Looking for the best mountain towns in Idaho, but not sure which one is the perfect fit for your next family adventure? As longtime residents of the Gem State, having called Idaho home for nearly 20 years, we’ve had the pleasure of exploring the enchanting mountain towns that make this state truly remarkable.
From the serene shores of Lake Pend Oreille to the rugged majesty of the Sawtooth Mountains, we’ve experienced the unique charm and outdoor wonders of each destination on our list. We’ve gathered all the essential details to help you select your next Idaho mountain getaway.
Whether you’re seeking winter thrills on the slopes, tranquil summer days by the lakeshore, or year-round family adventures amidst stunning mountain landscapes, we’ve got you covered.
Explore more of the state! Here are our favorite things to do in Idaho with kids.
Best Mountain Towns in Idaho
McCall is indisputably Idaho’s premier mountain town, a destination that effortlessly combines the best of all seasons. Located just over two hours from Boise, McCall is the best small town in Idaho and our favorite escape from the city regardless of the season.
In the winter, the renowned Brundage Mountain Resort, with its incredible skiing and snowboarding terrain, ensures that visitors and locals alike can revel in the thrill of gliding down powder-covered slopes.
The winter also brings the McCall Winter Carnival. During the festival, local business commission ice sculptures that are awe-inspiring. Locals and visitors alike bundle up and enjoy parades, fireworks and fun.
Come summer, McCall, which is on the banks of Payette Lake, transforms into an playground perfect for boating, fishing, and swimming. The lake’s clear waters are ideal for exploring by kayak or sailboat, offering a tranquil escape amid stunning mountain scenery.
The lake even has its own bit of mystery. McCall’s own legend, Sharley, is believed by some to be the local counterpart to the Loch Ness Monster and adds a playful touch of mystery to the folklore surrounding Payette Lake. But don’t worry, we only saw a large hump rising out of the water….once. Meanwhile, the nearby Little Payette Lake offers an equally charming setting for kayaking and leisurely paddling.
The outdoor adventures in McCall extend beyond the lakeshores. The vast network of hiking and biking trails in Ponderosa State Park is just minutes from downtown McCall. The park caters to hikers and mountain bikers of all skill levels, offering opportunities to immerse oneself in the area’s natural beauty.
Ponderosa State Park also has great camping facilities for a summer family vacation that is close enough to town you can walk or bike, but still get in that all important nature.
On one of your trips into town, be sure to take part in one of the cherished local traditions, a mountain-sized scoop of ice cream from Ice Cream Alley. This local favorite is the perfect way to cap off a sun-soaked summer day after a sailing excursion or kayaking adventure on the Payette.
What truly sets McCall apart is its status as an all-season resort, where visitors can experience the best of both worlds – the winter wonderland of Brundage Mountain and the summer paradise of Payette Lake. This year-round appeal, combined with its wealth of outdoor activities and local traditions, solidifies McCall as the #1 mountain town in Idaho, offering a little slice of heaven for all who venture here.
Find the perfect VRBO cabin for your family in McCall.
2. Sun Valley
Sun Valley stands as an iconic gem among Idaho’s mountain towns, renowned not only for its natural beauty but also for its unmatched appeal to the elite and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
It is no secret that Sun Valley has long been a magnet for the glitterati, with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Demi Moore, Tom Hanks, and Justin Timberlake among its high-profile residents. This influx of star power adds a touch of glamour to the town’s charm, creating an atmosphere that’s both exclusive and welcoming.
What truly sets Sun Valley apart is its exceptional outdoor living. The town boasts the world-class Sun Valley Resort, home to some of the best ski slopes in the country. Sun Valley is a mountain village in Idaho but feels like it belongs in Europe.
Sun Valley was also the first ski resort to pioneer the concept of a chairlift, revolutionizing the skiing industry. The charming village atmosphere, complete with quaint shops and fine dining, creates a delightful après-ski experience that’s hard to match.
When the snow melts and summer arrives, Sun Valley transforms into a hub for outdoor adventures. The surrounding mountains offer exceptional hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding opportunities. In the warm season, the Big Wood River beckons with its pristine waters, ideal for fly fishing and rafting expeditions.
The area around Sun Valley also has some great huts, both public huts on National Forest lands and private huts, that you can hike into for a backcountry getaway. It’s no wonder that nearly 40 Olympians choose to call Sun Valley home, as the area provides the perfect training ground for athletes looking to hone their skills amidst stunning natural landscapes.
Live the good life and book a ski-in/ski-out condo for your Sun Valley stay.
3. Coeur d’Alene
One of the standout features of Coeur d’Alene is the remarkable Coeur d’Alene Lake. This expansive body of water is not only beautiful, but also serves as a hub for a wide range of water-based activities.
During the summer months, the lake is the place to kayak, SUP and swim. Scenic cruises on the lake provide a relaxing way to soak in the breathtaking views while learning about the area’s history and wildlife. The lake’s shoreline is dotted with beaches, parks, and picnic areas, making it an ideal spot for families to enjoy a day by the water.
