Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness near Sun Valley, Idaho.

9 Small Towns In Idaho Were Ranked Among US Favorites

Full of Rocky Mountain panoramas, intriguing American history, and plenty of Western charm, the “Gem State” of Idaho is indeed one of the United States’ most alluring places. The longtime home of indigenous peoples, before the arrival of European settlers, Idaho officially entered the Union in 1890. Today it maintains a fairly small state-wide population of 1.9 million residents and forms part of the beautiful Pacific Northwest region. Come explore these wonderful small Idaho towns and see why this state has rightfully earned the moniker of “Gem State”.


Lewistone Idaho USA Cityscape and the Snake River in Summer. United States.
Lewiston, Idaho aerial landscape.

Situated in north central Idaho, the town of Lewiston serves as the seat of Nez Perce County and was formally established in the 1860s. Home to a modern population of just over 34,000 residents, this town at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers is indeed a great place to enjoy scenes of relaxing nature. Visit the stunning Hells Gate State Park for some 950 acres of beautiful camping sites, hiking and biking trails, and opportunities for fishing, swimming, and even horseback riding, while an afternoon at the Modie Park Conservancy is another way to appreciate local wildlife.

For history lovers, Lewiston is also the home of the Nex Perce County Historical Society, where a fascinating look at Idaho’s Native American peoples is offered. Here, artifacts and interactive exhibits shed light on the contributions of indigenous people to the formation of Idaho and the Western United States.

Bonners Ferry

The calm Kootenay River near Bonners Ferry Idaho.
The calm Kootenay River near Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

Bonners Ferry is the seat of Boundary County in northern Idaho and is just some 27 miles from the border with Canada. With a population of just over 2,500 residents, this beautifully scenic locale is undoubtedly one of the most pleasing in the State. Surrounded by the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Purcell Mountains and with the mighty Kootenay River running through it, Bonners Ferry is never short on outdoor splendor. Enjoy plenty of opportunities for fishing, swimming, sailing, camping, and even wildlife watching in a quaint and relaxing ambiance. Stop by the nearby Kootenai Wildlife Refuge, where hiking trails, waterfalls, and raw nature all populate the landscape.

Sun Valley

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

Also known as “America’s First Destination Ski Resort”, the stunning town of Sun Valley was incorporated in the 1930s. With a population of just under 1,500 permanent residents, thousands of tourists visit each year to enjoy breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains and of course great ski, snowboarding, and alpine sports slopes. Filled with loads of sunshine (which lends to the town’s name), vast blue skies, and stunning vistas like Bald and Dollar Mountain, Sun Valley is indeed a nature lover’s dream. Meanwhile, in the summertime, guests can also enjoy opportunities for hiking, cycling, golfing, and mountain climbing in a most welcoming and charming small-town atmosphere.


The Sawtooth mountains and a log cabin at sunrise and highway 75 leading to Stanley, Idaho.
The Sawtooth mountains and a log cabin at sunrise and Highway 75 leading to Stanley, Idaho.

Though it boasts a population of just some 116 residents, the town of Stanley is indeed a place of quiet beauty not to be missed by any visitor looking for relaxation. Situated at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains and surrounded by the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, splendid activities like biking, swimming, fishing, and hiking can all be enjoyed in a special rustic setting. In addition, the annual Mamas Craft Fair highlights local artists and artisans where unique souvenir items can be purchased. It may not attract immediate attention, but Stanley is certainly a worthwhile place to discover the meditative living and charming nature that is in Idaho.

Priest River

The main street of historic Priest River, Idaho, in the Northwest of the United States at winter.
The main street of the historic Priest River, Idaho. Image credit Kirk Fisher via Shutterstock.

