Are you looking for an off-the-beaten-path road-trip? This 5-day Idaho itinerary will help you make the most of your time in this beautiful American state.
This trip starts in Boise, Idaho’s capital, and finishes in Coeur D’Alene.
Although you can visit Idaho any time of the year, the best time to do this trip, in my opinion, is in the Spring or Summer, because some of the roads we took are not open during winter, as it can snow a lot during the wintertime.
Now, without further due, let’s dive into the Idaho itinerary!
What To Do In Boise
Boise State – Albertsons Stadium
Have you ever seen a football stadium with blue turf? Boise State, home of the Broncos, is the only football stadium in the United States with blue turf, and it is amazing.
According to their website, in 2011 they obtained a federal trademark registration for “the color blue as applied to artificial turf”.
If you want to see the blue turf, the best way is to visit The Allen Noble Hall of Fame, in the Southwest corner of Albertsons Stadium, which is open Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, it is closed on weekends, holidays, and special events.
Freak Alley Gallery
Freak Alley Gallery is an open-air display of art and murals in the façade of buildings and houses in downtown Boise. It has been there since 2002 and is definitely a great place to go.
No tickets are needed since you can just walk right by the streets and see the beautiful murals displayed.
Where To Stay In Boise
I spent my first and only night in Boise next to the airport because we arrived late at night.
If there is no need to be close to the airport, it is better to stay Downtown so that you can walk to the main attractions.
Where To Eat In Boise
Although I only had half a day in Boise, I wanted to make sure I had the best possible breakfast. After doing a lot of research, I found the most unique spot: Bacon!
Bacon is heaven for bacon-lovers like me. Since I went super early, they were not serving drinks yet, but I would totally have ordered their famous Bacon Bloody Mary, made with bacon salt, bacon syrup, and a strip of fresh bacon.
On the menu, you can also find five kinds of Bacon, at $2 per strip. My two favorites were Maple Rosemary Bacon and Candied Bacon. I also had coffee and an egg biscuit.
Morning Activity: Crater of the Moon
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is 170 miles from Boise, through US-20 E.
We left early in the morning because our goal was to enjoy Craters of the Moon and then drive another 126 miles to Stanley, passing through Sun Valley.
Craters of the Moon is one of “North America’s most unique and scenic volcanic landscapes”.
The volcanic area is dormant, but not extinct, which means that the volcanoes are in deep sleep. According to the FAQ on the website, “geologists believe that the area will become active within the next 1,000 years”.
There is a $20 fee per vehicle. What I learned there is that if you plan to visit more National Parks you can buy The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series for annual passes options.
If you are on a budget, there are also free entrance days to the National Parks.
What To See In Craters of the Moon
Once you have paid the entry fee, you have access to a seven-mile loop road, which includes access to most of the trails. If any parts of the road are closed for any reason, the information is updated online.
Seven miles driving doesn’t seem a lot, but you will most definitely want to stop in the trails, so plan to spend at least two hours in the area. There are also five caves, but check beforehand if they are open.
Here are our favorite stops in Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve:
- Inferno Cone: It was my favorite stop. You climb a few meters up to be completely mesmerized by stunning views.
- Spatter Cone: There are a couple of hikes starting at this stop. I took stunning pictures there.
- Tree Mold Trail: Probably the most unique area – the lava from the volcanoes preserved some trees so when you look at it (photo below) all you see are trees underneath rock-solid lava. Pretty unique!
Lunch in Sun Valley
From Craters of the Moon, we drove 66 miles to Sun Valley for a lunch stop at the famous Sun Valley Lodge, “America’s First Destination Ski Resort”, which first opened in 1936! As a hotelier, I was dying to visit this resort – it was definitely on my list of unique hotels to visit.
There is plenty of parking available and a few restaurant options. We had a late lunch and a beer at the Village Station Restaurant, which opens at 3 pm.
I also got great recommendations from friends who visit the area frequently, here are some of their favorite spots: Dinner at The Pioneer Saloon (very well-known!), cocktails in Duchin Lounge, candy at Chocolate Foundry, early dinner or drinks at The Roundhouse – with great views!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time in Sun Valley, but if you have an extra day I would recommend spending one night there (in the resort itself) or in Ketchum, the town nearby.
