12 unique ways to get outside in Idaho this summer

Peter Watson

From hot springs and yurt camping to ghost towns and jet boating, here are 12 unique ways to get outside in Idaho this summer.

Idaho is a fantastic summertime destinationCharles Knowles/Shutterstock

Spring’s arrival in Idaho yields a blossoming of outdoor recreation opportunities across the geographically diverse Gem State.

Wedged between Montana and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho is sometimes overlooked for its neighbours. As such, it is one of Western USA's most underrated destinations.

Idaho is an enormous state. It’s been said if you flatten all the mountains in Idaho, the state would be the size of Texas. It has an incredible 114 mountain ranges and some of the most rugged peaks in the contiguous USA.

Idaho covers two time zones, runs from Canada to Nevada, and encompasses the western side of the continental divide of the Rocky Mountains.

Summertime in Idaho (Video: Visit Idaho)

Over 60% of the state is public land, and with 3.9 million acres of Wilderness, Idaho is the third-wildest state in the union and one of the West's premier adventure areas.

As such, it's a destination made for outdoor pursuits and there's no better time to explore than in the summer.

Splash through river rapids, zip from tree to tree, cast a fly into an alpine lake, explore a ghost town, hike and bike through wildflower-filled meadows, pick and munch on huckleberries and so much more.

1. Whitewater rafting & kayaking

Home to the most navigable miles of whitewater in the lower 48, it is no wonder Idaho tops several lists when it comes to paddling adventures.

Rafting on Salmon River in Idahomelissamn/Shutterstock

Splash your way through Class III and IV rapids on the iconic Middle Fork of the Salmon River, a trip packed with spectacular scenery, wildlife, hot springs and trout fishing along the way.

Many Idaho rivers, including the Selway, Lochsa, Payette Salmon and Snake, offer half, full, and multi-day adventures to keep the thrills coming.

2. Hot springs

Thanks to its unique geological location, Idaho is home to 130 soakable hot springs – meaning they are natural and easily accessible or have been developed into pools of varying temperatures and include modern amenities like changing rooms and food service.

Pine Flats Hot Springs,in Idaho (Image: @ariarabago)

There is no better way to soothe your soul – and travel-weary muscles – than a bubbling, geothermal soak. 

Pine Flats Hot Springs, near Lowman, lets you marvel at jaw-dropping views of the South Fork of the Payette River as you enjoy the soothing flow of a hot, mini-waterfall over your shoulders.

For a more luxurious experience, take a trip to The Springs in Idaho City, where you can book a soak and a massage and then dine in one of their heated pool-side yurts.

3. Yurt camping

For a true backcountry Idaho experience, there’s nothing quite like a yurt camping adventure.

Yurts are circular, tent-like structures that comfortably sleep six people and typically come furnished with fireplaces, bunk beds, a propane stove, pots, pans and more. 

Yurt camping in IdahoIdaho State Parks

Idaho State Parks manages six backcountry yurts near Idaho City that are accessible year-round. Reserve a yurt at idahostateparks.reserveamerica.com.

4. Fishing

Famous for its trout fishing, Idaho is also the only inland state in the western U.S. where you can wrangle king salmon or steelhead. 

Henrys Fork, a tributary of the Snake River in eastern Idaho, is one of the country’s top blue-ribbon trout streams.

Other prized fly-fishing locations include Silver Creek, Teton River, Henrys Lake, Big Wood River, the South Fork of the Snake River and the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

Idaho is also home to over 2,000 shimmering lakes and expansive reservoirs which tempt anglers with diverse fishing. Cast into Priest Lake, Lake Coeur d’Alene and Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho; Payette Lake, Lake Cascade and Redfish Lake in central Idaho; and Henrys Lake, Grays Lake, and Bear Lake in eastern Idaho.

5. Rock climbing

Lying on the western edge of the Continental Divide, Idaho’s volcanic and tectonic history is to thank for the Gem State’s staggering, rugged geography.

