Payette River Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2002)
- Intrinsic QualitiesRecreation
- Length112 miles
The Payette River Scenic Byway meanders through foothills, mountain valleys, canyons, forests, and wide-open valleys with expansive vistas. Visit Lake Cascade, with its beauty and wildlife, and enjoy Payette Lake among the mountains and trees. Easy access to rafting, kayaking, camping, and fishing make this a trip for everyone.
Story of the Byway
Starting west of Boise, the Payette River Scenic Byway follows the Payette River north and meanders through the Boise and Payette National Forests. This route passes through foothills, canyons, forests and valleys with scenic vistas and abundant wildlife. The landscape affords requisite recreational activities, including rafting, kayaking, camping and fishing, with a range of terrain that welcomes families and experts alike. Located south of the Payette National Forest and northeast of Boise, the Boise National Forest covers over 2.5 million acres of forest and grassland.
Visitors can explore lower elevations in the North Fork Payette River Canyon or climb toward higher terrain at Trinity Mountain. Also in the area is Lake Cascade State Park, a public recreation area around Lake Cascade, an impoundment of the North Fork of the Payette River. Situated among mountains and forest, the Payette River is an 83-mile river in southwestern Idaho that acts as a major tributary of the Snake River. Originating in Sawtooth and Salmon River Mountains, its headwaters reach elevations over 10,000 feet. The river’s watershed was originally settled by four Native American groups—the Shoshone, Nez Perce, Paiute and Bannock. However, it is a French-Canadian fur trapper, Francois Payette, for whom the river is named. Payette is among the first people of European descent to explore the basin.
Famous for its whitewater, the Payette River is home to the North Fork Class V run, considered one of the most challenging river reaches in North America. Kayaking in the lower North Fork is also world-class, offering many Class V rapids with an average gradient of 110 feet per mile. Along the canyon on the South Fork is a Class IV run for rafting, as well as a 40-foot Class VI waterfall, called Big Falls. The North and South Forks merge to form the main part of the river, where numerous Class III rapids provide opportunity to amateurs for float trips. This lower stretch shares the highway on the east bank and a scenic railroad, the Thunder Mountain Line, to the west.
The peninsula that expands from the Payette Lake near McCall is home to Ponderosa State Park. Here visitors can witness a grand view of the lake from Osprey Point. Spanning 2.3 million acres in west central Idaho, the Payette National Forest is a diverse landscape—from desert grasslands to conifer forests and snow-capped peaks. All four seasons afford recreation, such as fishing, camping, hunting, skiing and snowmobiling. There are also trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and motor vehicles. The forest also serves as a gateway to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, an area of solitude for travelers seeking a serene landscape.
This byway also passes Smiths Ferry, located where the canyon expands and the river rests, and invites visitors to relax along the sandbar islands. Historic Roseberry is a heritage site along this route that depicts a late 19th century Finnish homestead. The Payette River Scenic Byway ends near the Little Salmon River in New Meadows.
From Boise, head north on Idaho Highway 55 to the junction of U.S. Highway 95 in New Meadows.
Points of Interest
The Payette River
The Payette River is an 82.7-mile-long (133.1 km) river in southwestern Idaho and is a major tributary of the Snake River.
Boise National Forests
Boise National Forest is a National Forest covering 2,203,703 acres in Idaho.
Payette National Forests
The Payette National Forest is a U.S. National Forest located in central western Idaho.
Lake Cascade State Park
Lake Cascade State Park is a public recreation area consisting of multiple units totaling 500 acres around Lake Cascade in Idaho.
Smiths Ferry is a census-designated place in Valley County, Idaho.
Ponderosa State Park
Ponderosa State Park is a public recreation area and state park occupying a peninsula in Payette Lake on the northeast edge of McCall in Valley County, Idaho.
A Weekend in McCall
Starting in New Meadows, follow the byway southeast for 12 miles to arrive in McCall. Check into any of McCall’s excellent accommodations—an inn, a lodge, or a weekend house—before heading out to explore the town. Take your bike out for a family-friendly excursion on the North Valley Rail Trail (3.5 miles), or head out on your own to cycle a road, mountain or snow trail. Return to town for a late lunch or early dinner, and then stroll through the museums, art galleries, and boutiques before taking a rest.
Wake early to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and shop at a local farmer’s market in preparation for your day. Drive six miles north to Ponderosa State Park. Spend the day hiking and biking with or without a guide, or renting a canoe or kayak for a trip on the North Fork of the Payette River. In winter, you can ski or snowshoe on designated trails. Children can participate in the Junior Ranger Program in the summer months. If staying overnight, gather the family to listen to a naturalist in the evening at the amphitheater. When you’re ready to leave, return to New Meadows, or continue south on the byway towards Boise.
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