If you want a stunning drive through unique landscapes, you’d be hard-pressed to find any more spectacular than many of the Idaho Scenic Byways. These roads wind through some of the country’s most beautiful and iconic landscapes, from mountains and canyons to rivers and valleys.
So pack your car with snacks and drinks, roll down the windows, and enjoy a road trip unlike any other. Here are some of the best scenic byways in Idaho to check out.
What Is a Scenic Byway?
A scenic byway is a stretch of road designated for its scenic beauty. In the United States, the National Scenic Byways Program, which is part of the Department of Transportation, oversees these roadways.
Some are just a few miles long, while others span hundreds of miles. Regardless of their length, scenic byways all have one thing in common. They offer travelers a chance to see some of the most beautiful places in the country.
Idaho has 32 designated scenic, historical, and backcountry byways. According to Scenic America, these are composed of six National Scenic Byways and 26 State Scenic Byways.
Cruise Down These 9 Iconic Idaho Scenic Byways
Idaho has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Drive one of the state’s scenic byways to get a better glimpse of the diverse landscapes and wildlife.
Whether looking for a leisurely drive through the idyllic countryside or a chance to explore Idaho’s rugged mountains, you can find the perfect byway to cruise.
Idaho’s numerous scenic byways are organized into three regions: the Panhandle, the East, and the West & Central Region. Each has much to offer, but the West & Central Region has the most scenic byways in Idaho.
Traveler’s Tip: Have you traversed through the state with the most scenic roads?
Idaho’s Panhandle Scenic Byways
Idaho’s panhandle is widely regarded for its massive lakes, many summertime activities, and breathtaking views when the foliage changes color in the fall.
The Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway winds its way through pristine forests and beside sparkling lakes. The Gold Rush Historic Byway follows the path of early gold miners as they made their way through Idaho’s rugged mountains. And the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway follows historic trails forged by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Nez Perce Tribe.
Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway
Length: 35.8 miles
About: The Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway begins at the junction of Interstate 90 and Idaho 97. It then follows Idaho 97 south and east along Lake Coeur d’Alene, ending at Idaho 3. It has numerous opportunities to pull off and enjoy the lakes, mountains, and wildlife.
When to See It: This byway stays beautiful year-round and has gorgeous views in the fall when the leaves change color. It also offers great eagle watching between Wolf Lodge Bay and Beauty Bay in December and January.
Special Attractions: Lake Coeur d’Alene is a primary attraction. You can also stop at the Mineral Ridge Trail, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, Thompson Lake Wildlife Refuge, and the historic town of Harrison.
Gold Rush Historic Byway
Length: 42.5 miles
About: The Gold Rush Historic Byway begins at the junction of U.S. 12 and Idaho 11 on the Clearwater River in Greer. It ends at the village of Headquarters about 12 miles north of Pierce. You’ll see stunning views of the mountains, forests, and lakes, and learn about the history of the gold rush.
When to See It: In the summer, you can go camping, fishing, riding, and hiking. Winter time provides skiing and snowmobiling on 350 miles of groomed and open trails.
Special Attractions: Lewis and Clark Historical Sites stand out amongst the attractions of this byway. It also includes Bald Mountain Ski Area, a logging museum, a Chinese cemetery, and the Clearwater National Forest. You can also visit the Pierce City Library’s artifact collection and historic downtown area.
Northwest Passage Scenic Byway
Length: 202 miles when combined. It is 175 miles from Lewiston, Idaho, to Montana and 27 miles from Kooskia to Grangeville, Idaho.
About: The Northwest Passage Scenic Byway resulted from President Jefferson’s commissioning Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke to find the Northwest Passage. This passage links the Missouri and Columbia Rivers.
It begins at U.S. 12 at Lewiston and travels southeast to Kooskia, where the byway splits. One segment goes south on Idaho 13 to Grangeville, while the other continues east on U.S. 12 to the Lolo Pass Visitor Center on the Idaho/Montana border.
When to See It: You’ll find whitewater opportunities, boating, fishing, heritage sites, and wildlife viewing.
Special Attractions: The byway parallels the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce national historic trails. Attractions include the Tsceminicum sculpture in Lewiston, the Nez Perce National Historical Park, a legendary Nez Perce site called Heart of the Monster, and Hells Gate and Dworshak State Parks.
Idaho’s West and Central Scenic Byways
Idaho’s west and central region feature some unique landscapes. Its byways follow deep gorges and lava flows, unleashing otherworldly beauty.
The City of Rocks Backcountry Byway provides stunning views of the area’s towering rock formations. The Peaks to Craters byway takes visitors on a journey through Idaho’s volcanic history.
You can stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Idaho’s five volcanoes. The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway offers breathtaking views of Idaho’s deepest gorge.
City of Rocks Backcountry Byway
Length: 49 miles
About: The City of Rocks Back Country Byway begins at Idaho 77 in Albion and heads south to Connor Creek Junction. It continues through the City of Rocks National Reserve, home to more than 700 challenging climbs. It then follows Birch Creek to the City of Oakley’s Historic District.
When to See It: This byway is best from April to November. It follows some narrow winding roads, including a gravel section.
