Every ‘Thelma-and- Louise’ Style Girls’ Road-Trip Itinerary in Idaho Starts Somewhere Fabulous 

In my own version of the ultimate road- trip movie “Thelma and Louise”; ( i.e. one where I don’t drive off a cliff),  I teamed up with an adventurous and travel-writing doyen gal-pal for a girls’ road-trip itinerary in Idaho and to adventure.  Our fabulous starting point was America’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, in the Great American West , but our road-trip was to take us far beyond the park, headed west, north-west into our own private Idaho. After the scenic, natural and wildlife wonders of Yellowstone we depart the park at West Yellowstone, Montana, the western entrance to the park and a town dedicated to visitors of this natural wonder.

The top must-dos in West Yellowstone

Before departing the park and heading west demand at least a day’s exploration and possibly a night of glamping under the stars.

In this case the top things to do and places to see in West Yellowstone are;

  • Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center: This not-for-profit, wildlife park and educational facility is an amazing opportunity to experience the world of grizzly bears and gray wolves. Furthermore, all the animals featured at the center are unable to survive in the wild and serve as representatives for their wild peers.
  • Under Canvas glamping: Located only 10 minutes from Yellowstone National Park’s West Entrance, it is the perfect spot to experience Montana’s unique hydrothermal and geologic wonders, diverse wildlife and boundless means of outdoor recreation, with a large serving of style.
  • Zipline Adventure Park: Well worth a trip to break up the biking and hiking by zipping through the trees. Especially in the summer when there is also a Ropes Course for the kids to do to.
Girls try the zipline at Twin Falls in Idaho

AWOL zipline Twin Falls Idaho

Image: Zipline Adventure Park. Credit: Visit Idaho.

Yippee We Are Now in Idaho!

Of course we are excited to enter Idaho soon after leaving West Yellowstone and decide to head to Victor. Firstly, we backtrack towards the border of Wyoming and the Teton Mountain Range, via Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. Next, during this stretch, taking a detour for a breather at the wildly beautiful Lower and Upper Mesa Falls is a pitstop you will not regret.

Following on from Ashton, Idaho, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway heads northeast into the lush landscape of the Targhee National Forest. This close- to- thirty-mile loop is hugely impressive, snaking all the way to the Island Park area. Along the way, visitors will spot the popular Warm River campground and two of the most magnificent waterfalls in the West — Lower and Upper Mesa Falls. Following this at the upper falls you can stop at the historic Big Falls interpretive center to learn about the geology and history of the area.

the wonderful Lower Mesa Falls in Targhee National Forest

Lower Mesa Falls

A Sidestep East

Without a doubt the backtracking east is well worth it as we are staying at the fabulous Teton Springs Lodge and Spa, a great option for families, golfers and skiers in winter as it’s located an easy drive from the Teton Mountains and both Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (over the border in Wyoming).  Next on the list, dining and drinks- check! And the spa- heaven for girls ‘roughing it’ in the ‘wilderness’! Of course you can’t forget the sensational breakfast; well a girl needs to keep her energy up on the road!

The famed Teton Mountain Range is a view on the Idaho Road Trip itinerary

Image: Teton Mountain Range. Credit: Visit Idaho

Girls in Idaho Gotta Go West

Finally we are again heading west; making our first stop at Idaho Falls for a visit to the oh-so-memorable Idaho Potato Museum. Even if you routinely ‘don’t do museums’, this one is a MUST! Hint: Marilyn Monroe  and /or mashed-potato fans will love it!

The famous Big Spud outside the Idaho Potato Museum

Idaho Potato Museum

Idaho’s ‘Strangest Little Town’

Following Highway 20 there is a whistle-stop in Arco, a tiny town with a big story. In 1955, tiny Arco won fame as “the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power”. Today, it mainly serves as a jumping-off point for excursions into our next destination, the nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument. Arco is one of Idaho’s strangest little towns. For instance, there are numbers painted on the rock mountain that towers above  the town, and the sign in the park on Grand Avenue explains that graduating high school classes have been adding their class years to the monument since 1920, which makes for a spectacular, if odd, graffiti installation.

Next while exploring Arco, we manage to find the epitome of small-town America diners, Pickle’s Place, complete with an elderly ex-, or maybe current, biker chick with long grey hair and tattoos everywhere, rocking the counter. The Harley complete with a sidecar and American flag parked outside was only to be expected. Now we’re talkin’ Thelma and Louise, but sadly, still no sign of Brad Pitt!

