Essential RV Idaho:
The Ultimate Guide to
Exploring the Gem State
by Jeanenne Tornatore
Those who haven’t been to Idaho may associate it with potatoes, but its official nickname is the Gem State. And, oh, what a gem it is! Its diverse geography and stunning landscapes quickly quell any perceptions that don’t include mountains, streams, and miles and miles of unspoiled natural beauty. Sounds pretty perfect for a RV vacation, doesn’t it? Well, it is, with plenty of parks, preserves and scenic drives suitable for large vehicle recreation. And with epic adventure just off the road and an abundance of options for overnight stays in every region, the Gem State is most definitely full of them for RV travelers.
Whether northern Idaho is the starting or ending point for a trip, this panhandle region is not to be missed. There’s a lot to cover here, from stunning lakes to magnificent mountains and outdoor adventure all along the way.
An area most well-known for its picturesque lakes (more than 55 of them left behind by ice age glaciers), Lake Coeur d’Alene and its namesake town is the perfect place to call home for a few days. Water and mountain activities abound in this thriving community that welcomes visitors year-round, renowned for its golfing, boating and fly fishing in the summer and snowcapped peaks with world-class skiing and backcountry excursion during the winter.
With six scenic byways, eight state parks and popular outdoor attractions like the Route of Hiawatha, a scenic 15-mile downhill biking trail that follows a former railroad route, visitors will find this small region requires a rather big itinerary.
And the popularity of northern Idaho means there’s no shortage of options for RV travelers to find a place to stay and play. The only RV resort in the U.S. with both an 18-hole championship golf course and six pickleball courts among its amenities, Stonebridge Golf Community & RV Resort, in Coeur D’Alene is truly a luxury destination among RV parks. Other options in the area offer lake and riverfront living with beaches and boat launches. Tamarack RV Park is another convenient option with a more woodsy feel, nestled in the tall pines with year-round, full service hookups at every site and easy access to town.
North Central Idaho
This region of the state, with its sweeping landscapes and canyon views, is so much more than just a place to pull over for a photo opp. It’s home to one of Idaho’s largest national recreation areas, North America’s deepest river gorge and trails forged by two of the country’s most famous early explorers.
Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses a vast and remote area of Idaho and Oregon with some of the most dramatic scenery in the state and opportunity for epic adventures including white-water rafting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Recreation season in the lower section of the wilderness typically begins in early spring and runs through November. And for those looking for history, there’s plenty here to be found with artifacts dating back to prehistoric tribes and remains from early miners and settlers.
There are four scenic byways that traverse the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, home to Hell’s Canyon. Travelers on the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway, a 213-mile loop scattered with small towns will find this the perfect route for picturesque views, recreation and taking home a few souvenirs along the way.
Visitors to Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area will find many options for RV camping just outside the entrance of the park in White Bird, Idaho, with some campsites right on the Salmon River. More primitive sites (no RV hookups) can be found at Forest Service campgrounds within the park that are open seasonally from June to November, but space is very limited.
In North Central Idaho, visitors can follow in the centuries’ old footsteps of Lewis and Clark, hiking a portion of the 3,700-mile expedition that traverses the state’s Bitterroot Mountains that’s been designated the Lewis Clark Valley and visiting the Lewis & Clark Discovery Center on the banks of the Snake River in Lewiston. The Valley is renowned for its mountain biking trails for all ability levels and is savored for its locally produced beer and wine.
The Lewis Clark Valley makes an ideal home base for nearby adventures with plenty of options for RV camping, including highly-rated parks like the Hell’s Canyon Resort located on the Snake River with 36 pull-through spaces and 11 back in spaces, all with full hookups.
Heading south along the western border of Idaho, RV road trippers will continue to find an abundance of outdoor recreation, but also some unexpected urban delights – think breweries, wineries and outdoor concerts—in the bustling towns of Boise, McCall and Mountain Home.
The Payette River Scenic Byway is the route to take from the laid-back lake town of McCall to Boise with plenty of activities to explore along the way from the zip line and bike park at Tamarack Resort to an end-of-day soak at Zims Hot Springs.
In Boise, RV visitors will not only find interesting gems like its Basque culinary scene, vibrant downtown and easy access to outdoor adventure, they’ll find plenty of places to stay right in town. Popular local campgrounds include the Mountain View RV Park, known for its central location and long list of on-site amenities and Boise Riverside RV Park nestled in Treasure Valley right on the Boise River.
South of Boise, wildlife enthusiasts will want to detour through the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area to take in this vast and rustic canyon preserve for nesting falcons, owls, eagles and hawks. The Bureau of Land Management has one main campground with facilities as well as two primitive campgrounds for tents, trailers, and RVs.
Heading further down I-84 are the stunning Shoshone Falls (nicknamed the “Niagara of the West”) and the Bruneau Dunes State Park—home to the tallest single-structure sand dunes in North America, where by day visitors can test their skills at sand sledding and boarding (rentals available), and by night enjoy the park’s observatory evenings (March through October), with expert-led programming and telescopes for viewing stars and planets.
And a tour of Southwest Idaho wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the aptly named town of Mountain Home. Home to the Mountain Home Air Force Base, the community hosts air shows, farmers markets and family-friendly events throughout the year.
