A 3-Day Guide to Winter Fun Within a Few Hours of Boise
By: Sara Sheehy
Itching to get outside this winter? In Boise, you’re never too far from memorable outdoor experiences. The city’s central location makes it ideal for accessing winter recreation, with Idaho City, McCall, Sun Valley and Twin Falls all within a three-hour drive.
Here’s how to make the most of a weekend adventure this winter, on or off the slopes.
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Day 1: Choose Your Own Adventure in Idaho City or McCall
Enjoy an afternoon of snowshoeing in and around Idaho City, or venture to McCall and discover 1,920+ acres of lift-accessed terrain at Brundage Mountain Resort.
Half-day in Idaho City
North of Boise lie two winter destinations that can’t be missed: quaint Idaho City and the winter wonderland of McCall. While it would be idyllic to explore them in the same day, there just aren’t enough hours of sunlight to tackle them both. Good thing there are plenty of weekends in winter, right?
Let’s first head to the historic town of Idaho City. Located only about an hour from Boise, you can get a slower start on your journey to this winter outpost. Linger over a long brunch at Fork, or grab a bite to-go from Big City Coffee, then hop on Highway 21 heading north. Drive past Lucky Peak Reservoir as you continue into the mountains on your way to Idaho City. Spend some time exploring the historic district and get transported back to the gold rush era of the 1860s. Check out the Boise Basin Museum, the Miners Exchange Saloon and other historical sites before check in at The Springs.
The Springs Hot Spring Retreat is a favorite destination year-round, offering the opportunity to soak in pools filled with soft, naturally hot mineral water. Soaking at The Springs is available by reservation only, so be sure to book ahead. Once you’re fully relaxed, head just a few minutes down the road for lunch and a slice of homemade pie at Trudy’s Kitchen before driving south, back to Boise.
Full-day in McCall
Start a bit earlier in the day if you’re planning to head to McCall, which is two and a half hours from downtown Boise. Skiers and boarders will want to visit either Tamarack Resort, which has 1,100 acres of skiable terrain and 50 trails near Donnelly, or Brundage Mountain Resort in McCall, with 49 trails over 1,920 acres and an additional 18,000 acres of guided backcountry terrain. Both resorts are offering on-site ticket sales this winter. Reservations are not required, but pass sales will be limited during weekends and holidays.
If Nordic is what you’re after, head to Jug Mountain Ranch just outside of McCall to access groomed trails for skate skiing, classic skiing and fat biking, along with snowshoe trails and on-site bike and snowshoe rentals.
Not a skier? No problem. Brundage Mountain offers snowmobile tours by reservation, as well as tubing at the Activity Barn. Snowshoeing is also available at gorgeous Ponderosa State Park, along the shores of Payette Lake. Snowshoes can be rented in McCall.
Dining options abound in McCall for both lunch and dinner. Steamers Steak & Seafood is known for its Old West vibe, while nearby Salmon River Brewery offers pub fare and fresh brews. A bit further south, in Donnelly, Ragazza Di Bufalo features northern-style Italian dishes in an unpretentious setting (reservations are required).
With your legs burning from the slopes and your stomach happy from good eats, make your way back south to Boise. Extend your trip just a few extra minutes and stop at one of the area’s craft breweries, like McCall Brewing Company, and treat yourself to a six-pack of beers to enjoy when you get home.
Day 2: Upscale Exploration in Sun Valley and Ketchum
Experience world-renowned ski slopes, ice skating, Nordic skiing, delectable dining and more in Central Idaho.
Kick off your morning with grab-and-go eggs benedict or French toast from Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro in downtown Boise. This “local’s favorite” spot is known for its delicious and hearty fare. With breakfast in hand, head east on I-84 until Mountain Home, where you’ll pick up Highway 20 across the Camas Prairie. Take in the snow-swept views of the Soldier Mountains before heading north on Highway 75 to the resort towns of Sun Valley and Ketchum. From downtown Boise, expect the drive to take you just under three hours.
