After leaving Yellowstone National Park, I drove through the West End of Yellowstone and through the lower tip of Montana into Idaho. First stop was a Walmart parking lot in Idaho Falls because it was getting dark and I was getting extremely tired after a long day of hiking. The next morning I woke up early, about 7a.m., because lets face it sleeping in the truck is not the most comfortable situation. Despite this I felt well rested and began my journey with a quick bite and a large cup of coffee. First stop was the Idaho Falls. When I arrived I sat down on a bench to finish my coffee and take in the beautiful views. You could even see the beautiful Idaho Temple in the distance. As I placed my hand down next to me I felt something hard underneath it. It was a stone that had the moon and some stars painted on it and ironically my next stop was Craters of the Moon National Park. I took the rock as a good omen and hit the road yet again.
If you don’t already know, Craters of the Moon is a large lava flow field that stretches for miles. Here you can explore cinder cones, lava caves, volcanic bombs, tree molds, and it is absolutely fascinating. Some of the tubes go so deep into the ground they still had snow in them which is pretty hard to believe considering it was early August with temperatures in the high 80’s. My favorite part by far was exploring the volcano caves! Be sure to where proper shoes into the caves. Absolutely no sandals because the caves contain sharp lava rocks that you will have to climb over once you are in there.
Idaho is home to not one, but two Dark Sky sites which is a rarity in the United States. A dark sky site means there is restricted artificial light pollution, promoting astronomy. One of these dark sky sites is right in the vicinity of Craters of the Moon, so grab your telescope or binoculars and a camera. You do not want to miss the beautiful night skies of Idaho!
There is a campsite located at the entrance of Craters of the Moon if you decide to crash for the night, but spaces are very limited so be sure to have a back up plan. I did not actually sleep at this campground, just stayed until dark to do some star gazing and hit the road again.
Next Stop, about 70 miles west from Craters of the Moon is Sun Valley, ID. Sun Valley is a quaint little town at the bottom of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Sawtooth Wilderness Area. This town boasts a large ski resort and is home to a lot of Olympians who practice year round.
The plan was to set up camp for 2-3 days and be on our way, however I fell so in love with this area we ended up staying there for 5 full days. I found a campground called Wood River which is in an area classified as Ketchum. You will find this campground right as you are entering the mountains just outside of the town of Sun Valley. The campsite was $10 a night, which is quite reasonable for this area. The sites were well kept, had outhouses, and you could even have campfires here. There are about 8 other campgrounds within a 30 miles radius from here, but if you are going on a weekend I suggest to get there early because all of the campgrounds fill up extremely fast. I arrived on a Thursday and got one of the last campsites available, so I do not recommend showing up on a Saturday or Sunday. You may occupy a campsite for up to 10 days at a time and trust me when I say you could definitely use a full week to explore this area.
If you want a more lavish stay there is a resort in Sun Valley that looked very beautiful in passing (I did not stay there) and if you are looking for a more rugged time, head to the park headquarters and grab yourself a wilderness pass. This pass will allow you to camp in any of the designated camping areas along specified trails if you wish to backpack. Please keep in mind that whatever garbage you take in, you pack out and bear containers are a necessity, as they are very active in this area. Summer months here can get pretty dry so there are strict fire regulations unless you are in a designated fire safe campground.
This entire region is packed with outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, white water rafting, ATV rentals, horseback riding, you name it they probably have it! I can honestly say I have never seen clearer river water than in the Sawtooth Mountain range. Depending on the time of year these rivers are home to bass, trout, steelhead, and more. My suggestions are hiking (of course) and rafting. I hiked a few trails in this area, but my favorite trail was Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake. It is another long hike about 9 to 10 miles roundtrip, but well worth it! The views are absolutely gorgeous and you smell crisp pine the entire way. The trail has lots of fresh water, views of the mountains and spires, wildflowers, wildlife, and of course the view of Sawtooth Lake which is unforgettable. Be sure to bring an extra layer, even in August it is cold and wet at the peak. I would say the temperature dropped about 30 degrees by the time we got to the top (85° to 55°). Also, don’t stop at Alpine Lake, keep going. The signs are a little tricky when you veer off the trail to check out the first lake, but just remember theres a lot more to see. Trail signs become scarce once you complete the switchbacks up the mountain, but the path is clear. You will continue on over some rocks and run off stream water from the lake. I encountered some snow patches as well, but no worries this just means you’re headed in the right direction!
The wilderness of Idaho remains to be one of my favorite experiences to this day. It was truly a rugged yet gorgeous terrain with little to no cell service unless you were in Sun Valley and thats exactly how I like it! It’s a wonderful feeling when you disconnect from the electronics and connect with nature.
I rate this hike as…
10 out of 10 for most scenic hikes
7 out of 10 for easy to follow trail
Difficulty level, moderate.
How I rate Idaho as a whole – MUST SEE!!!!!
Although it was hot during the day it gets VERY cold at night in this area of Idaho (about 40°). The photo below is of me at about 8am when I woke up. I was so cold I slept with my scarf and hat on my head all night!
I will without a doubt be heading back to the Sawtooth and Sun Valley area again in the near future. I would like to see what this beautiful place looks like covered in snow and check out the skiing that everyone raves about! If you thought Idaho was just the potato state, think again!