Peaks to Craters Video Highlight: Custer Motorway

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Idaho Falls

In an area first settled by cattle and sheep ranchers, the founding of Idaho Falls coincided with the gold rush of the 1860s. A ferry across the Snake River led the way to a log toll bridge, which enabled settlers moving north and west and prospectors and miners seeking riches in the gold fields of Idaho and ultimately connecting to copper mining in Montana. Homesteaders from Utah brought irrigation know-how, developing a canal system fed by the Snake River. Tens of thousands of acres of desert were turned into green farmland, and Idaho Falls became one of the most productive agricultural regions of the United States. The city again made a name for itself when the Idaho National Laboratory established the National Reactor Testing Station in the region in an isolated location where various kinds of nuclear reactors were tested—52.

Idaho Falls Riverwalk-Greenbelt Trail

Hugging the Snake River, The Idaho Falls River Walk consists of the falls and 14 miles of riverbank, linking several city parks, Historic Downtown, Snake River Landing, and Taylor Crossing. The trail provides easy access to restaurants and shops.

Broadway and River Parkway, Idaho Falls, ID  83402, 208-612-8480

Idaho Falls Walking Tours

A 13-stop self-guided walking tour includes the Willard Arts Center/Colonial Theater, Actors Repertory Theatre of Idaho, and, of course, the Idaho Falls Public Library, all on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Tour begins at 246 West Broadway

Museum of Idaho

The largest museum in the state, exhibits include items linked to the Lewis and Clark expedition, a re-created 1800s town, and collections and programs focused on Idaho’s social and environmental history and the Intermountain West.

200 North Eastern Avenue, Idaho Falls, ID 83402, 208-522-1400, M-Sat 10AM-6PM, Sun 1PM-5PM, Adult $13

Art Museum of East Idaho

The only art museum in eastern Idaho showcases eclectic and contemporary works by Idaho artists in five galleries, a children’s interactive art learning area, an art classroom/workshop area, and a gift shop. 

300 South Capital Avenue, Idaho Falls, ID 83402, 208-524-7777, Tu-F 10AM-5PM, Sat 10AM-4PM, Adults $4

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Destination Inn  295 W Broadway St, Idaho Falls, ID 83402, 208-528-8444 Take a trip around the world in one of 14 world-class themed rooms.

Destination Distinctive Dining 

Copper Rill Restaurant, 415 River Parkway, Idaho Falls, ID 83402, 208-529-5800Casual, classy fixture offering refined American entrees and homemade desserts.  

Sandpiper, 750 Lindsay Blvd, Idaho Falls, ID 83402, 208-524-3344  Scenic eatery offering hand-cut steaks, pasta, seafood flown in daily & heated outdoor dining.

Destination Distinctive Retail  

Willowtree Gallery, 210 Cliff St, Idaho Falls, ID 83402, 208-524-4464, Tue-Fri 12PM-4PMFeaturing a variety of original art, limited edition prints, unique gifts, fine jewelry handcrafted in Denmark, and Lizzy James Jewelry.

Eagle Rock Gallery, 315 River Pkwy, Idaho Falls, ID 83402-3315, 208-604-8112, Tue-Sat 11AM-5PM  A collective of nationally and internationally recognized fine artists showcasing a variety of bronzes, fine art photography, watercolor and oil paintings, stone carvings, jewelry, and much more.


EBR-I Atomic Museum

If there’s time, take a short drive on US 20/26 towards Idaho Falls to visit Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (EBR-I). Colorful, interactive displays also tell the story of EBR-I’s sibling, Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 2 (EBR-II), which once powered much of the site and operated with a novel closed fuel cycle. The museum also has two aircraft nuclear propulsion prototypes, a reactor control room, remote handling devices for radioactive materials, radiation detection equipment, and more. You can walk through the museum using the self-guided tour instructions or take a guided tour.

