We have traveled North America (with dabbles in South America as well) going on 7 years now and we’ve seen and done more than I could have ever imagined possible. There are, of course, a few places that are so off the beaten path that we have yet to hit up. Northern Idaho was one of these locales that has always piqued our interest. Finally, on our trek to Alaska, we made the Idaho Road Trip happen and found all the amazing Free Things To Do In Idaho!
Much to my chagrin, we aren’t luxury travelers, in fact, with 12 kids, we are uber budget travelers. We seek out as many Free Things To Do as humanly possible. In fact, when we started our Idaho Road Trip, and I was Googling Things To Do In Idaho, I was actually searching for Free Things to Do In Idaho.
Mostly we find hikes and trails and free swimming holes and the like. We try not to be too touristy, and get the feel of the town we are in and the people who live there. This trip we stopped in Boise to make a trip to Urgent Care and Brody, Kenny and Dally ran up to Garden Valley to run the North Fork of the Payette, something that’s been on their bucket list for like 4 years.
Table of Contents
We intended to play at the Boise Whitewater Park, but there was absolutely zero parking for RV’s, so we bailed. In fact, crazy FYI … Boise, while a cool city as far as cities go, is surprisingly not RV friendly. This fact cut short our allocated 3 days in the city to just one day and one night. In fact, no Walmarts in Boise allow RV’s to boondock so we spent the night at a Pilot and then booked it up to Garden Valley, where some of our best friends live. So this is where our story starts … in Garden Valley, ID … where some of our favorite finds were on our Idaho Road Trip.
1) River Fun on the Payette
Garden Valley is home to some of the best whitewater for all levels of paddlers. You have the North Fork of the Payette, Class V, for expert paddlers. There is the South Fork of the Payette for more of the Intermediate paddlers and then the Main for both beginners and Intermediate boaters. In fact, both Elly and Coby paddled down the Main in their Jackson Kayak Fun 1’s and had a blast. It’s great for all river crafts, in fact, Kady, Dally and Cardy took their Shaboomee SUP’s down the Main and the carnage was hysterically fun to watch.
2) The Dirty Shame
After a full day on the river, you gotta head to The Dirty Shame … a bar/restaurant with the BEST pizza ever. This is on the opposite end of Free, as it’s actually super pricey, but delicious, just the same and worth every penny … really. The atmosphere is perfect for any attire. We were just off the river and looked like swamp monsters and no-one batted an eye. In fact, the staff was super nice and helpful and fun.
3) Kelly’s Whitewater Park
If you are planning an Idaho Road Trip, Cascade, ID has to be on your list. Kelly’s Whitewater Park, specifically, has to be on your list. This place is the equivalent to a beach vacation in terms of fun and ease. Grab your boogie boards, your SUP’s, your surf boards, your rafts, your kayaks, your tubes and/or your fishing poles and hit any of the three features in this park. When you need a break from the river, play a game of bocce ball or horse shoes, or even volleyball. The water is warm, the weather is gorgeous, the grounds are impeccable and there is even a visitors building with free Wi-Fi in case you find yourself in need of a download.
In addition, there is a gym and a pool on the grounds as well, and for a reasonable $6 you gain entry to the entire facility.
4) Hot Springs
There are tons of hot springs dotting the area from Garden Valley to Cascade and beyond. Gold Fork Hot Springs is a developed spring in Donnelly, ID, just a short jump from Cascade. The alkaline rich waters will soothe your soul and relax your body, making you totally chill and ready for the next adventure. Totally reasonable prices too, $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 3-9.
5) Lake Cascade
You’ll love Lake Cascade! Several campgrounds, sandy beaches and beautiful weather, make Lake Cascade a destination. It’s reknowned for its fishing … Perch, Coho, Rainbow Trout Brown Trout and Muskie are popular catches. And it’s great for all kinds of boating, but the winds make it ideal for sailing and windsurfing.
6) Our Lady of the Lake
This is where we attended mass as we left Cascade to continue our Idaho Road Trip. It was a pretty church, friendly parishioners, and incredible donuts after the service. Like super delish.
7) Payette Lake
Relax on the beach while the kids play or cool off by joining them in the water. You can rent a wave runner for faster paced fun, but obviously that’s above our pay grade, and not amongst the Free Things to do In Idaho that I googled. There are oggles of hiking and biking trails as well. There are also sunset cruises aboard the Idaho where local history and points of interest are noted.
8) Salmon River
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Our road trips are all about water and our Idaho Road Trip is no different. The Salmon River is a river running mecca. From whitewater rafting to scenic boat tours the Salmon River is a destination. Anglers can enjoy a jet boat fishing tour and fish for Steelhead, Salmon, Sturgeoun, Trout and Bass.
