Idaho covers 83,574 square miles and can be divided into three major geographical land regions; the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Plateau, and the Basin and Ridge Region. Concerning mountain topography, Idaho is dominated by the Rocky Mountains, which extend from the Idaho Panhandle south along the Wyoming border.
Although there are at least 114 named mountain ranges in Idaho, when people visit Idaho for outdoor recreation, they travel to the central part of the state, near the Sawtooths, White Clouds, and Lost River Ranges. However, other notable mountain ranges include the Bitterroot and Seven Devils Ranges.
The Sawtooth Range, arguably Idaho’s most popular mountain range for outdoor recreation, is located in Central Idaho and reaches a maximum elevation of 10,682 feet at the summit of Thompson Peak. The Sawtooth Range is home to 57 peaks that exceed 10,000 feet in elevation and another 77 that fall between 9,000 and 10,000 feet. Popular peaks in the Sawtooth Range can be viewed or climbed on a number of nearby hiking trails. These peaks include Observation Peak, Alpine Peak, Grand Mogul, Payette Peak, and Parks Peak.
Another well-known mountain range in the Idaho outdoor community is the Lost River Range. The Lost River Range is a high mountain subrange of the Rocky Mountains located in central Idaho. Idaho’s highest point, Borah Peak, sits within the Lost River Range, as well seven of the state’s 12,000-foot peaks. The central portion of the range is the highest and includes some of the state’s tallest peaks like Leatherman Peak and Mount Breitenbach.
The White Cloud Mountain Range, just 20 miles from the Sawtooth Range, lies entirely within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the center of the state. This area is known for its alpine lakes and scenic hiking trails but is also home to recognizable peaks like Castle Peak, the tallest in the White Cloud range, Blackmon Peak and Patterson Peak.
The Seven Devils Mountains rise along Idaho’s border with Oregon and, although they are smaller than other Idaho mountain ranges, this rugged range has elevations varying from 1,000 feet to over 9,000 feet at the summit of He Devil. In fact, the vertical rise from the bottom of Hells Canyon to the peak of He Devil is the highest in the state and forms the deepest gorge in North America.
The Bitterroot Mountains, albeit less popular than aforementioned ranges, stretches almost the entire border between Idaho and Montana. Peaks within the Bitterroots Range average about 9,000 feet, Scott Peak being the highest at 11,394 feet. The Bitterroot National Forest, a 1.6 million acre forest, extends across the center of the range and is a popular area for hiking, biking, camping, fishing and exploring the Idaho wilderness.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is one of the largest National Recreation Areas in the United States and considered Idaho’s crowned-jewel for all forms of outdoor recreation. Four mountain ranges: the Sawtooths, Boulders, White Clouds, and Smokies are highly accessible and provide miles of popular hiking trails and scenic vistas. In the winter, the Sawtooth National Recreation Areas maintains about 150 miles of snowmobile trails and 70 miles of cross-country ski trails. Three National Scenic Byways—the Sawtooth, Salmon River and Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byways are nearby.
Boise National Forest is another popular area for outdoor recreation and offers a variety of options for those interested in hiking, backpacking, or camping. The Red Mountain Trail is a popular trail up to Red Mountain and Blue Lake is considered one of Idaho’s best kept secrets. Just outside of Cascade, Idaho, Blue lake offers views of nearby Snowbank Mountain and Granite Peak.
Mt. Borah is a must-do for mountaineers and experienced hikers interested in traversing Idaho’s tallest mountain. The most popular route, a Class 3 climb, is a 9-mile trek along the Southwest Ridge. Summiting Mt. Borah isn’t a hike but a climb, so hiking poles and expertise are highly recommended.
Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America, offers a variety of accessible hiking trails and scenic viewpoints for travelers. The Snake River Trail is a popular 28-mile trail that winds its way along the Snake River and provides optimal views of the towering canyon. However, there are less-demanding day hikes at lower elevations.
Often referred to as the “City of Trees,” Idaho’s state capital, Boise, is an ideal tourist destination for visitors interested experiencing a vibrant city with scenic foothills, hiking trails, beautiful art exhibits, and sophisticated dining.
Sun Valley is a resort city and popular destination for alpine skiers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience the Sawtooth National Forest - particularly Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain. There are several popular resorts in Sun Valley: Sun Valley Resort, River Run Lodge, Warm Springs Lodge, Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge, and Seattle Ridge Lodge. There are a variety of amenities available for travelers including a gondola, chair lifts, bike trails, hiking trails, shops, and restaurants.
Home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Northwest, Silver Mountain is a year-round resort that caters to outdoor enthusiasts. In the summer, visitors can enjoy a scenic gondola ride, hike to a fire lookout on Kellogg Peak or take the lift to the local bike park. In the winter, Silver Mountain offers 73 trails and 1,600 acres of winter terrain to explore.