Shaped during the Ice Age by the cataclysmic Bonneville Flood, the Magic Valley is something of a geological wonderland, loaded with canyons, rivers, boulders, cliffs and fossils. We embarked on a long driving loop starting at the Malad Gorge, through the Thousand Springs State Park to Balanced Rock, near Buhl.
After driving through Soda Springs and Montpelier, we continued along Highway 30 into the southeastern extreme of Idaho, occupied by Bear Lake and a handful of small towns. It was late October, but winter had come early to the region and a fresh layer of snow was blanketing the ground.
While we were visiting Driggs, we couldn't resist sneaking over into Wyoming for a hike in the Grand Tetons. Sure, we're supposed to be concentrating on Idaho's sights, and yes, there's plenty to see without ever leaving the state. But look at them! How could we resist?!
After an extended stay in Sun Valley, we got back on the road. Destination: Arco. We took Highway 26, which is also known as the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway. It couldn't be more perfectly named. The picturesque aspen-covered mountains of Sun Valley slowly give way to the bizarre lava-formed landscape of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. We were lucky to have stunning weather during the drive: a perfect showcase for Idaho's stunning natural diversity.
Idaho has no lack of scenic byways. There are 30 which criss-cross the state, and during our six-week road-trip through Idaho, we made an effort to complete as many as possible. Each had something recommend it, from historical sites, to crazy geological formations or interesting towns. But for amazing scenery, none beats the Salmon River Scenic Byway.
Starting in Lewiston, Highway 12 traverses the state from west to east, through Indian reservations, along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers, and into some of the state's wildest country, until finally arriving at the Lolo Pass, where Lewis and Clark crossed over from Montana and became the first white men to step foot in Idaho.
The Pond Oreille Scenic Byway follows Highway 200 east from Sandpoint to the Montana border, between the mountains of northern Idaho and its most unforgettable lake.
Across 82 miles of old pine trees, historic towns and sparkling lakes, the White Pines Scenic Byway brought us northeast from Potlatch to the old mission at Cataldo. It was a peaceful stretch of driving, with few other cars and increasingly beautiful nature.
33 miles of paved road between Banks and Lowman constitute the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway. Although we didn't see any elk during our trip, they're a common sight during the winter. Along the road, there's even a turn-out with binoculars pointed at a large plain called Gallagher Flat, where they especially like to congregate.
Wearied by the three-day journey across America, we kept close to Cascade during our first week in Idaho. Not a problem, since there is plenty to see. The day after our loop around Lake Cascade, we drove up to the summit of Snowbank Mountain and completed a short hike to Blue Lake, tucked away in the hills of the Boise National Forest.