Exploring Idaho’s 31 scenic byways from the seat of a motorcycle allows you to become a part of these roads that weave through mountains, plains, rivers and valleys. Answer the call of adventure and experience these four scenic Idaho motorcycle rides of discovery.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Motorcycle Adventures in Northern Idaho

Two motorcyclists riding along the South Fork of the Clearwater Corridor on Highway 14.

South Fork of the Clearwater Corridor, near Elk City. Photo credit: Visit Idaho.

Stop #1: International Selkirk Loop

The International Selkirk Loop ranks among the Northern Rockies’ top motorcycle rides. The 280-mile route runs from northern Idaho and into British Columbia before sweeping back through Washington state into Idaho. Unlike other trips with dramatic vistas and demanding S-curves, the 90+ miles in Idaho are smooth and easy, while delivering a pleasing succession of small towns, broad lakes and glacial valleys.

Stop #2: Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage

Starting on the southern leg of the Selkirk Loop in Oldtown, Idaho, the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage places you on the north bank of the Pend Oreille River. Between Oldtown and Sandpoint, the land along U.S. Highway 2 is low, flat and sprinkled with serene views of local farms and surrounding forests. The river itself can be accessed from side roads as well as convenient recreational areas at Priest River and Riley Creek, each of which offer camping, swimming, hiking, fishing and picnic areas.

Stop #3: Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

Nestled between three mountain ranges, the town of Sandpoint is anchored by picturesque Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake. From here, head east via State Highway 200, otherwise known as the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway. This motorcycle-friendly, two-lane road boasts water views and landscapes so stunning, you might find yourself in Montana before you know it. To stay on your Idaho route, stick with the Selkirk Loop from the northwest shore of the lake via the Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway.

Stop #4: Kaniksu National Forest

The byway leads straight to Bonners Ferry along the western edge of the Kaniksu National Forest. Crossing the Kootenai River at Bonners Ferry, you may get the feeling you’ve entered a new stage of your scenic motorcycle ride as the landscape subtly transforms into backcountry. Enjoy the 15 miles of free-range riding before State Highway 1 splits left from U.S. Highway 95 for the final stretch to the Canadian border.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Go With the (River) Flow

An overhead shot of the Selway River, off of Northwest Passage Scenic Byway.

Selway River, near Syringa. Photo credit: Visit Idaho.

Stop #1: Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

At 202 miles, the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway is the longest of Idaho’s designated routes and roughly mirrors the path taken by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805. Follow in the explorers’ footsteps by taking U.S. Highway 12 west from the Montana border at Lolo Pass, through the Nez Perce–Clearwater National Forest and into Lewiston.

The road dives straight into the majestic countryside, following the twists and turns of the Lochsa, Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Selway rivers. The pavement tracks the rolling and winding current all the way to Kooskia—an essential pit stop, where the road switches to the opposite side of the Clearwater River.

Stop #2: Nez Perce National Historical Park

If you’re ready for some European-style riding—highlighted by a seven-mile series of twists, turns, sweeps and switchbacks—head farther north and hang a right onto State Highway 11 near Greer. To get back to the byway, make a U-turn at Fraser.

Continuing on Highway 12, the road is bordered by shimmering waterways and accented by pine trees and low hills. You’ll find the absence of billboards, strip malls and traffic refreshing—and an undeniable affirmation of your decision to own a motorcycle. It’s a tranquil 30 miles to Orofino, which continues unimpeded to Ahsaka, Lenore, Myrtle and Spalding—home of the Nez Perce National Historical Park Site Visitor Center—before the final flow of the Clearwater slips into the Snake River at Lewiston.

Tour Through Caribbean-like Escapes & Wondrous Waterfalls on Your Idaho Motorcycle Trip

Looking up at Upper Mesa Falls from down river.

Upper Mesa Falls Overlook, near Ashton. Photo credit: Visit Idaho.

