I’m traveling, usually on an airplane, when someone asks:
“Where are you from?”
“Idaho.” I reply.
“You live in Idaho? I didn’t know people actually live there! Isn’t that, like, just a big field of potatoes?”
What can I say? Maybe this perception is good for us. We live in a beautiful place and enjoy our solitude. On the other hand, we are blessed to be surrounded by beautiful landscapes and hearty people. It’s not all potatoes. Next time you’re in my shoes, here are a few places worth telling people about:
McCall is surrounded by the Payette National Forest and wraps around the bottom of Payette Lake. Like many places in Idaho, the drive alone is worth the trip. Out of Boise, you head up 55, the Payette River Scenic Byway. The town is home to resorts, museums, restaurants and Ponderosa State Park, and is a center for Idaho-style recreation.
I remember hearing McCall gets more snow than any other place in Idaho! And, there is no shortage of activities near McCall during the winter. Burgdorf Mountain hosts all sorts of activities, from skiing to snowshoeing, snowcat adventures to snow tubing. Burgdorf Hot Springs are accessible only by snowmobile in the winter, but you can drive in during the temperate seasons. After Memorial Day, McCall is an epic summer kind of town.
The Selkirk Loop is a 280-mile stretch of road winding through Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. If you could choose one thing in this article to do, make it the Selkirk Loop. Along the way, you can enjoy just about everything you can imagine encountering in this part of the world. There are rivers, lakes and mountains—plenty of scenic views. As with McCall, the drive alone is worth the trip. But, with a little bit of planning, you can find great places to stay, eat, shop and find adventure. In any season, you are sure to find the outdoor experience you are looking for along the way.
Horseshoe Bend is a rural town about 30 minutes outside of Boise. Swimming, fishing, whitewater rafting, train rides and mountain biking are among the activities to be enjoyed there. The main attraction, in my humble opinion, is Zip Idaho—epic zipline and heli zipping! Yes, I said heli zipping, as in the combination of a zipline and a helicopter.
The city of Cascade, Idaho, celebrates their centennial this year. Surely their staying power is a testament to the gorgeous setting. The town sits on the southeast end of Lake Cascade, or the Cascade Reservoir. The lake is a great place for camping, hiking, biking, swimming, boating and fishing. Cascade is also close to Brundage Mountain, offering more hiking and biking trails or skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the winter, and Gold Fork Hot Springs in Donnelly, Idaho.
Shoshone Falls is associated with the town of Twin Falls. The falls are in the Shoshone Falls Park on the Snake River. Twin Falls and the Snake River have a lot to offer and should not be overlooked as destinations in themselves. The real prize here, however, is Shoshone Falls. Believe it or not, Shoshone Falls are taller than Niagara falls by 45 feet (212’ to 167’), and, if my math is correct, Shoshone Falls is within the top 20 tallest falls in the United States. What they lack in height compared to some others they make up for in breadth!
Hells Canyon is a national recreation area in Riggins, Idaho. This canyon runs between Idaho and Oregon and is the deepest river gorge in North America! The area offers opportunities for scenic viewing, fishing, whitewater rafting and hiking. For those interested in taking in the sites of the region, the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway weaves along the Snake River to the Hells Canyon Dam. For scenic views, check out the Buckhorn, Hat point and Hells Canyon overlooks. For those seeking a view from the river, there are guided tours and other opportunities to get out on the water.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is aptly named. The area encompasses more than 1,000 square miles and incorporates three separate lava fields. You will be hard-pressed to find a better preserved area like it, showcasing the aftermath of volcanic activity. The result is a harsh but breathtaking landscape that is, as the name suggests, otherworldly. It is said that NASA used this area to prepare astronauts for the earliest moon landing. They later determined that the surface of our moon is very different. Whatever the case, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is readily accessible and has plenty of atmosphere. Hiking and cave exploration are excellent activities in the temperate months. In the winter, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
It seems a list of places to visit in Idaho would not be complete without the Sawtooth Mountains. There is a pair of infamous towns close by, Sun Valley and Ketchum. You may know them as favored spots for the rich and famous, or, speaking of Ketchum in particular, as the last place Ernest Hemingway drew breath before taking his own life. The area is charged and the reason for attraction varies. One thing is for sure, the Sawtooth Mountains are a must see! Whether you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, arts and activities, lose yourself in the backcountry or slip quietly through the region along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, the Sawtooth Mountains will not disappoint. There is so much to do in and around the mountains; I can safely recommend them as a destination for anyone with a pulse.
Perhaps in contrast to the well-known Sawtooth Mountains, the lesser known Mullan Trail deserves a mention. Anyone who remembers the old Oregon Trail computer game knows what a hard business it is to make it this far West in a wagon. Diphtheria and botched river crossings are just a few of the problems early settlers faced. The Mullan Road was constructed by the U.S. Army under the command of Lieutenant John Mullan. It enabled passage for the first wagon trains into the Pacific Northwest. Today, the route is traced by Interstate 90, but not exactly. That is to say, there is no way of knowing the exact route of the original Mullan Road. Part of the adventure here is to check out what lies just off the route and to attempt to piece together the puzzle yourself.
Lastly, Lake Pend Oreille! Some of you are thinking, “Huh?” You’re right. Many readers live around this lake and already love it. But, how often do we become acquainted with only one aspect of something we love? And when we learn that something we love has a different dimension and something new to offer us, how much more do we love it? That is the challenge. There is some part of this breathtaking, 148-square-mile lake you haven’t tried. Search out a new beach or landing, find a different swimming hole, go out on a kayak, try a stand-up paddle board, ski, wakeboard, pontoon—whatever you are used to doing, shake it up a bit.
There you have it! Now, pick a place and get out there!