Are you ready for a road trip? You’ll be riding shotgun as we drive the 115.7 mile Sawtooth Scenic Byway from Shoshone to Stanley. So buckle up and get ready for a joy ride through natural wonders, history, scenic landscapes and points of interests.
Twin Falls exit on I-84
The Sawtooth Scenic Byway begins in Shoshone. Since we are getting off this exit anyway, let’s take a detour to a natural wonder in Twin Falls. The Shoshone Falls were carved from the flood of Lake Bonneville about 15,000 years ago. They plunge to an impressive depth of 212 feet – over 40 feet further than Niagara Falls.
Wow, a double rainbow! Aren’t you happy we took this detour?
There’s no way we can pass through this town without stopping at one of the local hangouts. The Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce is housed in the Second Time Around store located in the historic Whistle Stop building. This store is a treasure trove of antiques, books, chaps, cowboy boots and jewelry.
Shoshone’s claim to fame began as one of the first towns in the area to welcome the Union Pacific Railroad. The tracks were laid in 1883. Freight trains continue to blow their whistles daily through Shoshone.
Let’s grab a Bruiser Burger and an old fashioned float at the Shoshone Snack Bar and head to the city park for a picnic. On our way, we’ll pass by the Shoshone Train Depot and a row of historic buildings. We’ll eat at the picnic table with a view of the Big Wood River running through the park.
Trivia Fact: the Big Wood River flows southward for 137 miles beginning in the Sawtooth Range near Galena Summit. It travels through the Wood River Valley and continues to Gooding County where it teams up with the Little Wood River creating the Malad River.
Are you ready to get your socks blown off? It starts the moment we step out of the car and into a replica of a scene straight out of an old west ghost town. After paying the entrance fee, we grab a lantern and begin the self-guided walking tour into the largest lava tube that is open to the public. A volcanic eruption near Shoshone created this hollow tube millions of years ago.
The railing keeps us on the path during the quarter mile in and out of the cave. You may want to bring your galoshes to traverse the muddy cave floor.
Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History
After coming out of the Mammoth Cave, we will step into a taxidermy paradise. And, trust me, we don’t want to miss this! The unique circular building is made of individually stacked uncut lava rock and various types of wood. The museum showcases artifacts, fossils, Stone Age tools and stuffed creatures from all over the world. Three generations of taxidermy artists created this wonderland. Their goal of the museum is to educate visitors on history and nature. They nailed it!
Ask them why the giraffe is facing away from the museum’s entrance.
Bear Claw Trading Post
The red and yellow sign is drawing us in. Scott greeted us with a welcoming smile from behind the counter. Scott and his wife, Nina, have managed the trading post for 19 years. Before long, we are laughing like old friends. His eyes light up as he tells us stories of his days growing up on a dairy farm and his daughter’s talent of painting skulls.
The eclectic collection of items includes antlers, pottery, rugs, artifacts, moccasins, beads and jewelry. Go ahead, buy that leopard skin jasper rock or the Indian porcelain doll you never knew you wanted!
Continuing on the Scenic Byway
Sagebrush and rocks dominate the scenery from Shoshone to Bellevue. A majority of the property is owned by the state of Idaho or Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
As we crest the Timmerman Hill, mile marker 101, the panoramic view of the Smoky, Boulder and Pioneer mountain ranges is our first glimpse into the Wood River Valley.
The history of the Wood River Valley can be categorized into three parts:
1. Late 19th century: mining
2. Early 20th century: grazing
3. Mid-20th century to present: skiing
The success of all three parts can be linked to the Union Pacific Railroad.
The spur line (a secondary line in a railroad system) started in Shoshone and ended just north of Ketchum at the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and the Big Wood River. This spur line was used to:
• Haul the ore and smelted minerals from the mines to the market.
• Transfer the sheep to market.
• Bring skiers to the Ketchum Depot. From there, folks would transfer to a charter bus or a sleigh pulled by horses or a sled powered by dogs to the Sun Valley Resort.
The Ketchum Depot was located where the industrial park is now.
A remnant of this spur line is evident between Bellevue and just south of St. Luke’s Hospital. Abandoned bridges and road beds are visible on the right-hand side of the scenic byway. The Rails to Trails program converted the long-forgotten railroad tracks into a bike path. C’mon, let’s get out of the car at the bike path and stretch our legs on a piece of history.
Today, Ketchum celebrates its mining roots with the Wagon Days Parade while the Trailing of the Sheep festival pays tribute to its grazing days. Although there are no festivals for skiing, we could say this sport is celebrated all winter long.
As you crest the Galena Summit, you enter into the Sawtooth Valley, headwaters of the River of No Return – the Salmon River.
The Sawtooth Scenic Byway passes through the center of two mountain ranges. The limestone peaks of the White Cloud Mountains are visible behind the valleys to the east and the imposing Sawtooth Mountains are to the west. The Salmon River flows through the valley and crosses the scenic byway several times.
Together the river and mountain ranges offer us all the outdoor recreational activities we need to fuel our passions. Choose our adventure: hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, fly fishing, river rafting, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, wildflower viewing, horseback riding and motor sports.
I’ll pick you up when we continue our road trip on the Salmon River Scenic Byway.
Blog written by Erica Cole