25 Amazing Things To Do in Southern Idaho: Hiking, Kayaking & More Outdoor Fun
January 7, 2024
Southern Idaho is an incredible region with a wide variety of outdoor adventures. From volcanic landscapes to alpine lakes and waterfalls, there is no shortage of beauty. This list includes 25 amazing outdoor adventures all over Southern Idaho.
Whether you recently moved to Idaho or are taking a Southern Idaho road trip, let this list be your guide to discover the best places to visit. This blog is based on my experience spending a month in Southern Idaho in summer 2022.
When To Visit Southern Idaho
Some of the outdoor activities on this list are only seasonally available, such as white water rafting and kayaking. I recommend visiting Southern Idaho between May and September to take advantage of water activities and nice hiking weather. May and September will be the best times to avoid the worst heat and enjoy fewer crowds.
In the winter months, Southern Idaho is still beautiful and is a great time to enjoy skiing, hot springs and more. Your trip will just look different.
How to Get To Southern Idaho
If you’re flying to Southern Idaho, I recommend flying into Boise and renting a car. Stanley is 3 hours from Boise and Twin Falls is 2 hours away.
There is also an airport in Twin Falls but flights are limited and only available via Delta.
This list is divided between 4 regions:
- Boise and Nearby
- Twin Falls and Nearby
- Southern Idaho Desert
- Sawtooth Mountains
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
The Best Outdoor Adventures Near Boise
1. Hike or Bike in Bogus Basin
The Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area is a ski resort in the winter and a destination for hiking, biking and more in the summer. As you hike or bike up the trails, there are some beautiful views of the surrounding area to find. I hiked portions of the Deer Point and Elk Meadows trails and especially enjoyed the meadows full of wildflowers. Be prepared to share the trails with hikers and bikers.
2. Ride the Alpine Coaster at Bogus Basin
Ride the only alpine coaster in Idaho! Glade Runner is a mountain coaster at Bogus Basin that runs in the summer and during the winter holidays. You get to control your own speed but are also safe from flying off the tracks. Either one or two people can ride down in each car. You’ll wind through trees with some great views of the surrounding hills. The coaster can go quite fast and is a lot of fun.
Prices vary but are typically $19 for a single rider or $29 for two riders. You can also get a day pass and ride as many times as you want!
3. Sleep in a Potato
Stay in the most unique accommodation in Idaho at the Big Idaho Potato Hotel! This potato toured the country on the back of a trailer for the Big Idaho Potato campaign. After retirement, it was repurposed into a gorgeous Airbnb with a bright interior and thoughtful details.
The property has a beautiful bathhouse just a few yards away and even a friendly cow named Dolly who lives on the property and loves attention. The inside of the potato includes a fridge, air conditioning, a record player and some potato-themed candy and toys such as a Mr. Potato Head.
The bathroom is especially impressive and includes robes, a fireplace, a skylight and a tub. The home is located about a half hour outside of Boise, out in the country, so bring some food to enjoy a picnic.
This has to be one of the unique places I’ve ever stayed and is definitely worth the price! Add it to your Idaho bucket list if you enjoy unique accommodations. Rates are typically $250 a night and it often books up a couple months in advance.
4. Hike to Table Rock
The Table Rock trail is the most popular trail near Boise for good reason! Hiking to the top of this rock provides amazing views of the city and surrounding foothills. It’s a great spot for sunset.
The trail to reach the top is about 3 miles round trip and you can add on some other trails to explore further. The hike is steep at times and has very little shade, so make sure to bring plenty of water.
Interestingly, there is a giant cross on top of the rock. The story behind the cross is a bit controversial. It was built in 1956 to honor a mailman. The land belonged to the Department of Correction at the time. Then in 1971, the land was sold to the United States Junior Chamber (known as Jaycees). Therefore, it was considered to be private land. In 1994, the ACLU argued (and lost) that the sale of the land should be void. Later in 1999, Rob Sherman, a human rights activist, gave an impassioned speech at BSU where he threatened to bring down the cross. This led to over 10,000 people marching to save the cross. It still stands today, with a nearby sign to explain its history.
