The picturesque main street in the historic mining town of Wallace, Idaho. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher /

2024's 8 Most Beautiful Small Towns In Idaho

When many people refer to a certain spot as a “gem,” they mean it as a metaphorical compliment for how the town or city is a treasure worth cherishing. Idaho, however, is literally a gem since it is home to some of the richest veins of gemstones in the United States. And within the Gem State are this year’s eight most beautiful small towns for you to treasure and admire. The Rocky Mountains come alive in the dynamic towns of Sandpoint and Stanley. In more forested locations such as Wallace and McCall, you will be lost in the majestic scenery and landscapes of Idaho. And beneath the earth and mountains of Idaho, you might come across one of the many gemstones that have made a gem out of Idaho. So this 2024, come explore the most beautiful small towns in Idaho.


Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher /

As a town located at the point connecting Lake Pend Orielle and the Pend Orielle River, Sandpoint is a beautiful vacation spot for those wanting to have the Rocky Mountains as a perpetual backdrop. Speaking of mountains, Sandpoint as a launching point to traverse the Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains. Travelers can take the iconic Long Bridge, which hovers above Lake Pend Oreille, and visit the Schweitzer Mountain Resort for more information on these mountains.

For those of you who prefer the lower altitudes, then you can experience serenity at the Kaniksu National Forest and the Lakeview Park, the latter containing the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society's arboretum where many of Idaho’s plant life thrives. History and archaeology lovers can enjoy displays of Native American artifacts at the Bonner County History Museum exhibits Native American artifacts. Elsewhere, the Museum at the Brig showcases the military activities that transpired in Sandpoint. There is more to dig up at Sandpoint, and if you intend to stay a while, book a room at the Schweitzer, Hotel Ruby Ponderay, or Pend Oreille Shores Resort.


The spectacular view of the landscape around Stanley, Idaho
The spectacular view of the landscape around Stanley, Idaho.

About three hours from Idaho City, in the fanged maw of Sawtooth Valley, Stanley is another mountainous town with spectacular backdrops. Several mountain peaks surround the small town, which the most adventurous people can climb— Horstmann Peak, Thompson Peak, Observation Peak, Grandjean Peak, and Mount Regan. You might also be invested in Elephant's Perch, one of the most recognized Classic Climbs in North America, with around 25 established routes. Stanley is not all about the terrain because Lake Sawtooth, Lake Stanley, Redfish Lake, the Salmon River, and Saddleback Lakes (aka “Shangri La”) are pristine spots for you to soak in the watery delights of Idaho.

At the Boise National Forest, you can admire the local fauna and flora of the region, while the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness allows you to ride one of the majestic stallions of Stanley. The Stanley Museum is home to numerous relics that honor the indigenous cultures of the Sawtooth Valley. If you are looking for lodgings, then seek your comforts at Redfish Riverside Inn or Valley Creek Lodge.


Downtown Salmon, Idaho
Downtown Salmon, Idaho. Image credit: Jimmy Emerson DVM via

On Salmon River, you will find yourself as honey-drunk and spring-cozy as a bear in the eponymous town of Salmon. With its location at the edge of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Salmon is also replete with horseback rides and other rolling adventures in the countryside. The Bitterroot Mountain Range and the Continental Divide sandwich the Lemhi Valley, where Sacagawea—the legendary Native American who aided Lewis and Clark in their expedition—was born. You can learn all about the historic figure’s life and that of her people at the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural, & Educational Center.

Like most places in Idaho, Salmon is near to ghost towns like Gilmore, Leesburg, and Shoup—these ghost towns, specifically, were a result of the Great Depression. Fortunately, you will not feel so depressed when you admire local artist Rober Deurloo’s masterpiece, the Wildlife Bronzes. Feel vibrant and revitalized while roaming the Salmon-Challis National Forest, and feel rested and satisfied in splendid establishments such as the Sacajawea Inn, Syringa Lodge, or Salmon River Inn.

Priest River

The historic Main Street of Priest River, Idaho
The historic Main Street of Priest River, Idaho. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher /

Travel 22 miles from Sandpoint down the Pend Oreille River, and you will come across the lovely town of Priest River. With the Selkirk Mountain Range hovering protectively over the Priest River, one can feel safe and relaxed in this beautiful environment. One might especially feel resplendent in the Priest River Experimental Forest, a fine forest filled with sylvan treasures and tantalizing delights. The Priest River Museum and Timber Education Center educate newcomers and locals about the town’s logging and milling enterprises that have contributed much to Idaho’s lumbering growth.

