Accessible Outdoors Near Boise
Three Trip Ideas for Disabled Travelers
by Syren Nagakyrie, Disabled Hikers
Featured image description: a view of snow capped mountains from one of the many overlooks on the Ponderosa Scenic Byway
I partnered with Visit Idaho to create several accessible hiking guides for the Boise area. I had a wonderful trip to the region, and was really taken with the beauty and ecological diversity of southwest Idaho. Here are a few of my favorite accessible trip ideas near Boise for disabled outdoor lovers.
Take a Scenic Drive
Idaho is home to 31 Scenic Byways, and six of them start near Boise! These routes offer stunning views without ever leaving the car, and often pass through historic towns and other cultural sites.
For a fantastic day trip, I recommend driving the three byway scenic loop. It includes a part of the Payette River Scenic Byway, the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, and a part of the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway. This loop offers a little bit of everything that is wonderful about this area – rushing rivers, towering canyons, snow-capped mountains, forests, open sagebrush, and of course lots of wildlife.
Plan on at least 4-6 hours, but you could easily take all day to really enjoy the experience. The entire route is paved two lane highway with passing lanes and pullouts. It is curvy in some areas, but there aren’t any unprotected or scary drop offs, so it should be a fairly comfortable ride. Fuel and food is available in the towns along the way, but accessibility is hit or miss, so you may want to fuel up and pack a picnic before you leave Boise.
You can follow the loop in either direction, but I started at the Payette River Scenic Byway. From Boise, head west on State St / Idaho 44 to Idaho 55 and turn right (north). Start your trip odometer once you turn onto Idaho 55. The first overlook you pass on the left is the Bread Rock Overlook (mile 14). It provides a view of the rolling foothills (the rock for which it is named is difficult to spot – I never found it). It is a dangerous turn though, so you may want to pass it by and continue your drive through the foothills.
You cross the Payette River as you enter the town of Horseshoe Bend. The Byway continues to follow the river, with places to stop and take in the views. At mile 32, you pass the Banks Beach Picnic Area on the left. The parking is at a pullout along the road, and it is a steep walk down to the picnic area, but there is river access and a swimming beach. There is a vault toilet by the parking area. It is a very popular spot in the summer and can be congested – be cautious as you drive through this area.
Continue another mile to the town of Banks, and turn right onto Banks-Lowman Rd. This is the beginning of the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway. There is a large gravel pull-out on the right with a sign and a view of the river, but the best views are up ahead where you can pull over right next to the rapids on the S. Fork Payette River. It is a nice place to stretch your legs with a short walk along the river’s rocky bank.
The Wildlife Canyon Byway lives up to its name – it continues through a stunning canyon, with the river rushing below you and towering mountains on either side. There are a number of campgrounds along the way, but none of them are accessible. There is an accessible wildlife viewing station at a pullout at about the midpoint on the route though. There are interpretive signs and viewing scopes, one of which you can use while sitting down.
The Wildlife Canyon Byway ends at the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, where you turn right (south) to heads back towards Boise. I recommend a short detour north towards Stanley. The byway quickly rises into the mountains, passing between two wilderness areas with incredible views along the way. There are a few overlooks to stop and take it all in, but make sure you get to the Park Creek Overlook located on the right just before you reach Stanley. There is a picnic table and a vault toilet at this paved parking area. The Sawtooth Mountains tower above the valley, and you may see Pronghorn Antelope and other wildlife.
Head south on the Ponderosa Scenic Byway. There are many recreation sites along this route, but other than wildlife viewing from your vehicle, there aren’t many accessible recreation opportunities. It is still a beautiful drive as it passes through vast areas of national forest, squeezing between mountains on a curvy two-lane highway. It ends at Lucky Peak State Park, which is a wonderful place to stop before returning to Boise. Both the Sandy Point unit and Discovery Park unit have picnic tables, restrooms, and other accessible amenities, and provide access to the Boise River Greenbelt. Sandy Point has a paved path along the lake. An entrance fee or state park pass is required at both locations.
