The state of Idaho is home to thousands of miles of wild rivers and scenic trails.
There are countless alpine lakes tucked away as a reward for hikers and backpackers to discover. Idaho’s ski resorts transform from winter playgrounds into mountain biking destinations in the summer, including Bogus Basin Mountain Resort, Brundage Mountain Resort, and Sun Valley Resort.
Tourists from around the world visit the state to experience its famous whitewater, but Idahoans are fortunate enough to have these treasures right in their backyards.
For many of these activities, expert guides are more than willing to lead adventure-seekers on their journeys, providing the necessary equipment and skills while sharing their passion and knowledge for Idaho’s outdoors. The list of ways to explore Idaho in the summer seems never-ending, but here are just a few suggestions for memorable adventures.
Idaho has more than 3,000 miles of river whitewater, according to Raft Idaho. In less than an hour outside of Boise, whitewater-seekers can hop on a raft and feel the thrill of the rapids on the Payette River.
The Long family, which owns Cascade Raft and Kayak in Horseshoe Bend, has guided groups of rafters down the Payette River to experience some of that whitewater for three decades. The Payette River is close to Boise and has a great variety of whitewater, said Anne Long, Cascade Raft and Kayak’s office manager. “It’s pretty easy to just zip up less than an hour from Boise and be able to enjoy Idaho’s outdoors,” she said.
Cascade Raft and Kayak offers family trips down sections of the river that aren’t too intense, Long said. The more adventurous groups can check out the whitewater on the South Fork of the Payette, while kayakers can take on the North Fork’s class V rapids. Full and half-day float trips are available on different sections of the river.
Rafters can take in views of the surrounding forests as they make their way down the river.
The popular rafting trip down the Main Payette takes about three hours and features fun but manageable class III rapids, Long said.
Cascade Raft and Kayak is one of several outfitters in the area that offers guided trips down the Payette River. Others include the Payette River Company, Idaho White Water Unlimited and Bear Valley Rafting.
Raft Idaho provides a helpful resource for planning a day on one of Idaho’s rivers, including on the Payette, Salmon, Snake, Henry’s Fork, and Lochsa rivers. The website, raftidaho.org, has raft trips searchable by river or length of trip and a list of local outfitters to show you the way.
Multi-day rafting trips on Idaho’s waters offer more than rapids, incorporating hiking, swimming, camping, and riverside meals.
Idaho River Adventures hosts rafting trips along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho that include riverside meals made from locally sourced food, hiking and stops at hot springs and historic sites. The outfitter’s six-day Pickin’ on the Middle Fork trips even include a bluegrass band that goes along on the journey to provide acoustic music to go along with the experience.
Owner Dustin Aherin has taken groups from Australia and New Zealand on trips down the river and has a group coming from The Netherlands this year. The river’s reputation worldwide is akin to the Grand Canyon, he said.
“What makes the Middle Fork so special is its remoteness,” Aherin said. “It’s a river that flows through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.”
For that reason, the river remains largely undeveloped. The U.S. Forest Service also allows just a limited number of launches on the river, which lends a feeling of solitude, he said.
The trips with Idaho River Adventures cover 105 miles of the river.
Aherin said that he and other outfitters—there are 28 licensed on the Middle Fork—tend to book trips quickly and recommended booking early, even a year in advance, to secure a spot.
Another unique Idaho experience is a float or jet boat trip on the Snake River through Hells Canyon, which is the deepest river-carved gorge in North America, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Both floaters and powerboaters will need permits year round for the Snake River, and permits and reservations are required to launch at specific locations on the river during the primary season.
There are a number of outfitters ready to take people down the river in rafts or jet boats with the bonus of fly fishing, stops at historical sites, and camping along the river.
In Boise, a feature on the Boise River allows people to experience whitewater without leaving town.
The Boise Whitewater Park features wave-shaper technology that creates different types of waves in the river for kayakers, paddleboarders, and river surfers.
The whitewater park is next to the Boise Greenbelt and Esther Simplot Park.
Resources for Rafting
RaftIdaho.org has information on outfitters and rivers throughout Idaho. Visitors to the site can search by river or length of trip. It is a good first stop in planning a trip.
Hike and Backpack in the Magnificent Sawtooths
Mountain air, mountain views and mountain lakes abound in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area near Stanley.
This is a popular area for hiking, backpacking, and camping for—good reason. There are 700 miles of trails to explore with 40 mountain peaks and more than 300 alpine lakes, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
With so many options, where do you begin?
There are a couple of day hikes that Erik Leidecker of Sawtooth Mountain Guides described as classics in the area. The first is the hike to Alice Lake starting from the Tin Cup trailhead at Pettit Lake. The other is the hike to Sawtooth Lake, starting at the Iron Creek trailhead. Both are full-day hikes to alpine lakes. Both hikes are about 5-6 miles to reach the lakes with about 1,500 – 1,800 feet of elevation gain, Leidecker said.
