10 Gorgeous Idaho Scenic Byways To Take The Long Way Home

Post Summary: Our favorite Idaho scenic byways (with attractions nearby)

While you might envision potato fields and mountain lakes when you think of Idaho, this PNW state has lots to offer and tons of fun places to explore!

Maybe you don’t have time yet for a full-blown Idaho road trip, but you’ve got enough time for a long detour on the way to your destination.

In this post, we’re sharing 10 incredible Idaho scenic byways to take, when simply passing through or when you have a bit more time to take the long way home. Let’s go!

Idaho Scenic Byways

10 Incredible Idaho Scenic Byways

What exactly makes a “scenic byway”?

According to Wikipedia, a Scenic Byway is defined as a route that includes at least one of these six “intrinsic qualities”: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. There are so many scenic byways in Idaho to explore, and you are bound to find any one of these six qualities wherever your route takes you.

These drives may not necessarily be the fastest route to your destination, but Idaho scenic routes are meant to be taken slow and enjoyed! Consider it an all-day activity on your next Idaho road trip!

Can these Idaho scenic byways be overnight trips?

Yes they can! Some of these scenic byways in Idaho have full-service stops, but some of the more remote ones have few amenities. Don’t let that deter you though, because we have an easy and fun solution for off-grid camping!

The Dyrt Camprgound Finder

Looking for free camping along your routes?

The new Free Camping Collection from Dyrt PRO is our favorite way to find free camping.

This year, The Dyrt launched their Free Camping Collection of 5000 drive-in accessible locations that include free campgrounds and free dispersed sites.

Plus, the Free Camping Collection shows you boundaries of free dispersed camping areas on a map and tells you when a camping permit is required (and if so how to get one).

Try the PRO Free Camping Collection for free, no strings attached — use our code “mandagies” to get 30 days free.

Other useful resources to download for your next Idaho road trip:

Pend Orielle Scenic Byway - Scenic Roads in Idaho

1. Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~35 miles from Sandpoint to Clark Fork
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road, windy and narrow
  • Best Time To Visit: Year-Round (check winter conditions)
  • Highlights: fall and springs colors, Schweitzer Mountain Resort, camping on the lake

Featuring classic Pacific Northwest scenery, the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway is one of the best scenic byways in Idaho!

Leading you around Lake Pend Oreille and through the scenic landscape of Northern Idaho, the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway takes around an hour and a half to complete.

While in the area, you can take a ski day at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, camp on Lake Pend Oreille for a longer stay, go wine tasting at the Pend d’Oreille Winery Tasting Room, or take a quick stop in Sandpoint, ID for shopping and a sweet treat at Panhandle Cone & Coffee!

Being one of the largest and deepest lakes in the Western United States, Lake Pend Oreille is a unique destination in the PNW and a place worth visiting while driving along the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway.

Read More: Plan a 1-Week Northern Idaho Road Trip Route here!

Payette River Scenic Byway - Scenic Roads in Idaho

2. Payette River Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~110 Miles from Boise to McCall
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road, windy and narrow
  • Best Time To Visit: Year-Round (check winter conditions)
  • Highlights: Trail Creek Hot Springs, Burgdorf Hot Springs, Payette Lake

One of the best Idaho scenic highways is the Payette River Scenic Byway, as it offers visitors epic views of Central Idaho, tons of water sports and activities along the river, and passes by some of the best natural hot springs in Idaho!

Taking around 2 hours to complete, the Payette River Scenic Byway is the perfect Boise weekend activity for families and couples, or is a great way to experience some solitude and enjoyment of Idaho’s beautiful landscape.

To make your trip a full one, check out the Brundage Mountain Resort and Ponderosa State Park in the winter, Tamarack Resort and Lake Cascade State Park in the summer, Horseshoe Bend Kayak Park & Fish Ladder, Eagle Sports Park, and more!

3. Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway

  • Distance: ~100 Miles From Boise to Jordan Valley, OR
  • Road Conditions: Majority Gravel
  • Best Time To Visit: Summer & Fall (bad road conditions in winter)
  • Highlights: Owyhee River Gorge, Owyhee Mountains, desert landscape

Calling all desert-dwellers! If you’re looking for a Utah-like experience but want to stay in Idaho, check out the 103-mile Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.

This beautiful section of dirt road, high desert plains, natural stone arches, jaw-dropping canyon views, and some hidden natural hot springs too!

On this Idaho Scenic Byway, you must carry your own fuel, food, and water. There are no services along the entire route – the closest gas stations you will find at the end of the route, in Jordan Valley, Oregon, and near Boise, Idaho.

Try to take the route during the dry season – heavy rain can cause flash floods and affect the safety of the roads.

Want to continue the drive? Use our Eastern Oregon road trip route to see even more desert gems!

4. Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~50 Miles from Idaho winter country to border of Oregon
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road
  • Best Time To Visit: Year-Round
  • Highlights: Scenic vistas, vineyards, orchards

The Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the best scenic drives in Idaho, because of its lovely views of the river and fun stops along the way.

One of the best things about the Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway is that you can try new activities in the area, such as white water rafting, wine tasting at any of the numerous vineyards, and visiting the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, Map Rock Petroglyph, or Old Fort Boise.

While the Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway takes around an hour and a half to travel, you’ll want to plan a longer visit, as there’s so much to do along the way!

Read More: Stay nearby and do 23 incredible things in Boise, Idaho

Sacajawea Scenic Historic Byway

5. Sacajawea Historic Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~130 Miles from Salmon to Idaho Falls
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road
  • Best Time To Visit: Summer & Fall
  • Highlights: Cultural center, fall colors, Continental Divide

The Sacajawea Historic Scenic Byway is one of the best scenic roads in Idaho for families and historians, as it offers visitors a complete guide to this area of the PNW and experiences that capture the rich history of the cultures that originally occupied the land.