Visit the Ribbon of Jewels
The city of Boise is home to over 90 parks, and Boise Parks and Recreation has done a lot of work to make the parks accessible for all. This is especially apparent on the Ribbon of Jewels. These nine parks are all linked by the Boise River Greenbelt – the “ribbon” joining these precious parks named for women who have made significant contributions to the Boise community. Combined with the eleven other parks along the greenbelt, it is truly a “choose your own adventure” experience!
My personal favorite on the Ribbon of Jewels might be Kathryn Albertson Park. This 41 acre park near downtown Boise is truly a refuge. Designed as a haven for wildlife in the city, it is a wonderful spot for quiet, sensory-friendly enjoyment of the natural surroundings. The park is part of the Idaho Birding Trail and is home to over 100 bird species, including Belted Kingfisher, Bohemian Waxwing, and Hooded Merganser. The park features paved sidewalks throughout, several viewing decks, and reservable pavilions. Restrooms and water fountains are also available.
I also loved the section of the Boise River Greenbelt that begins at the Willow Lane Park and Athletic Complex, travels through the Veterans Memorial Park, and ends at Esther Simplot Park – another of the crown jewels of this park system. It follows the north side of the Boise River, and at two miles one way it makes for a nice outing, or you could break it up into sections by starting at any of the parks on the route. The entire route is level and paved except for the last part as you approach Esther Simplot Park where it is hard packed gravel. There are lots of places to enjoy the river, including some spots to get down to the river bank. It is a busy route, so don’t expect to be entirely alone, but it doesn’t feel like you are in the city.
Hike the Foothills – on foot or on wheel!
There are eight reserves in the Boise Foothills, offering easy access to hundreds of acres of natural space to enjoy. While all of the trails are somewhat rugged, there are many options that are generally flat and relatively accessible for adaptive bikers and hikers.
The Oregon Trail Reserve is a particularly interesting place. The loop trail through the reserve is flat, but it may difficult for wheelchair users due to large, loose gravel and some spots that are pinched by grass and sagebrush. The reserve sits on the rim above the Boise River, with views of the basalt cliffs, Boise Front, and historic sites of the Oregon Trail. There are a few overlooks with interpretive signs about the Indigenous people of the area, the arrival of settlers, and the history of the Oregon Trail. Walking through the sagebrush and wildflowers, and feeling the wind as it moves across the valley is an unforgettable multisensory experience.
Another spot I really enjoyed is the Harrison Hollow trail. This 1.5 mile out and back trail allows off-leash dogs – which is great to exercise your pup without overexerting yourself – and gains about 100 feet in elevation. It is entirely exposed and there are no places to sit, so bring plenty of water and something to rest on if you need to (there is an accessible water fountain at the trailhead as well). The trail is surrounded by hills on three sides, with a lovely view of Boise and the mountains to the south. It is just one of those spots that I could see returning to regularly – and locals seem to agree!
Bonus Trip: Visit the Snake River
If you have time for more adventures, I highly recommend a day trip out to the Snake River. There are several easily accessible locations where you can appreciate wildlife, learn more about the history of the area, and enjoy scenic views of the stunning Snake River canyon.
Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge offers accessible birding and wildlife opportunities along Lake Lowell, including a 2.4 mile paved trail that travels through sagebrush uplands to a birding blind and an observation deck. The Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area features a 60-mile scenic drive, views of the canyon from Dedication Point, and accessible picnicking along the river at Swan Falls Dam.
Learn More about the Indigenous Peoples
The ancestral lands of the Northern Shoshone and Northern Paiute encompass much of present-day Idaho, eastern Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. Northern Paiutes became known as the Bannocks when they moved into southern Idaho in the 1600s, and began traveling with the Shoshones. The Shoshones and Bannocks signed the Fort Bridger Treaty and were moved to the Fort Hall Reservation. 1.8 million acres were originally set aside for the tribes, but it was reduced to a little over 520,000 acres through survey errors, legislation, and allotments. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes contribute $400 million to the local economy every year.
The Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation, which includes the Burns Paiute Tribe, Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, works to protect the rights of the Tribes, address climate change, and restore lands in the Snake River Basin.