The Fall season is a spectacular time of year to take a break from the norm of everyday living and head out for a scenic Idaho road trip. Overall, Idaho is home to a variety of scenic byways, at least thirty-two appointed byways and backcountry drives ideal for area exploration. The Ponderosa Scenic Byway runs about 130 +/- miles starting from the city of Boise and continues along ID-21, making its way into the beautiful Boise Mountains and the Boise National Forest. The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway features various outlooks and a host of popular destinations along the way. Scheduling additional time to allocate for stops could easily make for a full day of exploration. Featured stops might include Lucky Peak Overlook, the historic Idaho City, Mores Summit, and carrying on to destinations within the Sawtooth Mountain Range. The byway comfortably concludes at the ID-75 junction within the city of Stanley.
Right from the start, this extraordinary byway boasts delightful views across the waters of the Boise River all the way to the Boise River Diversion Dam. The Boise River Diversion Dam makes for an excellent opportunity to stop and enjoy the surroundings, perhaps take some photos, or continue forward and simply observe this neat location while in route. On the adjacent side of the Boise River Diversion Dam, situated on the steep slopes along the roadside, rests the Black Cliffs Rock Climbing Area. This fascinating attraction is tremendously popular among rock climbing enthusiasts and spectators alike. The Black Cliffs Rock Climbing area may also make for a splendid opportunity to check out area wildlife and birdlife that call this area home. Composed of columnar basalt cliffs, there are over 200 climbing routes with varying levels of difficulty that stretch across the wall of the canyon. Proceeding on the Ponderosa Scenic Byway, about 1.7 +/- miles from the Black Cliff Rock Climbing Area sits the Lucky Peak State Park Discover Park Unit, which boasts spacious open grass areas delightfully decorated with abundant mature area tree life. This delightful destination is ideal for taking a break to relax in the shade or grabbing a picnic basket and enjoying a meal with waterfront views of Lydle Gulch and Foote Park. The Lucky Peak State Park Discovery Unit has gained an advantageous reputation for being a favorite among many who enjoy taking to the water by various methods including kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and preferred water gear.
The Lucky Peak Power Plant also calls this area home and is known to boast the infamous ‘Rooster Tail Display’ typically in the Spring. The Rooster Tail is a release of water through a six-foot gate, from the Lucky Peak Dam, that is directed into a stream channel by means of a flip bucket that launches the water high into the air. The water is released at approximately 1,500 to 2,500 cubic feet of water per second and largely dissipates as the water climbs dramatically into the air. Water exceeding capacity at the powerhouse is released as a form of flood risk management and is occasionally presented for a short timeframe as a public presentation while accomplishing the reduction of wear on the main release systems.
Neighboring the Lucky Peak State Park - Discovery Unit rests the Lucky Peak Park - Sandy Point Unit, which brags ample room for parking, gracious spaces of sandy shores adjoining the refreshingly cool waters that attract so many to this location. Features of the park include abounding amenities including picnic tables, pathways, bbqs, outdoor showers, bathrooms, a wealth of tree life ideal for cooling off on a hot day, as well as water equipment rentals. Allocating a few hours of time to discover the fun to be found at the Lucky Peak State Park - Discovery Unit makes for a superb consideration during the warmer weather months.
Continuing further along the Ponderosa Scenic Byway many may take notice of the ‘Keep Your Forests Green’ quote written on the rocks that line the front-facing side of Lucky Peak Dam. The message written in stone alongside the dam makes for an interesting landmark feature that most people wouldn’t expect until they’ve experienced it or discovered it themselves. For those who have a little extra time and would like to explore this area a bit more, making the turn onto S. Lucky Peak Dam Road will take visitors across the dam and opens to a seemingly limitless array of outdoor activity opportunities. Discover Foote Park, turn at the Lydle Gulch Trailhead and continue until visitors reach the park, or perhaps stop and check out the trails for a midday adventure exploring via the Lydle Gulch Trailhead across the arid desert terrain that wraps into the foothills. Lucky Peak Reservoir is a stunning destination with golden rolling foothills as the ideal backdrop. This area is also home to Barclay Bay, Middle Cove, and Turner Gulch which are all fantastic locations to check out if wanting to enjoy the water views, the tranquility of hanging out by the water’s edge or cooling down in the water at Lucky Peak. These areas are definitely worth allotting some extra time for if not an entire trip dedicated to this idea alone. If you decide not to turn at the dam, less than a quarter of a mile ahead on ID-21 leads to the Luck Peak Reservoir View Point, which offers a superior overlook with views stretching for miles down across the tops of the water.