U.S. Highway 20/26 between Idaho Falls and Arco, 208-526-0050, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, Daily, 9AM–5PM, Free


Best known for being the first community in the world to be lit with atomic power from EBR-1, the world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power paved the way for nuclear power to be used commercially. In 1961, the SL-1 reactor was destroyed through an operator maintenance error, the United States’ only fatal reactor accident. The Idaho National Laboratory is also located here.

Number Hill

Towering over the city, Butte County High School graduates have painted the year of their graduating class for more than 100 years.

Idaho Science Center

Idaho Science Center

A collection of historical nuclear informational material depicts the Manhattan Project and the development of a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, the Desert Hawksbill Sail, with its “devil” hull number 666 jutting from the ground. The conning tower is known as the “Devil Boat.” Exhibits also highlight the development of the first usable electricity at EBR-1. This area was also the location of the first Naval Reactor Station, the birthplace and training center for the Navy’s nuclear program. 

440 South Front Street, Arco, ID 83213, 208-527-3770

King Mountain Hang Glider Launch Site

An internationally renowned launch site for hang gliding and paragliding that regularly hosts national championships, King Mountain draws pilots worldwide to the only designated air trail in Idaho.  

3237 West 3400 North, Moore, ID 83255, 208-407-7174

Pass Creek Area

On the way between Arco and Mackay, a short detour off the route takes you to Pass Creek, where limestone walls tower over the canyon floor in the Challis National Forest. A well-graded dirt road leads to unique rock formations. 

From Mackay, take US Highway 93 south for 7 miles to Pass Creek Road. Turn left and follow the road for 4 miles to reach the Pass Creek Narrows.


Surrounded by the tallest mountain peaks in Idaho, Mackay was settled in 1880, and a decade later, copper mining began. Investor John Mackay gave the mine’s general manager permission to play any town he wished and named it after him in a show of loyalty. Along with a smelter on the Lost River, Mackay also had the Oregon Short Line Railroad build a spur from Blackfoot. Shortly after its founding, the town boasted a brick schoolhouse, two major hotels, a bank, an opera house, two churches, a number of lodging houses, and dozens of company-owned homes. Today, Mackay is surrounded by farms and ranches.

Mackay Mansion

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Mackay Mansion Bed & Breakfast 217 Spruce Street, Mackay, ID 83251, 208-309-2337

Irish immigrant John William Mackay rose to prominence as one of the Bonanza kings of the Comstock Lode. Unlike his other mansions, this residence was constructed to entertain stockholders and potential mine investors. 

Destination Distinctive Dining

Jillie Dee’s Bakery, 221 Main Street, Mackay, UD 83251, 208-201-1933

Bear Bottom Inn, 412 Spruce Street, Mackay, ID 83251, 208-588-2483

Ken’s Club and Steakhouse, 302 South Main Street, Mackay, ID 83251, 208-588-9983

Mineshaft Cookhouse, US 93, Mackay ID 83251, 208-588-9903

Destination Distinctive Retail

Antiques by Alice and Bea, 219 South Main Street, Mackay, ID 83251, 208-867-6066


Mackay Mine Hill Tour

Relics, structures, small mines, and remnants of houses in “copper city” dot the wild backcountry of Mine Hill, dating from 1879 when ore was discovered. Over the years, almost a million tons of ore have been removed from the mountain. Interpretive Sites along the 15-mile loop road include the Smelter Site and Hardrock Mining Exhibit, Aerial Tramway Tensioners and Towers, Cossack Tunnel and Compressor Building, Horseshoe Mine and Taylor Sawmill, Anderson Cabin, White Knob Townsite, Aerial Tramway Headhouse, Ausich Cabin Site, Cliff City Town Site, Cliff City Cabin, Cliff City Smelter, Shay Railroad Trestle, and the Empire Mine Ore Bin Location. Three color-coded routes for ATVs, Cars, and 4WDs graded by difficulty are available at Mackay City Hall, South Custer Historical Society Museum.

Lost River Museum

Housed in a restored century-old church, the Lost River Museum showcases a variety of artifacts including mining tools, ranching equipment, vintage clothing, household utensils, railroad memorabilia, theater memorabilia, local moonshiners, and historical photographs illustrating life in the past.

