HoneyTrek worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
Idaho may only be 479 miles long but it’s got over 107,000 miles of river to explore. During our month-long road trip around the state, each day’s drive was made more beautiful with the presence of flowing water. The highways are built with respect for the landscape and many follow the river’s curves along the carved cliffs. We pulled over for countless photo ops and the more we stopped, the more we wanted to dive in. From whitewater rafting to soaking in hot springs, to sampling wine in the viticulture valleys, we took in some of the best river experiences—not just in the state—in the nation (trust us, we’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the USA). To get to the heart of Idaho’s beauty, bounty, and adventurous spirit, here are six must-do experiences.
We were flipping through the Idaho Roadsider magazine and Shoshone Falls jumped off the page. “The Niagara of the West,” it said—but taller! How had we never heard of this 212-foot high waterfall? We needed to see it in person. Entering the park, cliffs shot up with columnar basalt, a volcanic jigsaw puzzle of sorts and a dramatic prelude to the main attraction. The falls rushed around lush islands then spilled down a series of tiers until they plummeted back into the Snake River, billowing with clouds of mist and casting rainbows across the canyon. Beyond tall or wide, it was so dynamic that it now tops our list of favorite waterfalls in the States.
As former New Yorkers, it’s hard for us to think of a city river as a nice place to swim. So when we saw hundreds of Boiseans tubing, stand-up paddle boarding, and splashing around, we did a double take. Though with a closer look, we could see that the water sparkled like a mountain stream and the river-goers could not have been happier! Most floaters begin at Barber Park, where you can rent or fill up your own raft with their free air stations, then cruise six miles to the edge of downtown. Not a water baby? The Boise River Greenbelt has 25 miles of bike path to enjoy the lush banks and various parks, cafes, and breweries. A stop at Payette Brewing for a pint and round of cornhole is a must!
Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon
If you’re into river rafting, then you know all too well about the Middle Fork of the Salmon. It’s a National Wild and Scenic River, National Geographic puts it in the top ten rafting trips in the world, and it ticks all our boxes for an epic back-country adventure. Set in the Frank Church—the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Lower 48–the Middle Fork cuts through an untouched forest without a single road or even a motor to disturb its tranquility. While it’s possible to put your name in the park system’s lottery and massively gear up for a self-guided journey, we’d recommend you lock in your voyage with Solitude River Trips. With the help of their expert team, we navigated the 100 miles of rapids and enjoyed it all the more with their comfy camp setup, gourmet meals, fine wine, top-notch fly fishing, and insights on this geographically and culturally rich region.
Kirkham Hot Springs
There are so many hot springs in Idaho we’d see them steaming from the side of the road! The state has over 130 to soak in and some are so dreamy we’d prefer them to fancy spas. While we’ve heard incredible things about Gold Bug Hot Springs, our absolute favorite was Kirkham. Driving the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, we pulled over at an unsuspecting campground. With a mere $5 parking fee, we had an all-day pass to a series of hot waterfalls and steamy pools. This is a popular family spot though it’s easy to find privacy and excellent soaking in under a ten-minute hike. We rounded a bend and found a series of private hot pools overlooking the cerulean Payette River.
Southwest Idaho Wine Country
The Snake River Valley may not be a household name in wine just yet, but word is getting out. Ever since the area received its AVA (American Vitaculture Area) designation in 2007, it has become one of the nation’s fastest growing wine regions. We paid homage to Idaho’s largest and longest running winery with a tasting at Ste. Chapelle. A flight yielded five delectable pours, a souvenir wine glass, and instant relaxation in the gorgeous tasting room. Then we took a tip from Travel & Leisure and stopped at Bitner Vineyards along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. Not only are their organic wines delightful, they have one of the best views over the region’s sea of vines and the river that gives life to it all.
Do you know where to find North America’s deepest river gorge? Try Idaho! Carved by the 1,078-mile Snake River, Hells Canyon(which runs the Idaho-Oregon border) is 1.5-miles deep with mountain scenery as dramatic as its raging rapids. To get the best of both we went with Hells Canyon Adventures. Starting our journey in oar boats, their impressive guides took us down roller-coaster rapids that had our whole boat—ages 20 through 60—squealing and laughing like school kids. Eighteen miles and three hours of fun flew by before we switched over to the jet boat. Rolling with 950-horsepower, we defied the force of Class IV rapids and the tremendous flow (20,000+ cubic feet per second!) and shot up that river for a whole new kind of thrill.