15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Idaho

Written by Chantae Reden
Updated on
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Idaho is a state where there’s adventures to be had no matter the season. Winter has snowboarders, skiers, and snowmobilers flocking in from across the country while summer brings in tourists in search of lakeside escapes. With countless mountain peaks, lakes, and natural reserves, this state is the perfect destination for those who could use the great outdoors.

While many other small towns in America resort to gimmicks to lure tourists in, Idaho simply relies on its hospitality and natural beauty. Most small towns are simple, letting the backdrop of snowcapped mountains and sky-high trees set the scene. The state was founded by pioneers in search of a better life – who often settled as miners or homesteaders. Though this was decades ago, the resourcefulness and welcoming atmosphere has yet to die down.

Locals are happy to give outdoor advice and point any visitor searching for serenity in the right direction. The best way to explore Idaho is via a road trip with a car packed to the brim with sporting equipment. You’ll want to take advantage of the state’s attractions as much as you can.

Here are the fifteen best small towns to Visit in Idaho:

1. Stanley

StanleySource: flickr

With less than a hundred residents, Stanley is one of Idaho’s smallest yet most beautiful towns.

Stanley is surrounded by snowcapped mountains and a must-visit small town for adventurers.

You can sleep at a cozy hotel or camp in the wilderness and use Stanley as a base to hike, climb, river raft, horseback ride, soak in hot springs, mountain bike, and explore the surrounding forests.

Because of its friendly community, many people who visit never want to leave.

2. Salmon

SalmonSource: flickr

Salmon is a town clinging to an old wild west identity without the roughness.

The western themed architecture and untouched surroundings might just make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, especially if you’re a city slicker.

You’ll have to venture over unpopulated and rugged terrain to arrive here if you come by car, but it’s worth it.

Salmon is a great base for outdoorsmen, white water rafting, and is next to the Frank Church River of the No Return Wilderness Area.

If you visit during winter, spend the days on the ski slopes, tucked into wooden cabins, and tasting comfort food at the town’s many restaurants.

3. Sandpoint

SandpointSource: flickr

Sandpoint is no stranger to top ten lists featuring Idaho’s best places.

This stunning small town is on the shores Lake Pend Oreille and bordered by the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains.

It’s worth visiting Sandpoint at any time of the year.

When it’s warm, visitors can go standup paddling, fishing, swimming, and boating on Lake Pend Oreille.

Once the snow comes, ski, sled, and snowboard at Schweitzer Mountain.

The town is known for attracting all types of creatives like writers, painters, sculptors, and performers who use the region as a muse for their work.

As a result, Sandpoint has a thriving cultural and arts scene that has events on all-year-round for visitors to enjoy.

4. Priest River

Priest RiverSource: priestriverchamber
Priest River

Priest River exists where two rivers meet just seven miles south of the Canadian border.

The town used to house one of the region’s timber companies, which is why you should visit during the Timber Day Festival and stop at the Timber Education Center.

During winter, it’s a great base for skiing at Schweitzer Mountain and snowshoeing along the river beds.

Summer rarely gets too hot so visitors can enjoy life on the water and go boating, swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, rafting, mountain biking, and so much more.

5. Wallace

WallaceSource: flickr

Wallace was once an old mining town that brought silver into the American West’s economy.

The lure of this precious metal had people migrating over to Idaho in hopes of striking it rich.

Today, silver is still mined in Wallace and visitors can come see how it works at the Sierra Silver Mine, where a retired miner leads visitors of all ages through an underground silver mine and trolley ride.

Wallace is a well-rounded town also offering delicious dining options, plenty of cultural events, and is just steps away from all types of outdoor recreation.

It’s a unique small town that is sure to stand out from everywhere else in Idaho.

6. Preston

PrestonSource: flickr

Before the hit movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” Preston was an unknown blip on a map to most of America – and the rest of the world.

But when Preston resident Jared Hess showcased Preston as being a quirky, lovable, and fun small town, fans came running.

The town took advantage by being the premier site to sell “Vote for Pedro” shirts, tater tots, and chapstick.

Today, Napoleon’s legacy has worn off slightly but Preston has managed to retain its feel-good atmosphere.

Even if you’re not a fan of the quirky film, you should stop to enjoy the nearby natural parks like the Glendale Reservoir and other lakes.

7. McCall

McCallSource: flickr

On the shores of Payette Lake, McCall is a peaceful small town amidst dense forests.

It prides itself on being safe, fun, friendly, and beautiful – and so far, nobody has yet to contend with these descriptors.

During the winter months, McCall hosts the Winter Carnival where people from all over the state come to enjoy the ice sculpture displays, games, live entertainment, and ski or snowboard at nearby Brundage Mountain Resort.

Once the warm weather kicks in, McCall is known for its pleasant temperatures and sunshine making it the perfect place to go hiking, water skiing, horseback riding, and do other outdoor activities.

McCall has a wide variety of accommodation and dining options as well.

8. Hailey

HaileySource: flickr

Hailey started as a pioneer colony, where settlers had to create a community that could survive snowy winters.

Based in the northern end of the Rocky Mountain Range, Hailey is a touch point for outdoor recreation, water sports, and snow skiing.

Autumn is one of the most beautiful months when fire engine-red leaves fall and line the streets.