Stop #1: Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway

The Oregon Trail–Bear Lake Scenic Byway (U.S. Highway 89) begins at Bear Lake—known as “the Caribbean of the Rockies” for its turquoise waters—and extends 110 miles to McCammon. Along the way, stop and explore the National California–Oregon Trail Center in Montpelier before merging onto U.S. Highway 30, where you’ll come across weathered barns, a historic mercantile, the majestic Minnetonka Cave and the ornate Paris Tabernacle built in 1874.

At the junction of U.S. Highway 30 and State Highway 34 in Soda Springs, you’ll find the world’s only captive geyser, which shoots a plume of water 100 feet into the sky every hour. The town also directs you north on the Pioneer Historic Byway, a route once favored by settlers.

Stop #2: Teton Scenic Byway

The road continues into Wyoming before swinging back through Swan Valley along the Teton Scenic Byway (State Highway 31), which is filled with stretches of solitude. As you approach the town of Victor on State Highway 33, your spirits will rise like the Grand Teton Mountains ascending to the east.

Stop #3: Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

Farmland fills the horizons on the linear roads (State Highway 32 and State Highway 33) that take you past Driggs and Tetonia before introducing you to the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway at the junction of U.S. Highway 20 and State Highway 47. This is where the low-mileage, highly scenic half loop launches into a meandering path that peaks with the inspiring sight of Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. While you’re here, stop by the interpretive center to learn about the region’s geology and history.

Stop #4: Fort Henry Scenic Byway

Where State Highway 47 reconnects with U.S. Highway 20, it’s a 10-minute ride to access the northernmost segment of the Fort Henry Scenic Byway. The Kilgore–Yale Road is narrow and remote, providing a heightened level of serenity for your Idaho motorcycle road trip. Although you won’t be riding the entire length of the byway on this journey, your consolation prize is a quick jog to Idmon Road, where you’ll find the entrance to the Lost Gold Trails Loop—a route once used by miners heading to Montana.

Take a Scenic Motorcycle Ride Through Fantastic Forests & Lunar Landscapes

An adult and child walking in Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, near Arco. Photo credit: Visit Idaho.

 Stop #1: Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway

The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (State Highway 21) is a curiously twisting and challenging road that will lift you to 7,056 feet at Banner Summit before descending into Stanley. Planted at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains, Stanley neighbors the Salmon–Challis National Forest, which is the gateway to the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness Area.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Stop #2: Sawtooth Scenic Byway

This is where the baton is passed to the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, which descends one of the most majestic roads (State Highway 75) you’ll ride on your Idaho motorcycle road trip. Surrounded by the spruce, aspen and ponderosa pines of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the road through the Sawtooth Valley rises to the level of the landscape with steep ascents, jigsaw ridges and twisted corners that reach their peak at 8,701-foot Galena Pass. Take a minute, or an hour, to appreciate the views around you.

Stop #3: Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway

South of Hailey comes Bellevue, where Gannet Road provides a shortcut to U.S. Highway 20 and the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway. True to its name, the highlight of this road is Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve near Arco, where you can pretend your steed is a lunar rover. Over the course of several thousand years, a parallel line of fissures erupted through volcanic buttes and cones to spread a flow of lava over the land. This unique, moonlike landscape offers plenty of opportunities for adventure, including an underground world of lava tubes, hiking trails and more.

With Idaho being home to the most scenic byways in the country, these are just a few of the routes awaiting your next scenic motorcycle ride.

Ready to ride? Find additional details on Idaho’s scenic byways at visitidaho.org/things-to-do/road-trips, or preview these amazing routes on Visit Idaho’s YouTube channel.

Gary McKechnie is a two-time National Geographic author, two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award and author of America’s best-selling motorcycle guidebook— Great American Motorcycle Tours. He’s written hundreds of travel features on two-wheel travel and, as a public speaker, based his presentation “Shifting Gears” on his experiences as a moto journalist. Learn more at garymckechnie.com.

A version of this story originally appeared in the 2023 Official Idaho Travel Guide



Published on December 27, 2022