From the rugged Sawtooth Mountains to the Gospel Hump Wilderness, Idaho offers adventures for every hiker, from those looking for an afternoon stroll to those seeking a hard-charging backcountry adventure. While this list is by no means comprehensive, below are 10 of the best trails and routes the Gem State has to offer. Pack a bag for a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip and soak up the wonders of these 10 not-to-miss Idaho excursions (in no particular order).
1. Wilderness Trail to Echo Crater
Hike the rugged volcanic “moonscape” of Craters of the Moon Wilderness within Craters of the Moon National Monument for a taste of solitude and adventure. Explore the pahoehoe lava flows, hike across Broken Top cinder cone, view the lava trees, and wonder at all the other cinder cones around. This 8-mile, round-trip route is also a good one-night backpacking destination (pick up a required permit at the visitor’s center). Be sure to bring plenty of water, as this route can be very hot and dry.
2. Upper Priest Lake Trail to Continental Creek Trail
The Upper Priest River Trail #308 is an incredibly scenic hike that follows along the river to the junction of Continental Creek Trail #28 in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests . Follow #28 to Upper Priest River Falls (also called American Falls) and enjoy spectacular views of the 40-foot waterfall surrounded by granite walls, all just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. It’s about eight miles to the falls. Be aware, this is prime grizzly habitat.
3. Toxaway to Alice Lake Loop
Take two or three days and make this epic 19-mile backpacking loop from Toxaway to Alice Lake . This jewel of the Sawtooths is complete with jagged peaks, ridges, meadows, creeks, waterfalls, and more. Gorgeous alpine lakes sit along the route, nestled in basins. Some may prefer to do this as a long, single-day hike or even a trail run.
4. Sawtooth Lake
This 10-mile trail to Sawtooth Lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area offers some of the best views in thee area. This trail starts in the forest, follows a creek, and climbs up high as hikers are serenaded by roaring waterfalls. After a few miles of mellow uphill, you’ll find a meadow and then head into steeper areas of rocky beauty and great views of Alpine Lake. Once you reach Alpine Lake, you’ll find great views of Mt. Reagan.
5. Mount Borah
More of a climb than a hike, Mount Borah is a must do for mountaineers and experienced hikers who are comfortable with a challenging and exposed route up Idaho’s highest mountain (12,662 feet). A popular route is the 9-mile, round-trip Southwest Ridge , which is considered a Class 3 climb. Ice axes and crampons are recommended. Several people have died climbing the mountain over the years, so be sure to take all necessary precautions and have the skills, experience, and equipment necessary for this endeavor.
6. Red Mountain Trail
Located in the Boise National Forest, the Red Mountain Trail provides a great hike up Red Mountain as well as spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Start on the Clear Creek Trail for a steep 2-mile jaunt to the intersection with the Red Mountain Trailhead. Then, you’ll keep going uphill for 1.5 more miles until you summit Red Mountain. Up top, you’ll see an old fire tower, spectacular mountains, and the Red Mountain Lakes below. Some enjoy an off-trail side trip down to the lakes via the southeast ridge of the mountain.
7. City of Rocks National Reserve Trails
In City of Rocks National Reserve , you’ll find over 22 miles of hiking trails situated among massive rocks and impressive scenery. Combine a variety of short trails to make your own longer routes that lead to arches, windows, and other natural features. Next to City of Rocks National Reserve is Castle Rocks State Park, boasting more spectacular scenery and a wide variety of hikes . Try out the Window Arch Trail for a very short jaunt (300 feet each way) or the Geological Interpretive Trail for a 1.2-mile loop or the Castle Rocks Trail in Castle Rocks State Park for 5 miles of fun.
8. South Bitch Creek Canyon
For some solitude, head up South Bitch Creek Canyon in the Ashton/Island Park Ranger District of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. This rugged, wild country is home to grizzly bears and all sorts of other creatures, so take all appropriate precautions. Hike out and back, turning around whenever you like on the route surrounded by forests, meadows, and canyon slopes. Some may prefer linking the route with the Carrot Ridge Trail for a 21.7-mile loop, done as either a very long day hike or an overnighter.
9. Lower Gospel Lake
In the Gospel Hump Wilderness, take Forest Road 444 while keeping an eye out for the hidden trail to Lower Lower Gospel Lake . Once you spot this route (details in the link), the lake is about a mile down and many like to bring fishing gear to snag a trout for dinner. This area contains plenty of other alpine lakes as well a bit further down Road 444, leaving plenty of room for exploration.
10. Washington Lake
In the White Cloud Mountains in the Sawtooths, take the 5.6-mile roundtrip hike to Washington Lake (or opt for the shorter 3.6-mile route to Fourth of July Lake). The trail starts in the forest and Fourth of July Lake is just 1.8 miles down the trail, surrounded by a scenic meadow and gorgeous views. To get to Washington Lake , continue another mile or so and go over a small pass to reach even more spectacular scenery.