No matter your thoughts on the cross, it’s a beautiful hike with some great views of the foothills and the city.
5. Explore the Boise Freak Alley
Talk a walk among murals at Freak Alley in Downtown Boise. The gallery is the largest open-air, multi-artist mural gallery in the northwest. This alleyway encomposses a block of murals that are consistently in transition. One iconic piece reads “Breaking Boise” in the form of the Breaking Bad logo and other pieces incorporate music, animals, plants and more. The gallery changes every year so you never know what you may discover.
There are several great restaurants near the alley. I recommend Barbarian Downtown Beer Bar, Bittercreek Alehouse and Fork.
Tip: Boise is the largest Southern Idaho city and a great place to base yourself for adventures!
6. Walk or Bike the Boise River Greenbelt
The Boise River Greenbelt is a 25-mile path that follows alongside the Boise River. It is the perfect place for walking or biking. Along the way, there is plenty of shade as you pass through various parks and take in views of the river.
Some stops to make along the Greenbelt include the Boise Art Museum, the Boise Rose Garden, the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, Payette Brewing Company and the Bernardine Quinn Riverside Park.
7. Hike or Bike in Camel’s Back
Camel’s Back Preserve is just a few minutes from downtown Boise and a wonderful place to hike or mountain bike near town. You can take in the views of the surrounding foothills and enjoy the desert landscape as you explore.
I hiked the Red Cliffs Nature Preserve trail (a little over 3 miles) and enjoyed the mix of views. There is a small area of the trail that includes red rock cliffs as well.
This area is also popular for mountain biking. Sometimes there are regulations for hikers and bikers to split up between even and odd number days, so check ahead of time for details.
8. Hike to an Abandoned Mine
For a unique trail right outside of Boise, hike up to an abandoned mine! The Adelmann Mine was formerly used to mine gold in the early 1900s. Gold was the primary ore, but records also indicate that silver, lead and quartz was also found.
Today, a 4.7 round trip hike will bring you up close and personal with the mine and amazing views along the way. The trail leading up to the mine is wide and easy to follow, but steep at times.
When you arrive at the trailhead, you’ll park outside of the gates of the Boise River Wildlife Management Area headquarters. There are just a few parking spots available. Walk past the headquarters and you’ll follow what seems to be a former road.
The hike has no shade so be sure to bring plenty of water. Also be prepared for many grasshoppers and watch out for the possibility of rattlesnakes.
When you reach the mine, do not enter it, as it’s very dangerous. Admire it from the outside and take in the amazing foothill views surrounding you.
The Best Outdoor Adventures Near Twin Falls
9. Kayak to Shoshone Falls
Shoshone Falls is known as the ‘Niagara Falls of the West.’ At 212 feet tall and 900 feet wide, Shoshone Falls is actually taller than the real Niagara Falls! You can and should take in the views of the waterfall from above at Shoshone Falls Park. But if you’re looking for more of an adventure, I highly recommend paddling out to the base of the waterfall.
The paddling trip to the waterfall is 8 miles round trip and includes a 200 yard portage. Before your trip, it is important to check water levels and wind conditions for safe passing. AWOL Adventure Sports offer rentals or tours if you’d like to go with a guide.
On your way to the waterfall, you’ll cross under the Perrine Bridge (look for BASE jumpers!), see Pilar Falls (this is where you’ll portage the kayak) and enjoy incredible canyon views throughout the journey. The whole journey will take 4-6 hours and is a lot of fun as long as you have some paddling experience.
10. Walk Behind Perrine Coulee Falls
Perrine Coulee Falls is a beautiful waterfall located not far from where you’ll begin your paddling trip to Shoshone Falls. The waterfall is about 200 feet tall with a trail leading you behind the falling water to the other side.