312 Capital Avenue, Mackay, 208-588-3148, Memorial Day-Sept, Sat-Sun 1PM-5PM, or by Appointment, donations accepted.

Lost River Museum

Lower Cedar Creek Springs

Stunning natural springs and a roaring creek mark this canyon, surrounded by some of Idaho’s tallest peaks. The 1.5-mile trail follows Lower Cedar Creek past a historic 1920s hydraulic dam that supplied electricity to the town of Mackay from 1912-1940. The hike ends at the “Hole in the Rock,” where a spring gushes directly out of the rock face.

From Mackay, take Main Street, which turns into Bench Road for 1.9 miles to Lower Cedar Creek Road, turn left, and follow the road 3.7 miles to the Lower Cedar Creek trailhead parking area.

Big Lost River Access

The Big Lost River’s surface flow does not reach any larger river but vanishes into the Snake River Aquifer at the Big Lost River Sinks, giving the river its name. 

From Mackay, take Main Street South, which turns into Smelter Road, follow the road for 1 mile, turn right, and drive approximately 2 miles to the day-use parking area for the Big Lost River Access Trail, located on the north side of the road.

Mackay Dam and Reservoir Recreation Site

roceeding now north on the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway, the control tower of the 67-foot high Mackay Dam, which impounds the Mackay Reservoir, now a recreation site, was dynamited when farmers believed that the dam, instead of the drought was the cause of their lack of water. Three years later, it came under the control of the Town of Mackay, which the town celebrates yearly with a free barbecue.

Located on Highway 93, approximately six miles north of Mackay, 208-879-6200

Battleground Cemetery

Overlooking Mackay Reservoir, established by pioneer families, is Jesse McCaleb’s burial site, the only fatality in the Lost River Valley from the Indian Wars of 1878. 

Chilly Slough

The scenic landscape of this 3,000-acre spring-fed palustrine, which extends more than six miles up the Thousand Springs Valley to distant hills, hosts a variety of vegetation plus 134 different species of birds, 27 mammals, 6 reptiles, 3 amphibians, and 3 species of fish. It is also home to the Idaho Birding Trail. Depending on the season, you can expect to see migrating waterfowl and raptors, including falcons and bald eagles, waterbirds, and shorebirds.

Located at the base of Mt. Borah on US Highway 93, 208-879-6200

Whiskey Springs

The remains of the Whiskey Springs homestead and stage stop, located at Chilly Slough, is believed to have been owned by the family of Claudius Larter, who built the stage station in 1910. The log gas station was resurrected in the 1920s to serve auto travelers on US 93.

Mt. Borah/High Peaks of the Lost River Range

Seven of the Lost River Range peaks, topping 12,000 feet surround Mt. Borah, at 12,662, the highest peak in Idaho, looming overhead in grey limestone. A hike up the mountain requires over 5,000 feet from trailhead to the summit to log your name in the summit box. 

Mackay Earthquake Site

Mackay Earthquake Site

In 1983, an earthquake rocked the region, leaving a 21-mile fault scarp that is still healing and causing the summit of Mt. Borah to rise seven feet. 

2.5 miles east of US 93 on Double Springs Road

Willow Creek Summit

Look south at the Big Lost River Valley and the Lost River Range and north to Twin Peaks and Antelope Flat to enjoy spectacular views from the Willow Creek Summit at 7,200 feet.

Grand View Canyon

Still further north on US 93, the Grand View Canyon, carved out by a sea, covered this part of Idaho some 380 million years ago.

Spar Canyon

Along a gravel road connecting US Highway with Highway 75, this valley abounds with Pronghorn antelope, mule deer, rocky mountain elk, coyotes, and foxes. Mountain lions and bobcats have been spotted as well.


After gold was discovered in 1873, Challis was established as a stop-over and freight drop before a road was built into the newly discovered mines in the Yankee Fork Mining District. By 1896, sheepherding had replaced mining as the major industry, and the area was embroiled in the sheep and cattle wars. The mining camps eventually became ghost towns while Challis flourished.

