The charming town of Wallace, Idaho.

8 Picturesque Small Towns In Idaho For A Weekend Retreat

With 63% of its land belonging to the public, it is no wonder why this "hidden gem" of the US has become such a popular tourist destination over the years. Idaho borders six states and one Canadian province, making it the ideal hub for people looking to get away for the weekend to reconnect with nature or recharge among the state's vast mountain ranges, lakes, historic towns, and resorts. So, why not take a break from the grind and see what the Gem State's most charming towns can offer you?


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

Salmon has deep roots in mining, lumbering, aviation, and ranching. The town proudly continues these traditions by offering overnight horse camping and fishing trips, multi-day river trips on the Salmon River, and the ever-popular Salmon Stampede PRCA Rodeo every August. You can take a scenic breakfast flight with Gem Air to get the best view of the valley. The valley from a bird's eye view is truly a breathtaking experience. Backpackers enjoy trekking among the 2.36 million acres of the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. For those looking for something easier on the legs—and lungs—a bike ride at Disco Hill is a great place to start.

Under the downtown bridge, you can find Island Park, which offers some great views without leaving the downtown area. A must-see is The Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center, which is dedicated to one of the country's most famous historical heroines, Sacajawea. For accommodations, River's Fork Lodge offers all the comfort you need after a long day of adventuring.


The marina at McCall, Idaho.
The marina at McCall, Idaho.

Encircled by striking peaks, this welcoming resort town brings in visitors all year round for its parks, mountains, lodging, art, and fishing. In the summer, locals and visitors alike swarm to Payette Lake—the main attraction of McCall. Additionally, some popular pastimes include browsing the local farmer's markets or partaking in the McCall Ale Trail, which celebrates local beer—and is a great way to meet people! The Central Idaho Historical Museum—a three-story log home—is worth checking out if you want to learn more about McCall's history. One unique aspect of McCall is the Art Walk, where you can stroll through the picturesque town while viewing custom artwork between stops at restaurants, boutiques, and cafes.

The Rail to Trail systems surrounding McCall include scenic trails great for exploring any time of year. If planning a weekend getaway in the Winter, the Winter Carnival is a must-do activity and has become a staple of Idaho over the years. Additionally, Brundage Mountain, located near the town, has earned the title of the Best Snow in Idaho. Wake up to views of pristine waters and bountiful trees at Shore Lodge, sitting at a breathtaking elevation of 5,000 feet.

Priest River

The main street of historic Priest River, Idaho
The main street of historic Priest River, Idaho.

This fascinating small town is considered one of Idaho's best-kept secrets. Well, the secret is out. Priest River's central location among the Selkirk Mountain Range makes it an ideal recreation hot spot. As part of the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Scenic Byway and the International Selkirk Loop, Priest River offers an abundance of activities, from skiing and snowmobiling to huckleberry picking and golfing. The 2.5-mile Mount Roothaan Trail gives a stunning view of the area's most iconic landmark, Chimney Rock.

The town's vibrant past comes alive yearly during the Timber Days celebration on the last Saturday of July. For more history, the Priest River Museum and Timber Education Center contain artifacts and art galleries. There are many great options for accommodation, but the most unique of all is A Wee Place in the Woods, a five-acre piece of land within an old-growth forest containing five treehouses, one-room cabins, and creekside camping—each spot with its own charm. There is a communal kitchen, a dance floor, a star-gazing area, and a labyrinth. This spot is truly one of a kind.


Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho.
Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho.

The awe-inspiring beauty of the Sawtooth Mountain Range alone should be enough to entice anyone to visit Stanley. But just in case you need more of a reason, try coming in February to experience the most popular event in town, the Stanley Winterfest. This festival is a high-energy event with live music, pick-up hockey, and outhouse races. In the summertime, partake in the Thursday Night Street Dances on Diamond Blvd.

Redfish Lake, the largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, is perfect for fishing, boating, kayaking, and swimming. Visitors enjoy escaping to the Mystic Saddle Ranch for horseback excursions, pack trips, and guided hunting to embrace the cowboy lifestyle. Redfish Lake Lodge, a rustic throwback in the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains, is unlike any accommodation you can find elsewhere in Central Idaho. Perfect for a family vacation or a romantic getaway, this lodge has it all.


Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho.