There is limited parking along the road right next to the waterfall, or you can hike up from a trail beginning along Canyon Springs Road. Either way, it’s a relatively easy trail and a quick walk to see the waterfall up close. This is a beautiful quick stop on your way to or from kayaking the Snake River.
11. Take in the View of Perrine Memorial Bridge
The Perrine Memorial Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in Idaho. It's a 486 feet tall bridge that happens to be the eighth highest bridge in the United States. The bridge is not only scenic, but popular for BASE jumping. In fact, it is known as the only man-made structure in the United States where BASE jumping is allowed year round with no permit.
To see the bridge, you can walk along the Snake River Canyon Rim Trail and even walk across the bridge. I recommend parking at the Twin Falls Visitor Center where you can also learn more about the area and buy a souvenir. If you’re thirsty, there is also a Swig located next door where you can enjoy a refreshing “dirty soda.”
Another stop you can make while exploring the area is the Evil Knievel Jump Site. This is where Evil Kneival tried to jump across the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket in 1974. He failed the jump, but survived the landing.
12. Paddle to Blue Heart Springs
The Blue Heart Springs hold some of the most beautiful blue water I’ve ever seen. This natural spring is shaped like a heart from above and tucked away in a cove below towering canyon walls along the Snake River. In my opinion, this is definitely a must-see in Idaho.
The closest place to rent a kayak or paddle board to reach the spring is from Blue Heart Kayaking. You can also rent from Banbury Hot Springs which is just a bit further.
From Blue Heart Kayaking, it is a ¾ mile paddle to the spring. Note that it will take longer to kayak back than it will to reach the spring due to the current.
We went first thing in the morning on a Sunday and was glad to be some of the first people there. By the time we left, the spring was much more crowded.
The water here is stunning but expect it to be cold if you plan to swim! This was one of my favorite spots in Idaho and should definitely be on your bucket list.
13. Hike into Box Canyon State Park
Box Canyon is a beautiful place to hike or swim and it’s located just down the river from Blue Heart Springs. From the parking lot, you’ll have a great view looking down into the gorge. At the bottom there is a natural spring that produces bright, blue water flowing out of the canyon and into the Snake River.
While you have great views from above, the best way to explore this park is by hiking down into the canyon. I did a 3 mile loop hike that descended down into the canyon on a steep trail and back out of the canyon on a dirt road. Either way you hike down, you’ll reach a swimming area, see a waterfall and enjoy the views.
Depending on the time of day, there is little shade, so be sure to bring plenty of water and be prepared for a strenuous hike.
14. See the Balanced Rock
The Balanced Rock is a very impressive roadside stop where you can admire a 40 ton rock that has been carved by wind to stand precariously on a narrow pedestal. The rock is 48 feet tall and the pedestal it sits upon is only 3 feet by 17 inches.
The rock pedestal was actually reinforced with cement in the 70’s to protect it from vandalism. It was reported in the 1920’s that someone had tried for years to chip away at the rock using a pickaxe.
To reach Balanced Rock, navigate to Balanced Rock Park and keep going just past the park. You get a great view of the rock from the road and there is an area for parking and a covered picnic table.
To get a closer look, you can take a very short but slightly steep trail up to the rock. As you climb up, you can hike up behind it for a better vantage point.
This unique rock is definitely worth a quick stop on an Idaho road trip.
15. Take a Scenic Drive Around Malad Gorge
Malad Gorge is a branch of the Thousand Springs State Park and offers a great scenic drive with multiple views. While you can hike along the rim of the canyon, this park is more about driving between different views than hiking.
When you arrive, pick up a map at the entry gate and you’ll have some information on the six stops around the park. You’ll see a waterfall directly below the highway bridge that flows into an area known as the “Devil’s Washbowl,” aqua blue water flowing through the canyon, rare plants and more.
