When the Idaho summer comes to an end each year, the seasonal trees begin a chemical process to absorb as much sunlight and nutrients as possible before winter reclaims the land again. These changes cause leaves to change color, splashing the Idaho countryside with dazzling reds, oranges, and yellows. Like many art exhibits, nature’s annual art show is available to viewers for a limited time.
So, before these sights are lost to the snows of winter, we’ve covered two scenic fall drives you can check out, and we’ve offered recommendations for great eats and things to do along the way.
Boise, to Stanley, to Ketchum Loop
If you’re headed from Boise, this trip involves a windy, scenic drive along the Boise River dotted with fall colors up Highway 20 through Idaho City, which during the 1860’s was the biggest city (7,000 residents) in the northwest. Since Abraham Lincoln was president, things have slowed down quite a bit, but there’s still a handful of restaurants, lodging, and hot springs to enjoy.
Further up the road there’s Lowman, which is even smaller than Idaho City and serves as an excellent snowmobile basecamp during the winter season. There’s not much else to do here but soak in some hot springs or swim in the frigid, sometimes turbulent Payette River.
Up in Stanley, there’s more restaurants and lodging available. Views of the Sawtooth Range and colorful Aspens are absolutely exquisite from here. Once you’ve had your fill of Stanley, head south on Highway 75 and stop over at Redfish, Petit, or Alturas Lakes. These blue, crystal clear lakes were left over from ancient glaciers that carved out the Sawtooth Valley.
Further south on Highway 75, once you reach Galena Summit, there’s a lookout that affords amazing views of the Sawtooth Range and seasonal trees that dot the hillsides below. Down from Galena, the scenery between Stanley and Sun Valley is absolutely breathtaking, but even more so with fall colors. In fact, the whole Wood River Valley down to Bellevue is beautiful year round. Just watch out for elk and deer. They’re all over the place up there.
After Bellevue, head west on Highway 20 toward Mountain Home. Along the way you’ll pass Fairfield on the Camas Prairie, which serves as a seasonal wetland breeding ground for numerous birds. The short stretch of the Boise National Forest you’ll pass through before Mountain Home also has plenty of fall colors to behold.
Dine, Overnight, & Experience Along The Way
- Idaho City Hotel – Comfortable lodging with a mining boarding house look and feel.
- Trudy’s Kitchen – Homestyle American cooking with options for gluten-free desserts.
- The Springs – Rent a private soak room or enjoy mountain views from the main pool.
- Lowman Inn – Great food, drinks, and yurt rentals available here all year round.
- Haven Hotsprings/Cafe – Soak in the mineral pool, grab some grub and/or stay overnight in the motel or RV Park.
- Sun Valley Lodge – Idaho’s premiere resort with world-class dining, lodging, and entertainment in central Idaho’s mountains.
- Limelight Hotel – Pet-friendly, luxury lodging and dining in the heart of downtown Ketchum.
- KB’s – Legendary Idaho-themed burritos named after cities in the Gem State.
Hailey & Bellevue:
- Silver Creek Hotel – Suites, solar-heated pool, and Tesla/EV charging in scenic Bellevue.
- The Smokey Bone BBQ – Mouth-watering brisket, smoked chicken, and pulled pork recipes.
- Soldier Creek Brewing Company – Locally crafted beer, food, and fun out on the Camas Prairie.
Boise, to McCall, to Payette Loop
McCall is a favorite destination for Boise residents year-round. The drive to McCall offers a variety of landscapes, from the views of Bogus Basin and the sagebrush dotted hills of the foothills that surround Boise, to the lush forests that surround the Payette River, which Highway 55 follows to the banks of Lake Cascade.
The winding highway and scenic river scenes make for beautiful views along stretches with plenty of deciduous trees. If you have a fishing license, use one of the several turnouts on the highway where you can park, prep your gear, and try your luck for some trout.
There’s lots of color to behold from the aspens and tamaracks in the mountain valley near Cascade. Once you’ve reached McCall, you can wander the banks of Payette Lake, grab some dinner and drinks, and take in the scenery. Beyond Cascade and nearby New Meadows, Highway 55 turns into Highway 95 and snakes southward through colorful mountain valleys and sparsely populated towns like Council, Cambridge, and Fruitland before connecting with I-84.
Dine, Overnight, & Experience Along The Way
- Alpine Lodge – Rustic log cabin rooms and RV parking minutes from Cascade Lake.
- North Shore Lodge – If you finish the Captain Kirk Burger, you earn a place in local glutton history.
- Gold Fork Hot Springs – Mineral-rich waters with varying temperature pools in a beautiful setting.
- Shore Lodge – Four diamond resort with rooms and suites for a satisfying mountain escape.
- Tamarack Resort – If you brought the mountain bikes along, check out the variety of trails here.
- Salmon River Brewery – Awesome beer and food with views of Payette Lake.
- Mundo Hot Springs – Soak in the minerals, grab some food, and even rent a cabin overnight.
We hope you found this guide helpful and inspiring, as you plan some fun weekend road trips in our beautiful state. If there’s routes or fun locales we didn’t cover, let us know. Our community loves swapping stories and info with other adventurers and learning from each other.