A Solo Road Trip Through Idaho
By Kim Merryman
I spent much of June on a solo road trip through Idaho in an Escape campervan starting in San Francisco and ending in Denver. As someone who grew up in Colorado, lives in California and spends a lot of time exploring the places in between, I expected plenty of beauty and adventure. But, I didn’t expect many surprises on my trip. I was wrong; Idaho was such a pleasant surprise and it was the highlight of my trip.
In fact, I had such a good time there on my own, I made my friends return with me for a backpacking trip a month later. Read along to follow my Escape route. This route could be followed as I took it from the San Francisco rental location, but you could also pick up a van at the Portland camper van rental location and head east.
Heading East Through Oregon
Having spent a few days in northern California’s Trinity National Forest, Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, and the Cascade Mountains near Bend (you can read about that stretch of the trip on the Escape Blog). I figured it was time to get a little further east, so I took Highway 26—the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway—toward Idaho.
Stop along the way for a hike or a look at the fossils in the Paleontology Center at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It is worth the time if you have it. I stayed the night an hour east of the Fossil Beds at Dixie Campground, a shady spot just off the highway in Malheur National Forest with spacious campsites—great for a stopover. It’s a hunter’s campground, but it was the off-season, so there were only two other sites occupied during my stay.
Make A Quick Stop In Boise, Idaho
The next morning I continued my road trip through Idaho and refueled in Idaho’s capital city, Boise, a hip and metropolitan oasis college town in this part of the country. I stopped at the local roaster called Neckar Coffee for their famed nitro cold brew on tap. I also had them grind me a bag of beans for the next week’s camp pour-overs.
Next door to Neckar, I picked up a memorable breakfast sandwich on a brioche bun from “ā café Boise”. After stocking up on groceries at the Boise Whole Foods and taking who-knows-how-long to decide which beers to purchase from their huge selection of local brews, I headed a few hours northeast toward Stanley, Idaho, population 63.
Camping In Stanley, Idaho
Stanley is a sweet mountain town at the foot of the Sawtooth Range and surrounded by numerous National Forest campgrounds and dispersed camping possibilities. You’ll see plenty of tourists in the summer, but some good local flavor, too. There’s a great bakery with good coffee, a necessary ice cream shop, a couple of spots for groceries. They also have a weekly “street dance” on one of a few commercial blocks in town and a gift shop stocked with both outdoor clothing and local beers, with “a couple of legit restaurants,” said one local.
The Salmon River Campground is 5 minutes down Highway 75 from Stanley, which was lovely and quiet with many sites offering river access. I was glad I chose it over the crowded, noisy campgrounds around Redfish Lake. But I might have preferred the dispersed camp spot along a US Forest Service Road off the highway on the way into Stanley, where I woke up to the camper van surrounded by several elk.
Exploring The Sawtooths and the Salmon River
Stanley is the launchpad for all kinds of outdoor adventures in the mountains and on the water. SUP, kayak, and mountain bikes are available to rent from Riverwear. You can book a day of white water rafting or a fly fishing day trip on the Salmon River, with one of the many guides in town. Or take a hike. I was able to try a few of the trails. Here’s what I recommend.
-For Mountain Biking
- Elk Mountain Loop: This moderate, 11.5-mile trail starts near Stanley Lake and provides amazing mountain views and wildflower meadows. There are some decent uphills and a stretch of good singletrack. Plus, you can go for a swim in the lake after you finish your ride.
- Sawtooth and Alpine Lakes: This 8-12 mile hike (depending on whether you go to one or both lakes) might be one of the most beautiful day hikes I’ve ever done. It’s a moderately strenuous, all-day endeavor, but so worth it. After lunch and swim at Alpine Lake, my old dog seemed pretty sprightly, so we kept going up to Sawtooth. We reached multiple little lakes along the way, all stunning, and then we walked across a short, snow-covered trail to Sawtooth Lake perfectly reflecting the snowy peak on the other side of it. This is a great hike for humans and dogs who love lake swimming.
- Alice Lake: A moderate, 11-mile out-and-back shady hike from Tincup Trailhead, this is another great hike for swimmers. Alice Lake sits in a gorgeous valley beneath the Sawtooths’ El Capitan.
- Farley Lake: You can access the trail to Farley Lake from the Tincup Trailhead as well. It’s about 9 moderately difficult miles round trip. Farley is surrounded by some great camp spots right on the water and nice spots to take a dip in.
Book A Camper Van And Experience a Road Trip Through Idaho
I wished I had more time to spend in Idaho. As I headed south toward Utah, I drove through a few towns I can’t wait to return to and explore places like Ketchum and Sun Valley. I’ve also heard great things about the outdoor offerings near other Idaho towns like Coeur D’Alene and McCall.
Maybe you’ll get there before I do. Book your Escape Campervan from the Portland campervan rental location today and head east towards Idaho!