There is a pedestrian bridge directly over the major waterfall, making it hard to see directly from above. After crossing the bridge over the Devil’s Washbowl, I recommend walking about a quarter mile up the trail to see the waterfall from further away. You’ll get a better view this way!
While the nearby highway and powerplant at the bottom of the canyon take away from the natural beauty here, it’s definitely worth a quick stop if you’re in the area.
16. Visit Lemmon Falls
Lemmon Falls is a beautiful waterfall located across from Ritter Island, a branch of the Thousand Springs State Park. It is a very short walk to reach the waterfall and take in the views. If it’s open, you can also walk across the bridge onto Ritter Island where there are historic sites and more waterfall views.
The Best Outdoor Adventures in the Sawtooth Mountains
17. Go White Water Rafting
White Water Rafting on the Payette River is so much fun on a summer day! There are areas of the river for all experience levels and multiple outfitters that offer rafting trips. I went on a half day trip with Bear Valley River Co and traversed a section of the river that included Class III and IV rapids. It was my first time white water rafting and was quite the thrill!
A rafting trip makes for a great day trip from Boise or is a perfect adventure to do on your way up to the Sawtooth Mountains. Rafting trips typically occur from May to September. In addition to Bear Valley River, other outfitters include Cascade Raft, Idaho Whitewater Unlimited and Payette River Company. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
18. Explore Stanley, Idaho
Stanley is a small town in the Sawtooth Mountains that is the perfect base for outdoor adventure. Visit nearby hot springs, explore the surrounding hiking trails, go white water rafting and enjoy the food in town before and after your adventures.
I recommend breakfast at the Stanley Baking Company and dinner at Stanley Supper Club or Papa Brunee’s. For a casual place to stay nearby, I loved the Stanley RV + Basecamp Lodge.
19. Soak in a Hot Spring
Soaking in a hot spring is one of the best things to do in Idaho! There are several hot springs to explore in the Sawtooth Mountains and each one is special in its own way. They are especially nice to visit in the colder months, but if you visit in the summer, I recommend soaking early or late in the day.
Right on the edge of the town of Stanley, you can visit Valley Creek Hot Springs. There is a large pool to soak in and you’ll get to take in beautiful views of the mountains in the distance with Valley Creek flowing nearby.
Near Lowman, Idaho, you can visit Pine Flat Hot Springs or Kirkman Hot Springs. Pine Flat Hot Springs requires a short and easy hike. When you reach the springs, you’ll find an area of several pools right along the river and even discover a hot spring waterfall. You’ll park at the Pine Flats Campground and pay a $5 fee (or display your America the Beautiful pass) for this hot spring.
Kirkman Hot Springs is popular so go early to beat the crowds. There are a few hot springs right along the Payette River and another waterfall. In the summer months, this is a great place to relax and swim in the river in addition to soaking in the springs.
Other hot springs in the mountains include Boat Box Hot Springs, Sunbeam Hot Springs and Cove Creek Hot Springs.
20. Hike in the Sawtooth Mountains
There are hiking trails for every ability in the Sawtooth Mountains. Personally, I love anything with an alpine lake so I was especially in love with Goat Lake and Alice Lake.
The hike to Goat Lake is 8.1 miles with 1,768 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile of the hike is difficult to navigate and involves climbing up (and back down) loose scree, so make sure you’re prepared with proper shoes, trekking poles and reliable navigation. The reward is a lake of bright blue water framed with mountains behind it.
Alice Lake is often done in combination with other lakes as a backpacking trip. However, I hiked to Alice Lake as a 12-mile day hike. The hike has 1,630 feet of elevation gain and is rated hard. On your way to the lake, there is no difficult rock scrambling but you should plan on multiple river crossings. Alice Lake is stunning and a gorgeous place to have a picnic and admire the surrounding mountains.
If you’re looking for something shorter and easier, I enjoyed the Fishhook Creek trail. This trail is 4.5 miles with 288 feet of elevation gain and rated easy. It will lead you through a forest to a small but picturesque lake.