Beyond the lake, Coeur d’Alene boasts a wealth of outdoor adventures. Tubbs Hill, located right in town, offers family-friendly hiking trails with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The Mineral Ridge National Recreation Area, just a short drive away, offers additional hiking opportunities amid pristine wilderness.
Coeur d’Alene is also known for its charming downtown area, which features a variety of boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and coffee shops. Strolling along the streets, you’ll find unique gifts, local crafts, and a vibrant arts scene that adds to the town’s cultural richness.
One of the town’s signature attractions is the Coeur d’Alene Resort, known for its iconic floating green golf course, world-class spa, and luxurious accommodations. The resort is an excellent choice for those seeking a touch of luxury during their mountain getaway.
Stanley’s appeal begins with the stunning backdrop of the Sawtooth Range. The jagged peaks that surround the town make it one of the most beautiful mountain towns in Idaho.
In the winter months, Stanley transforms into a wonderland for winter sports enthusiasts. While there are no downhill ski resorts within two hours of the town, there is still lots to do in the winter if you like backcountry skiing and snowmobiling.
After a long day of snowshoeing, seek out one of Stanley’s best treasures- hot springs. There are several natural hot springs within a few miles of the town.
When summer graces the region, Stanley and the Sawtooth Mountains are perfect for hikers and campers. Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or a family looking for a day hike, the Sawtooths have a trail for you.
However, the crown jewel of Stanley’s summer attractions is undoubtedly Redfish Lake. This shimmering gem nestled beneath the Sawtooth Mountains is a paradise for families and outdoor enthusiasts. The lake’s crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, and simply basking in the sun along its sandy shores.
Redfish Lake Lodge provides a gateway to various water sports and even offers boat rentals for those eager to explore the lake’s pristine expanse. Furthermore, Redfish Lake is renowned for its family-friendly amenities, including picnic areas, a beach, and interpretive programs that educate visitors about the natural history of the area.
Driggs, nestled in the stunning surroundings of the Grand Tetons, has firmly established itself as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, earning its reputation as one of Idaho’s finest mountain towns.
Winter sports enthusiasts are drawn to the region for its proximity to the renowned Grand Targhee Resort, located just 21 miles away. Grand Targhee is a world-class ski resort with a generous amount of powder snow comparable to that of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
However, what truly sets Grand Targhee apart is its affordability, making it an attractive choice for families seeking an exceptional skiing experience without breaking the bank. Families can enjoy the same quality of snow and terrain as its famous neighbor in Wyoming, all at a fraction of the cost.
During the warmer months, Driggs and the surrounding Teton Valley offer a different set of adventures. Hiking enthusiasts can explore a network of scenic trails, taking in breathtaking vistas of the Grand Tetons and the picturesque valley below. For those seeking a more serene experience, the Teton River provides excellent opportunities for fly fishing in its pristine waters.
The combination of natural beauty and outdoor activities makes Driggs an ideal destination for families looking to connect with nature and create lasting memories. Driggs is also the closest town on our list to Yellowstone National Park. The town is just 122 miles from the West Entrance to the park.
Check out our complete guide to things to do in Yellowstone National Park with kids.
Sandpoint with its beautiful Lake Pend Oreille, the largest lake in Idaho, is undeniably one of the state’s premier mountain destinations, offering a wide range of experiences for families and outdoor enthusiasts.
Beyond its stunning natural beauty, Sandpoint is particularly noteworthy for its family-friendly appeal. One of the standout features is its proximity to Silverwood Theme Park, Idaho’s largest amusement park, which is a mere 25 miles away.
This world-class theme park boasts thrilling rides, water slides, live entertainment, and an array of attractions that guarantee endless fun for visitors of all ages, making Sandpoint an ideal base for a family vacation.
During the winter months, Sandpoint truly comes alive as it becomes a haven for snow sports enthusiasts. Schweitzer Mountain Resort is just 30 minutes away with some of Idaho’s best skiing. The resort offers terrain suitable for all skill levels, making it perfect for families to hit the slopes together.
In the warmer months, Lake Pend Oreille, one of the largest and most pristine lakes in the American West, becomes a hub for water-based adventures. Families can indulge in sailing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming in the crystal-clear waters. The lakeside beaches provide a perfect backdrop for picnics and relaxation.
For those who crave hiking and exploration, Sandpoint is a gateway to the Selkirk Mountains, offering a network of scenic trails that wind through forests and lead to beautiful vistas. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a seasoned backpacker, there’s a trail suited to your family’s adventure level.
If you visit and fall in love, Sandpoint is also one of the most affordable mountain towns in Idaho. And even if you don’t move, the lower cost of living means a more affordable vacation to one of the best Idaho towns.
Book your waterfront stay at the Lodge at Sandpoint.
7. Idaho City
Idaho City is one of the most charming towns in Idaho that offers not only a glimpse into the past but also a rich tapestry of history that shaped the state of Idaho.
