TWIN FALLS • With 31 scenic byways around Idaho, you have plenty of options for a long drive before snowy weather arrives.
Idaho is a fairly rural state, and a lot of scenery is tucked away off the main transportation corridors, said Laurie McConnell, spokeswoman for Idaho Tourism. “That’s where (travelers) are going to find historical markers, lesser-known places and great views.”
In particular, RV travelers often look for a scenic route.
“I think travelers are more experiential these days,” McConnell said, adding that people don’t always want to do what’s mainstream or stay in a city for their whole vacation.
And fall is a big time to travel on scenic byways.
What do you need to know before heading out? You’ll find it on the scenic byways webpage run by the Idaho Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism (www.visitidaho.org/scenic-byways). It includes a map and video for each federally designated byway, what you can expect to see, who to contact for visitor information and how long the drive typically takes.
“The site points out the historical attractions, the activities, museum attractions” along each byway, McConnell said.
The state byways website was created in summer 2007 — through a partnership between the tourism division and Idaho Transportation Department — and funded in part by the Federal Highway Administration. Now, the tourism division is migrating all the content to a webpage housed on its site.
The website includes a two-minute video about each byway. The series was produced by Idaho Public Television through a highway administration grant.
South-central Idaho’s scenic byways offer a lot of variety for travelers, said Debbie Dane, executive director of Southern Idaho Tourism.
Two complete routes — Thousand Springs Scenic Byway and City of Rocks Backcountry Byway — are in the seven-county area that Southern Idaho Tourism promotes, and other byways go between regions.
“One of the remarkable things about scenic byways is that they get off the interstate system and into our communities,” Dane said.
1. Thousand Springs Scenic Byway
About 68 miles, this byway runs along U.S. Highway 30 from Bliss to Hansen. Allow about 1 1/2 hours to drive it.
Along the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, travelers get to see the area’s geology, agricultural lands and “spectacular views of the Snake River,” Dane said. “It’s all encompassing.”
Nearby attractions include Thousand Springs State Park and Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.
The byway is a great thing for the Thousand Springs park system, ranger Eric Whittekiend said. Though the route doesn’t go directly through Thousand Springs’ nine park units, it’s nearby and “allows people to take a short jog to get to the parks.”
“The byway is kind of a thoroughfare to kill two birds with one stone with visiting the parks and going along the byway,” Whittekiend said.
The byway also runs near fish hatcheries in Hagerman, and the state byways website lists places to check out in Twin Falls.
How to get there: From Interstate 84, take the Bliss exit. Follow U.S. 30 through Twin Falls to Idaho 50, then travel north to I-84. The byway also can be accessed from Twin Falls along U.S. 30.
2. City of Rocks Backcountry Byway
The 49-mile route — which starts in Albion — has amazing views, Dane said. It goes through City of Rocks National Reserve and loops around to Oakley. Allow about 1 1/2 hours to drive it.
The overarching idea here is a chance to have a western, backcountry adventure, said Wallace Keck, park superintendent for City of Rocks.
The grand scenery and look of the landscape haven’t changed much over the years, Keck said. A lot of City of Rocks history happened along the California Trail.
“I think one of the most remarkable things is that you have the rocks where pioneers literally wrote in axle grease,” Dane said.
The byway goes near the Lake Cleveland recreation area and Pomerelle Ski Area.
One of the trip’s highlights is the Birch Creek area south of Oakley, Keck said. Visitors can expect to see narrow volcanic cliffs and an old stagecoach route.
As you arrive in Oakley, watch for many homes that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Oakley also has the historical Howells Opera House.
How to get there: The byway starts at Idaho 77 in Albion. Travel south to the Conner Creek Junction, then south through Elba and Almo. Along the way, you’ll travel through the City of Rocks National Reserve. From there, continue along Birch Creek to Oakley.
3. Peaks to
The 140-mile route gives visitors a chance to see Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, popular fly fishing destination Silver Creek, ghost towns, Carey Lake Wildlife Management Area and tall mountain peaks.
“Without a doubt this byway has the most diverse stretch of road in Idaho,” according to Idaho Tourism’s scenic byways webpage. “You will experience wetlands, the vistas of the high mountain desert, expansive lava flows, and the Lost River Mountain Range boasting nine of Idaho’s 12 highest peaks including the highest peak, Mount Borah.”
It takes about three hours to drive.
How to get there: From the junction of Idaho 75 and U.S. 20, travel east to Carey. Then, take U.S. 93 to Arco and continue to the junction of U.S. 93 and Idaho 75.
4. Sawtooth Scenic Byway
This 116-mile scenic byway runs from Shoshone to Stanley. Plan to spend about three hours driving.
Along the way, you’ll see mountain ranges, Redfish Lake, and the cities of Hailey, Sun Valley and Ketchum.
While traveling in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, keep your eyes out for wildlife.
“The 756,000-acre recreational area is home to many species of wildlife, including pronghorn antelope, deer, elk, bear and wolves,” according to Idaho Tourism’s webpage.
How to get there: Take Idaho 75 from Shoshone to Stanley.
5. Salmon River Scenic Byway
For history lovers, this 162-mile byway provides plenty of opportunities to stop at historical trails, ghost towns and interpretive centers.
You’ll also see both the Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis national forests, the Salmon River and hot springs. Allow about 3 1/2 hours for this trip.
“Along the way, the town of Challis and the Land of the Yankee Fork Historic Area are just two points of interest, the latter being among Idaho’s most famous mining areas,” according to Idaho Tourism’s webpage.
How to get there: From the Montana state line, travel south on U.S. 93 to Challis, then west to Stanley on Idaho 75.