Be sure to pay attention to trailhead signage and obtain permits for hiking when needed (this is done for free at the trailheads) and always be sure to carry the 10 essentials and check current conditions for any hike.
21. Kayak on Redfish Lake
While you’re exploring the Sawtooth Mountains, one of the best things to do is to get out on the water on Redfish Lake. This is the largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and there are opportunities for kayaking, swimming, boating, fishing and more.
Redfish Lake Lodge marina offers rentals of kayaks, canoes, pontoon boards, paddle boards and more. If you have enough time, paddle to the other end of the lake (it is 4.5 miles long) and take in the views of the mountains overlooking the water.
If you don’t want to get out on the water, you can also relax at the beach area and enjoy some ice cream or food from the grill next to the Redfish Lake Lodge.
The Best Outdoor Adventures In the Southern Idaho Desert
22. Explore Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon National Monument is a must-stop if you’re traveling through Idaho! This unique park is full of volcanic landscapes and made up of lava rocks, cinder cones, caves and more.
There are several stops you can make in one day in Craters of the Moon. Obtain a permit to climb into the caves, hike up the Inferno Cone, explore Devil’s Orchard, see the Spatter Cone and the Snow Cone, and hike the North Crater Trail.
There is a relatively short loop trail around the park and the stops are not far apart. This means you can see a lot in a day or less. No matter how long you have, you’ll be amazed by the wild landscapes here.
The park costs $20 per vehicle for 7 days or is included if you have an America the Beautiful pass. Craters of the Moon is located about 2 hours from Twin Falls and about 3 hours from Boise, but it’s definitely worth the trip.
23. Camp in the City of Rocks National Reserve
City of Rocks is a world class rock climbing destination that is incredible for hiking, camping, climbing and enjoying the scenery.
I camped at site 38 and was so impressed that I could walk directly out onto the rocks for an incredible view of the jagged rocks that surrounded me. I was also extremely close to the “Window Arch,” which is a unique and beautiful rock formation.
This park is a rock climbers paradise, but if you’re not a rock climber, I recommend hiking the South and North Trails for some wonderful views. On the North Fork Circle Trail, you’ll get an amazing view overlooking the various rock faces.
Along with longer hikes, there are some interesting rocks to see right off of the road. You can climb on top of Bath Rock, stop at Elephant Rock, Treasure Rock and more.
The road through the reserve is unpaved and may have some potholes, but most cars should be okay as long as you take it slow and pay attention.
Fun Fact: City of Rocks is one of only two ‘national reserves’ in the United States!
24. Take in the View of Bruneau Overlook
The Bruneau Canyon Overlook provides an amazing view of a deep and narrow canyon. There is a small viewing area that includes signage, a pit toilet and a short path along the rim.
Nearby, you can also explore the sand dunes at Bruneau Dunes State Park.
I highly recommend reaching the overlook by coming from the North and driving though Bruneau and Hot Springs first. I made the mistake of taking many miles of 4x4 roads coming from the east.
25. Hike to the Teepee Rocks
This very unique natural area requires a remote, rough drive and a bit of extra planning. To reach this spot, you’ll drive an unpaved, bumpy road about 10 miles into the national forest where there is little to no cell reception. Make sure to download offline maps ahead of time and have the ability to self rescue. I recommend having a 4x4, high clearance vehicle but it is not explicitly necessary as long as the road is not wet.
When you reach the spot, there is a very small parking area. You’ll then hike about a mile on an ATV road to reach the unique rock formations. The large cone-shaped rocks are stunning and surrounded by sand. This unique landscape is mind blowing.
After visiting most of the United States, Southern Idaho offers some of my favorite destinations. I am in awe of the beautiful landscapes and the wide variety of activities. Refer to this list as you plan your perfect Idaho road trip.
More Idaho Travel Guides:
- The Best Things To Do in Lowman, Idaho
- How To Spend 3 Days in Boise
- The Best Things To Do in Stanley, Idaho
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