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Tea Cup Cafe and Bakery Bed and Breakfast 200 Main Street, Challis, ID 83226, 208-879-5050. 

Two bedroom, two bath apartment located right on Main Street in Challis. Enjoy the patio and gazebo sipping your espresso or morning coffee, surrounded by beautiful mountain views. Enjoy a light or hearty breakfast.

Destination Distinctive Dining

Village Inn, 310 US-93, Challis, ID 83226, 208-879-2239 

Y-Inn Cafe 1200 Main Street, Challis, ID 83226 208-879-4426

Challis Lodge and Lounge 1220 East Main Street, Challis, ID 82336 208-879-2251

River of No Return Brewing Company 8105 Highway 93, Challis, ID 82336, 208-879-7667

Tea Cup Cafe and Bakery B&B


Challis Hot Springs

Challis Hot Springs

Start your day with a soak in the Challis Hot Springs.

5025 Hot Springs Road, Challis, ID 83226, 208-879-4442, 8AM-9PM, seven days a week from the third Friday in March until the last Saturday in October, Day-use passes are available for adults (18 years old and older) for $10/day

Challis Historic District Walking Tour

Many of the original buildings from the late 1870s, still standing in the Old Challis Historic District and Challis Brewery Historic District, reflect typical mining-town architecture. Several stone buildings were constructed from rhyolitic scree and quarried tuff from the bluff above town. Historic structures include Butcher’s Meat Market, Custer County Jail, Challis High School, and many private residences. 

Main Avenue, North Avenue, and Pleasant Avenue from Ninth Street to First Street, The walking tour begins at the North Custer Historical Museum

North Custer Historical Museum

The History of North Custer County and Challis is beautifully displayed in permanent and traveling exhibits in this newly remodeled rustic structure on Main Street.

1211 South Main Street, Challis, ID 83226, 208-879-2846, Memorial Day – Last weekend in October Hours vary.

Land of the Yankee Fork State Park and Interpretive Center

Yankee Fork preserves a mining camp established on the Salmon River, named because everyone in the party was a Yankee. Even though no gold was discovered immediately, prospectors stayed on and finally found gold in 1870. Soon after, the Yankee Fork Mining District was organized, and after the discovery of the General Custer Mine in 1876, the area began to flood with miners. By 1910, the three popular sites, Bonanza, Custer, and Bayhorse, were all but deserted. The interpretive center illustrates the area’s mining heritage through exhibits, a gold panning station, and audiovisual programs. The grounds also feature a ¼ mile trail detailing the archeological finds of a nearby Challis Bison Jump Site. 

Junction of US 93 Milepost 244.5 and Idaho 75, Milepost 244.2 Adults $2/Family $5

Custer Motorway Adventure Road - Yankee Fork Road

For an authentic Idaho mining town experience, explore this stage and freight wagon toll road that was used by mining supply trains running from Custer and Bonanza delivering gold bullion to Challis. The only access for a decade, tollkeepers charged $4.00 a wagon and a team of four animals, plus 50 cents for each additional animal. Initially, the stage fare was $11.00, dropping to $8.00 by April 1880. The backcountry Forest Road 070 trip is scattered with several stagecoach stations, old barns, mining equipment, deteriorating log cabins, and weathered grave markers. Explore the ghost towns of Bonanza, Custer, and Bayhorse and the old tollgate. Interpretive signs provide more information. From start to finish, the loop drive is 98 miles with 46 miles of dirt/gravel road with no services and 52 miles of paved highway. Get a map at the Land of the Yankee Fork Interpretive Center. Stop at the Custer Cemetery, the McGowan Museum at Custer, the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, and the Sunbeam Dam Interpretive Site.

Custer Motorway


Fur trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company discovered the Stanley Basin in the 1820s. Four decades later, Captain John Stanley, a Confederate Civil War veteran, led a party of prospectors through the area. The picturesque community, surrounded by what is referred to as the American Alps, was not laid out with streets and lots until 1919. Situated over the Idaho Batholith, Stanley is also surrounded by hot springs bubbling up from the calderas created by the volcanoes.

