Time: 2 days minimum if you want to enjoy the full drive
Roads: You can do this whole loop with road tires. For anyone looking to get dirty, there is also an endless supply of trails off the main road
Google Maps full route guide: HERE
Idaho offers up some tremendous exploratory rides that you can do as a weekend or week-long getaway. The drive from Boise around the Sawtooth Forest area is full of everything from stunning scenery to relaxing hot springs, and outdoor fishing and hiking. Pack your bags, pack your camera, and settle in for a day or multi-day tour around the Sawtooth Forest loop. It’s about time your bike got some exercise.
Image:Big CIty Coffee via Google. A look inside the yesteryear decorated Big City Coffee.
Boise to Lucky Peak Lookout - 13 miles
Whether this is your first time in Boise or you plan to start or end your road trip from here, there are a few sights that might make for a memorable stop along the way. Maybe you’re looking to cure a life of crime or want to know what the penal system looked like before cable t.v. and basketball courts. The Old Idaho Penitentiary makes for a quirky and unnerving stop. The penitentiary used to be the original prison in Boise that opened in Idaho in 1872 and closed just over 100-years later. It was home to some of the areas infamous criminals whose names read of like the dated headlines of their day. “Diamondfield” Jack Davis, Henry “Bob” Meeks, and Lyda Southard were some of the names that spent time in, and sometimes escaping the prison. You can do a cheap self-tour, or take the guided tour for enlightening explanations and access to special rooms.
If you fancy yourself more of a motor-head than a jailbird, you might enjoy a stroll through the Yanke Motor Museum. The museum is a personal collection of old motorcycles, covered wagons, and resorted cars. If you want a guided tour, you'll need to arrange it in advance. A great way to get you thinking about trading in your Ninja for a Norton!
You might be pressed for time on this tour, or just want to pick up some jet fuel for your bloodstream. An excellent stop for a coffee and a quick breakfast is Big City Coffee. A stop here will make a nice addition to the Yanke Motor Museum as it features an old-school feel with rustic decor and a post-war-era vibe. The reviews are top, the feeling is intimate, and they cover all your basic breakfast, pastry, and coffee needs.
Back on the road, you'll want to take the 21 out of town that follows the Boise River and make your way towards Idaho City and Lowman. You could take the other scenic route out on the 55 that goes through to Banks and then cuts across through the Grimes Pass. Just note that the pass is gravel, so depending on what you’re riding you may either enjoy that option or dread it. If you opt to follow this route guide on the 21, one of the first stops for a look around is the Lucky Peak Reservoir Viewpoint. The viewpoint turn is located just at the final bend before heading up North on the 21. There’s an excellent viewpoint and picnic area here. Maybe a good place to try the muffins you just picked up from Big City Coffee.
There’s plenty of fishing options on this route, but if you want to get started early, you can veer off down the road from here to the Lucky Peak Dam Recreation Area. There’s a beach, bbq area, and fishing. The lake is stocked with kokanee, rainbow trout, and smallmouth bass. If you’re lucky, your belly might be stocked with one of those too!
Boise to Lucky Peak Overview
- Drop by the Old Idaho Penitentiary for a look a prison life before cable T.V.
- The Yanke motor museum, a motor head must if your in the city
- Lucky Peak Reservoir, a great place to fish, pic nic, or just enjoy the views
Image: thespringsid.com Just looking at the glowing hot springs should be enough to want to put a swimsuit & towel in your top case
Lucky Peak Lookout to Lowman – 61 miles
Alongside your tool kit, spare gloves, and rain gear, hopefully, you have a swimming suit stashed as well. Just before Idaho City, you'll find a natural hot spring that has been converted to a tourist-friendly hot spot. “The Springs” has a main pool with great views of the surrounding area, or you can book a private hot tub in advance. If you really want to maximize your relaxation, there are some specified kid-free times. Depending on the weather you might be looking forward to a place to pull over and thaw out for a while!
In Idaho City, you can stop and get some pioneer era photos in and around the Idaho City Trading Post. This area was part of the Boise Basin gold rush in the late 1800s. The gold rush was the next major gold rush after California’s a decade or so earlier. In its day the "city" had a population of 7000-people. Today it's home to around 500-residents, and your best glimpse into the past might be buying souvenirs from the trading post and learning about the history.
From here you can press on to tiny Lowman, and if you’re wanting to add some adventure to your tour, Lowman has a few options. Lowman offers up bicycle tours, a bit of rafting, and there is plenty of fishing opportunities in the Payette River. If you want to spend the night here so you can partake in some of the activities, you might want to book into the Southfork Lodge. The lodge is beautifully timber-framed to match the surrounding mountains, has an onsite restaurant, and comes well reviewed.
