8 Great Adventures in Idaho for RVers
8 Great Adventures in Idaho for RVers
Activities and camping recommendations.
By: Kelly Laustsen & David Somach
Ten years ago, when moving from Virginia to Oregon, I spent a night in Boise, Idaho. While there, I enjoyed dinner at a restaurant with a lovely outdoor patio, walked along a garden-lined path next to the river, and visited a penitentiary museum, a surprisingly fascinating spot. I left Boise with an unexpected new city and state added to my to-be-explored list. Based on that quick visit, when David and I started to craft our itinerary for fifteen months of traveling the U.S. and Canada in our Revel, we knew Idaho needed a solid amount of time.
We ended up spending about two weeks in Idaho during the summer of 2019, and it is one of our favorite states. This may surprise some people, but every so often we meet someone who has also spent some time in Idaho and totally gets it. Idaho offers an impressive variety of activities, including rugged hikes, mountain biking, lakes, breweries, and even North America’s tallest sand dune and the first nuclear reactor. In addition, we love how uncrowded Idaho is and how easy it was for us to find places to camp. Below are some of our favorite spots in Idaho.
1. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Despite living in Oregon for over ten years, we had never heard of Hells Canyon. It is an impressive geographic feature: a massive canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon that runs about 125 miles along the border between Oregon and Idaho. We stayed at the free campground at Seven Devils. The drive up to Seven Devils is long with significant elevation gain—the campground is located at over 7,000 feet. The views are spectacular, and we practically had the campground to ourselves.
While we planned to backpack the Seven Devils Loop, a threat of thunderstorms loomed so we settled for a hike and visit to Heavens Gate Lookout. The lookout is used seasonally by the Forest Service to watch for forest fires, so we chatted with the ranger on duty and enjoyed views of the surrounding mountains and canyon.
McCall is one of many lake towns in Idaho and a picturesque spot. We parked the van on the outskirts of McCall for the duration of our visit and explored the town by bike. We used the app Trailforks to pick from the many local bike routes and chose a loop in Ponderosa State Park. The park borders Payette Lake, where we stopped for a swim mid-ride
In McCall, we walked along the waterfront, happened upon live music at a brewery and visited a farmers’ market that we had read about on the city’s website. While we only spent a little over a day in McCall, we easily could have spent more time enjoying the lake views, cute downtown, and bike trails.
Boise, the capital and most populous city in Idaho, remains one of our favorite cities, even after fifteen months of travel. Boise highlights include:
- The Boise Foothills, a short bike ride from downtown, offers a huge network of trails. Many of the trails are tame enough that we were able to ride them on our gravel bikes and are also great for running or hiking.
- There are more breweries in Boise than we could visit in two days. We went to numerous breweries and had some of the most memorable beers of the trip, including a Skittles Sour.
- Freak Alley Gallery, which includes lots of cool graffiti art, was fascinating. There are more murals throughout downtown.
- Boise’s waterfront is one of the best we’ve seen, with lots of gardens, restaurants, a 25-mile-long path (called the Boise River Greenbelt), and even a Whitewater Park with an adjustable wave for kayakers and surfers.
- Downtown Boise is lively and active. Moreover, there are lots of interesting neighborhoods and parks a short walk away.
- Old Idaho Penitentiary, which is now a museum with information about the penitentiary which closed in 1973 after operating for over 100 years, has several buildings to tour and lots of interesting exhibits.
4. Bruneau Dunes State Park
About an hour from Boise is Bruneau Dunes State Park, which includes the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America according to Idaho State Parks and Recreation. We almost skipped the sand dunes, as it was a little out of the way, but we are so glad we made time for it. We found the dunes fascinating, appearing unexpectedly and rising over 450 feet above the surrounding desert.
We spent a few hours walking a loop that included a trail up and over a sand dune. There weren’t any other footsteps on the top of the sand dunes and our footsteps caused small sand avalanches and left all kinds of neat patterns in the sand.
5. Sun Valley/Ketchum
Sun Valley is a resort town with lots of outdoor destinations, including skiing, golfing, hiking, and fishing. Just west of Sun Valley is the town of Ketchum, which includes a charming downtown area with lots of shops and restaurants. A paved bike path connects Sun Valley to the nearby town of Hailey, where we biked for a beer and dinner.
There is plentiful free dispersed camping just outside the town, including in the Sawtooth National Forest, making Sun Valley a perfect camper destination.
The Sawtooth Range is an incredible mountain range in central Idaho, with jagged rocky peaks and alpine lakes. There are lots of hikes, backpacking trips, and mountain bike rides. We could have easily spent a week in just the Sawtooths.
Stanley makes for a great basecamp or stop on the way to or from the Sawtooths. It is a cozy small town with a few local businesses and events held throughout the year. We highly recommend breakfast at the Stanley Baking Company & Café in Stanley, known for its cinnamon rolls.
7. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Like many of our favorite Idaho spots, we had never heard of Craters of the Moon before researching what to do in Idaho. It is a small but impressive national monument and preserve with interesting volcanic formations and caves.
A seven-mile Scenic Loop Road includes most of the park’s top views and trailheads. We drove the loop with lots of stops for short hikes and viewpoints, including the Inferno Cone and Indian Cave. We opted to camp at Craters of the Moon and enjoyed the small campground.
What an interesting little city! Arco was the first city to be powered by atomic power and Idaho National Laboratory still owns a lot of land east of Arco, where it houses a variety of labs. We visited Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I), which was fascinating. EBR-I was the first power plant to produce electricity from atomic energy in 1951 and the museum is filled with informative exhibits. EBR-I is located just 40 miles east from Craters of the Moon, making it an easy stop.
Do you have any other favorite atrtactions, hikes, or camping sites in Idaho to share? Please add your tips in the comments.
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