There are few things more beautiful than a drive through the mountains with vibrant fall colors and great views after nearly every turn.
If you have a vehicle that can take mountain roads, there are some great routes close to the Treasure Valley.
About 25 miles north of Boise near Horseshoe Bend (just before you cross the North Fork of the Payette) is Harris Creek Road. Its a gateway to two scenic drives.
It travels 13 miles to Harris Creek Summit where you will climb from a valley surrounded by sagebrush and grass hills up into a lush ponderosa pine forest.
You will then descend down into a lush valley with great views of the surrounding mountains.
After descending from Harris Creek Summit about 5 miles, you have the option of going north to Garden Valley or east to Idaho City with access to several other backcountry towns.
Beware, between Horseshoe Bend and Idaho City or Garden Valley, there are few, if any, services available, so make sure your car is gassed up.
If you take the north route toward Garden Valley, you will go about a mile to the historic town of Placerville, which provides a glimpse into Idahos rugged mining history. This is also an easy side trip if youre planning to go to Idaho City.
If road conditions allow, from Placerville you can take Forest Service Road 615 north. It will take you over Alder Creek Summit and down into the South Fork of the Payette River valley and the Banks-to-Lowman Road near Garden Valley.
The road over Alder Creek Summit is steep and windy with severe drop offs. Drive it slowly and with caution.
Do not take this road if its snowing, or there is snow on the road. You can call the Garden Valley Ranger District at (208) 462-3241 to get current road conditions. Dont risk it if the weather looks bad. Even if weather is mild in the Treasure Valley, it can be stormy in the mountains, so dont risk it if conditions are sketchy.
After you reach the Banks-to-Lowman Road, go west to Garden Valley and past it another 10 miles to Idaho 55. Take it south 16 miles back to Horseshoe Bend.
An easier route is to continue east on Harris Creek Road (which is also Forest Service Road 307), and go through another backcountry town, New Centerville, and on to Idaho City. From Idaho City, you take Idaho 21 back to Boise.
This trip provides similar scenery without having to cross Alder Creek Summit.
Either route requires a vehicle capable of driving on rough, washboarded and potholed roads. Winter tires are also recommended, and four-wheel drive is preferred in the fall.
Although the mileage for these trips isnt far, plan all day for the trip because the going can be slow on dirt and gravel roads.
The route to Idaho City is maintained during winter and fairly well traveled for a backcountry road, but its important to be prepared for backcountry driving before you take it.