We arrived in Stanley at around 5:30 pm and we went straight to our hotel. On our agenda, for that night, we only had one plan: eat a good meal!
Although Stanley is super small, we were happy to find two very good restaurants (one for dinner, and one for breakfast/lunch).
We were surprised to hear that very few people actually live there – in the winter the highway that takes you from Sun Valley to Stanley usually closes, due to heavy snow, so it is very hard to reach the little town.
That is why their high-season is during the summer!
What To Do In Stanley
Sawtooth National Forest
Stanley is the gateway to Sawtooth National Forest, where you will find many different hikes, from beginner to advanced-level hikers. It was really hard to pick one – I have read multiple blogs and reviews.
We ended up deciding on “Goat Lake Hike”, which I will talk more about under “Day Three”.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have the resources you need, including maps, GPS, cell phone, tools, etc. Not all hikes are easy, and you should pick one that you feel most comfortable with.
Another thing to take into consideration is time – if you have only one morning to do a hike, which was my case, you need to find a hike that takes between 3 and 5 hours, for example.
If I was planning my trip again, I would probably have stayed two nights in Stanley, so that I could enjoy more outdoor activities.
Boat Box Hot Springs
Idaho has so many hot springs – by doing a quick google search I found many beautiful ones! Boat Box was definitely the most unique and hard to find!
You have to take 75 North from Stanley, drive past Lower Stanley and continue for another 3-3.5 miles. Keep an eye on your right, where the river flows.
You can see the famous “hot tub” from the road but you need to pay a lot of attention otherwise you will drive by it! Boat Box will be by a spot where you can park 1-2 cars on the side road.
Thankfully, there was just one family there, so we didn’t have to wait much to enjoy Boat Box.
What did you think about it? Isn’t it super cool?
When you go to Instagram and search for #boatboxhotsprings there are so many amazing photos!
Where To Stay In Stanley
When deciding where to stay, I was in between two places: Mountain Village Resort, because they have their own hot springs, and Stanley High Country Inn, which is owned by the famous Redfish Lake Lodge.
We ended up choosing Stanley High Country Inn due to the great reviews. What I enjoyed about Mountain Village Resort, though, was the restaurant, which I will talk about next.
If you don’t necessarily want to stay in Stanley, check Redfish Lake Lodge – it is a bit pricier but definitely a very unique hotel. I could not find any rooms; they were fully booked!
Where To Eat In Stanley
Mountain Village Resort
When we arrived, we were ready for dinner!
Mountain Village Resort has a great restaurant & saloon (menu here) – I would recommend having dinner there because we truly enjoyed our barbeque ribs made by their chef, who is from Memphis (a true barbeque connoisseur!).
After enjoying dinner you can walk next door to their bar/Saloon, where they have karaoke on some nights.
Stanley Baking Co & Café
The next morning we needed a good breakfast to get ready for our hike to Goat Lake.
Our hotel recommended that we walked to Stanley Baking Co & Café, which was just a couple of meters away.
I wasn’t expecting a big menu, so I was surprised to see how many amazing pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and granola bars they had, and all homemade!
I enjoyed it so much that after our hike we went back there for lunch, and I had their “bear bowl”, with quinoa, vegetables, and eggs.
Morning Activity: Goat Lake Hike
Sawtooth National Forest has incredible hikes, suitable for beginner or advanced hikers.
Since I had approximately six hours to enjoy the area, before heading to Salmon, my boyfriend and I decided to hike to Goat Lake.
The hike is approximately 8.4 miles and it is very difficult, in my opinion – I found it to be super steep!
The landscape is beautiful – in July we could still see mountain peaks covered in snow.
Unfortunately, I was not able to reach the lake – the last 0.4 miles are basically rock climbing and I did not feel prepared to hike it. Maybe next time!
Here are a few recommendations in case you decide to hike to the top:
- We went too early and did not see anyone on our way there – so a few times we wondered if we were “lost”. I wish I had other people around when we reached the rock-climbing part.
- There are not a lot of signs and the internet doesn’t work so make sure you print maps or take print screens with your phone.
- Read a lot before going, especially articles/blog posts from people who reached the lake.
On my way back, I spoke to a few people going towards the lake and some mentioned they had tried hiking it before and could not do it either – so I didn’t feel so bad!
