place to camp before it gets cold. This area is also designated International Dark Sky for stargazing.

See & Do

  • Stanley Lake. Must see. Beautiful lake with the aptly named sawtooth shaped mountains as the backdrop. Early in the mornings the mountains may be covered in mist, but start to poke out through the clouds as it warms up.
  • Redfish Lake. A bit of a lake resort feel with boats on the lake and a lodge. A bit more touristy and crowded than Stanley Lake, but definitely worth a visit.
  • Sunbeam Hot Springs. Easily accessible off the highway and right next to the river.
  • Pettit Lake. Absolutely gorgeous reflections and backdrop in the morning. Campgrounds available.
  • White Cloud Mountains. Mountain range.
  • Ketchum. Town with shops and restaurants at the base of Bald Mountain.
  • Sun Valley. Ski resort.
  • Goldbug Hot Springs. Roughly 2 mile one-way hike to some serious hot springs. Parking is kind of weird behind some houses.
  • Salmon. Small town with not much going on, but one of the more populous towns up in that area if you need food, gas or a place to stay.

Food & Drink

  • Village Market. Grocery store in Ketchum.
  • Tundra. Wine bar style American restaurant with really great food.
  • Black Owl Coffee. Great for coffee and/or breakfast.


  • Lodging. I you’re looking for a more off grid or rustic experience, stay in or around Stanley or Lower Stanley. You can find basic supplies in the way of food and gas, but not much else. I camped at Stanley Lake which was lovely. When it’s first come first served, either arrive early or just stay somewhere the day before and then arrive between 8-10am the next morning and you should be able to find a campsite. Campsites fill up fast and in advance in the peak months. Ketchum is a small mountain town near the Sun Valley ski area and is great if you’re not looking to rough it. Nearby Hailey may have cheaper accommodations than Ketchum but isn’t far.
  • Weather. You’re in the mountains, so weather might be unpredictable and likely cold, especially outside the summer months.

2. Twin Falls

Twin Falls

Highlights: Canyons, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: In Town or Miracle Hot Springs
Internet: Good
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More of a country town than Boise, the nature in the surrounding area is absolutely stellar. The concentration of canyons, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls within or just beyond city limits is astonishing. The town does have a few healthy food options and is a good place to re-supply on food and gas.

See & Do

  • Visitor Center. Just over the Perrine Memorial Bridge several hundred feet up overlooking the canyon river down below. Awesome views and you can see where Evil Knievel did a stunt there.
  • Shoshone Falls. Massive falls taller than Niagara Falls when the water is flowing, which it wasn’t unfortunately during my visit.
  • Pillar Falls Scenic Overlook. View of Pilla Falls
  • Twin Falls. Give the city its name.

Food & Drink

  • Elevation 486. Really good American food with an incredible view.
  • 4 Roots Juice Bar. Smoothies, salads, sandwiches. Really good healthy food. Also next to a health food store.
  • Yellow Brick Cafe. Great breakfast spot.


  • Thousand Springs State Park. Stunning. Must see if you have time. It’s broken up into several areas relatively close to each other but require driving between them. Malad Gorge has some stellar canyon river views. Ritter Island is a nice place to relax, wade, or kayak. There are several waterfalls including Lemmon Falls which is the biggest, but keep walking and you can get a view of 3 more smaller waterfalls feeding into a lake.
  • Box Canyon State Park. Beautiful clear sapphire blue springs and incredible views of the Snake River from high on up along the gorge rim. Nearby Blue Heart Springs is a popular kayak spot. It is also hikable if you go down into the gorge for which there is a path if you walk 10 minutes beyond the immediate viewpoints.
  • Banbury & Miracle Hot Springs. Two different hot springs, of which Miracle has some camping along the river as well as rooms. Beware the many flies.
  • City of Rocks. Absolutely amazing place. It’s a bit out of the way, but if you like rock scrambling, this place is for you. There are campsites for tents and vans. Plenty of places to wander about. I heard in the summer months you need to watch out for rattlesnakes. Couple small towns on the way, but not much, so stock up before heading out if you plan to spend more than an afternoon.
  • Shoshone Ice Cave. Amongst the lava fields lies a cave with a year round temperature of twenty something degrees due to how the cave is sealed. Rain and snow melt trickle down through the porous rock that forms a lake of ice that continues to expand! Wouldn’t say it’s a must see, but it’s pretty unique.
  • Black Magic Canyon. Smoothed lava rocks along the river. The info about its formation is pretty interesting. While pretty, not particularly notable.
  • Mammoth Cave. Self guided 1-mile roundtrip walk through a sparkling, colorful cave. You’ll get a lantern, but you might prefer your own headlamp. You can see gold, silver, iron, and possibly bats. It’s both awesome and eery if you have the cave to yourself. Located on the property of a hunter, traveler, collector, there’s also a museum.

3. Kirkham

Kirkham Hot Springs

Highlights: Hot springs, river, mountains
Suggest Staying: 1/2-1 day
Stay Around: Stanley or Boise
Internet: Weak
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One of my favorite hot springs. But sssshhh, don’t tell anyone. A short hike from the highway over the river which runs right up against the springs for your cold plunge. There are several pools to choose from, including one below a hot springs waterfall shower. Continue past the day use area down towards the river. Don’t be afraid to explore past the trickly falls, as there are more and hotter pools. If you’re hanging out in the area or heading up to Stanley you can also visit Bonneville Hot Springs. Deeper into the forest and also along a river. Take a dip in the bathtub!