While traveling the 2.5-hour Sacajawea Historic Scenic Byway, be sure to check out the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural, and Educational Center, trek a portion of the Continental Divide Trail, visit the historic Caribou-Targhee National Forest – Charcoal Kilns Interpretive Site, and even connect with the Lewis and Clark Backcountry Byway.

One of the best aspects of the Sacajawea Historic Scenic Byway is that it passes through the Lemhi River Valley, summits the Lemhi Pass, and drops onto the Snake River Plain, where you can also access the Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway!

Hot spring lover? Backpack to Goldbug Hot Springs nearby!

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve - Day Trips from Twin Falls, Idaho

6. Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~140 Miles between Stanley and Craters of the Moon
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road
  • Best Time To Visit: Year-Round (check winter conditions)
  • Highlights: Craters of the Moon, Mt. Brah, Mackay Dam

With easy access to Craters of the Moon National Monument, boasting epic views of Mt. Borah (Idaho’s tallest peak!), and great fishing at the Mackay Reservoir and Mackay Dam, the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway is one to remember!

While driving along the 3-hour-long Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway, you’ll want to explore the Salmon-Challis National Forest, take a self-guided tour at the EBR-I Atomic Museum (Have you ever seen a nuclear reactor? You can here!), and check out the Land of the Yankees Fork State Park.

The Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway is perfect for family vacations, weekend getaways in Idaho, or a fun day adventure in the Pacific Northwest.

Read More: 50 Incredible Things To Do In Idaho (Bucket List adventures!)

7. St Joe River Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~90 Miles from St Maries to St Regis, MT
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road
  • Best Time To Visit: Year-Round (check winter conditions)
  • Highlights: waterfalls, river rafting, and fishing opportunities

The St. Joe River Scenic Byway spans from St. Maries, Idaho to St. Regis, Montana. This route takes around 3 hours to complete.

Spanning two states (Idaho and Montana), the St. Joe River Scenic Byway is a great addition to any PNW road trip or weekend getaway across these northern US states

.Want to explore the area a little more? You can also pair it with the 11-mile Red Ives Road (Forest Road 218), for an equally scenic and longer trip. You can stay at the Red Ives Cabin near this road for a unique PNW experience!

While traveling the St. Joe River Scenic Byway, you must try river rafting and explore the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

Within the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, check out camping at the Spruce Tree Campground or Heller Creek Campground, go cutthroat trout fly fishing, or float the river!

Stay at a unique Airbnb nearby: Book a stay at Crystal Peak Lookout

Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway - Idaho Scenic Byways

8. Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~30 Miles from Garden Valley to Lowman
  • Road Conditions: 2-lane paved road
  • Best Time To Visit: Year-Round (check winter conditions)
  • Highlights: Scenic turnouts, Pine Flats Hot Springs, Kirkham Hot Springs

Located in Southwest Idaho, the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway is among some of the best scenic Idaho drives. It’s perfect for those looking to explore Idaho’s natural hot springs and those wanting more solitude during their adventures.

Some of the best Idaho hot springs along the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway are the Pine Flats Hot Springs and Kirkham Hot Springs–both of which are natural and easily accessible natural hot springs!

Some other features of the 1-hour-long Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway are the vast Boise National Forest, Terrace Lakes Resort (great for golfers!), white water rafting the Payette River, and fun shows at the Starlight Mountain Theater.

More hot springs near this route include: Rocky Canyon Hot Springs and Bonneville Hot Springs

9. Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

  • Distance: ~22 miles in Idaho (the rest is in Oregon)
  • Road Conditions: both gravel and paved sections
  • Best Time To Visit: Spring, Summer & Fall
  • Highlights: float or take a jet boat down the river, ancient pictographs and petroglyphs

One of the most unique Idaho scenic routes has got to be the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway! You’ll be surprised by the beautiful scenery of this part of Southwest Idaho. It’s the deepest river canyon in the United States and boasting cool geological formations!

While driving the area of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, what is there to do? You’ll want to be sure to try white water rafting with the family or take a jet boat down the river to Pittsburg Landing and the historic Kirkwood Ranch. Here, you can see for yourself ancient pictographs and petroglyphs from the Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock, Northern Paiute, and Cayute tribes.

As Hells Canyon can get hot in Southwest Idaho (hence the name!), you’ll want to visit this popular site in the late spring, during cool summer mornings, or in the fall.

Read More: The 17 Most Haunted Places In Idaho

10. City of Rocks Backcountry Byway

  • Distance: ~50 Miles
  • Road Conditions: Paved and Gravel
  • Best Time To Visit: Spring/Summer/Fall
  • Highlights: Castle Rock State Park. City of Rocks, Oakley Historic District

The City of Rocks Scenic Byway actually reminds us a lot of Alabama Hills in Eastern California! Along the way, you can experience Castle Rocks State Park and City of Rocks National Reserve with incredible spots for camping, hiking, and climbing. This is a climbers paradise, and largely unspoiled by heavy crowds. In the City of Rocks reserve alone, there are more than 700 routes to choose from!

If you love history, you’re going to geek out over the Oakley Historic District. The entire town is on the National Historic Register! It’s known for its large collection of old stone and brick buildings still standing today.

Come choose this route among the Albion mountain range if you will be passing through Twin Falls to the Salt Lake City area.

Read More: 12 Incredible Day Trips From Twin Falls Idaho

Idaho Scenic Byways Wrap-up

We know there are so many more incredible scenic routes in Idaho to explore! As we continue to explore this beautiful state, we’ll be adding more and more byways to this post!

What are some of your favorite Idaho scenic byways? Let us know in the comments!


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