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  • Family fun on a water trampoline in Bear Lake State Park, Idaho
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    From Bear Lake to Montpelier: Water Adventures Meet History

  • Kids playing in the Soda Springs Geyser in Idaho
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    Bubbling Geysers and Oregon Trail History in Soda Springs

  • River cutting through the Swan Valley in Idaho
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    Breathtaking Views and Adventures in Swan Valley and Teton Valley

  • Off-roading on the St. Anthony Sand Dunes in Idaho
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    Experience the Wonders of Yellowstone Teton Territory

  • Traditional dancers at the Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival in Idaho
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    Blackfoot’s Unique Culture and Scenic Backcountry

  • Cyclist on the City Creek Bike Trails overlooking Pocatello, Idaho
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    Urban Outdoor Adventures in Pocatello

  • Tubing down the Portneuf River in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
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    Unwind at the Mystifying Lava Hot Springs

  • Family-friendly camping in a tipi at Downata Hot Springs in Idaho
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    History, Recreation and More in Downey and Preston

Scenic overlook in Massacre Rocks State Park in American Falls, Idaho
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Idaho Road Trip: Off the Beaten Path to Yellowstone

By Jason Macumber

  • Route distance:
    1,218 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Outdoor recreation, scenic wonders and cultural gems await when you choose the Idaho route to and from Yellowstone National Park.

Marvel at the stunning “Caribbean of the Rockies” at Bear Lake, tour historic Soda Springs where Oregon Trail pioneers traveled or spend the afternoon fly-fishing on the Snake River. From stunning natural landscapes to towns filled with history, experience a breathtaking route through eastern Idaho into two national parks before looping back to enjoy more of Idaho’s unique attractions.

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Family fun on a water trampoline in Bear Lake State Park, Idaho
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From Bear Lake to Montpelier: Water Adventures Meet History

After landing at Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah, you’ll head north to Bear Lake. Stretching for 30 kilometers across the Utah border into southern Idaho, Bear Lake is known for its breathtaking turquoise-blue water, earning it the nickname “The Caribbean of the Rockies.” Spend the day paddle boarding, cast a line for some fish or enjoy an exciting excursion on a personal watercraft. Travelers seeking the best sand to soak up the sun on should head to North Beach, while East Beach is a hidden gem thanks to its close-by camping spots. During the summer, don’t miss out on the Raspberry Days Festival which features concerts, games and mouthwatering raspberry treats during the third week of July.

Once you’ve experienced the wonders of Bear Lake, hit the road north to historic Montpelier. Stop by the National Oregon/California Trail Center for a simulated wagon adventure headed west. A live cast of pioneer reenactors will guide you through the stories of those who traveled across the USA, bringing the tales of their journey to life. After the tour, stop by the Pegleg Smith’s Trading Post gift shop for souvenirs such as Western-themed books, jewelry and delicious handmade jams.

307 km
3.5 hours by car
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Kids playing in the Soda Springs Geyser in Idaho
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Bubbling Geysers and Oregon Trail History in Soda Springs

From Montpelier, the adventure continues in Soda Springs, a historic town where Oregon Trail pioneers discovered naturally carbonated springs and learned how to make soda pop out of the bubbly soda water. Sample some refreshing fizzy water at Hooper Springs Park and snap photos at Geyser Park, the only captive geyser in the world. The geyser erupts every hour on the hour and shoots water up to heights of around 21 meters. Golf enthusiasts should plan an afternoon at the Oregon Trail Country Club where you can tee off in style on the nine-hole golf course where you can still see depressions from pioneer wagons and handcarts that passed through. In Thomas Corrigan Park, see the historic Dinkey Engine No. 1, a miniature locomotive that played an important role in the history of Caribou County, transporting supplies to and from the Alexander Reservoir. Train enthusiasts should also check out President Theodore Roosevelt’s stagecoach. After you’ve explored Soda Springs, the scenic valleys and hillsides of Swan Valley await to the north.