I think we should all listen to our bodies and understand when to stop hiking if we need to. Maybe next time I will manage to see the beautiful alpine lake.
After my fail attempt to hike Goat Lake, we hit the road again towards Salmon.
I did not stay in Salmon per se, we decided to spend the night 22 miles south of Salmon, in a very unique Airbnb!
What To Do In Salmon
My main reason to visit Salmon was to hike the Goldbug Hot Springs trail.
Since it was an activity, I did on the morning of day four, I will talk more about it in the next section.
We arrived at the Airbnb around 5 pm, so we decided to have dinner and rest so that we could enjoy the next morning.
Where To Stay In Salmon
The Gypsy Wagon, Airbnb
The owners – Airbnb Superhosts Pat and Lorett – have been renting the three beautifully designed wagons for approximately two years now.
The wagons are located on the same property where the hosts live – so I felt pretty safe because I could reach out to them in case, I needed anything.
All the three wagons are pretty similar, and include a one queen size bed, small bathroom with toilet and shower with hot water, very good wi-fi (perfect if you want to spend some days working from there – “work from home”!), air-conditioning and heating, equipped kitchenette, free parking, and free breakfast!
The hosts were welcoming and made us feel at home. I would definitely stay there again!
Where To Eat In Salmon
Twin Peaks Guest Ranch
Currently only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Twin Peaks Guest Ranch Restaurant is in a pristine location, with beautiful mountain views.
It was also recommended by our Airbnb hosts, but when we arrived there we realized the restaurant was closed!
We were still able to take some pictures and enjoy the atmosphere – they actually have cabins you can rent, and I could see myself staying there if I am ever back in Salmon!
Dusty Mule Bar & Grill, in Elk Bend
This family-friendly restaurant is only 5 minutes away from the Gypsy Wagon, and it was recommended by our Airbnb hosts, who mentioned that they had incredible burgers!
I had the Albino Mule Burger, with 1/3 pound of local USDA Certified ground beef, swiss cheese, and grilled onions and mushrooms. I enjoy finding local gems, such as this restaurant.
Morning Activity: Goldbug Hot Springs
If you are a hot-spring aficionado like me, Goldbug Hot Springs is a must-go in Idaho!
My advice is to go there early in the morning – considering you are doing it in the summer months.
Since it is a two-mile in, two-mile out hike, ideally you would want to start hiking around 7:30 or 8 AM, to avoid running into a lot of people in the pools.
The hike is pretty straightforward: the first 0.4 kilometers of the hike (0.25 mile) are on private property, and then you start walking through a well-marked path towards the pools.
The hike is steep, so be ready to sweat! It will be so worth it: the jaw-dropping views and the pools are one of a kind!
We spent approximately two hours there and I would recommend that you don’t go in a rush, since you might want to just relax and appreciate the views!
On day four we did not sleep in Idaho – we made a quick detour to Missoula, in Montana, to avoid driving a lot.
Also, by doing some research, I saw how many cool restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries Missoula had, so it seemed like the perfect stop for one night.
For more information, you can read my one-day Missoula itinerary on my blog Hospitality Vitae
Morning Activity: Route Of The Hiawatha Bike Trail
Whenever I am planning a trip, I always look at things to do in between cities I am driving from/to.
So, since I was driving 165 miles from Missoula, in Montana, to Coeur D’Alene, in Idaho, I searched for “best things to do” between these cities, and I came across this hidden gem (it truly is!) – the Route of Hiawatha Bike Trail – right in the Montana-Idaho border!
The Route of the Hiawatha was recognized as “one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country”, one of 15 other trails in the United States to be recognized as such. Pretty amazing!
Although it is not a railroad anymore (the last train traveled through the tracks back in 1980!) we are fortunate enough it was converted into a bike/hike trail.
If you enjoy biking for fun or if you are a pro, this trail won’t disappoint!
You will be able to enjoy 15 miles mostly downhill, in which you will pass through 10 train tunnels and seven trestles.
If you are planning to add this remarkable attraction to your road-trip, you can buy tickets and rent bikes online at the Route of Hiawatha Website.
Unfortunately, the trail is only open during a certain time in the year, so make sure to check if it is open before you go!