Lucky Peak to Lowman overview
- The Springs hot spring is a sweet soaking spot. Depending on the weather you might want to stay all day
- Open the doors of the Idaho City Trading Post of a look into their gold mining past
- Lowman, the place to exercise all your outdoor adventure options. Maybe get wet with a bit of rafting
Image: Mike ValknWing A couple of good looking bikes stoped for lunch at the Southfork Lodge
Lowman to Stanley – 59 miles
Coming out of Lowman stick to the 21, well unless you’ve got an enduro that you're looking to do a bit of exploration with. If that's the case, there are all kinds of off-shoot roads that you could venture off into and do some hiking or camping. Otherwise just a short ride down the road you’ll stumble across another set of hot springs. The Kirkham springs are about as natural as they come. Hot water runs out of the mountains and into little pools for you to soak in all of natures glory. Just pay for parking and hike down to the falls for a soak. Depending on the time of year it might be busy. A stop here is what “The Springs” closer to Stanley used to look like before a hefty amount of development dollars.
Just 7-miles up the road is a quality mountainside restaurant and lodge that can fill your hunger gap and keep you fuelled for the road ahead. The Sourdough Lodge offers up clean, comfortable cabins as well as having an excellent little eatery. The reviews make it sound like you're heading over to your uncles' place for lunch and everyone leaves happy.
After the Sourdough Lodge, the road will continue up through the mountains and into the Sawtooth forest, where the road takes a big right curve down towards the town of Stanley. Just outside of Stanley on the edge of the Salmon River sits the Stanley Museum. A tiny little place with history about Stanley and how it was first discovered by Hudson’s Bay Fur Trappers. The lack of beaver in the area forced the trappers to move on. Later gold prospectors set up shop here, but they too were disappointed by the lack of bounty. Today the town of Stanley thrives more off of adventure activities, and if you plan to spend a day or two here, you can enjoy anything from hiking to biking, to trail rides and fishing. A cute place and welcome way to break up the drive, Stanley is a vibrant town with most amenities on offer.
Lowman to Stanley overview
- If you’ve got an off-road bike the area around Lowman is full of off-road options
- Looking for some hot springs more on the natural side, slip into Kirkham hot springs to enjoy all of natures bounty
- Sourdough lodge has a wholesome feel with wholesome food, stop for lunch or stay for the night
Image: Sawtooth Fish Hatchery Facebook. Look at that monster! If you get lucky you might end up with one of these at the end of your line!
Stanley to Ketchum – 62 miles
The 21 ends here in Stanley, and as you pull out of town, you'll be heading South on the 75. Just 7-miles from here is a turn on the 214 into Redfish Lake. Redfish Lake is an excellent stop for outdoor enthusiasts or if the weather is warm, a great place to enjoy the sandy beach. All around the lake are camping options and a lodge if you wish to spend the night. Drop by the visitors center for information on hikes, sleeping, and fishing information.
For fish and non-fish enthusiasts alike, there is an interesting educational stop just a bit further on at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery. Workers here are trying to rebuild salmon populations in nearby rivers, as well as keep an eye on trout populations. They are producing sockeye, chinook, and rainbow trout onsite and you can visit the hatchery year round. Take yourself on a walking tour and ask the workers about how populations are coming along. If you can angle it right, you might even be able to get a photo with a large sockeye and make it look like you caught it!
As you wind your way out of the Sawtooth loop, you'll pass by Sun Valley and through Ketchum. The whole area is bustling with outdoor hikes, golf, resorts, restaurants and the like. If you plan to spend the night around here though, you might want to search out a local gem in Sun Valley. The Sun Valley Opera House is a great family-friendly local that houses movies and concerts in its welcome wooden walls. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is one of a kind, and you’ll enjoy a night out near the mountains too.
Stanley to Ketchum overview
- If you’re packing a pole, steer you way to Redfish lake. We can’t promise the fish will be red, but maybe you’ll see rainbows
- Want to know how fish are made? Poke your head around the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery and see science and sweat working hand in hand
- When you want to make a date night out of it, set up dinner and then a movie at the Sun Valley Opera House. You’ll be happy you did
Image: Sun Valley Opera House via Google. If the seeting of the building is even half as enjoyable as a show here, you're in for a real treat.
From the last part of the route near Ketchum, you can then venture 80-miles further South to Twin Peaks, or swing back 155-miles towards Boise. All in, the loop through the Sawtooth Forest and all its hidden gems will make for an excellent day trip or a weekend away to relax, or get in some fishing. Get out and enjoy Idaho!