Options for overnight stays are plentiful in the Mountain Home area, with newer parks like the G7 RV Resort that boasts paved streets and even an exercise room among its amenities, and the Gem State RV Park with large shaded full hookup back-ins and the city pool and park just one block away.
Central Idaho is another region not too be missed, boasting some of the most dramatic scenery in the state. Major mountain peaks, alpine lakes and miles of wildflowers mark this area, only to be broken up by pit stops in picturesque historic mountain towns.
There are many scenic routes to explore in this area of the state from the Sacajawea Scenic Byway down to the Teton Scenic Byway, or driving up through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area via the Sawtooth Scenic Byway and Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway.
The northeastern route from Salmon to Victor on the Sacajawea Scenic Byway is a history-filled corridor with plenty of adventure from backcountry horseback riding, fly fishing, and detours to natural attractions like the spectacular Mesa Falls, with its own scenic 30-mile byway loop and Warm River campground along the way. The campground is a popular one with opportunities for tubing and fishing and accommodates RVs and trailers up to 40 feet long.
Points of interest worth a stop also include the Sacajawea Interpretive Center dedicated to sharing stories of the Lemhi-Shoshone woman’s experience as an interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Yankee Fork State Park, a great place to learn about Idaho’s rich mining history.
Just ahead of the eastern border of Idaho is the Teton Scenic Byway and the charming town of Victor, a great place to set up basecamp for more local outdoor adventure. This 70-mile stretch of byway runs along the western slopes of the stunning Teton Range with access points to historic sites, day hikes and a stop at the Grand Targhee Resort. In the valley, Victor is full of locally-sourced restaurants and outfitters for fishing, rafting mountain biking and more.
There are plenty of RV Park options in the Teton Valley area, from resort-style parks like Teton Valley Resort with high-end amenities including a clubhouse and indoor heated pool to the charming family-owned Aspen Grove Inn at Heise Bridge in nearby Rigby, Idaho.
An equally impressive central-Idaho route – the Sawtooth Scenic Byway—cuts through the Sawtooth National Recreation area which encompasses over 700 miles of trails, 40 peaks and more than 300 alpine lakes. This route also introduces visitors to the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the only dark sky reserve in the U.S. and an unmatched opportunity to find a nearby campsite for a night and see the Milky Way like never before.
And bringing bikes on an Idaho RV trip is a must! Along this route, the Ketchum/Sun Valley area is known for its extensive mountain biking trail system (400 miles of trails) that cater to all ability levels.
Just north of the Sawtooth Scenic Byway is another out-of-this-world natural wonder that is worth a stop. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a vast (and seasonally very hot) ocean of hardened lava flows with a cave system for exploring and trails for hiking. For those who prefer to avoid the heat, an easy seven-mile drive loops around the park.
There are dozens of campgrounds throughout the Sawtooth National Forest that are suitable for RVs and easily accessible to these and other experiences. The Craters of the Moon / Arco KOA campground is a highly-rated option with a heated pool, nightly ice cream social and pet playground among its amenities.
And a drive through central Idaho isn’t complete without a stop in beautiful Sun Valley, home to two world-class ski resorts and plenty of on-mountain action. From gondola rides, golfing, single track trails, kayaking, fishing or taking in an evening concert under the stars, this valley is an outdoor playground of the best kind, whatever the season. While camping options are available in the area, many are on a first-come, first serve basis and can fill up quickly during the high summer season. The nearby Sawtooth National Recreation Area offers sites that can be reserved in advance.
Home to the “Caribbean of the Rockies”, major mountain biking trail systems and sublime soaking in the mineral water of hot underground springs, the southeast region of Idaho is full of its own gems.
In addition to hidden mountain lakes in the area (check out beautiful Bloomington Lake), one of the most well-known water holes for recreation is Bear Lake. With 109 square miles reflecting a tranquil turquoise hue, it’s been aptly deemed the “Caribbean of the Rockies”. The valley surrounding the lake is known for its raspberries with plenty of local places to stop for picking, and overnight stays are easy here with over 500 developed campsites dotted around Bear Lake, many with full hookups like the Bear Lake KOA, and over 300 campsites in the many surrounding scenic canyons.
Visitors looking to test out their pedal power in Idaho need not have their own bikes to enjoy the expansive trail systems found in this region of the state. The town of Pocatello is home to the City Creek Management Area Trail System covering nearly 50 miles of terrain for traversing and taking in the views. And local shops like Barrie’s Sports offer rentals for every type of biker, even those looking for an electric option.
A full day of action in the foothills is suitably followed by an evening respite in the nearby pools in the city of Lava Hot Springs. Open year-round, these world-famous hot pools contain all the minerals that make them therapeutic, but none of the sulfur often associated with natural springs, leaving visitors with only the natural scent of the great Idaho wilderness. And the town itself is a popular spot for road trippers with shops, museums and tubing down the Portneuf River. Plenty of nearby camping options make it easy to plan a post-soak overnight stay. Closest to the hot springs is the Lava Spa Motel & RV Park, directly across the street with full hookup spaces tucked in the trees on the river.
From the wild of its majestic mountains, lakes, canyons, waterfalls and starry nights to the small-town charm of its communities dotted along the dozens of scenic byways that run between, these are the gems that make Idaho a bucket-list destination for an epic RV vacation.