The state of Idaho does not get the recognition it deserves. Plumped right in middle America and surrounded by several popular neighbors, it is far too easy to overlook, and unfortunately, to skip over. So given its under-the-radar status, it naturally follows that many great towns within the Gem State could benefit from a little limelight to draw the crowds. However, once immersed in the unspoiled wilderness, laid-back mentalities, amiable communities, and pioneering spirits, you might find yourself returning on a regular basis, or never leaving at all.
Located south of the Canadian border, in Idaho's geographical chimney, Priest River offers a tranquil place to enjoy some natural treasures. Less than 2,000 residents make their home here within the Selkirk Mountain Range, at the junction of the Priest and Pend Oreille rivers. This meeting of waterways creates an excellent environment for anglers, and the surrounding forests offer memorable hikes, as well as opportunities to forage for huckleberries and mushrooms. The drive to and from Priest River is also something to look forward to, as it is right on the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Scenic Byway, which is part of the International Selkirk Loop.
Salmon is a delightfully isolated town in Lemhi County, on the state's east-central edge, a stone's throw from Montana. Salmon is another great place to cast a line, but whitewater rafting on the titular river is also a big draw. Nature lovers of all sorts will rejoice in scratching the surface of the 2.367 million protected acres known as the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area—the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states. The cherry on top is that all the fresh air and abundant surroundings have also shaped a relaxed and friendly community.
Island Park has the longest main street in the world. The entire town is rather narrow throughout but is a whopping 36.8 miles in length. These dimensions were quite intentional when the town was originally incorporated back in 1947, as it helped circumvent the touchy liquor laws that prohibited selling any hooch outside of city limits. However, Island Park is much more than a quirky historical footnote, it serves as a basecamp for exploring Yellowstone National Park. The west entrance for the world's first national park is a mere twenty-minute drive away—and shortly beyond that is good ol' Old Faithful, and yet one more world record—the largest caldera at 23 miles in diameter.
An hour northeast of Priest River, and knocking right on the British Columbia, Canada border, Bonners Ferry gives a perfect first impression for travelers visiting Idaho. Nestled in the Kootenai River Valley and surrounded by mountains, this Boundary County community not only sports some spectacular scenery but a vibrant social scene as well. Bonners Ferry boasts a recently revamped downtown, where you can grab a craft pint, explore the small-town shops, and enjoy some grub near the riverside.
Smack dab in the center of the state, in the stunning Sawtooth Valley (Custer County), the tiny western town of Stanley maintains the timeless wilderness that Idaho should be more celebrated for. Here, in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the spiky peaks of the Sawtooth Range look down to the generous Salmon River, with nothing but unadulterated air and crisp evergreen forests in between. Similar to many fun-loving towns in this gem of a state, every form of outdoor recreation is available in the immediate vicinity.
There is a lot to "dig" in the small city of Driggs, with a population of fewer than 2,000 residents. This seat of Teton County, on the border of Montana, has everything from county fairs to farmer's markets, hot air balloon rallies, music festivals, and a 100-year-old soda fountain. Outside of town, visitors can explore the alluring Grand Teton National Park, or head north into Yellowstone National Park.
Located next to the beautiful Payette Lake (west of Little Payette Lake), close to the ski slopes and golf courses, and with Ponderosa State Park right in its backyard, McCall is truly an all-season resort town. This Valley County community sits in Idaho's west-central region, over 100 miles north of the capital city of Boise. When all tuckered out from the copious outdoor recreation, collect a few stamps on your McCall Ale Trail passport in celebration of the local craft beer scene. Not bad for a day's work in this zippy little (former) logging settlement.
Idaho has an impressive landscape from top to bottom and vibrant communities throughout. If you are a lover of nature and humble towns, these seven spots will be right up your alley.