Skiers and boarders will want to make a beeline straight to Sun Valley, America’s first destination ski resort, which was just named the top resort in the West by Ski Magazine. This “grand dame” destination, which opened in 1936, may drip history, but it’s modern amenities both on and off the mountain live firmly in the 21st century.
Two mountains cater to beginner and expert skiers and snowboarders alike—quaint Dollar Mountain with its gentle trails and park features, and adrenaline-pumping Bald Mountain, known for its long, steep slopes, challenging terrain and complete lack of lift lines. Tickets and multi-day passes can be purchased online at sunvalley.com.
Sun Valley’s award-winning dining options are sure to hit the spot for lunch. The Roundhouse, perched at 7,000 feet and reachable via Bald Mountain’s gondola, has served meals and drinks with an exquisite view since 1939. For something a bit more rustic, the Lookout Lodge offers cafeteria-style seating and an affordable taco bar. Back in Sun Valley Village, the Konditorei serves up Austrian-inspired dishes and tasty pastries.
For those who prefer to stay off the slopes, Sun Valley Resort has a year-round outdoor ice rink, boutique shops and a Nordic skiing and snowshoe center that offers lessons. When you’re on the trails, keep your eyes open for some exceptionally fast skiers—Sun Valley is United States’ only designated Nordic Olympic training site.
Just a mile from Sun Valley’s village is the mountain town of Ketchum, whose charming, walkable streets are filled with art galleries, cafes, restaurants and shops. Stop here for dinner before making your way back to Boise—The Pioneer Saloon is a favorite for western fare, and Enoteca’s wood-fired pizzas and extensive wine list offers European sophistication.
Day 3: Treat Yourself in Twin Falls
Round out your weekend adventures with a few runs at Pomerelle Mountain Resort, explore the historic downtown of Twin Falls and indulge in a relaxing soak at Miracle or Banbury Hot Springs.
Make an early morning stop at The Griddle in Boise for a stack of pancakes and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice before you hop on I-84 heading east. Your destination? The welcoming slopes of Pomerelle Mountain Resort, nestled in the Sawtooth National Forest near Malta, about three hours from downtown Boise.
Pomerelle is a true family mountain, offering 24 groomed trails, two terrain parks and two triple chairlifts. Boasting an average annual snowfall of 500 inches, Pomerelle is often one of the first Idaho ski mountains to open each year. Add to that an affordable lift ticket and a comfortable lodge with a cafeteria, and you have the makings of a fun morning spent on the slopes with your whole crew.
After you’ve had your fill of carving through the snow, make your way west to Twin Falls for a bite to eat. Twin Falls’ historic downtown is in the middle of a remarkable revitalization, and its once-quiet storefronts are now filled with eclectic eateries and specialty shops. Duck into the Twin Falls Sandwich Company for a tasty deli sandwich and decadent cookie, or head to Milner’s Gate for modern takes on classic American bistro dishes paired with a pint of beer from their on-site brewery.
After some much needed retail therapy, grab dinner-to-go while you’re in Twin Falls as restaurants are thin on the ground between your next destination and Boise. Other downtown favorites with takeout options include the Yellow Brick Café and The Smokey Bone BBQ.
With your belly full and dinner in the backseat, drive west along the Snake River Plain toward Miracle and Banbury Hot Springs in Buhl. These two natural hot spring complexes are less than two miles apart and offer slightly different amenities for soakers. Miracle features open geothermal pools along with private and VIP hot pools, the latter of which can be reserved in advance online. Banbury has a geothermal spring-fed swimming pool with a deep end and diving board and reservable individual hot pools. No matter where you land, enjoy sinking into the natural hot springs and melting away your cares.
Once your soak is complete, it’s time to head back to Boise along Highway 30. Eat your to-go dinner with a view by stopping at the roadside rest area in Hagerman Wildlife Management Area, where over 40,000 ducks and geese overwinter each year. A walk-up viewing blind provides a closeup look over Riley Pond, which is often blanketed in floating waterfowl.
If you haven’t picked up dinner to-go, continue your journey to Boise and finish the day with a bite downtown at one of the city’s breweries, fine dining restaurants or casual eateries.
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