Idaho may not be the flashiest of tourism destinations, but it offers a wide range of must-see destinations. Some of the best small towns in Idaho provide glimpses of incredible natural views, while others offer restorative hot springs perfect for weary travelers. Outdoor adventures abound, whether that means hitting the snowy slopes in winter, finding a spot on the sand at a beach in the summer, or gearing up to discover the forest's hiking trails in the fall.
Idaho has long been a critical mining region in the country, and Wallace could be the quintessential example of a small town with a storied past. Visit the Wallace District Mining Museum to see artifacts from the town's mining days and learn about the area's history. The Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum has plenty of photographs and hands-on exhibits; you can even ring the historic depot bell.
With the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, Sun Valley is one of the area's best skiing destinations--it's a popular tourist destination during the winter. But there's plenty to see in the summer, too, when you can check out mountain-climbing treks through the Wood River Valley and Sawtooth National Forest. Fly fishing anglers love the alpine streams that cascade through the valley.
Sandpoint is located along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, a freshwater lake where water activities are as natural as breathing. You can rent a pontoon, sailboat, or fishing charter, but paddleboarding is the real "it" activity for adventure-seekers. If you're not really a water baby, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests have hiking trails you can explore instead. And if you visit during the winter, find some cold-weather adrenaline on the slopes at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, where snowy weather means the best downhill skiing.
Salmon, Idaho, is a small town sitting on the shores of the Salmon River. It's often called "The River of No Return," thanks to its downhill climb. This is the perfect place for anglers who want a challenge and a good catch for their hard work. There are outfitters along the waterway with everything you need. Start off with a guided tour and end the day at one of the small, locally-owned diners in town. These alpine waters are not your average pier-style place to fish. The waters are anything but calm, and you will get wet.
Bonners Ferry is a community of around 3,000 people in the dense forests near the Canadian border. It's here that you'll find Kootenai Wildlife Refuge, a place where all sorts of animals come when they've been hurt or rescued for less-than-ideal circumstances. Spend a few hours driving through the refuge, which spans 2,774 acres. The refuge is home to mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears, and mountain lions.
A slightly larger town, Garden City is a fun place to visit, just a few minutes from Boise. It's home to the Boise River Greenbelt, a dense, wooded area perfect for long hikes. Garden City is best known, however, for its craft brewery scene. Payette Brewing and Boise Brewing are the local favorites, but Garden City has the most concentrated region of breweries in all of Idaho. But the city doesn't just cater to beer drinkers: Garden City also has a fantastic wine scene for the connoisseurs in your group. Check out the latest vintages at Cinder Wines.
A small town of less than a thousand people, Cascade is noted for its outdoor amenities. Like much of the surrounding area, mountain biking and hiking are common activities here, but for some real adventure, take to the ATV trails. Several trails exist throughout the region, with outfitters offering everything you need. Skein Lake Trail, Raft Lake Trail, and Boiling Springs OHV Loop are perfect for the off-roading adventurer in you.
Rigby is an old-style town with numerous historic buildings. The small-town feel of Rigby is perfectly punctuated with historic buildings and a cozy downtown area. This community of 4,000 people is also home to the Saint Anthony Sand Dunes, a place that could double as a desert in any Hollywood film. The Dunes have several places offering dune buggy rentals, and you can ride until the sun sets. For a milder adventure that won't leave sand in everything, consider driving less than 20 minutes north to Rexburg, where you can tour Yellowstone Bear World from the comfort of your car.
Home to only around 500 year-round residents, Lava Hot Springs offers the best hot spring relaxation options in the region. You'll find hot pools to relax in, easing muscle tension and creating relaxation. Lava Hot Springs has a charming downtown area with plenty of antique and souvenir shops. Spend your days between the shops and in the restorative waters, and discover luxury dining in the evenings.
Held every year over Labor Day Weekend, Ketchum's Wagon Days is one of the most unique aspects of the town's history. A component of the experience is the Wagon Days Parade, where non-motorized wagons move through the city. For those that love the pioneer and mining heritage of the state, this is an excellent chance to see a bit of yesteryear in a laid-back, must-see town.
Stanley is home to about 125 people and sits right at the base of Sawtooth Mountain. It's here that you can spend time relaxing along the Salmon River's banks or take in the untouched natural appeal of the surrounding community. Stanley is a lesser-known destination with good fishing, hiking, and river rafting opportunities you'll be glad you found.
Though McCall is a smaller town with less than 3,900 people, it's a popular destination for ski lovers. McCall typically receives more snow than any other place in Idaho, thanks to receiving the highest average snowfall in the state. McCall's ideal for backcountry skiing, with some of the most pristine and untouched areas a little off the well-beaten path.
Driggs is beautiful throughout the year, but the moment there's no chill left in the air and spring arrives, it's one of the best areas for wildlife viewing, thanks to its location in the Teton Valley. It's quiet, beautifully open, and situated under the mountain ridges. It's common to see elk, bears, and moose wandering the area and eagles in the sky.
The pristine waterways and stunning views of Island Park make a stay in one of its cabins a must for outdoor lovers. It's only a short 30-minute drive to Yellowstone National Park, but there's plenty of fishing, boating, and water fun to be had right here along the Snake River. The 11,000-acre Harriman State Park is also excellent for those who want to see the natural habitats of foxes, deer, and various bird species.
Priest River is a small community along the Pend Oreille River in the Selkirk Mountains. While it's cold and snowy in the wintertime, Priest River becomes a golfing mecca in the warmer months. Choose from Pinehurst Golf Course, Stoneridge Golf Couse, and Priest River Ranch Golf Course, any of which offer impeccable views to supplement your match.