With Boise as your headquarters, anywhere in Idaho is a relatively easy drive. Often, when friends visit and we want to show them a taste of what the rugged mountains are like we take them on this drive. It can be completed in one day, offers plenty of opportunities to stop for a variety of recreational activities, and has all the usual scenic beauty one expects from our gem state.
From Boise, take highway 55 north. You’ll climb in elevation and soon be in what I call the tree zone, forested mountains with non-stop views.
On this driving trip, you’ll pass through several small towns, most of which were settled during the mining era of Idaho’s history, back when prospectors had big dreams of striking it rich. Today, the towns thrive mostly on tourism.
The first town you’ll go through is Horseshoe Bend, so named for its location on a bend in the Payette River resembling a horseshoe.
Continue north beyond Horseshoe Bend and the road gets very curvy. If you’re not accustomed to driving on two-lane mountain roads, take it slow.The highway follows the curves of the river, which is one of the most scenic and beautiful white water rivers you’ll find anywhere.
Depending on the time of year, you might see rafters or kayakers enjoying a river run. If you are here in early spring, the crashing water will astonish you.
Want to try your own hand at river rafting? Stop at Banks, a tiny wide spot in the road where you’ll find Cascade Raft & Kayak. They’ll set you up for fun.
Of, if it’s snack time, stop in the cafe right along the river. It doesn’t look like much, and I don’t even know if it has a name, but the food is very tasty.
From Banks, you’re going to leave highway 55 and head east on the Banks Lowman Road. This road follows the South Fork of the Payette River through Garden Valley to Lowman. If you’re here in the summer, I recommend the Starlight Mountain Theater.
Once you arrive in Lowman, you have a choice: Go south to Idaho City and loop back to Boise, or go north through Stanley and Ketchum before heading back to Boise.
Let’s take the southern route first. You’ll turn onto highway 21. The section between Lowman and Idaho City is full of switchbacks, but also incredibly beautiful. If you have people in the car who get car sick easily, take necessary steps now. Take the road slow and enjoy the views.
If you need a snack once you get to Idaho City, try the Sarsaparilla for some excellent ice cream concoctions, or Trudy’s Kitchen for scrumptious cheesecake. They also serve meals.
Then it’s just a short drive back down to Boise. You’ll drive along the Lucky Peak Reservoir. A great place to take a break, especially in the hot summer months. Go for a swim, or if you like boating and have a boat, take a break.
Now back to the northern route. From Lowman you’ll turn north highway 21 toward Stanley. This is some of my favorite country in Idaho, because you’ll begin to see the Sawtooths. Just north of Lowman, you can enjoy the Kirkham Hot Springs, which is just off the highway. It’s a great place for a soak and a break from driving.
Keep going to Stanley. You’ll turn onto highway 75 here. Go south. There are lots of lakes in this area. The most popular is Redfish Lake. You can enjoy the lake to your heart’s content. Fish, boat, camp, swim.
Heading onward, you’ll go over Galena Summit, a good place to stop and enjoy the incredible views. Then head down the other side and make your way into Ketchum/Sun Valley. There’s so much to do here, that’s another post.
Whether you stay the night, enjoy an art gallery, or fill up freshly caught trout, you’ll head back to Boise by continuing south on highway 75. Turn west onto highway 20, to Fairfield.
The scenery here becomes less forested. You’re in the Camas Prairie, a beauty unique to itself. Great for bird watching.
In Fairfield, I always have to stop at the Wrangler. It’s a drive in with the usual burgers and shakes, and well worth your stop.
From here you stay on highway 20 until it runs into Interstate 84, then turn west and back to Boise.
While this driving loop can be done in one day, you can also stretch it out to fill an entire week’s vacation. Whatever time you have, you won’t forget Idaho.