9) Rapid River Fish Hatchery
A stop here is one of the many Free Things to do In Idaho and it’s educational too! At the hatchery you learn all about the Salmon story. Kids learned about gathering mature adults to harvesting salmon embryos. They were educated on the manual fertilization of the adults and how the babies are raised to fingerlings that are released into the rivers to (hopefully) make their way to the ocean.
10) White Bird Battlefield
Now, I’m not gonna lie and tell you this was amazing, or even super cool. In fact it was just kinda cool, for the teacher that I am. As a homeschool mom, I take very seriously my responsibility to teach my kids to be independent thinkers as well as to love learning. Hence, a battlefield where the first battle between the US Army and the Nez Perce Indians occurred is perfect. We imagined the US Army coming over the hills, the Nez Perce descending from across, waving their white flag in surrender. But then, gun shots and a battle that ends in the defeat of the US Army. What would you do then? Would you pack up and leave as many did, would you stay and fight in a sure to loose next battle? So much education in one tiny stop on the side of I-95.
11) Snake & Salmon Rivers
Of course, I’d put these in. And, the obvious activities, kayak, raft and fish … and you can take jet boat tours, fishing tours, etc.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
12) Llama, Horse and Mule Treks
No, we didn’t ride the trails in Hells Canyon in style, because 1) it’s not one of the Free Things to Do In Idaho and 2) our Idaho Road Trip peeps were hot and cranky. However, if I went back I can guarantee I’d ride a llama on a trail. I mean, come on! Do it! Do it, and comment below with photos and a summary.
13) Granite Creek Rapids in a Jet Boat
Again, not one of the Free Things to Do In Idaho, so we didn’t enjoy this amazingness either. But the photos look amazing and if you have the dollars to take your family, I highly recommend it, as the description sounds like a helluva lot of fun!
14) Snake River
The Snake is famous for it’s fishing and Hells Canyon has numerous access points for private anglers, as well as numerous outfits if you are looking for a guide. Also, on a hot summers day, a raft trip would be fun for the whole family. Come on, you knew it was coming …
15) Hiking and Biking, Oh My
Crazy number of trails and not exactly for the inexperienced. These babies are steep and rocky and I’d say, go for it if you have some experience on this type of terrain.
16) City Beach
Meh. We went because it was one of those Free Things to Do In Idaho thing, but if our Idaho Roadtrip was funded, this is the last place we would have gone. The entire scene was off, the water was pretty nasty and the “sand” was just smashed rocks. However, for as less than stellar as the water was, the grounds were clean. There was shade just off the beach and a huge wooden park that the kids loved. Parking was just $1/hour too, which was cool.
17) Rentals & Tours
If you are not budget traveling during your Idaho Roadtrip, there are literally dozens of amazing activities. You can rent boats, jet skis, ATV’s. You can take a cruise on the lake. Fishing tours are readily available as are helicopter and seaplane tours. I mean, literally if it’s a lake activity you can find it here … provided you have the funds. Everything here revolves around the lake, making it an incredibly awesome place to vacation!
18) Free Carriage Rides
Every Saturday night you and yours can take enjoy one of Coeur D’Alene’s finest Free Things to Do In Idaho. From 7-10 pm you can take a carriage ride through downtown Coeur D’Alene!
19) Tubbs Hill
Wilderness in the City! Tubbs Hill is a 2.4 loop trail and is great for all skill levels. The views are beautiful as you wind around the lake … it’s tranquil and peaceful, despite the plethora of people on the trail.
20) Farmers Market
Huckleberries are the name of the game at the downtown Farmer’s Market. You will find them fresh and frozen, in pies and jams. So much deliciousness!
21) City Beach
Much much nicer than the Coeur D’Alene City Beach, the SandPoint beach is clean. And while the sand leaves much to be desired, the area is pleasant and the water is clean. We hung out on the sand and played in the roped off area. There are lifeguards at this beach as well, which is either good or bad, depending on how wild you can get.
We ventured into downtown looking for ice cream and fudge, as it just had this beach town feel. We found both, but we also found the cutest shops inside the Market. Tons of trinkets and souvenirs are to be found. And don’t miss the little art gallery where you can create your own masterpiece!
23) Silverwood Theme Park
Not our scene, and not something we would typically include on an Idaho Roadtrip listicle, but here it is none-the-less. I include it because there is a waterpark with a FlowRider and FlowRiders are epic, though I would suspect not so much in a theme park setting. I was spoiled at Maeva Surf in Laval, QC … instructors here took their time and actually instructed each of us. Anyway, if you are looking for totally contrived adventure … Silverwood is it!
24) Gold Hill Trail
The Gold Hill Trail is one of the most popular for local hikers and mountain bikers. It’s a 3.7-mile trail. The trail leads through a forested setting to panoramic northwest-facing views of the Sandpoint across Lake Pend Oreille with the Selkirk Mountains behind.