The residents of Hailey love to celebrate, so there’s a strong chance you’ll be visiting during one of the many festivals.

Some town favorites are the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, the Northern Rockies Music Festival, Crosstober Bike Race and Beerfest, the Sun Valley Film Festival, and the Independence Day Rodeo.

This is all in addition to local performances and smaller events that take place all year round.

The town frequently draws artists of all types who leave a cultural mark on Hailey whenever they visit.

9. Hope

HopeSource: pinterest

Though Hope has less than one hundred residents, it has more personality than many towns ten times its size.

Ask locals to point you in the direction of “Beyond Hope,” and they’ll lead you to a nature reserve filled with whitetail deer and flocks of geese.

It’s not uncommon to see a Bald Eagle in the region as well.

Camp on the Sam Owen Campground to completely immerse yourself in the beautiful nature.

Totally serene, Hope is where you go to truly get away from any stress that exists in your everyday life.

You can easily spend the day relaxing by Lake Pend Oreille, taking a water taxi tour, swimming, and hiking.

And when you do want to go back to a bit of bustle, Hope is just a few minutes away from Sandpoint, another top small town that’s more catered to tourists.

10. Island Park

Island ParkSource: flickr
Island Park

If you’re going to Yellowstone National Park, you can’t miss stopping and enjoying some time in Island Park.

This small town is a paradise for outdoor-addicts of all types – there’s fishing, hiking, camping, hiking, snow sports, and so much more all within a short distance.

If you’re not the camping type, Island Park has tens of wooden lodges that make for the perfect cozy retreat after a long day out exploring.

The town also has the longest main street in America, lined with fun and quirky shops to explore.

Best of all, you’ll be away from the bulk of the Yellowstone crowd if you stay in Island Park yet still just a short drive away.

11. Garden Valley

Garden ValleySource: flickr
Garden Valley

Garden Valley is a small town that’s as peaceful as its name suggests.

It’s the right destination for thrill seekers who still want a place to opt out of the adrenaline and relax.

The typical itinerary here is centered around going out and exploring, then rejuvenating at one of the hot springs or resorts.

During winter, head to the Idaho X-Sports Adventure Park for extreme tubing and heart-pumping snow themed adventures or go for a sleigh ride.

In summer, there’s the Idaho Whitewater Unlimited tour, where you’ll be getting soaked while rafting down the Payette River and horseback riding trail rides through the forest.

Locals can usually be found hanging around the Starlight Mountain Theatre, a venue with live performances, or at the Dirty Shame Saloon, a pizza parlor and western style pub.

12. Bonners Ferry

Bonners FerrySource: flickr
Bonners Ferry

Bonners Ferry is amidst the Kootenai River Valley and surrounded by multiple mountain ranges.

If you love history and enjoying a slow-paced lifestyle, then this small town is a must see for you.

In town, grab a beer from the local brewery, take a tour of the Fairbanks-Morse Generator Plant, and stop by the Pearl Theatre.

There are also a variety of restaurants and antique shops to peruse.

Just a few minutes away from here are natural sites like the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, the Katka Peak Trail, Myrtle Peak, and the Selkirk Scenic Loop.

In winter, you can go snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and even outdoor ice skating.

13. White Bird

White BirdSource: flickr
White Bird

White Bird is an incredible small town that suits any adventure traveler.

Bring a tent or an RV and park at one of the pristine campsites.

Then, spend as long as you’d like exploring the nearby wildlife areas where you can swim, hike, horseback ride, go off-roading, birdwatching, hunting, and fishing.

White Bird is nearby the Salmon and Snake rivers, two important waterways that are an essential stop for anyone weaving their way through Idaho.

14. Montpelier

MontpelierSource: flickr

Don’t let the “Beware of the Bears” sign dissuade you from staying in Montpelier as you enter this quirky small town.

Montpelier is a quirky small town perfect for history lovers and those who are up for a bit of adventure.

It’s surrounded by natural reserves with outdoor activities that will keep you entertained no matter what time of the year it is.

Back in the days, wanted outlaw Butch Cassidy executed one of the biggest bank heists in Montpelier.

Though nobody knows what happened to Butch Cassidy, his legacy lives on in Montpelier, the town hosting the last bank that Cassidy ever robbed.

Today, there are heist reenactments and even a small museum dedicated to this wild time in history.

15. Cottonwood

Dog Bark Park InnSource: flickr
Dog Bark Park Inn

Cottonwood is famous for hosting the Dog Bark Park Inn, a beagle shaped bed and breakfast – though locals call him “Sweet Willy.” A husband and wife duo created this interesting accommodation after making some money selling chainsaw art (carvings done solely chainsaws).

Today, visitors can see Cottonwood from the comforts of the world’s largest beagle sculpture.

Aside from this funky inn, Cottonwood is home to the Monastery of St. Gertrude, the Cottonwood Butte Ski Course, and Raspberry Festival.

The small town even has its own airport.

15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Idaho:

  • Stanley
  • Salmon
  • Sandpoint
  • Priest River
  • Wallace
  • Preston
  • McCall
  • Hailey
  • Hope
  • Island Park
  • Garden Valley
  • Bonners Ferry
  • White Bird
  • Montpelier
  • Cottonwood