Idaho is a bastion of alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, and stunning mountain vistas. Though not traditionally thought of as a must-see hiking destination, the state actually houses roughly 20,000 trails. The Gem State truly lives up to its nickname, by offering hidden gems just around every corner.
Snake River Trail, Hells Canyon
Idaho has no shortage of canyon trails, but Snake River Trail easily puts the rest to shame. The trail winds 27 miles through Hells Canyon, a monstrous and beautiful canyon with walls that tower a thousand feet overhead. During the spring the trail becomes blanketed on each side by wildflowers and the creek running through the canyon sees a steady flow of water. The summer months, while pretty, tend to see the walls of the canyon trap too much heat to make hiking here enjoyable. The trail itself is hilly and often strenuous, filled with switchbacks and rocky outcrops.
Iron Creek Trail, Sawtooth Lake
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is arguably the most beautiful region in all of Idaho. Sawtooth Lake lies right in the middle of the Sawtooth Mountains and the most scenic route to reach it is the Iron Creek Trail. The trail spans five miles and weaves between snow-capped peaks before reaching one of the largest lakes in the park. Though there’s nothing too strenuous to tackle here, the gain in elevation might pose a problem for some hikers. However, it’s spread evenly across the length of the trail, so any experienced hikers will have no issues handling it. Nearby Alpine Lake is also worth a quick side trip.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Craters of the Moon won’t be making the list of any epic hikes across the country anytime soon, but it certainly is one of the more unique options in the state. The 3.5-mile in-and-out trail North Crater Trail houses a collection of lava flow fields that are built up around a system of cinder and spatter cones and volcanic fissures. The topography of the area is something rarely seen within the continental United States and well worth a visit. The North Crater Trail is the most popular way in, though Wilderness Trail to Echo Crater offers better views.
City of Rocks National Reserve
The City of Rocks National Reserve is a 14,000+ acres land region near the Utah-Idaho border that is often referred to as the Silent City of Rocks. The region is covered in steeple rocks and tall spires. The reserve is a popular rock climbing destination in the state, but also offers over 22 miles of beautiful hiking trails to explore. The Window Arch Trail and Creekside Towers offer spectacular sights for anyone seeking shorter jaunts. If you want something a tad more difficult, check out the North Fork Circle Creek Trail. This 6.3-mile hike winds between both the City of Rocks National Reserve and the adjacent Castle Rocks State Park for some of the best hiking in the region.
Bruneau Dunes Loop
Idaho’s mountain landscapes are breathtaking, but for something a little more unique head south to Bruneau Dunes State Park. The park is home to several smaller sand dunes and one 450-foot monster that was created 15,000 years ago in the Bonneville Flood. Today, the 5-Mile Loop through the dunes offers an incredible opportunity to explore this iconic topography while also giving your legs a workout. At the summit of the big dune, you’ll get 360-degree views of the Sand River Valley. The summit overlooks the beautiful Bruneau Lake, along with a dramatic cirque called the Vortex. It also offers views of towering mountains in the distance and crested buttes, along with prairies and marsh habitats.