As the first territorial capital of Idaho, Idaho City holds a unique place in the annals of the American West. The town’s roots are deeply intertwined with the Gold Rush of the 1860s, which saw thousands of prospectors flocking to the region in search of precious metals. Today, the town’s historic district preserves its gold mining heritage, with well-preserved buildings, artifacts, and museums that transport visitors back to the bustling days of the Gold Rush era.
No visit to Idaho City is complete without a soak in the local hot springs, aptly named The Springs. The town is blessed with natural hot springs that have been cherished for their therapeutic properties for centuries. Taking a relaxing dip in these soothing waters provides a perfect way to unwind and rejuvenate while surrounded by the stunning mountain scenery.
The town’s downtown area embodies the spirit of the Old West, making it the perfect place to experience a touch of nostalgia. Stroll along the wooden boardwalks and explore charming shops and boutiques offering unique treasures and handmade crafts. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor a sarsaparilla, a classic Western beverage, in one of the town’s authentic saloons.
Challis emerges as an enchanting mountain town tucked away in the rugged beauty of the Salmon River Mountains. When winter blankets the landscape, Challis transforms into a snow-covered playground. Snowmobiling enthusiasts can explore the pristine backcountry trails in the surrounding Bitterroot and Lemhi Mountains.
As the snow retreats and summer emerges, Challis reveals its true charm. Anglers will find themselves in paradise, with the world-renowned Salmon River meandering through the town, offering some of the finest fishing opportunities in the region.
Beyond the river, the nearby White Cloud Mountains are great for hikers and nature enthusiasts. The mountain trails provide a spectrum of options, from family-friendly day hikes to more challenging backcountry adventures.
Nestled along the Salmon River, the town of Salmon emerges as an idyllic destination for families seeking outdoor adventures and memorable experiences. In the warmer months, families can enjoy world-class river rafting adventures and the chance to cast their lines into the river’s abundant waters.
For those with an adventurous spirit, nearby Bitterroot Mountains offer thrilling snowmobiling excursions during the winter.
The outdoor adventures in Salmon don’t stop there. The town serves as a gateway to the vast Salmon-Challis National Forest, where families can embark on hiking expeditions, witness breathtaking vistas, and immerse themselves in nature’s wonders.
When winter blankets the town in snow, Salmon transforms into a winter wonderland. Families can enjoy not only snowmobiling but also cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the serene surroundings. For those with an adventurous spirit, nearby Bitterroot Mountains offer thrilling snowmobiling excursions during the winter.
With the town’s remote location and minimal light pollution, Salmon is an ideal spot for stargazing, providing an educational and awe-inspiring experience for kids.
Book a charming cabin on the Salmon River with VRBO.
Located in the rolling hills of the Palouse, Moscow is a vibrant college town, home to the University of Idaho. Winter is lovely in this North Idaho town, but we don’t recommend the town if you are coming to Idaho for downhill skiing.Skiing is possible near Moscow, but the closest resort, Lookout Pass, is still about a two-hour drive.
Instead Moscow is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who like to explore snowy landscapes and scenic trails in the area. The Moscow Mountain Recreation Area just outside of town is perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
When summer arrives, the Moscow Mountain Recreation Area becomes a hotspot for hiking and mountain biking. The town is also surrounded by lakes and rivers, providing opportunities for kayaking and paddleboarding. Local farmers’ markets and downtown cafes make these cute small towns in Idaho a perfect destination for any family.
Often referred to as the “Silver Capital of the World,” Wallace is a historic gem nestled in the heart of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. The town’s rich mining heritage is evident, with charming historic buildings and museums that offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past.
One of the unique features of Wallace is the world-famous Sierra Silver Mine Tour. Visitors venture underground to explore an authentic silver mine, providing an immersive experience of the town’s mining history. The tour is led by experienced miners, which makes the tour a really unique learning experience for kids.
In addition to its historical attractions, Wallace boasts outdoor recreational opportunities.
In winter, Silver Mountain Resort offers excellent skiing and snowboarding. Silver Mountain has some of the most affordable skiing in the entire state. If your family is looking for a place to learn to ski, Silver Mountain is an excellent choice.
During the summer months, the nearby Coeur d’Alene National Forest provides a playground for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing.
Whether you’re drawn to the world-class skiing of Sun Valley, the serene lakeside retreats of McCall, the rugged adventures of Stanley, or the cultural allure of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho’s mountain towns promise unforgettable experiences.
So, pack your bags, gather your loved ones, and set off on a journey through the heart of our stunning state.
With the knowledge of the beautiful, small mountain towns in Idaho from Gem State locals, your next family getaway is sure to be a memorable one.
Faith Hansen, along with her husband and son, make up 3 Tickets Please. As teachers, Faith and Matthew have the time to travel, but not always the money. Determined to not wait to see the world together, the trio has learned to travel on a budget. The Hansens have currently been to 25 countries together with no plans to stop any time soon.