A Drive Through the Idaho Heartland

Dworshak State ParkIdaho ParksDworshak State Park, located on the western bank of Dworshak Reservoir, is a popular fishing, boating, and archery spot.

Route Details

Trip Tips
Length: About 440 miles.

When to go: Each season offers fine
scenery, but winters are severe, frequently
closing roads at higher elevations. At many
campgrounds and lodgings, reservations are
necessary in summer, the peak season.

Nearby attraction: Snake River Birds
of Prey National Conservation Area, 20 miles
south of Boise.

Further information: Idaho Travel
Council, 700 West State St., Boise, ID 83720;
tel. 800-635-7820, www.visitidaho.org.

Print a map of this route.

Idaho, located at the cross roads of
the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific
Northwest, enjoys an incredible wealth
of scenic diversity. Here, where the
members of the Nez Perce tribe have
made their home for centuries, a few
hours’ drive in almost any direction can
take you from desert to mountain or
from valley to prairie, and then back
again. Best of all, some 4 million acres
of the state are federally protected
wilderness areas; they remain much
as they have always been since the
Lewis and Clark expedition first ventured
into the area, crossed the Bitterroot
Range in 1805, and beheld an
unspoiled land they decided might
best be called, simply, paradise.

1. Boise
French Canadian fur trappers first explored this area in the
early 1800s. Impressed by the
abundance of cottonwoods along
the riverbanks, they decided to
name the place Boisé, which means
“wooded.” American settlers eventually
followed, traveling west on
the Oregon Trail, and today, with
more than 140,000 residents, Boise
is Idaho’s largest city as well as the
state capital.

In a wide valley backed by the
silvery ridges of the faraway
Owyhee Range, Boise boasts an
appealing mix of the old and the
new, the natural and the manmade.
The capitol, with its neoclassical
dome, is the stately
centerpiece, while the historic
district, Old Boise, lies at the east
end of downtown. Also worth a
visit are the sprawling grounds of
Julia Davis Park, which contains
Zoo Boise and offers charming
narrated excursions aboard an
antique steam-engine train. The
Boise Greenbelt, perhaps the city’s
proudest achievement, features
nearly 30 miles of trails along the
banks of the Boise River — the
very area that inspired the early
fur trappers.

2. Payette River Scenic Byway
For a refreshing contrast to city
life, head north on Rte. 55, the
Payette River Scenic Byway. Leading
into wooded wildlands, it soon
becomes one of the loveliest roadways
in the state. The scenery
really picks up at mile 23, where an
overlook affords a view of Horseshoe
Bend, a lengthy curve in the
Payette River.

At Banks, some 14 miles farther
along, the river splits into two
branches. Winding upward, the
byway follows the northern fork,
which makes a tumultuous 1,700-
foot descent in a mere 15 miles.

3. Cascade Reservoir
A dam on the North Fork Payette
River, completed in 1948, created
this large reservoir, which comes
into view about three miles north
of Cascade, a popular resort town.
Long stretches
of sandy shore lure
summertime swimmers
and sunbathers. Camping
is also popular, and
those who spend some
time in the area can fish,
boat, hike, and ride horseback
as well. Rte. 55 skirts
the reservoir’s eastern

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