Craters of The Moon National Monument and Preserve: To the Moon Alice! Well, here’s your chance without leaving earth…

Firstly we recommend you start your Craters experience with a stop at the Visitor Center for maps, trail suggestions and information about upcoming presentations, guided hike and events. Visitors to Craters can drive the loop road or hike a variety of trails. In the winter, it is a popular spot for snowshoe treks and cross-country skiing. Plan to stay as the sun goes down and check out the out- of- this- world night because the area is a designated International Dark Sky Park, which means there will be no shortage of stars to observe.

an essential stop in the girls roadtrip itinerary in Idaho is Craters of the Moon National Monument entrance, near Arco.

Image: Craters of the Moon National Monument entrance, near Arco. Credit: Visit Idaho.

Discover Twin Falls

Undoubtedly one of the best things about a girls’ road trip itinerary in Idaho is the unplanned stops or places that delight and exceed your expectations. On this trip, one of our most exciting ‘discoveries’ was the stunning Twin Falls. We enjoyed its many delights so much that we found ourselves wanting to set up camp  and stay awhile. To start with, Twin Falls is one of those road trip ‘finds’ that you simply can’t believe you didn’t know about before.

Moreover, while there we had a dinner fit to civilize even the most ardent of adventuring fast-food girls; at the top of the canyon at Elevation486! With that view and the spectacular food, we felt like royalty. We loved  the fresh Northwest Seafood linguine and Idaho Ruby Red trout, but the Canyon-cut rib eye will be  next on our hit list when we make a return journey. Especially good for the girls who need their iron boost! Not ones to skip on dessert, we topped it off with homemade Apple-Blackberry crisp washed down with Koenig Vineyards Idaho Ice wine. This was a truly fine-dining experience to rave about!

Visit beautiful Perrine Coulee Falls, Twin Falls, Idaho

Image: Perrine Coulee Falls, Twin Falls. Credit: Visit Idaho.

It should be noted when in Twin Falls a stop-off at Snake River is essential. With so many adventure options on our girls road trip itinerary in Idaho, the thrill- seekers among us are sure to have a fantastic time. In our opinion, the kayaking (which was our absolute favourite) is not to be missed. Another fun find was the Blue Lakes Inn; with its quirky 50’s,road-trip style, motel accommodation and friendly family service, it is a recommended stay for all travellers passing through.

Family fun mountain biking near Snake River Canyon in Idaho

Image: Mountain biking near Snake River Canyon. Credit: Visit Idaho.

The Shoshone Falls: who knew?

Visit Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls in Idaho

Image: Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls. Credit: Visit Idaho.

Located at the edge of Twin Falls, Shoshone Falls is a the stand-out attraction and scenic beauty on the Snake River. At 212 feet, the falls are higher than Niagara Falls and offer a unique blend of recreational facilities, including playgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, a boat ramp, swimming area, and a scenic overlook.  Try a picnic in the shaded, grassy areas which provide a perfect vantage point for viewing Shoshone Falls. We never wanted to leave! But the highway calls.

Let’s hit the road!

Following this was stop two! The next leg of our girls’ road-trip itinerary is the easy 2.5 hour drive on Thousand Springs Scenic Byway: it had us increasingly excited to be  heading to Idaho’s capital city of Boise, for a much needed girls’ night out on the town.

a must stop on the girls roadtrip itinerary in Idaho is the overlook for a view of Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls.

Image: Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls. Credit: Visit Idaho.

What a detour; gotta love these dunes!

Before we could make it to Boise we were again distracted; so much to see, so little time. Who doesn’t love a detour, though? Especially when the tallest freestanding sand dunes are calling us to stop at Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park. With the highest dunes reaching 470 feet, we channeled out inner children and hiked to the very top of this adult-sized sandpit. The view and bragging rights make the climb well worth it. The dunes at Bruneau Dunes State Park are unique in the Western Hemisphere. While other dunes in the Americas form at the edge of a natural basin, the Bruneau dunes form near the center. The dunes started with sands from the Bonneville Flood which occurred about 15,000 years ago and, unlike most dunes, the sands here do not drift far from the peaks which overlook the surrounding plains and picturesque lakes.

a fun detour on the girls roadtrip was to vsiit Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park. Idaho

Image: Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, near Twin Falls. Credit: Visit Idaho.

Back on track

Last but not least we tiredly (but happily) finally get back on track for Boise. We were very ready to frock up and see the sights and lights of such a green and beautiful city.

Too many things to delight and discover about Boise:

Downtown Boise Idaho is a green and beautiful city

Image: Downtown Boise. Credit: Visit Idaho.