Proceeding north on ID-21 toward Hillstop Station travelers may notice a trail off to the west. This leads into the foothills and is likely E. Highland Valley Road (Dog on Leash) which connects further on to E. Shaw Mountain Road (Dog on Leash) that continues to the Intermountain Bird Observatory and Lucky Peak. The trail can be strenuous though the scenic views from Lucky Peak provide a birds-eye view across the Treasure Valley and beyond. The 360-degree views are simply stated remarkable.
Next continuing along ID-21 comes the Hilltop Station, said to be a ‘must-try eatery’ that may leave you surprised you had not stopped by sooner. Around a quarter of a mile further sits the Boise River Wildlife Management Buildings and a dirt parking lot that leads to the west foothills marked with a trailhead post and signage. Most often there are several vehicles present in the parking lot. This is the Adelmann Mine Trailhead that leads to the neat old Adelmann Mine Structure that still stands to this very day.
Moving on along ID-21, additional common destinations along the scenic byway include Lucky Peak State Park - Marina Unit off E. Spring Shores Road, The Old Toll Road Historical Landmark, Mores Creek Park amp; Robie Creek amp; Robie Creek Park, and Boat Ramp just off Robie Creek Road. You are welcome to note these locations as you pass by or stop and check each of them out individually. There’s plenty to find continuing on. With so much to do in such a short distance, the remainder of the Ponderosa Scenic Byway continues to provide similar opportunities throughout.
Heading onward towards Idaho City, travelers will pass by destinations including the confluence of Grimes Creek and Mores Creek a common fishing and swimming hole for many found just off Grimes Creek Road, Creekside Campground Idaho City, Grayback Gulch Campground, The Springs - Mountain Hot Spring and then proceeding through the center of town in the city of Idaho City. Discovering all the interesting shops, structures, and fascinating history about the Idaho City area could span over a day a few days, weeks, if not a lifetime of area exploration and outdoor enjoyment. Originating as a mining city, this historic location provides the opportunity to stop in and discover several neat historic structures, decades of history, as well as artifacts, neat shops to explore, and is a great location for dining opportunities, community events, and places to take a break before continuing on the byway.
Following alongside Mores Creek up the mountain and keeping on ID-21, other neat stops that sit alongside the byway include Granite Creek Camp Spot and Interpretive Site, Black Rock Campground (significant time investment and distance from ID-21) home to neat rock formations and crystal clear river waters along FR-327/327-Rabbit Creek. It’s easy to get sidetracked by all the fun that surrounds. For now, the list goes on, as does the scenic byway. Heading towards the summit on ID-21 will lead to Mores Creek Summit and Mores Creek Summit Trailhead. This location makes for a fantastic place to stop and take in the fresh air before getting back on the road again and also makes for a great stop for photography opportunities (weather dependent). This particular stretch of the byway does on occasion get closed down during the winter and early spring most often due to rock slides and avalanches.
Proceeding forward from the summit the next few destination crossings will be Whoop Um Up Equestrian Campground, Edna Creek Campground (56 +/- miles from the Boise area), and making way through the community of Lowman. This is a great time to stop and check out the Payette River or continue forward along ID-21 (Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route) to proceed with the next popular hot spot for stopping by. One of the next locations is Kirkham Hot Springs and the Kirkham Campground, then Helende Campground, and the delightful Lowman Nature Ponds. The area is delightfully filled with birdlife, wildlife, critters, and fish in the ponds. Next on the list is a fun one as it’s not as well known and quite the treasure. Easy to miss sits the Bonneville Campground which is the gateway to Bonneville Hot Springs. The dramatic hot springs are worth the short trek and boast various pools. Back on track and next on the list is the turnoff to Grandjean, a popular destination for camping at Grandjean Campground, soaking at Sacajawea Hot Springs, area trails, and a host of outdoor activities.
Back on ID-21 (Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route) the next location that comes up is Banner Summit (Interpretive Signage), this location boasts scenic views of the Sawtooth National Forest. Moving along with more popular stops includes Bench Creek Campground, Bull Trout Campground, Bull Trout Lake, Warm Springs Trailhead, Martin Lake, and Kirkham Ridge Trailhead. Further along and a well off the path though worth adding to the list of places to go at some point in time is Dagger Falls (579 Bear Valley Road to NF-568). Further down the road on ID-21 is the turnoff to Lola Campground, Park Creek Overlook and Ski Area, Stanley Lake (worth stopping to check out if only for a few minutes), Iron Creek Trailhead, and then the byway concludes within the community of Stanley, Idaho.