Visitors are welcome to observe or participate in the annual WaCanId Ride, a bicycle race across miles of road in Washington, Canada, and Idaho every September 9 on the International Selkirk Loop. Get yourself more pumped up while trekking up Mount Roothaan or a granite spire called Chimney Rock. The Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars across the border in Washington around an hour away is a blessed location for you to enliven your spirit, as equally empowering as Granite Falls. Remember to book a room at the Eagle’s Nest Motel before you undertake your own little pilgrimage of an adventure at Priest River.


 Wallace, Idaho.
The picturesque Main Street in the historic mining town of Wallace, Idaho. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher /

As one of the only four cities in the US listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Wallace has seen its share of historical transitions. As a former silver-mining town in the Silver Valley mining district of the Idaho Panhandle, one can learn of Wallace’s past when taking the Sierra Silver Mine Tour in the Bitterroot Mountains. There is also the Pulaski Tunnel Trail, which commemorates a deadly wildfire from 1910, and the Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum, which houses many artifacts of Wallace’s heyday.

Visitors might also enjoy visiting the Center of the Universe, which is basically a manhole cover adorned with symbols of the great mines of the region. For those of you who want to go sightseeing instead, you can take either the Route of the Hiawatha and Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, which both lead to the Coeur d'Alene National Forest and the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. One might also consider delving into Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in the US. When all the exploration gets you weary, rest up and recharge at the Hercules Inn, Wallace Inn, or Ryan Hotel.


The marina in McCall, Idaho.
The marina in McCall, Idaho.

As a two-hour away getaway from the city of Boise, McCall gives people a soothing hiatus from the pandemonium of city life. Being a resort town on the western perimeter of Valley County means that you can cherish the beauties of Idaho’s natural side, especially while kayaking or swimming at Payette Lake. The town was named after its founder, Tom McCall, and today, visitors can find themselves feeling rejuvenated while trekking through the Payette National Forest. During the McCall Winter Carnival, one can participate in games and activities involving handcrafted snow sculptures and the likes.

As a resort town, one can head to the Brundage Mountain Resort and Tamarack Resort for snowboarding and skiing in the nearby mountains. The McCall Fish Hatchery has been breeding and promoting the growth of many kinds of fish since the 1930s. Lastly, the Ponderosa State Park is a perfect playground for outdoor lovers and nature enthusiasts. There is no need to feel unwanted in McCall because the Hotel McCall, Nordic Inn, and Shore Lodge have several accommodations to keep you satisfied.

Island Park

Beautiful nature at Island Park, Idaho
Beautiful nature at Island Park, Idaho. Editorial credit: T.Schofield /

Have the experience of both a park and an island in the riveting town of Island Park. Approximately 35 minutes from the world-renowned Yellowstone National Park, Island Park is at the mouth of an ancient volcanic caldera now filled with several arboreal attractions. The beautifully created Island Park Dam manages Crow Creek’s timeless flow towards the expansive Island Park Reservoir, while the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is a perfect example of how life can thrive in the mouth of a magma-filled monster.

Big Springs, one of the headwaters of the meandering Snake River, will wash away all your woes. Mesa Falls and Cave Falls will sweep you off your feet—not literally, of course—and give you a glimpse of how the Nez Perce Native Americans would have lived in the region. If you ever get exhausted from all the exploration and adventure, you ought to spend your evenings in a lodging of your choosing, such as Riverfront Retreat, the Lakeside Resort & Lodge, or Harper’s Cabin.

Garden Valley

Flower Field In Garden Valley, Idaho.
Flower Field In Garden Valley, Idaho.

About 53 miles from the city of Boise, the lush town of Garden Valley is a gateway to the magnificent Boise National Forest. The best time to visit Garden Valley is in the summer when whitewater and rafting trips can be experienced on the Payette River. At the Boise National Forest in autumn, hunters are permitted to hunt in several designated locations and grounds. And if the cold grip of winter gets you chilly, warm yourself up in one of Garden Valley’s hot springs or in soothing accommodations such as the Three Bears Inn—a place that is neither too hot nor too cold but just right. Go explore the Star Ranch or the vistas of Terrace Lakes Resort, which overlook the Sawtooth Mountains. There is much more to savor and enjoy in the beautiful small town of Garden Valley.

Despite being filled with ghost towns from the Wild West, the Gem State of Idaho feels alive and well thanks to the magnificent, forest-haired mountains dominating the region. There are a number of gems—literal and metaphorical—that tourists ought to sightsee at least once, like the Shoshone Falls and the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. However, the best of these gems is definitely 2024’s most beautiful small towns in Idaho. From arboreal paradises like Garden Valley to next-door neighbors of Yellowstone like Island Park, travelers near and far will not get tired from all the scenic trekking and epic vistas of the land. So get your climbing or even mining gear ready as you go on a high adventure through the Gem State of Idaho.

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