Fall Scenic Drives Showcase Idaho’s Fall Splendor


With amazing color schemes and crisp, fresh air, fall is a spectacular time of year to explore the picturesque beauty of Idaho.

“Fall is one of the greatest times in the Pacific Northwest, and Idaho in particular, because of the cooler temperatures and the various types of trees, each of which produces a unique color scheme.” says Carl Wilgus, administrator, Idaho Commerce & Labor’s Tourism Division. “It’s just a fantastic time to be out in nature in Idaho.”

The best way to experience the beauty of this time of year is by car. Fall foliage tours and scenic drives are increasing in popularity and so is the opportunity to experience them. Idaho has 27 state scenic byways, each unique to its region, which visitors can travel to enjoy the state’s scenic wonders. Check out the following scenic byways for a glimpse of fall’s beauty in Idaho. For more information on all of Idaho’s scenic byways, visit http://itd.idaho.gov/byways/index.htm.

Idaho’s All-American Roads: The International Selkirk Loop and Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

International Selkirk Loop

Idaho is fortunate to be home to part of North America’s first and only international scenic byway, the International Selkirk Loop. The Loop encircles the breathtaking Selkirk Mountains in north Idaho, northeast Washington, and southeast British Columbia. The towns of Priest River, Dover, Sandpoint, Colburn, Elmira, Naples, Bonners Ferry and Copeland all line this nationally-recognized driving loop. At a distance of 280 miles, the International Selkirk Loop shares the same route as three of Idaho’s scenic byways, the Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway, the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage and the Pend Oreille Valley Scenic Byway.

Recently recognized as an All-American Road by the National Scenic Byways Program, the International Selkirk Loop is considered a “destination unto itself” meaning that travelers visit the road primarily to drive the loop. This, along with other criteria, including outstanding recreational opportunities along the route, helped boost the Selkirk Loop into international status. www.selkirkloop.org.

Northwest Passage Scenic Byway

Idaho’s only other All-American Road is the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway which runs horizontally across the state for 202 miles between Lolo Pass and the town of Lewiston on Idaho Highway 12. This byway follows the original trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805-1806 as they searched for a passage between the Missouri and Columbia Rivers through the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce people. Travelers will enjoy the same scenic beauty, including rivers, canyons, rolling hills and majestic mountain ranges that Lewis and Clark saw on their epic journey. Many historical attractions line the route as well, including the Nez Perce National Historical Park and the Heart of the Monster, a geologic formation and legendary Nez Perce site.

At the town of Kooskia, the route splits and Idaho 13 runs south toward Grangeville and the Camas Prairie. Here, visitors will enjoy the beauty of the natural patchwork of the land which includes fields of wheat, barley, peas, alfalfa and wildflowers. The other route continues east/west along the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River, and includes stunning natural beauty the entire way.

Payette River Scenic Byway

With the roaring Payette River just below, visitors on Hwy. 55 find themselves in awe of the magnitude and beauty of this byway. Rafters and kayakers line these waters in the summer, and into the fall too, offering passers-by a glimpse of the water’s thrilling opportunities. Views of tree-lined mountainsides along the canyon and picturesque, quiet valleys highlight the drive where many specimens of trees and leaves of every color can be found. The mountain towns of Cascade, Donnelly and McCall offer recreational opportunities, as well as unique art galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

Some of Idaho’s most spectacular water views can be enjoyed on this byway which travels along the rocky northern shores of Lake Pend Oreille, the fifth deepest lake in the nation, sculpted by glaciers and the floodwaters of the biggest of the ice age floods that shaped the continent. The 33-mile drive begins at U.S. 95 north of Sandpoint and follows Idaho 200 to the Montana state line. Visitors can enjoy the region’s rugged mountain scenery which seems to shoot straight up from below the water. Numerous beaches line the lake’s 111-mile coastline and the autumn scenery is as breathtaking as the summer.

Sandpoint is a quaint mountain town filled with art galleries, antique shops and restaurants to suit any taste. The recreational opportunities in the area are plentiful here as well, and include mountain biking, hiking, swimming, golfing, boating, camping and fishing.

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

Beginning in the town of Ashton, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway travels north towards the byways main attraction, Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. The southern end is at Idaho 47 in Ashton. Turn northwest on Forest Service Route 294 which leads back onto U.S. 20. These falls, at a height of 114 and 65 feet respectively, offer spectacular views in an enchanting setting. A generous pathway and several viewing platforms increase the experience by allowing guests to get close enough to feel the cascading water. Some of southeastern Idaho’s most compelling scenery can be found along this byway with excellent views of the Grand Teton’s, rolling farmlands and the world famous fly fishing Mecca, Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. This area is also well known for other recreational opportunities including rafting, hiking and wildlife viewing. This hour-long drive is perfect for those who want to view fall foliage but don’t have a great deal of time to do it.

Idaho-Nowhere Near Ordinary

Idaho is home to 27 scenic byways, more whitewater than any other state in the lower 48, unlimited mountains for climbing, trails for hiking, lakes for fishing, 17 ski resorts for winter and summer recreation, and much more. So take a break from it all and come out to play. Idaho — Nowhere near ordinary. Visit www.visitidaho.org for more information and vacation ideas

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