Enjoy Idaho’s Fall Foliage Splendor on a Scenic Drive

With amazing color schemes and crisp fresh air, fall is a spectacular time to be out and about exploring the picturesque beauty of Idaho by car. Fall foliage tours and scenic drives are increasing in popularity and Idaho has 27 state scenic byways, each unique to its region, where visitors can enjoy the state’s scenic wonders.

International Selkirk Loop
The Selkirk Loop, North America’s first and only international scenic byway, encircles the breathtaking Selkirk Mountain Range as it crosses northern Idaho, northeast Washington and southeast British Columbia. The route itself features brilliant golds and reds amid dark green pine and spruce. 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 travelers visit the road primarily to drive the loop. Learn more about the loop at 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 it searched for a passage between the Missouri and Columbia Rivers through the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce. Travelers enjoy much of 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 enjoy the lush golds and ambers of the natural patchwork of the land which includes fields of wheat, barley, peas and alfalfa.

Payette River Scenic Byway
With the roaring Payette River just below, visitors on Idaho 55 often see rafters and kayakers line these waters in the summer and fall, offering passers-by a glimpse of the water’s thrilling opportunities. The bright yellows and golds of cottonwoods, aspens and tamaracks line mountainsides, canyons and quiet valleys. 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 fall 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 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 enjoy brilliant golden stands of aspen trees and vibrant yellow cottonwoods with eagle’s nests scattered throughout. Bursts of reds, oranges and yellows highlight the quaint mountain town of Sandpoint which is filled with art galleries and antique shops. Recreational opportunities in the area include mountain biking, hiking, swimming, golfing, boating, camping and fishing. Numerous beaches line the lake’s 111-mile coastline and autumn’s scenery is as breathtaking as summer’s.

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
Beginning in Ashton, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway travels north towards Upper and Lower Mesa Falls and features aspens and maples that turn every color from a light gold yellow to fire-engine red. The southern end of the route begins at Idaho 47 in Ashton. Turn northwest on Forest Service Route 294 which leads back to U.S. 20. Mesa Falls, at a height of 114 and 65 feet respectively, offer spectacular views. 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 Tetons, rolling farmlands and the world famous Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. This area is also well-known for its recreational opportunities including fly-fishing, rafting, hiking and wildlife viewing. The 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 is a fall playground, so explore and learn more about Idaho’s scenic byways at itd.idaho.gov/byways. For more information on all of Idaho’s great fall adventures, log on to visitidaho.org.

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