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Redfish Lake Lodge, 401 Redfish Lake Road, Stanley, ID 83278, 208-774-3536

Built in 1929, Redfish Lake Lodge sites on 16 acres of the Sawtooth National Forest. Other than a couple of thoughtful renovations, the authentic environment remains much the same as it was back in 1929.

Destination Distinctive Dining

Limbert’s  Enjoy dinner at the Redfish Lake Lodge 

River of No Return Brewing Company 8105 Highway 93, Challis, ID 82336, 208-879-7667

Tea Cup Cafe and Bakery B&B


Stanley Museum

Built in the 1930s by the CCC, the museum features a variety of exhibits focused on mining and ranching. A restored icehouse illustrates how food was preserved on the frontier.  The tightly-constructed version of a log architecture used by the Forest Service features round chinked logs with notching at the corners and a front porch supported by triple log columns.

Highway 75 at milepost 190, 208-774-3517 Daily 11AM-5PM, Memorial Day-Labor Day, September weekends, Free

Stanley Pioneer Park

Enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains from every spot in the park, which features the historic Shaw Homestead log cabin. The Dark Sky Reserve in Idaho is one of only 11 Gold Tier level dark sky preserves in the world and the only one in the entire United States.

1-1102 Airport Road, Stanley, ID 83278, 208-774-2286

Sun Valley

A seasonal home to the rich and famous since Ernest Hemingway discovered it in the 1930s, Sun Valley was the first destination ski resort in America when it opened in 1936. Before becoming a winter paradise, it was the home of the Shoshone, Bannock & Lemhi tribes. In the 1870s, gold was discovered, and prospectors began searching for grand fortunes.  After the mining boom, residents turned to ranching.   With increased interest brought by the railroad, more and more people visited. Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Ingrid Bergman all followed Hemingway here, along with Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, and Oprah Winfrey.

Destination Distinctive Dining 

Historic Sun Valley Lodge, One Sun Valley Road, Sun Valley, ID 83353 800-786-8259

The Ram 1 Sun Valley Rd, Sun Valley, ID 83353, 208-622-2225The original Sun Valley restaurant


A stone’s throw from Sun Valley, Ketchum still hosts a 19th-century town center. Originally built as the smelting center of the Warm Springs mining district, it was first named Leadville. Ketchum was first named Leadville in 1880. After mining subsided, sheep herders drove their flocks north into the Sawtooth Mountains. By the early 1880s, Ketchum had gained notoriety for its healing hot springs, and by the end of 1884, Ketchum boasted 13 saloons, four restaurants, two hotels, and a multitude of businesses.

Sun Valley Museum of Art

As the oldest arts organization in the Wood River Valley, the exhibits focus on contemporary and traditional art from the area. 

191 5th St E, Ketchum, ID 83340, 208-726-9491, Tu-F 10AM-5PM, Sat 11AM-4PM, Free

Sun Valley Regional History Museum

Rotating exhibits feature ski history, Ernest Hemingway in Idaho, regional historical events, and cultural change. 

180 First Street East, Ketchum, ID 83340, 208-726-8118, W-Sat 1PM-5PM, Free


Founded by John Hailey, an early pioneer in the Boise Basin Gold Rush in 1862, the town was platted in 1881, and within three years, there were 18 saloons and 12 gambling parlors. The Red Light District lasted until 1942, when Sun Valley became a naval hospital, and they were ushered unceremoniously out of town.


In 1824, fur trader Alexander Ross discovered the summer residence of the Bannock-Shoshone tribes in a region that was later populated with prospectors, settlers, and others who arrived by wagon, horseback, and stagecoach. The Oregon Short Line railroad was built to haul out ore, stimulating a boom starting in 1879. Local mines produced more than $60 million of silver and lead before the silver crash of 1893. Tragedy struck in 1905 when fire from a gasoline leak swept through the business district and again in 1957 when 8 tons of dynamite and 56 artillery shells accidentally detonated at a nearby mine. 

