Ice Caverns, Scenic Byways & More: 4 Unique Winter Road Trips in Idaho

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From soaking in steaming hot springs near frozen waterfalls to walking through breathtaking lava fields, Idaho is brimming with outdoor adventures during the winter. Why save the road trip for summer? There’s plenty to do in this snow-covered wonderland.

Check out these four winter road trips the next time you plan a trip to Idaho.

Road Trip 1: Arco to Twin Falls – Pickles, Lava Flows and Snowshoeing

There’s no better way to kick off a road trip in Idaho than a stop at Pickle’s Place in Arco for their famous fried pickles and pickle popsicles (yes, popsicles)! Easily identified by its bright green exterior, this local joint is the perfect spot to grab a bite for the road. Try the top sirloin steak sandwich – it’s a local favorite.

Pickle’s Place in Arco, Idaho. Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk.

Next, it’s time for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Here, you’ll find a stunning contrast of black and white as you glide through the snow-covered volcanic landscape, ancient lava flows, and powder-covered sagebrush.

More fun in the snow awaits in Albion at the Pomerelle Mountain Resort, home to 30 different trails for beginners and advanced skiers. Feel the rush as you ski down Black Diamond runs like the Punch Bowl and Stampede. Looking for something more relaxing? The Spring Creek run is perfect for folks still learning. And if you want some off-road thrills, enjoy a snowmobile ride around Mount Harrison in Idaho’s backcountry.

Your final stretch is a seven-hour drive northwest to the Snake River Canyon, home to Shoshone Falls. Lace up your hiking boots and hit the 10-mile paved pathway along the canyon’s South rim. Stop by the Twin Falls Visitor Center, see the spectacular rapids of the Snake River, and, of course, check out the main attraction –  the 212 feet tall and 900 feet wide Shoshone Falls, which plummet over basalt boulders into the river below.

Road Trip 2: McCall to Salmon – Magical Hot Springs Along the Scenic Byways

It’s all about relaxation and finding nirvana in Idaho’s great outdoors on this hot springs-inspired road trip. Begin at the Trail Creek Hot Springs, just outside McCall, Idaho. Your best bet to reach the hot springs is via Warm Lake Road, where a short yet steep hike (watch out for heavy snowbanks) will lead you to the stone pools filled with steaming water that gets up to 125 degrees. Each pool has been rigged with PVC pipe, allowing you to control water flow from the river, just in case it gets too hot.  

Kirkham Hot Springs in Idaho.

Two hours away in the tiny hamlet of Lowman, relax in the steaming pools of Pine Flats Hot Spring. Located on a cliff overlooking the Payette River, you can enjoy the warmth of the water while also taking in the stunning mountain views. A hot waterfall naturally feeds the main pool, but another area at the top of the waterfall is a bit easier to access.

Next, it’s off to the Kirkham Hot Springs, located just east of Lowman in the Boise National Forest. Take a snowy walk on the Kirkham Ridge Trail, which connects to several other hikes in the area. When you’re ready to escape the cold, take a dip in this geothermal gem located on the banks of the South Fork Payette River with picturesque views of Mount Cramer, Thompson Peak and Mount Heyburn. About an hour away in Stanley, Idaho, the Boat Box Hot Springs offers a much different experience than the large rocky pools in Lowman. This hot spring consists of a single metal tub, fitting only two people – perfect for a cozy afternoon with your significant other.

You’ll end this trip at the crown jewel of all hot springs, Goldbug Hot Springs, about 20 miles south of Salmon, Idaho. Sink into the warm waters of six pools fed by a stunning cascading waterfall and take in the sights of the Bitterroot Range of the Salmon-Challis National Forest.  

Goldbug Hot Springs during the winter in Idaho. Photo Credit: Troy Smith.

Road Trip 3: Shoshone to Stanley – Sawtooth Scenic Byway

Start in historic Shoshone with a tour of the Shoshone Ice Caves, the state’s largest known lava ice cave. Your tour guide will lead you 100 feet underground, where you’ll see twisted lava rock formations and massive blocks of ice resembling abstract sculptures.

Entrance to the Shoshone Ice Caves. Photo Credit: sandwich.

In town, history lovers will appreciate a walking tour of Shoshone’s historic district. Along the way, you’ll stop at the landmark McFall Hotel, which hosted numerous US presidents over the years, and the Governor’s Mansion. This beautifully restored historic home now operates as a bed and breakfast.

While in Shoshone, don’t miss a trip to the Black Magic Canyon and Reservoir. This slot canyon was created by the Big Wood River over a thousand years ago, leaving behind otherworldly obsidian rock formations.

Next, it’s off to the Sun Valley Resort, a luxurious lodge and world-class ski resort in gorgeous Sun Valley, Idaho! Enjoy a day of skiing or snowboarding on this resort’s two mountains – Bald Mountain’s terrain is perfect for experienced skiers, while Dollar Mountain is best for beginners. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and stroll through Sun Valley Village when you’re done skiing. Pop in some designer stores, dine at one of the many restaurants or aim for a strike at the bowling alley.

The gorgeous Redfish Lake in winter.

You’ll end this trip at Redfish Lake in Stanley, Idaho. While this alpine lake is stunning in the summer, it’s equally gorgeous in the winter months – but it’s more challenging to get to! The snow-covered road to the lake transforms into a cross-country skiing trail in the winter, and the surrounding scenery showcases snowy mountain vistas and iced-over streams. Spend an afternoon exploring the groomed trail or cast a line ice fishing (permits and salmon rules apply).

Road Trip 4: Garden Valley to Bruneau – An Outdoor Winter Escape

Your adventure begins with a magical sleigh ride in rural Garden Valley, Idaho. You’ll gallop through the stunning winter wilderness in an old-fashioned sleigh pulled by black and white spotted draft horses while sipping hot chocolate. Keep an eye out for wild elk on your excursion. Afterward, feast on a homemade Dutch oven dinner of chicken, potatoes, homemade bread, and cobbler at the lodge.

A beautiful snowy sleigh ride.

While you’re in the area, take a detour to McCall for its iconic Winter Carnival, which takes place in late February. Admire the ice sculptures all over town, enjoy live music on the Main Stage, and watch the fireworks in the evening over Payette Lake.

Boise, Idaho, is up next with some winter fun at Bogus Basin. At this outdoor winter recreation center, you can slide down an 800-foot hill on a tube, ski on 88 runs, or take in the mountain scenery on a cross-country trail system. Afterward, spend the evening cheering on the Idaho Steelheads Hockey Team at the Idaho Central Arena – a local favorite during the winter.

A view of the Bogus Basin slopes. Photo Credit: Bureau of Reclamation.

Your final stop is in Bruneau, just south of Boise. Visit Bruneau Dunes State Park for a hike around its stunning lake and sandboarding on the dunes (equipment rentals are available at the Visitor Center). If there’s snow, the dunes are perfect for sledding. Book one of the heated cabins for overnight lodging and views of North America’s tallest single-structured dune, with a peak rising 470 feet.

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