1. Sun Valley, 2. Sandpoint, 3. McCall, 4. Stanley, 5. Wallace, 6. Salmon, 7. Driggs, 8. Island Park, 9. Bonners Ferry, 10. Priest River. Idaho is well-known for its rugged terrain. The heart of the state is dominated by snow-capped mountains, raging rivers, and dense forests. Idaho's best small towns are gateways to their vast surroundings, located on the outskirts of these wild environments. Simply driving to these small towns is a scenic adventure. Other postcard-worthy activities include whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, and soaking in hot springs. In the winter, visitors flock to these mountain towns for some of Idaho's best skiing and snowboarding. Let's find out the best small towns in Idaho.
Sun Valley is both literally and metaphorically a breath of fresh air. It’s a place where visitors can leave their worries behind, exchanging computer time for time with Mother Nature. It’s a year-round destination where every outdoor enthusiast can find their slice of paradise, from skiing to golfing, hiking to fishing, and so much more. A visit to this small town (home to fewer than 2,000 full-time residents) does, however, necessitate some planning.
Sun Valley can be visited at any time of year. However, there may be times when it is more advantageous to your interests. If you want to go skiing or do other winter activities, go to Sun Valley between December and February, when the town gets the most snow (it averages about 100 inches of snow a year). For warmth, make your way to Sun Valley from June to early September, when you can expect temperatures at least in the 70s, with average temperatures topping out at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Weather Spark. Don’t overlook the fall shoulder season, when the foliage is at its peak between late September and late October.
The Sun Valley ski resort is without a doubt one of the best in the country, with terrain suitable for skiers of all abilities. It is, however, an absolute gem for those with experience who want to push themselves on runs like Inhibition, which has a healthy 70% grade. Those looking to meander can take a three-mile run that weaves all the way from the top to the very bottom of the mountain. Do you want to avoid the crowds? Book a full-day excursion with Sun Valley Heli Ski, which will gladly take you on 6 runs per person, with each run typically ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 vertical feet.
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“Get social with nature”, says the city of Sandpoint. Not that Sandpoint doesn’t have a lovely natural setting; in fact, it was named the “most beautiful town in America” by USA Today and Rand McNally. It is nestled between three mountain ranges, on the shores of Idaho’s largest lake, Lake Pend Oreille, and at the foot of Schweitzer Mountain ski and board resort. Despite all of those accolades, Sandpoint prides itself on “pace” as much as “place”, with a thriving arts community, acclaimed culinary and dining scene, overflowing arts and entertainment calendars, and an authentic small-town, not-a-resort vibe.
Visitors can discover this mighty beautiful place at any pace they want, thanks to the wealth of outdoor activities provided by its lake and mountains. Sandpoint is located on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake, and is surrounded by three major mountain ranges: the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Bitterroot ranges. Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Idaho’s largest ski resort, is located here, as are the International Selkirk Loop and two National Scenic Byways (Wild Horse Trail and Pend Oreille Scenic Byway).
There are thousands of acres to explore in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests surrounding Sandpoint. Downhill skiing is popular in the winter at the nearby Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which is less than 15 miles away. For the millions of tourists who visit each year, Sandpoint has plenty of lodging, dining, and shopping options. Every August, the Sandpoint Festival is one of the most important events in the region, featuring eight nights of live music.
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It doesn’t matter what season or month it is in McCall; it is always beautiful. There’s no shortage of natural beauty in this small hamlet in central Idaho, from the slopes of Brundage Mountain to the shores of Payette Lake. You won’t be able to pass up the chance to truly get to know these breathtaking landscapes, and there are plenty of ways to do so. Brundage Mountain attracts thousands of visitors each season because it has the highest average snowfall in the state. If, on the other hand, you prefer to relax in nature, a visit to the iconic Gold Fork Hot Springs is a must.
This hot spring, located just 30 miles south of town, is one of the most beautiful places in the state to soak. McCall is best known as a winter destination, but there’s plenty to do in the spring, summer, and fall as well. In fact, there’s no better way to take in the region’s breathtaking scenery than on a hike through Ponderosa State Park. This destination does not disappoint with its lake views, wildlife, and dozens of trails.
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While it is often overlooked by visitors due to its small population, rugged western appearance, and dramatic isolation, Stanley is a traveler’s paradise nestled between the Sawtooth Mountains and the Salmon River. But you’ll notice right away that this tiny community has its own cozy, mountain-based culture. In fact, the only difficulty you’ll face is deciding what to do first once you arrive. Stanley is a playground for all adventurers, with beautiful campgrounds, whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, backcountry skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and all-around off-the-beaten-path exploring. And with exhilarating, panoramic beauty on top of that, you’ll find it difficult to leave this special little mountain town.
Stanley is the final stop on the Salmon River Scenic Byway, the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains, and one of the most beautiful small towns in the state. The breathtaking Sawtooths that envelop this peaceful slice of paradise are the main draw for many. This rugged, phenomenally chiseled range forms an imposingly magnificent panorama around the valley and is often referred to as the “heart of Idaho”. The Sawtooth Wilderness also contains some of the state’s most pristine alpine lakes. Others will find a never-ending network of hiking, biking, and walking trails that meander alongside small creeks and rivers and up into the mountains.
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Wallace, Idaho is a mountain town with a lot going for it. Rich in history, small-town charm, and breathtaking beauty, it’s easy to see why Smithsonian Magazine recently named it a must-see destination. Driving through Wallace on Interstate 90 in Northern Idaho, it’s easy to notice the historic character of this small town. This is due to the fact that every downtown facade in Wallace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This historic charm, combined with the surrounding lush mountain valley, makes Wallace a postcard destination. Wallace is a town that is particularly proud of its history. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town, which features original structures from the height of the old mining era, provides a rare glimpse back in time.