Coeur D’Alene (also known as “CDA”) was the perfect place to end our Idaho road-trip. The city is approximately two hours from the Route of Hiawatha.
If you are planning to fly home after CDA, Spokane International Airport would be your best choice, only 45 minutes away.
What To Do In Coeur D’Alene
Coeur d’Alene is a paradise for golf players because it is home to the only floating green in the world, located at the Coeur D’Alene Resort & Spa golf course.
If you are thinking about scheduling a tee time, I would recommend checking the resort’s “Stay and Play” packages, which include one night of accommodation and 18-holes of award-winning golf.
Tee times may be booked up to 90 days in advance if you are not planning to stay in the resort, and tee time prices vary depending on day and time of the day.
Although I have not done a lake cruise, I would imagine it is a wonderful experience.
Lake Coeur D’Alene Cruises offers a 90-minute scenic cruise of the lake’s northern bays for $27.25 per adult and $19.25 per child plus taxes/fees or sunset dinner cruises for $57.50 per adult plus taxes/fees.
Where To Stay In Coeur D’Alene
Depending on your preference (lake views versus no lake views) and budget, there are a few options:
Springhill Suites by Marriott
This hotel is perfect if you are on a budget and if you are looking for a great place to sleep and recharge, with free breakfast. The hotel is not lakefront, but it is only 5-10 minutes away.
We drove to downtown Coeur D’Alene a couple of times and we didn’t have trouble parking the car – there is a large public parking area by the Coeur D’Alene Resort and Spa, which is paid, but very convenient. You can leave your car there for a few hours and go for a walk or a swim!
Couer D’Alene Resort & Spa
The resort is perfect if you are looking for rooms with lake views and want to be in a great location, right in Downtown Coeur D’Alene. You really won’t need your car to do anything, since most restaurants are within walking distance.
Since I experienced the Spa, I had the opportunity of visiting the hotel public areas, including the indoor pool and gym. They were all well-appointed and very clean, and I saw many families enjoying their time.
I felt that the resort is a great place to bring kids because there are indoor and outdoor pools, a lake, a couple of restaurants and bars, and a small shopping area. If you are traveling solo, or with friends, you can still enjoy all of these perks.
As mentioned above, make sure you check the overnight packages that include golf, spa, or both!
Where To Eat In Coeur D’Alene
The Wellness Bar
Since I had been on the road for a couple of days, I wanted to have a healthy breakfast.
I am a big fan of smoothies and Acai Bowls, so I decided to try The Wellness Bar – I was surprised to see it had a line out of the door, and for me, it usually means that the place is good!
I ended up having an Acai Bowl topped with granola to go, and I sat at one of their outdoor tables.
For lunch, we had a not-so-healthy but totally worth it hamburger, which was one of the best hamburgers I have ever had!
The famous spot is called Hudson’s Hamburgers – and it has been there since 1907! The menu is very simple: Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Ham, and/or Egg Sandwich and Pies.
When you first sit down, in one of the few counter seats, they explain to you the menu and emphasize “No fries!”.
I first asked for one, but ended up having two cheeseburgers! Hudson’s is a must go!
Daft Badger Brewing and Crafted Tap House + Kitchen
Dinner time called for beers and bar food! We have been to many breweries, as you probably noticed, that it wouldn’t be different in Coeur D’Alene.
We went to Daft Badger for beers before dinner, and the menu looked amazing, but we didn’t eat anything there. They have plenty of outdoor seating, which is a must during the pandemic!
For dinner, we headed to Crafted Tap House + Kitchen, which had many good reviews online. I opted for a big pretzel with cheese sauce and for tuna nachos.
CDA has many restaurants, so I wish I could have had more time to experience more!
To wrap up, here is a quick overview of the itinerary, with a map to help you plan your road-trip:
My suggestion is that you fly to Boise, then start a “counterclockwise” drive, stopping at Craters of The Moon National Park, Sun Valley, Stanley, Salmon, Missoula (MT), Route of Hiawatha, and Coeur D’Alene.
You could also do the opposite, and fly to Spokane, in Washington, and start the trip in Coeur D’Alene instead.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to take an Idaho road trip. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Leticia Tavares is a hotelier, Harvard MBA alumnae, and content creator at her travel and hospitality Blog and Instagram, Hospitality Vitae.
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