First up: a two-night stay at Hotel 43 in downtown Boise was just what the road doctor ordered; perfect plush robes, free wifi, Caffe D’Arte coffee AND close to everything. We’re talking right next door to the one and only Chandlers, Boise’s best steak and seafood restaurant where Boise’s upper echelon, folk- in- the- know head for sophisticated cocktails and to be seen. An added bonus for the morning after; free bicycles we could explore on!

Exploring Boise’s Green Belt

With the free bike, why not ride the Boise River Green Belt? Our highlight was the spring blossoms that fell as we rode past, looking like summer ‘snow’. That, tied with startling two gorgeous fawns in the bushes beside the river (which was as startling for us as for them)! Scooters, bicycles, roller skates, running or walking; these 25 miles of pathway and green oasis is one of the city’s most loved assets, providing wildlife habitat, scenic views and pedestrian access to the city’s popular riverside parks.

Biking tracks, Boise River Green Belt give access to many of the city parks

Image: Biking tracks, Boise River Green Belt. Credit: Visit Idaho.

Calling all culture and history buffs; here are our top Boise suggestions for things to see and do:

Food culture is a taste sensation at the Basque Market in Boise Idaho

Image: The Basque Market. Credit: Visit Idaho.

History and culture buffs will love the Nez Perce National Historical Visitor Center

Image: Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center. Credit: Visit Idaho.

Wildlife and conservation your thing?

If you answered yes, we have the perfect suggestion: The Worldwide Center for Birds of Prey. Wonderful and wild, you can drop in to hear the heartwarming story of how they saved the Peregrine falcon from extinction; a joyous tale of conservation success. Now home for raptors who cannot be returned to the wild, this is a haven for unique animals and a glimpse into the world of some of the most fascinating and rare birds from around the globe. Or learn more about the ancient art of falconry; it will have you pining for the romance of the desert and your very own Lawrence of Arabia.

Girls Road-trip Itinerary in Idaho: Your FAQ

  • Suggested entry point airports: Denver, Jackson, Salt Lake City.
  • For car or camper rental Alamo, DriveAway and other companies are readily available to book your favourite car or camper van out of any of the entry cities.
  • More about Yellowstone National Park here
  • Discover more about planning your own private road-trip to Idaho here

Rafting the Payette River Idaho is girls' adventure fun

Image: Rafting the Payette River. Credit: Visit Idaho.

  1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Devils Tower, Credit: Wyoming Office of Tourism

Steven Spielberg’s science fiction film about a UFO, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, features Devils Tower National Monument; a spectacular 867-foot rock which formed from volcanic lava millions of years ago.

  1. Shane (1953)

Another film shot in Wyoming, Shane (1953), was based on Wyoming’s 1892 Johnson County War. Many scenes were shot in Grand Teton National Park and the fictional town and homestead were constructed in Jackson Hole.

  1. Django Unchained (2012)

National Elk Refuge, Credit: Chad Coppess, Dakotagraph

Several modern films were also shot in Wyoming, including Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Winter scenes were filmed in wonderful locations including Grand Teton National Park, Kelly Warm Springs, and the National Elk Refuge.

More info at https://travelwyoming.com/ or https://greatamericanwest.com.au/

  1. Dances With Wolves (1990)

Black Hills, Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Many well-known films have been shot in South Dakota, including epic western film Dances with Wolves which features Kevin Costner as an Army Lieutenant who is assigned to a remote western Civil War outpost. The movie was filmed in beautiful South Dakota locations near Pierre and Rapid City at Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, and the Belle Fourche River Area. You can go on a free tour of the set and view original buildings used in the film at Fort Hays.

  1. Armageddon (1998)

Badlands National Park, Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Another film that featured the striking Badlands National Park was science fiction film Armageddon starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. It is about a group of oil drillers who are sent by NASA to prevent an asteroid from hitting earth and killing everyone.

  1. How the West Was Won (1962)

Custer State Park wildlife loop, Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Epic-western film How the West Was Won follows four generations of a family as they move from New York to the Pacific Ocean. The film showcases herds of buffalo in the picturesque Custer State Park. Today, you can drive Custer State Park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway to see buffalo, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and coyote up close!

More info at https://www.travelsouthdakota.com/ or https://greatamericanwest.com.au/

Fargo (1996)

1996 comedy thriller Fargo, starring Frances McDormand, has become a cult classic and much of it was filmed in the magnificent snow-covered landscapes of north-eastern North Dakota as far north as Grand Forks.

Even though none of the movie was filmed in Fargo, you can visit the original prop from the famous woodchipper murder scene at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors’ Center. This quirky stop is the perfect place to take a photo with the legendary prop – friendly locals will give you a trapper hat to wear while you pretend to push a fake leg into the Fargo chipper.