Rock climbing at City of Rocks in Idaho (Video: Visit Idaho)

Our jagged landscapes provide a playground for all types of climbing. Hailed as one of Idaho’s top climbing locations for trad climbers, Elephant’s Perch is a 1,000-foot wall featuring roughly 30 routes ranging 5.9-5.12 that loom over the scenic Saddleback Lakes (pack your license and rod for the trout!). 

City of Rocks National Reserve is aptly named for the thousands of granite formations rising like skyscrapers across the southeastern Idaho desert.

Internationally renowned, this climbing mecca boasts over 600 routes ranging from 30 to 600 feet and ratings of 5.6-5.14.

6. Ghost & mining towns

Idaho’s gold rush drew thousands in search of a better life, forming communities that became forgotten remnants when the prospectors left in search of other areas.

Bayhorse Ghost Town near Challis in IdahoIdaho Tourism

These mining-turned-ghost towns offer a glimpse into Idaho’s wild west history.

7. Breweries

April is Idaho Craft Beer Month, which makes the Gem State a great spring destination for fans of the cold, frothy nectar.

Idaho is the perfect destination for craft beer buffs of all tastes (Video: Visit Idaho)

Raise a pint and take a tour at over 70 breweries across the state – all serving up a variety of beers and ciders to please any type of palate.

8. Mountain biking

Offering thousands of miles of single-track around the state, you’ll find challenging trails wherever you go.

The chairlift at Tamarack Resort’s Bike Park takes riders to mid-mountain where you’ll have access to 20 trails and 1,700 vertical feet packed with multiple rock slabs, steep runs, rocky chutes and other technical terrains. 

Silver Mountain Bike Park claims North America’s longest gondola, which provides access to 3,400 feet of some of Idaho’s best lift-served downhill trails.

Mountain biking at Tamarack Bike Park in Idaho (Video: Visit Idaho)

Excellent mountain biking trails can be found in communities around the state and at many of Idaho’s ski areas, including Bogus Basin, Brundage Mountain, Grand Targhee, Schweitzer Mountain and others.

Idaho also has a huge offering of rail-to-trail routes great for biking or hiking. Check out the Trail of the Coeur d’AlenesRoute of the HiawathaWeiser River Trail and Ashton to Tetonia Trail.

9. Motorsports

From evergreen valleys and snow-covered hills to sand-swept desert landscapes, throttle-happy adventurers will find all kinds of designated off-road territory to get their motor running. 

Big Southern Butte south of Arco features one of the largest dormant volcanic domes and breathtaking views along a 68-mile, off-road loop that takes you to an elevation of 7,500 feet (pro tip: bring extra fuel).

Off-roading in St. Anthony Sand DunesDavid Buzzard/Shutterstock

Northwest of Idaho Falls, the St. Anthony Sand Dunes rise up to 400 feet above the valley floor, treating off-roading enthusiasts to a day of dune buggy fun, Idaho-style.

Popular trails can also be found around Idaho City, Cascade, Mackay, and all throughout Idaho.

10. Wildflower treks

The spring thaw activates a bloom of vibrant wildflowers in Idaho’s mountains, foothills, valleys and meadows for hikers and roadtrippers to enjoy into early summer.

Wildflowers in front of McGown Peak in the Sawtooth MountainsDanita Delimont/Shutterstock

Experience Idaho’s brilliant wildflowers at these six must-see locations.

11. Jet boating

Hold on for a wild ride as you speed over rushing rapids on a thrilling jet boat trip. Skilled captains navigate riders through scenic country where wildlife and natural beauty are plentiful. 

Jet boating on the Salmon River (Video: Salmon River Tours)

Hells Canyon and the Salmon River offer epic, fun-filled experiences.

12. Ziplining

Nothing compares to the thrill of the wind in your face as you soar over forest canopies, creeks, canyons and valleys at speeds up to 55 mph.

Ziplining in in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (Video: Visit Idaho)

Ziplining in Idaho offers some of the best vantage points to experience the state’s raw beauty as you zip from platform to platform. 

Outfitters are peppered across the Gem State and our diverse geography, so finding some high-speed fun is easy.

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ

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