USA Today named Sandpoint the Most Beautiful Town in America, so this one definitely deserves a spot on this list. Surrounded by the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, Sandpoint draws in tourists all year round with incredible views, activities, and its charming quality. The town sits among Lake Oreille, Idaho's largest body of water. There are many great spots along the lake to unwind, but the 22-acre City Beach Park is a favorite and one of the oldest in Sandpoint. A must-see if visiting in the summer is The Festival at Sandpoint. With 12 days of live music every August (yes, you read that right—12 days), it is considered one of the most notable events in the region. Visitors can see a show at the historic Panida Theater before dining at one of the many restaurants and pubs. Baxters on Cedar is an upscale pub with a warm, cozy vibe perfect for a night out.

Gold Hill Trailhead offers hikers and mountain bikers a fun experience for the whole family, with stunning panoramic views of Sandpoint. Just outside town is the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, where you can explore the breathtaking mountains surrounding the area. World Property Journal named it the #1 Western Vacation Ranch in America. The Lodge at Sandpoint offers a luxurious stay on a budget that will not break the bank. The accommodations overlook 600 feet of waterfront with a sandy beach, docks, and an event tent.

Sun Valley

The Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness near Sun Valley, Idaho.
The Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness near Sun Valley, Idaho.

With about 205 days of sun every year, this town lives up to the hype. The hills and mountains of Sawtooth National Forest glimmer from the sun all year round. Home to the world's first chairlift, Sun Valley is well-known for its ski resorts. SKI Magazine ranked the Sun Valley Resort #1, and Bald Mountain's endless backcountry terrain has become known as "the Alps of America." Visitors delight in exploring the Wood River Trail, a 20+ mile paved path that connects to Bellevue, Hailey, and Ketchum.

If you are planning a trip for October, do not miss the chance to experience the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. This event celebrates the town's ranching history with five days of quirky activities like sheepdog competitions and a sheep parade. The Sun Valley Lodge is famous for hosting celebrities like Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, and Clint Eastwood. When staying at the Lodge, you can even lay your head down in the Celebrity Suite, where these famous figures once stayed.


The charming town of Wallace, Idaho.
The charming town of Wallace, Idaho.

Wallace is one of only four towns in the US entirely listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meaning that if you happen to do some shopping downtown, there is a 100% chance you will be doing it in a nationally recognized historic building. Because of its rich heritage in mining (literally), Wallace is considered the "Silver Capital of the World." If you go to the Sierra Silver Mine Tour, you will be given a guided underground tour by Wally, a retired silver miner steeped in knowledge of the area and its history. Additionally, the Mine Heritage Exhibition is a family-friendly four-acre park and museum along the river. In the Winter, visitors enjoy skiing at the Silver Mountain Resort.

The Route of the Hiawatha, considered the "Crown Jewel" of rail-to-trail adventures, is a 15-mile-long trail that offers a picturesque experience. For those adrenaline junkies seeking something more extreme, the Silver Steak Zipline Tours provide a fun experience for the whole family, with beautiful views of the surrounding area. Ryan Hotel is a boutique hotel in the downtown district offering accessibility to many local attractions.

Bonners Ferry

The spectacular town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
The spectacular town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

This town began as a river crossing point, originally with canoes, then eventually, in 1865—you guessed it—a ferry. Sitting at the heart of the Kootenai River Valley, the town is a hub for travelers from Southeastern British Columbia and Montana. Visitors love that Bonners Ferry offers many of the same experiences as other vacation towns without the crowds. Favorite activities include camping at one of the many local sites, boating and fishing, golfing at Mirror Lake Golf Course (1 mile south), and gambling at the Bonners Ferry Inn and Casino.

The Boundary County Museum contains numerous artifacts and exhibits showcasing the history of North Idaho and the indigenous Kootenai people. Another popular experience is the Myrtle Peak-to-Snow Creek Drive, which loops around the town. If you feel more venturesome, you can hike to the peak in about 4-5 hours. Bonners Ferry Inn and Casino offers an unforgettable experience. Even if gambling is not your thing, the hotel has a spa and other relaxing amenities perfect for your weekend stay.

Whatever the time of year, these small towns offer everything you need for an exciting weekend retreat. Experience the rich history, vibrant festivals, and sun-filled valleys of Idaho the next time you decide you need to get away. The only question is, with such limitless possibilities awaiting, where will you begin?

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