Idaho is called the “Gem State” for its stunning, unspoiled natural beauty, but residents and visitors alike know the state’s appeal is not limited to pine trees and canyons alone. Within its rugged borders lie other precious stones, its towns. These pieces of genuine frontier Americana have been preserved as carefully as the parks and forests it is known for. To better guide any future trips to this part of the Pacific Northwest, read on for a list of eight adorable small towns in Idaho worth stopping by.
The idyllic town of Idaho Stanley is one of the best family vacation spots in the US. The alpine peaks surrounding the town provide an endless supply of recreational activities. Sawtooth National Recreation Area nearby, with 700 miles of snaking trails and over 40 mountains with peaks higher than 10,000 feet, is one of the premier national parks in the state. Sheep, bears, and elk all call the recreation area home due to the many lakes and bountiful greenery. White water rafting down Middle Fork is an unnforgettable adrenaline-soaked expedition. Animal lovers will want to visit the local horse ranch as horseback tours through gentle mountain trails. The main focus of any trip to Stanley will be its outdoor amenities, so be sure to pack accordingly.
Sandpoint is another family vacation gem. The town sits between the shores of Lake Pend Oreille and three expansive mountain ranges stretching into the distance. The lake is considered one of Idaho’s best and is one reason why Sandpoint is worth seeing year-round. Fish, swim, and paddle during the warmer months and snowboard at Schweitzer Mountain come snowfall. Sandpoint is considered a top-flight skiing destination and the mountain helps add to the town’s all-weather appeal. There is so much more to do in Sandpoint than skiing and swimming, though. The town has a burgeoning arts scene , including the Festival at Sandpoint. The eight day festival well-recieved and one of the premier musical events the region has to offer.
Home to one of the best ski resorts in the country, Sun Valley rivals Aspen and the Swiss Alps as a winter sports haven. Celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway once owned properties here, proof of its star appeal. The town earned its name thanks to the clear skies which are commonly found in the Wood River Valley regardless of season. There is even a Sun Valley Heritage and Ski Museum as proof of the town’s commitment to snowboard supremacy. Visit Bald Mountain, a resort with a vertical drop of nearly 3,500 feet. The arts center in town provides a nice and relaxing alternative to shredding the slopes. During summer, Sun Valley has plenty to offer also such as horseback riding and river rafting. The town also has one of the country’s most prominent jazz festivals as well every October.
The expansive Payette National Forest envelops the town of McCall, lending it a secluded, remote atmosphere. The townswfolk are friendly and inviting as can be, however, and are happy to greet tourists. Take a bath in the local hot springs, backpack through the many trails and even tackle the slopes with some downhill skiing. Payette Lake is right off the town’s center and beckons shoppers and travelers exploring the town’s quaint main street in the summer months for a quick dip. Rent a kayak to travel the lake’s surface or even a jet ski depending on the day. In the wintertime, ice sculpture contests abound during the Winter Carnival. There are no chain restaurants in McCall besides a single Subway, giving it a genuine small-town flavour.
This welcoming little town on Idaho’s border with Utah has so much old world charm packed into a small town of 6,000. Preston also graced the Silver Screen in the cult-classic film “Napoleon Dynamite,” a comedic portrait of adolescence in rural middle-America. There is plenty to see in Preston besides revisiting the locations featured in the movie. There are a number of cafes and grill restaurants in town, and there are lots of goings on all year. Swing by That Famous Night Rodeo for some old-fashioned fun, featuring bull riding, roping, and steer wrestling. Outside of town, there is plenty of outdoor recreation waiting. White Pine Lake has an 8.4 mile trail which is a big hit, and there is excellent fishing to be had at the lake. Bear Lake State Park is another great place for kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming in the summer. Vote for Pedro!
The old-west character of Salmon is palpable from the first step one takes into the town. This central-Idaho town features a river running through it, and much of the architecture evokes the memory of hardscrabble pioneer saloons with the batwing doors.Some of the frontier log cabins are still standing to this day. The Lemhi County Museum has several exhibits dedicated to the town’s frontier history, and there are tours available to get a hands-on education. As one might expect, Salmon is a fishing destination above all else. The Salmon River is considered one of the best in the state. Fishers and rafters alike travel from across Idaho for its frothy white peaks and the rainbow trout which swim it. In the winter, Lost Trail Powder Mountain is one of the best resorts in the area and has incredible slopes for downhill skiing.
Found in northern Idaho near the Washington border, Priest River is a pristine little town set against the river it gets its name from. The Selkirk Mountains rise up in the near distance, providing an endless source of amusement and adventure for the townsfolk and visitors alike. To the south, Lake Pend Oreille round out the town’s appeal as a hidden gem for the outdoors enthusiasts. Fishing, boating, hiking, and backpacking are all not only possible but encouraged in Priest River. The town thrives on tourism, so no need to be shy. Visit Schweitzer Mountain for skiing and snowshoeing on nearby trails. There is also an annual Tiber Days celebration which pays tribute to the town’s logging history. There is a pancake breakfast, all-day vendors and a lumberjack logging competition complete with screaming chainsaws.
This town is a favored stop on vacations to Yellowstone National Park. Whether fans of the television show or the park itself, even a brief stop in this small town is worthwhile. Harriman State Park and Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, leading to a scenic waterfall, are all within reach. Besides the usual fair of hiking, camping, and snow sports within the town’s vicinity, Island Park also has dozens of rustic wooden camping lodges available for rent if roughing it in tents is beginning to lose its appeal. The town is known for having the longest main street in the nation, full of boutiques and cafes to peruse. Best of all, the town is surrounded by one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. The volcanic soil is great for produce, so the farm-to-table eating done in town is bound to be extra delicious.
It is hard to go wrong in Idaho. There are outdoor activities available at nearly every turn. Truly, it would be a serious challenge to avoid the picturesque lakes, streams, and mountains which populate the state. Mosey on over to Idaho for some of the best ski runs west of the Mississippi River. Hire a horse and ride up the side of a mountain through thickets of Fireweed and Indian Paintbrush. Few who visit the Gem State ever leave disappointed. With everything listed above, it is no mystery as to why.