Special Attractions: Along this Idaho scenic byway, you’ll see a rural landscape known for its historical and geological significance. Stop at Lake Cleveland Recreation Area, Castle Rocks State Park, and the City of Rocks National Reserve.
Peaks to Craters
Length: 140 miles
About: The Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway is the most diverse stretch of road in Idaho. It passes through wetlands, high mountain deserts, lava flows, and near 12 of the highest peaks in the state. It starts at the junction of Idaho 75 and U.S. 20 and continues to the intersection of U.S. 93 and Idaho 75.
When to See It: It remains open year-round but can see extreme winter weather.
Special Attractions: As one of Idaho’s iconic scenic byways, it has numerous attractions, including world-class fly fishing on Silver Creek, a unique rock formation known as Queens Crown, and dozens of bird species at the Carey Lake Wildlife Management Area.
You can also stop in Arco, the “First City in the World to be Lit by Atomic Energy.” However, the crown jewel is Craters of the Moon National Monument. It has thousands of acres of lava fields and rock formations.
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Length: 22 miles
About: The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway follows Hells Canyon Road from Oxbow Bridge near Copperfield, Ore., north along the Idaho side of the Snake River to Hells Canyon Dam.
When to See It: Open throughout the year, Hells Canyon Scenic Byway follows a narrow, winding, two-lane paved road with several steep grades.
Special Attractions: This Idaho scenic byway features the deepest gorge in North America, Hells Canyon. Take guided boat tours on the Snake River or the Hells Canyon Dam. You have plenty of wildlife viewing, ranging from mountain goats and bighorn sheep to bald eagles.
Idaho’s Eastern Scenic Byways
The Scenic Byways of Idaho’s Eastern region wind their way through towering mountains, pristine forests, and picturesque valleys.
The Teton Scenic Byway takes motorists on a journey through the dramatic Teton Range. And the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway provides views of the majestic waterfalls. Finally, the Sacajawea Historic Byway traces the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Teton Scenic Byway
Length: 68.9 miles
About: The Teton Scenic Byway begins on Idaho 31 at Swan Valley and moves northeast to Idaho 33 at Victor. It continues north on Idaho 33 to Idaho 32, then on to Idaho 47 in Ashton, where the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway begins.
When to See It: Passable year-round, this scenic byway offers impressive fall foliage and beautiful wildflowers in late spring. Though it has a paved road, it has 6% grades, and wintertime snow can make the drive somewhat challenging.
Special Attractions: The views of the magnificent Teton Mountain Range are unparalleled. But other attractions include the Greater Yellowstone Geotourism Center in Driggs and Grand Targhee Ski Area. Additionally, you can find nearly any outdoor recreational activity you could imagine.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
Length: 28.7 miles
About: The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway begins at the end of the Teton Scenic Byway. Start in Ashton at Idaho 47 and travel northeast for 12 miles to the old Bear Gulch Ski Area. From there, head northwest along Forest Service Route 294 to the northern end of U.S. 20.
When to See It: Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is only available by car from spring through fall. During the winter, the Forest Service road only becomes accessible via snow machines or cross-country skis.
Special Attractions: From spring through fall, the byway is renowned for visiting the Upper and Lower Falls Mesa Falls. You can also enjoy biking and horseback riding. Many enjoy cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
Sacajawea Historic Byway
Length: 132 miles
About: The Sacajawea Historic Byway parallels the Continental Divide for nearly 100 miles. It begins at the intersection of Interstate 15 and Idaho 33. From there, it follows Idaho 33 for about 12 miles west to a junction with Idaho 28. Go northwest on Idaho 28 for 120 miles to Salmon.
When to See It: Though open year-round, sections of the byway can get icy. And large snow drifts can form during the winter. Travel is easier during the summer and fall. Autumn colors reach their peak in September and October.
Special Attractions: The Sacajawea Historic Byway is named for the Shoshone woman involved in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But she was also born in the Lemhi Valley, which the byway runs through.
You’ll find numerous historical highlights on the route. These include fossils of the extinct North American lion, Native American rock art, and the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area.
What Services Will You Find on Idaho Scenic Byways?
Idaho’s scenic byways are a great way to see the state’s beautiful landscape. But before you hit the road, know what services you can expect to find.
Full-service areas typically offer gas, food, and lodging, while partial-service locations may have gas and food but no lodging. Rest areas usually just have restrooms and a place to relax.
Most of the routes on the list include full-service offerings somewhere along the way. But expect to have long stretches with partial facilities, rest areas, or no services.
So if planning a long drive along Idaho’s scenic byways, fill up your tank and pack some snacks before you get started.
These Scenic Drives in the Gem State May Leave You in Awe
These scenic drives are some of the country’s most beautiful stretches of road. The Idaho Scenic Byways program helps preserve and showcase Idaho’s unique landscapes.
Idaho’s more than 3,000 miles of byways wind through towering mountains, pristine lakes, and wide-open valleys, offering diverse scenery. They also provide a unique sense of history and culture, following Native American trading routes and stops at historic towns and landmarks.
Driving Idaho’s scenic byways is a great way to experience the Gem State’s rich history and stunning scenery.