For shorter, family-friendly hikes, Leidecker recommends the Fishhook Creek trail at the Redfish Lake trailhead and the Stanley Lake Creek trail. Both are about 3-4 miles round trip. “These are good for kids or people who aren’t up for the big hikes,” he said. “They’re more accessible hikes that people can do and still get the view and experience the Sawtooths.”
Beyond day hikes, the Sawtooth area is popular for backpacking trips. The Alice-Toxaway Loop, starting at the Tin Cup trailhead, is a one- to two-night backpacking trip that includes several alpine lakes and peaks within view. For a longer trip, Leidecker suggested the one-way trip from Pettit Lake to Redfish Lake, which takes three to four days.
Before backpackers head out on the trail, Leidecker recommends they become familiar with wilderness rules and regulations and expect to encounter hazards ranging from snowy passes to bugs and weather conditions. He also directs people to the “Leave No Trace” program, which encourages responsible enjoyment of the outdoors.
Sawtooth Mountain Guides offers guided day hikes and backpacking trips in the Sawtooths, from half-day hikes to four-day backpacking trips. The guides are familiar with the trails, terrain, conditions and rules. “Their biggest job is managing the risk of being in the mountains,” Leidecker said. They also supply the equipment needed, take care of food, and offer porter services to carry packs.
Resources for Hiking
Sawtooth Mountain Guides — Offers guided day hikes and multi-day backpacking trips in the Sawtooths. sawtoothguides.com
National Forest Service Sawtooth National Recreation Area — Find information about trails, reserve a campsite, and learn about rules and regulations: fs.usda.gov/recarea/sawtooth
Take a Chairlift to Bike Trails
In 2017, National Geographic named Sun Valley one of the top 20 mountain bike towns in the nation. The magazine cited the town’s 400 miles of single-track trails to ride plus 30 miles of paved trails for its position on the list.
Sun Valley Resort is also one of several ski resorts that changes focus in the warmer months. Instead of carrying skiers and boarders up the mountain, Idaho’s resorts welcome hikers and mountain bikers to explore trails and take in the views after the snow melts away.
Sun Valley has several downhill-only trails that bikers can access after taking a gondola or chairlift ride. One of those trails is the Warm Springs Loop, which the resort describes as a “roller coaster ride through the wooded backside of Bald Mountain.” The trail is 16 miles including the lift up, according to the resort.
Bogus Basin is also home to a nationally recognized mountain bike trail, the 10-mile Around the Mountain trail. The resort is a close mountain getaway from Boise, but the vast mountain views and forest make it feel like a faraway escape in both winter and summer.
The chairlifts usually start operating at Bogus in early July. While at Bogus, consider a ride on The Glade Runner, a brand new alpine mountain coaster.
The bike park at Tamarack Resort, near Donnelly, is scheduled to open on June 23 this year. A high-speed quad services 1,700 vertical feet of trails, according to the resort.
And Brundage Mountain in McCall has the Triple Play Skills Park in the base area, which serves as a practice area for mountain bikers to practice their skills at no charge, according to the resort. The BlueBird Quad at Brundage takes cyclists up to the summit to access more than 20 miles of single-track trails that provide views of Payette Lake and the surrounding mountains.
Resources for Biking
Sun Valley Resort — A map of trails and biking information: sunvalley.com/things-to-do/biking/.
Brundage Mountain — Trail maps and lift information: brundage.com/on-the-mountain/
Bogus Basin — A map of summer trails: bogusbasin.org/the-mountain/overview/trail-maps/.
Tamarack Resort — Information about the bike park: tamarackidaho.com/summer-activities.
Ride a Horse in the Backcountry
Hiking and backpacking aren’t the only ways to navigate Idaho trails.
The group Backcountry Horsemen of Idaho keeps a comprehensive log of trails in Idaho that make good options for horseback riders along with information about horse facilities at nearby campgrounds. They also host rides, maintain trails, and host educational events.
Rob Adams of the group’s Squaw Butte chapter provided a list of some of the chapter’s go-to trails in the summertime.
In Cascade, the group likes the Kennally Creek Trail in the Payette National Forest. This is a popular horse trail that connects to two other popular trails, the Needles trail and Black Mare summit trail.
Another option is the campground at Bull Trout Lake in Lowman. The campground features equestrian sites with corrals and large parking spaces. The campground is near many miles of trails, according to the U.S. Forest Service, including the 35-mile Kirkham Ridge Trail, which is open to many types of uses, including horseback riding.
In the Hells Canyon area, the group goes to Cuddy Mountain near Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River. This area has trails on varied terrain with spectacular canyon views, according to the group’s description.
The Tin Cup trailhead in the Sawtooths that’s a popular choice for hikers and backpackers is also a go-to horseback-riding trail.
For people without horses of their own, there are multiple options for outfitters to spend the day exploring the area on horseback. The Stanley Chamber of Commerce lists four local outfitters on its website offering rides on local trails.
Resources for Horseback Riding
Backcountry Horsemen of Idaho —
Detailed directions, trail/facility information: sbbchidaho.org/html/directions2.html