More info at https://www.ndtourism.com/ or https://greatamericanwest.com.au/

  1. A River Runs Through It (1992)

Gallatin River, Credit: Montana Office of Tourism

Oscar-winning film A River Runs Through It, starring Brad Pitt, is about two fly-fishing sons growing up in rural Montana. The film was shot in south central Montana in Livingston and Bozeman, and features picturesque scenes at the upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers.

  1. Forrest Gump (1994)

Glacier National Park, Credit: Montana Office of Tourism

Multi award-winning film Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks, also featured Montana with scenes in Cut Bank and Glacier National Park’s St. Mary entrance.

  1. Always (1989)

Kootenai National Forest, Credit: Montana Office of Tourism

Steven Spielberg’s romantic comedy, Always, featured Montana’s aerial ‘smokejumper’ elite firefighters. The film was shot in northwestern Montana in Kootenai National Forest, Libby, and Bull Lake.

More info at https://www.visitmt.com/ or  https://greatamericanwest.com.au/

  1. Wild Wild West (1999)

Lewiston, Credit: Idaho Tourism

Many classic films have been shot in Idaho, including western comedy Wild Wild West which features Idaho’s Camas Prairie Railroad, showcasing magnificent views of Grangeville’s rural farmland and Lewiston’s pine-covered landscapes. The railroad is no longer in use but can still be explored today.

  1. Pale Rider (1985)

Sawooth National Recreation Area, Credit: Idaho Tourism

Another film shot in Idaho is Clint Eastwood’s famous Western film Pale Rider. Focusing on the fight over gold mining territory, the film was mainly shot in Idaho’s beautiful Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Boulder Mountains.

  1. Dante’s Peak (1997)

Wallace, Credit: Idaho Tourism

Pierce Brosnan starred in disaster thriller Dante’s Peak which is about citizens trying to survive a volcanic eruption. Many scenes were shot in Idaho’s renowned ghost town of Wallace, featuring the town’s distinctive old buildings.

More info at https://visitidaho.org/ or https://greatamericanwest.com.au/

Mad River Boat Trips offers top whitewater rafting adventures and scenic float trips out of Jackson Hole with professional guides who will point out fascinating wildlife and vegetation around Snake River Canyon. Adrenaline seekers should go whitewater rafting in spring as there are peak flows in the river at this time so you will shoot down the rapids, ranging from class I to class III.

Those wanting a more relaxing experience can go on a gentler float trip down the river in autumn where red, orange, and yellow leaves bring the spectacular surroundings alive with colour.

Credit: Wyoming Office of Tourism

Jewel Cave National Monument is the perfect place for an exciting family adventure, with large chambers filled with boulders, tight crawlways, and narrow cracks which lead into the unknown. This is the third longest cave in the world, and it contains over 208 miles of mapped passages with a huge variety of geological features including nailhead spar, dogtooth spar, boxwork, cave popcorn, flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, and draperies. A scenic walking tour is a lovely way to explore the cave and learn about the cave formations, its discovery and ongoing exploration.

Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

The 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail is a popular cycling and hiking destination, with breathtaking views of plateaus, peaks, and valleys. This trail connects the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is the longest single-track mountain biking route in the USA!  The ride is challenging but rewarding, with abundant deer, antelope, prairie dogs, golden eagles, red tail hawks, and bighorn sheep.

One end of the trail starts at Medora, an authentic cowboy town where bikes can be hired for the trail and a variety of accommodation is available. Medora is worth a visit for the history and western ambience alone. Dakota Cyclery is a great place to rent a bike or book a guided mountain bike adventure where an experienced guide will discuss local history and wildlife.

Credit: North Dakota Tourism

Outdoor adventurers will love bicycling the Going-to-the-Sun Road which combines a challenging adventure with breathtaking scenery of Glacier National Park. This 50-mile road will bring you over many high points with spectacular views of glacier-carved valleys, snow-topped mountain peaks, and pristine waterfalls. Spring is a great time to cycle here as the road is closed to cars at this time. Fall is also beautiful with aspen, shrubs, western larch, and spruce and fir trees brightly coloured in greens, oranges, and yellows.

If bikes aren’t your thing, traverse the Going-to-the-Sun Road in one of the 1930s restored red buses that have open top-down viewing. The Native American led Sun Tours also operates fascinating guided tours of the Going-to-the-Sun Road where they discuss features relevant to the Blackfeet nation.

Credit: Montana Office of Tourism