Wallace is also a popular destination due to its easy access to adventure. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest surrounds the town on all sides, providing thousands of miles of trails and abandoned mining roads. The renowned Route of the Hiawatha begins 20 miles east of Wallace for bicyclists. The 73-mile Coeur d’Alene Trail also runs through town. The town’s history begins in the late 1800s with the silver mining industry. Wallace, after a long saga of booms, busts, and “the Big Burn”, is now one of the wealthiest mining towns in existence. Visitors can learn about this history by taking guided mine tours, visiting mining museums, or strolling through the historic downtown district.
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There is no doubt that the United States is home to some truly unique towns. In fact, the Gem State is home to some truly spectacular towns. However, one small town that is frequently overlooked on these lists is Salmon, Idaho. This small town in central Idaho has about 3,000 residents, stunning scenery, and a history that many people are unaware of. You’ll fall in love as soon as you drive into Salmon. This small town is located along the Salmon River and has breathtaking views.
On the outskirts of the massive Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the “River of No Return” runs right through town. Salmon, in addition to backyard access to beautiful mountain environments, provides a cultural enclave for moments in between adventures. The Salmon River, which runs through town, is regarded as one of Idaho’s best rivers by rafters and anglers. Several guided trips offered by Salmon outfitters explore all portions of this impressive waterway. Multi-day trips on the renowned Middle Fork of the Salmon are among the guided excursions. Fishing trips up and down the river can also be arranged by local guides.
It’s not just the river that draws visitors to this town of less than 4,000 people. Salmon’s natural landscapes offer some of the best hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in the state. Winter is equally active. Salmon covers all snow-related activities, including downhill skiing at nearby Lost Trail Powder Mountain (one of Montana’s best ski resorts).
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There is no better way to spend a day than exploring one of the state’s numerous small towns. Small-town living reigns supreme in Idaho, so there will be no shortage of charming communities to visit. Driggs is a quiet little town in the heart of the Teton Valley that’s big on adventure and natural beauty. It’s the ideal base camp for an excursion in eastern Idaho, with the Tetons to the east and the Big Holes to the west. This small town serves as a hub for visitors to the Teton Valley, also known as the Idaho side of the Teton Range.
The Teton Valley is also known as the “quiet side of the Tetons”. However, in terms of activities and large landscapes to explore, Teton Valley is a year-round destination. Driggs visitors can reach the backside of Grand Teton National Park by hiking up Teton Canyon. Colorful environments such as Table Rock and Alaska Basin provide postcard views of the spectacular range. Several other multi-use trails in the surrounding Caribou-Targhee National Forest also provide memorable mountain snapshots. The closest town to Grand Targhee Ski Resort is Driggs. This Wyoming ski resort is well-known for its 500-plus inches of snowfall per year. Driggs, 12 miles west of the slopes and across state lines, is a welcoming basecamp for the ski resort. Driggs has a plethora of vacation rentals, as well as a few hotels and cabins.
When it comes to getting away in the Gem State, towns like Sun Valley, McCall, and Coeur d’Alene are frequently at the top of wish lists. Island Park, on the other hand, deserves to be near the top of every Idahoan’s bucket list. This unexpected Idaho town is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts as well as those looking to escape the stresses of daily life. This town has something for everyone, including numerous outdoor recreation opportunities, excellent dining options, and charming lodging options. It is unquestionably a town that is ideal for a weekend getaway. Island Park is in eastern Idaho, close to the Idaho-Wyoming state line. With a population of around 300 people, this town is certainly small.
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Nestled in the Kootenai River Valley of northern Idaho is the quaint town of Bonners Ferry. With a population of 2,543, this small town could arguably be considered the “most Idaho” town ever. Bonners Ferry is simply beautiful, but it also has that friendly small-town charm that makes Idaho communities so special. You can tell that this is a community where people care about one another. Bonners Ferry, located halfway between Sandpoint and the Canadian border, is a popular international destination. The Kootenai River runs through the historic downtown, and three mountain ranges surround the area. Adventure activities abound in this small mountain town of less than 3,000 people.
Everyday outdoor activities from Bonners Ferry include fishing, mountain biking, and scenic driving. Other popular outlets for adventure include camping, boating, and enjoying uncrowded conditions. A 10-mile drive away is the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge, which has several animal sighting opportunities. Bonners Ferry’s historic downtown district has a good selection of local restaurants and shops. The Boundary County Museum is located on the banks of the Kootenai River, close to downtown. This interesting non-profit museum provides an exciting insight into the area’s history. The downtown area has all of the charms of a small town. The historic main street is lined with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. Many of the structures date back to the town’s early days.
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Idaho’s small towns are easy to fall in love with. Each one has a distinct personality that captivates you from the moment you enter the close-knit community. One of the most divine towns, however, is a small town called Priest River. This heavenly small town is nothing short of a paradise. The setting appears to be too good to be true, nestled right along the riverside and surrounded by natural beauty. But, more than that, Priest River is the kind of place that reminds you why you love living in Idaho. Welcome to the beautiful little town of Priest River, Idaho.
The massive Lake Pend Oreille, which borders the southern city limits, adds even more appeal to this peaceful getaway. Tourism in Priest River is driven by outdoor adventure. The town is more of a hidden gem than other outdoor destinations in the state. Recreation in Priest River is defined by its uncrowded and expansive landscapes. Fishing, boating, hiking, and backpacking are all popular activities. Priest River is also one of the International Selkirk Loop’s southernmost stops. This scenic 280-mile drive crosses into Canada. Golfing, rock climbing, and exploring the Priest River Experimental Forest are also nearby activities. During the winter, Priest River serves as a major snowmobile hub.
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