Road Trip: Central Idaho and the Sawtooth Mountains

A 395-mile road trip through Idaho's cowboy country.
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Credit: Dieter Braun

Credit: Dieter Braun


1) Begin this 395-mile journey in Salmon, at the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center,where you’ll get in touch with your inner trailblazer as you learn about the early adventuring exploits of Lewis and Clark and their indefatigable guide. The Lemhi County Museum is equally inspiring, showcasing for visitors the colorful ranching, native, and mining histories that shaped the valley. When you’ve finished learning about the area, explore it first-hand with a soak at the Goldbug Hot Springs in Elk Bend. It’s a soak you’ll have to earn with a steep and shade-less hike from the road, but the state’s most coveted hot springs are your reward. 

2) On your way to Stanley, swing through Sunbeamto visit the late 1800s ghost towns of Custer and Bonanza before getting horseback in the heart of the White Cloud Mountains with Pioneer Outfitters.The outfit can accommodate each of your crew with everything from pony rides for the little buckaroos to extended pack trips for those looking to adventure. But if campfire cooking isn’t exactly what you have in mind, head to Red Fish Lake Lodge featuring Idaho-grown cuisine, rounded out with fare unique to the Northwest. 

3) Take a southward jaunt to Ketchum, stomping grounds of one of the West’s most widely recognized photographers, David Stoecklein. Though Stoecklein has passed, you can visit his works at theStoecklein Gallery in town, as well as many other galleries featuring impressive Western works of art. The Ketchum Sun Valley Historical Society and Heritage Ski Museum displays the town’s thrilling past, and the annual Wagon Daysevent provides the optimal opportunity to dig your heels into the Ketchum of today each Labor Day weekend. 

4) Return to Stanley before continuing southwest to Idaho City to visit the Boise Basin Museum, where stories from the 1860s are told about the region’s largest city that was well-equipped with multiple breweries, bowling alleys, and operas and theaters. Before leaving, don’t miss the chance to wrap up your time in Idaho City with a stop at the Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor.

5) This Wild Idaho mountain tour culminates in the valley town of Caldwell for this August’s Caldwell Night Rodeo. The rodeo’s commitment to its cowboys and the surrounding community have led to an 80-plus-year history. You’ll want to be able to match the energy of this fun-loving crowd, so power up with a true Western meal from Indian Creek Steakhouse. If you’re not in town in August, no worries. The region is rife with wineries serving vintages you’ll gladly tip your hat to.