The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway starts in Boise. It follows Idaho 21 north to the historic mining town of Idaho City, where you can still pan for gold in a nearby stream bed. Campgrounds and fishing opportunities dot the route from Idaho City to Lowman along the South Fork of the Payette River, as you slowly climb along the byway’s northeasterly route.
At the cutoff road to Grandjean, the roadway leaves the Payette River and squeezes between two of Idaho’s wilderness areas. On the right, the Sawtooth Wilderness and its 217,000 pristine acres of coniferous forest lands and wilderness lakes. To the left, the Salmon-Challis National Forest, entryway to the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, with more contiguous acres of roadless wilderness than anywhere else in the lower 48 states.
From Banner Summit, one of Idaho’s highest at 7,056 feet, you begin a descent into the town of Stanley. As the roadway grooves through the steep foothills and thick forest, you can catch glimpses of the Sawtooth Mountains ahead; finally, as you drop into Stanley, they come into full, magnificent view.