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159 km
2 hours by car
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River cutting through the Swan Valley in Idaho
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Breathtaking Views and Adventures in Swan Valley and Teton Valley

After settling into Swan Valley, head to the Palisades Reservoir, set amid a scenic valley with views of the lush hillsides of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. This is an ideal spot for summer boating and paddle boarding, but during the fall, the trees transform into a kaleidoscope of color perfect for photo ops. If you have a sweet tooth or a love for all things quirky, stop by the Rainey Creek Country Store, famous for its square-shaped ice cream. Choose from 16 flavors that can be served square in a cup or cone for a perfect road trip refuel or post-hike treat. Insider tip: Try the Glacier Mint!

Next up on your valley adventure is Victor, Idaho, known as the “Gateway to the Tetons.” A small town nestled in the Idaho backcountry, it provides access to hiking, golf, mountain biking and Nordic skiing, as well as dude ranches, local restaurants and breweries where you can unwind after a day of adventures. While in town, visit the Victor Emporium, a souvenir and tackle shop with an old-time soda fountain in the back known for serving delicious huckleberry milkshakes (huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho and a local delicacy). Once you’ve filled up on all the charms of Victor, it’s time to drive into Wyoming to see Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

166 km
2.25 hours by car
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Off-roading on the St. Anthony Sand Dunes in Idaho
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Experience the Wonders of Yellowstone Teton Territory

This region of Idaho provides easy access to the two national parks paired with a gorgeous scenic drive as you make your way north through Wyoming. In Grand Teton National Park, hiking trails and scenic viewpoints reveal mountain vista after mountain vista. Keep an eye out for local wildlife such as bison, bears, moose and elk. Continue the journey north to Yellowstone National Park, known for its breathtaking views of canyons, alpine rivers and roaring geysers. After exploring these natural wonders, drive back into Idaho to explore Yellowstone Teton Territory and the rest of the Idaho loop, first stopping in Island Park.

Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is one of the world’s best “blue ribbon” fly-fishing locations thanks to its abundance of wild rainbow trout. Whether you’re a veteran angler or a beginner, Henry’s Fork has options for you including outfitters for rentals and fly-fishing guides. At Upper and Lower Mesa Falls, witness the dramatic sight of the Snake River plunging more than 31 meters in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Off-road vehicle enthusiasts should drive to St. Anthony Sand Dunes for a wild ride across the 122-meter-tall, white quartz sand dunes, which offer stunning views of the surrounding wilderness. Vehicle rentals are available in nearby St. Anthony. A remote location that is void of light pollution, the dunes are also a perfect spot for stargazing; a campground is available for overnight stays.

Next, the journey continues to Yellowstone Bear World in Rexburg. This drive-thru animal park features a variety of animals that live in the Greater Yellowstone area, providing an up close opportunity for photos. Families with kids should check out the petting zoo. There’s also a refreshment stand and gift shop with the attraction’s own brand of mouthwatering fudge. Flavors include Black Bear Drool, Moose Much, Huckleberry Swirl and Idaho Rocky Road. Purchase your favorite to bring along for the ride to Blackfoot, the “Potato Capital of the World.”

222 km
2.5 hours by car
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Traditional dancers at the Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival in Idaho
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Blackfoot’s Unique Culture and Scenic Backcountry

Located at the confluence of the Blackfoot and Snake rivers, this city is known for its thriving potato industry, water activities and natural wonders. Begin your visit at the Idaho Potato Museum, which showcases the history, development and process of growing Idaho’s famous potatoes. Even better, the museum offers “Free Taters for Out of Staters,” so you can taste what makes Idaho potatoes so special, from the extra fluffy texture to delicious crispy skin. Before you leave, make sure to snap a selfie with the giant spud sculpture. While in Blackfoot, take a scenic drive through the Blackfoot River Canyon’s backcountry for views of rolling hills, winding rivers and cascading waterfalls. For an afternoon on the water, Jensen Grove Pond offers swimming, boating and more water sports. There’s also a skate park, playground and picnic areas.

Once you’ve made a splash at the pond, drive to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, home to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Travel back in time at the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum and explore exhibits featuring Native American artifacts, beadwork and photographs. Before you go, stop in the gift shop, which offers unique souvenirs such as locally made jewelry, Oregon Trail maps and books written by tribal members. Next door, enjoy the modern amenities and entertainment at the Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel. Known for being one of the best hotels in the area, it features artwork and décor reflecting the Shoshone-Bannock culture. Don’t miss out on the bison sliders at the Camas Sports Grill, one of many fantastic dining options available. Your next stop will be Pocatello, which offers not only more delicious dining but fun-filled adventures in an urban outdoor setting.