Situated in the Idaho panhandle and near the border with the state of Washington, Priest River is a scenic mountain town where natural beauty is never in short supply. Home to a population of nearly 2,000 inhabitants, visitors and locals alike can take advantage of the town’s vicinity to the breathtaking Selkirk Mountains, the huge Lake Pend Oreille, and of course the eponymous river. Here activities like camping, biking, hiking, fishing, and sailing are all offered for a nice change of lifestyle for those looking to escape the big city. Meanwhile, one can also marvel and drive along the very scenic International Selkirk Loop, a 280-mile-long highway that crosses into Canada that will surely make for some extraordinary photos and videos.


Goldbug Hot Springs in Idaho, in the Salmon-Challis National Forest on a summer day
Goldbug Hot Springs in Idaho, in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Salmon serves as the seat of Lemhi County, where just over 3,000 people reside. One of Idaho’s most picturesque destinations, water lovers will certainly not want to miss this town where fun on the Salmon River is always on hand. Go on a fishing trip along the river’s course, take a guided tour of the Middle Fork (a tributary of the river), or even go hiking, biking, and horseback riding in the immediate vicinity. In addition, history aficionados can explore the Sacajawea Interpretive Cultural and Educational Center. Here the life of the Native American guide in the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s is explored in an interactive and fascinating museum ambiance.


A hot air balloon view from Driggs, Idaho of the Grand Tetons in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming.
A hot air balloon view from Driggs, Idaho of the Grand Tetons in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming.

Situated within the Teton Valley in eastern Idaho, the town of Driggs is another splendid mountain destination for all those traveling the “Gem State”. With its beautiful, forested surroundings and great vistas of the Teton Mountain Range, Driggs is indeed a pleasant year-round locale with mild winters and summers. In addition to the wonderful natural framing, visitors can also enjoy such cultural events as the Teton Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival, Shakespeare in the Park, Winter Snowfest, and the Music on Main summertime concert series. Indeed for those looking for a charming example of small-town American life, Driggs is one Idaho spot surely not to be missed.


Beautiful buildings on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho
Beautiful buildings on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho. Image credit Charles Knowles via Shutterstock.

At an elevation of 2,579 feet, Moscow lies along the border with the state of Washington and can trace its modern history to the 1870s. The seat of Latah County and home to a population of just under 26,000 residents, this beautiful Idaho locale offers beautiful nature and intriguing cultural events in a calm and welcoming college town ambiance. Site of the University of Idaho (1889), visitors can enjoy such events as the Farmers Market, the Renaissance Fair, and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.

For the outdoor enthusiast, spending time at Moscow Mountain or the Columbia River Plateau is sure to be an outing filled with activities and stunning vistas. Enjoy opportunities for hiking, biking, rock climbing, and horseback riding here. Moscow is also replete with 17 parks, perfect for a quiet afternoon of picnicking is a great excursion for the whole family.


Wild Horses in Winter near Challis, Idaho
Wild horses in winter near Challis, Idaho.

Established in the 1870s, the town of Challis serves as the seat of Custer County and maintains a most modest population of just over 1,000 inhabitants. As a historic town, numerous buildings here are listed on the National Register of Historic Places which include the Twin Peaks Sports Building (1909), the Donaldson Rowles House (1910), and the Mackay Episcopal Church (1902) amongst others. Meanwhile, for the nature lover, hot summers and cool winters characterize Challis where opportunities for fishing, hiking, and biking are always popular. And do not forget to explore the Land of the Yankee Fort State Park, where the history of Idaho’s mining industry is explored in an insightful and interactive setting. One can even try their hand at panning for gold!


The small and beautiful towns of Idaho reflect exactly why it is known as the “Gem State”; though it has a sparse population, the fascinating history, exquisite natural landscapes, and abundance of welcoming charm make Idaho a great place to discover for any visitor in the Western United States. From the alpine splendor of Sun Valley to the scenic views of Salmon and beyond, Idaho will certainly leave a memorable impression for all those lucky enough to get acquainted firsthand with its natural and cultural allure. So pack your bags and hit the road, the “Gem State” awaits you!

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