Idaho’s 131-mile Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (Idaho State Route 21) winds from up-and-coming Boise into the rugged Sawtooth Mountains. The route affords stunning scenery and a few charming towns in the middle of some of the greatest outdoors in the state.
The capital and largest city (pop. 224,384), Boise has a lot to like: a vibrant downtown, easy access to fresh air activities, and a booming craft beer scene. Woodland Empire Ale Caft pours small-batch, experimental brews, and Payette Brewing Co.’s slick Tap Room on the Boise River features a beer garden with food trucks and lawn games.
Less than 10 miles southeast of Boise but a world away, Lucky Peak State Park offers a chance to get outside on the shores of Lucky Peak Reservoir, a boating and fishing haven. While higher-elevation trails are snow-clogged into late spring, the Boise River Greenbelt Trail, a 25-mile stretch that runs from Eagle through Boise to the park, is a year-round walking, jogging, and cycling path.
An 1860s gold rush made Idaho City the largest town in the Pacific Northwest: It had 7,000 residents in 1864, more than Portland or Seattle at the time. The population has since dropped below 500, but trappings of the boom days remain. Explore the storefronts on the Historic Buildings Block and wander into adjacent John Brogan Park, where you’ll find antique mining machines on display.
Hot springs bubble up right in the middle of Lowman, a tiny pocket of civilization on the South Fork of the Payette River. Located on water’s edge in the Boise National Forest, Kirkham Hot Springs is one of the most sublime spots to soak in the West. About a quarter-mile west, Haven Hot Springs is a small resort with a campground, a motel, and a café.