42 km
0.5 hours by car
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Cyclist on the City Creek Bike Trails overlooking Pocatello, Idaho
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Urban Outdoor Adventures in Pocatello

With a history rooted in the Wild West pioneer days, Pocatello is home to Idaho State University, Idaho Museum of Natural History and Zoo Idaho, which features native Idaho animals. You can’t miss the world’s one-and-only Museum of Clean – a modern space featuring exhibits on cleaning techniques and tools throughout history. Nearby, Historic Downtown Pocatello is a vibrant city center featuring dining, shopping and entertainment set against a quaint antique backdrop.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find much to love in Pocatello thanks to its ideal location where the Snake River plain meets the Rocky Mountains. The area features access to more than 1,600 kilometers of hiking, biking and walking trails for all skill levels in and around the city, from paved hiking and biking trails to dirt mountain bike and ATV trails. Seeking adventure on the water? The Portneuf River is ideal for a fun paddling trip with multiple entry and exit points and rentals available in the heart of the city. For a fun afternoon with the family, play a game of disc golf. There are five scenic courses speckled across the hillsides of the area that intermingle with the multi-use trail systems. Once you’ve experienced all Pocatello has to offer, Lava Hot Springs is up next on your agenda.

56 km
0.75 hours by car
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Tubing down the Portneuf River in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
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Unwind at the Mystifying Lava Hot Springs

Originally deeded to the state in 1902 as a health and recreation facility, this popular destination still lives up to that reputation today. Dip your toes in the world-famous hot pools and take a relaxing soak in flowing, sulfur-free mineral water with temperatures ranging from 38 to 44 degrees Celsius. Cool off with a tubing excursion on the Portneuf River, voted USA Today’s “Best River for Tubing” in 2016. Experience the excitement of the rapids as you twist and turn on a ribbon of snowmelt. You can find tube rentals throughout town, and it’s easy to take several trips down the river in an afternoon. Take a break from the water at Sunken Gardens, a colorful oasis overlooking the hot pools. Explore the winding paths and marvel at the native and imported flora and fauna situated among rock walls and winding paths. No trip to Lava Hot Springs is complete without checking out the Olympic Swimming Complex. From the Olympic-size swimming pool to water slides, diving platforms and indoor swimming area, it offers fun for the whole family. To fully appreciate the hot springs, stay in a local hotel. The Lava Hotel & Spa is a great family-friendly option, while adults can find relaxation at the boutique Riverside Hot Springs Inn & Spa. Both options come with soaking facilities and a variety of massage therapy options.

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98 km
1.25 hours by car
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Family-friendly camping in a tipi at Downata Hot Springs in Idaho
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History, Recreation and More in Downey and Preston

The grand finale of this Idaho adventure takes you to the cities of Downey and Preston. Downey is home to Downata Hot Springs recreational area with a heated swimming pool, water slides, hiking, biking and ATV trails. For travelers seeking a modern pioneer experience, why not rent a tipi, yurt or Conestoga wagon for the night?

From Downey, travel southeast to Preston, known by movie lovers as the film location for Napoleon Dynamite. In the summer, visitors should check out the Preston Night Rodeo, held at the end of July. Experience the Rodeo Days Parade and bull riding, as well as activities for kids and the Craft, Vendor, and Antique Fair on State Street. Don’t miss a trip to the Oneida Stake Academy. The academy was designed in the Gothic style by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1890 to 1894. A three-story building constructed from hand-hewn stone and one of the only remaining structures from the church’s early education system, this building houses a museum and community center. End your time in Preston with a relaxing stay at Bear River Hot Springs featuring four pools and two water slides, as well as comfortable hotel rooms, cabins and even campsites.

For your final stop in Idaho, spend some time exploring Franklin’s Historic District, which is another site that dates to the early days The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The circa-1860 district is home to Relic Hall, The Hatch House and Franklin Cooperative Mercantile Building. From Franklin, drive south about two hours (roughly 167 kilometers) to fly back home out of Salt Lake City.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
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