4. Boise

Freak Alley Gallery

Highlights: Food, art, parks, museums, rivers
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Hyde Park
Internet: Strong
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Boise is an up and coming city that’s been recently gaining popularity with people moving from all over for a lower cost of living and access to the mountains. A bit hipster, Boise is a great place to hang out for a quick visit, or spend more time if you choose to use as a home base for exploring nearby hot springs and mountains. Boise is not a particularly big city which is nice, but has plenty going on. Reminded me a bit of Phoenix, but without the desert heat.

See & Do

  • Downtown. Shops, restaurants, museums.
  • Freak Alley Gallery. Very cool murals.
  • Basque Block. Cultural center neighborhood.
  • Hyde Park. Nice area with shops and restaurants.
  • Camel’s Back Park. Hiking trails.
  • Boise River Greenbelt. Runs through most of the city with various parks and green spaces. Julia Davis Park is quite nice.
  • Ann Frank Human Rights Memorial. Small, free, wonderful and inspiring quotes along the walls.

Food & Drink

  • The Warehouse. Food hall.
  • Certified Kitchen & Bakery. Food and baked goods. Mostly takeaway.
  • Goldy’s. Popular local breakfast spot.

5. Coeur d'Alene

Coeur d’Alene

Highlights: Lake, beach
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Tamarack RV Park (Tiny Houses) or Spokane
Internet: Good
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Apparently many celebrities are moving or have already moved here. This lake resort town feels like a local everday town and also a vacation spot. Hang out in the town, down by the beach, or head out on the lake. There are some nearby places to explore should you have the urge.

See & Do

  • The Lake & Downtown. Main attraction.
  • Tubbs Hill. Hiking. McEuen Park.
  • Post Falls. Falls Park.

Food & Drink

  • Pilgrim’s Market. Grocery store.
  • Revival Tea Company. Super cool tea spot. Also one in Spokane which is like a speakeasy.


  • Spokane. Very close by if you’re looking for more of a city vibe. Not much is said about Spokane, and while there is a bit of grit to it, I dig it. Has some cool shops, food, and quirk. A few notable places include the house from Benny and Joon at 301 N Cedar St, Indaba Coffee and Soulful Soups for good food, Atticus Coffee & Gifts and Boo Radley’s Toy Store are quirky shops, and Riverside State Park Bowl & Pitcher offers hiking.
  • Farragut State Park. At the base of Pend Oreille for boating and hiking.
  • Lake Pend Oreille. Another large lake.
  • Sandpoint. Neat little town on the lake. Check out City Beach Park and Cedar Street Bridge Public Market.
  • Mineral Ridge. Scenic area.

Other Considerations

Craters Of The Moon

Indian Tunnel

Craters Of The Moon National Park is an ocean of lava tubes and lava fields which you can pretty freely explore. You can even disappear into the lava tubes and caves on your own. It’s quite beautiful. The park is located about 220 miles (4.5 hours) from both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

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If you have…

  • 30 Mins. 7-mile loop drive.
  • 1 Hour. North Crater Flow trail.
  • 2 Hours. Indian Tunnel, Big Craters from Spatter Cones hike.
  • 1/2 Day. Broken Top Loop Hike, Tree Molds trails, Buffalo Cave on Broken Top Loop.


  • Cave Permit. Required on all cave hikes, including Indian Tunnel and Buffalo Cave. Easy to get and free, they just check with you about WNS.
  • White Nose Syndrome (WNS) (Important!). This terrible fungal disease is killing off bats at an alarming rate across America. WNS doesn’t affect humans, but bats catch it and effectively can’t breathe, freak out, use up all their energy and die. Millions of bats have died as a result, so do your part to avoid spreading it! Bats are critical to our survival, they kill disease carrying insects like mosquitoes. Plus they are super cool animals. If you have been in a cave within the last 10 years that has WNS, or if you’re not sure, mention this to the rangers and be sure not to wear the same clothes, shoes, or pack.
  • Indian Tunnel. You will be climbing up and down rock piles, so wear sturdy shoes. If you have a headlamp, bring it. Don’t do this if you’re unsteady on your feet. Not necessary, but helps in a couple of spots with low/no light and also if you want to try and spot bats.

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

Amazing outdoor hot springs along the river. A relatively short hike through the forest takes you to several pools. Nice place to spend a couple hours and relax or just for a dip. Less crowded in the morning. Also check out lesser known Weir Creek Hot Springs just up the road. Short hike to a couple pools overlooking the river below. Clothing optional apparently. Beautiful drive along route 12. Most accessible from Missoula, Montana, not far over the state line.

Internet: None

Apline to Palisades

Red Rock Pass

This just happened to be the route I took, no particular reason. However, the drive from Alpine to Palisades was gorgeous past a huge lake and mountains. Looked like it would be a nice recreation, camping, or hangout area. Pretty remote, although off a major highway, but I didn’t see any people around the lake. If you’re planning a route through Idaho, I would recommend driving through this way. Along the route is Idaho Falls and Red Rock Pass are two noteworthy stops if you need a break. Just outside Craters of the Moon on the way down to Utah.

Lava Hot Springs

Lava Hot Springs

Low key, more local feel hot springs. There are several hot springs pools in the town and just a few restaurants. I found it to be a little underwhelming. Only if it’s along your route would it be worth stopping by for a dip. Nearby Lost Trail and Downata Hot Springs are good lodging options for camping or a room.

Internet: Weak

General Tips

  • Cracked Windshield. Apparently in Idaho due to the wind, number of trucks, or maybe dumb luck, I managed to have my windshield cracked twice while on the road in Idaho at two different places. I actually keep a windshield repair kit from Walmart in the car, as this happened a couple years ago on a road trip. So I fixed the first crack, drove about 30 minutes and it happened again! My advice is to pay attention if you start hearing rocks crackling up against your windshield and back off of the car in front of you. This goes especially for large trailers, trucks hauling stuff, or pickup trucks.

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