Idaho. For people who haven't spent much time there, the state may conjure up thoughts of russet potatoes, arid plains, or the rugged individualism found more often in western states without a major metro area. But, for those of us who know the state, it's a land of wilderness, with high mountain peaks, rushing whitewater, expansive western forests and so many places where you can get deep into the backcountry. With a total population of just over 1.5 million people on a landmass totaling 83,500 square miles, there is a lot to explore, and few people you'll need to share it with.
Idaho's status of being relatively undiscovered works in the favor of all of us who like to experience the wild when in wilderness. On a backcountry outing, you could encounter wildlife ranging from elk, deer and moose to grizzly bears, cougars and wolves. It's famed rivers are popular destinations, and their protection means permits for anglers and rafters are hard to come by. And although Idaho doesn't boast a large number of national parks when compared to its western neighbors, the acreage of protected wilderness is impressive, totaling nearly 9% of the land in the state, and 60% of the state's land is managed by the federal government for public use. With so much to explore, it's no wonder Boise is always on the list of top cities for people who love the outdoors and have an active lifestyle.
So if you love the outdoors but have yet to add Idaho's gems to your list of places to explore, here are 10 adventures that'll whet your appetite. Spend a few weeks exploring what the state has to offer, and you'll likely find yourself returning time and again while extolling Idaho's splendors to your friends and family.
Bisecting the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the United States outside of Alaska, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the premier rafting trips of the west. It's 100 miles of whitewater famed for its scenery and native cutthroat trout.
From Redfish Lake, a shuttle deposits hikers at the mouth of Redfish Lake Canyon. The glacially-carved canyon has some incredible views of the Sawtooth Mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, and serves as the jumping off spot to longer backpacking trips in the area.
Volcanic lava tubes. Ancient craters. Remoteness. These are a few of the things you can explore at Craters of the Moon, referred to by an early explorer as "the strangest 75 square miles on the North American Continent."
It was named City of Rocks for a reason. Camp at the base of large granite boulders, and climb directly from your camp. Almost like an outdoor gym, only with amazing scenery, at City of Rocks there are bouldering, sport and trad climbing options of varying degrees of difficulty.
The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, PNT for short, runs for 1,200 miles across the northern boundary of the United States. The section through Idaho is rugged and incredibly scenic. From Bonners Ferry to Priest Lake, the trail runs through the Selkirk Range, a beautiful and remote stretch of Idaho's panhandle.
The Selway River is arguably one of the hardest rivers in the United States to get a permit to run. And for that reason, you'll have the whitewater and fishing almost all to yourself if your group is lucky enough to win the lottery. Alternatively, book a trip with one of the four commercial guiding companies on the Selway if you absolutely can't wait to get there.
Like Death Valley, Idaho has sand dunes in the desert, albeit on a much smaller scale. Exploring this ecosystem is an opportunity to see migrating birds of prey, hike along the dunes, which are closed to motorized vehicles, and catch a marvelous display of stars at the park's observatory.
Just to the south of Stanley, Idaho, Redfish Lake sits at the heart of the Sawtooths. Paddling across the lake affords amazing views of the surrounding mountains, opportunities to swim in and fish the lake's waters, and access to the many hiking trails that weave through the area. Kayaks can be rented from Redfish Lake Lodge and Marina.
The mountains and creekside trails near Ketchum, Idaho offer some of the best mountain biking terrain out there. These trails are rugged, steep, and on the singletrack you are likely to have it all to yourself. The South Fork of Warm Springs to Red Warrior was rebuilt in 2010, leaving a challenging and flowy route through the Smoky Mountains.
Many backpacking routes through the Sawtooth Wilderness depart from Redfish Lake. The Alpine Way Trail has a number of sections that go into remote areas. Be prepared for some frigid creek crossings on the way into the mountains.