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Silver Creek Hotel 721 North Main Street, Bellevue, ID 83313, 208-725-8282 The Wood River Valley’s newest boutique hotel blends modern luxuries with local services.

Destination Distinctive Dining

7 Fuego, 200 South Main Street, Bellevue, ID 83313, 208-788-1034

South Valley Pizzeria, 108 Elm Street, Bellevue, ID 83313, 208-788-1456

Mahoney’s Bar and Grill, 104 South Main Street, Bellevue, ID 208-788-4449


Hayspur Fish Hatchery

Hayspur State Fish Hatchery

Funded by fishing licenses, the Hayspur State Fish Hatchery distributes catchable rainbow to area waters. It collects eggs to raise them in a building with 20 early-rearing vats, 15 covered 24-foot circular ponds, four small raceways, and six large production raceways.

71 Hayspur Lane, Bellevue, ID 83313, 208-788-2847

Silver Creek Preserve

Flowing at the base of the Picabo Hills, this high-desert spring-fed creek attracts an abundance of wildlife, including eagles, hawks, songbirds, waterfowl, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, moose, and elk. As many as 150 species of birds have been identified along the self-guided nature trail, which begins at the preserve visitor center.

165 Kilpatrick Bridge Rd, Bellevue, ID 83313, 208-788-2200


This farming town, founded by Mormons in 1884, is nestled in the foothills. Even though the Great Depression decimated Carey, it is growing again after evolving into an affordable bedroom community for Sun Valley.

Carey Lake Wildlife Management Area

Created to provide a quality wetland habitat for migrating and resident waterfowl, the shallow lake and surrounding area are a draw for bird watchers. Spring populations of mallard, pintail, and teal Canada Geese, peacefully coexist with sandhill cranes, American bittern, Virginia rails, sora, grebe, plovers, pelicans, and other species. 

One mile east of Carey, 208-324-4359, Daily, year-round

Goodale’s Cutoff

As the Julius Caesar Merrill party traveled through here on the Oregon Trail, they described this part of Idaho as “a desolate, dismal scenery covered with an unvarying mass of black rock, with not a shrub, bird nor insect in sight. John Jeffrey began promoting a spur trail called Goodale’s Cutoff, named after Tim Goodale, an Illinois-born trapper/trader, who was persuaded by a group of immigrants to lead them through the cutoff when gold was discovered on the Salmon River in 1862. The nearly 800 men and 300 women met up with more wagons at Craters of the Moon Lava Field, which remained relatively safe during the cutoff for their guide. Vestiges of the Cutoff are visible at many points along Highway 20/26/93 between Carey and Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Some have said that the ocean of lava flows and cinder cone islands at Craters of the Moon is a “weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself. ” President Coolidge designated it to preserve what he called “the most unusual and unearthly lunar landscapes.” It is so unique that Apollo astronauts used the area to learn to detect good rock specimens in an unfamiliar and harsh environment. Encompassing three major lava fields, and 400 square miles of sagebrush steppe grasslands, the Monument covers 343,000 acres. The 60 distinct solidified lava flows that form the Craters of the Moon Lava Field range in age from 15,000 years old to just 2,000 years. Lying along the Great Rift of Idaho, where molten lava shot through to form surrounding mountains, almost every variety of basaltic lava, as well as tree molds (cavities left by lava-incinerated trees), lava tubes, and many other volcanic features are represented.

Shoshone legend speaks of a serpent on a mountain who, angered by lightning, coiled around and squeezed the mountain until liquid rock flowed, fire shot from cracks, and the mountain exploded. After visiting the Visitor Center, take the Park’s 7-mile Loop Road. You can also take the Devil’s Orchard Nature Trail and explore Inferno Cone and Indian Tunnel. The rugged landscape of the monument remains remote and undeveloped, with only one paved road across the northern end.

1266 Craters Loop Road, Arco, ID 83213, 208-527-1300, Daily 9AM-4PM, $20 per vehicle