Northwest

8 Weekend Getaways in Idaho: Adventure Awaits in the Gem State

The Gem State has it all–hiking, skiing, and kayaking to name a few. Here's where you need to go for adventurous weekend getaways in Idaho.

After an afternoon of cycling along the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt, I’m sitting on the patio outside Fork, a hip eatery in downtown Boise. Riding beside the Boise River, through the lush, protected bike path in Idaho’s outdoorsy capital has worked up my appetite.

Fork owners, Cameron and Amanda Lumsden, made a pledge to be “loyal to local.” They source many of their key ingredients from Boise and Northwest farmers, bakers, ranchers, and meet and cheese producers. Even their beer, wine, and spirits are 75 percent local.

In that spirit, I’m sipping the Fork Lemonade made from Boise’s American Revolution Vodka (infused with berries, in-house) and awaiting an Heirloom Rainbow Beet Salad with feta cheese from Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese and Ahaus Bee-Haus’ honey vinaigrette.

Idaho may be known for their famous potatoes, and there are certainly a wealth of potato-themed establishments in the Gem State, but you should also know the state for its stunning scenery.

From rugged mountains to placid lakes, to canyons that only a daredevil would attempt to cross, there is no shortage of weekend getaways in Idaho for lovers of the great outdoors.

Boise

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Idaho’s capital has a dynamic downtown—often filled with people enjoying the many restaurants, bars, eclectic art galleries, museums, and markets that make Boise one of the most interesting cities in the west.

Boise is also a hot spot for DIYers. There are craft beers, local wines, homemade spirits, much of the food found at Fork, and Idaho Made products. It’s a place to explore, discover, and create.

While the town has a hip, urban flair, it’s also a very outdoorsy city. Boise Bicycle Tours offers leisurely tours along the Boise River, beer-centric bike rides, and city tours on wheels. The Ridge to River Trail System takes riders from the city to the hills. There’s fishing and floating on the Boise River, and within minutes, you can be out of the city exploring seemingly endless rivers, mountains, and trails.

In winter, skiers hit the trails northeast of Boise at Bogus Basin for alpine skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snow tubing. Set high in the Boise Ridge Mountains, Bogus Basin is topped by its highest peak, Shafer Butte, where locals and tourists ride horses, mountain bike, and hike in summer.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is one of the best raptor education centers in the world. In addition to meeting eagles, owls, vultures, hawks, and falcons from around the globe, visitors can learn all about birds of prey with live demonstrations, hands-on activities, and exhibits.

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Coeur d’Alene

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Pure blue Coeur d’Alene glistens in the Idaho panhandle. The nearby lake covers 26 miles and has over 135 miles of shoreline, so there is plenty of room to boat, paddleboard, fish, swim, or kayak. In addition to Coeur d’Alene, the area is surrounded by more than 50 other lakes scraped out by glaciers during the last Ice Age.

The town of Coeur d’Alene sits on the northern edge of the lake with a charming downtown area filled with shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Stop in at Shenanigans to taste specialty chocolates from Northwest chocolatiers.

From the Coeur d’Alene Resort Boardwalk Marina, take a scenic cruise on the lake or rent a kayak and paddle around. You’ll see abundant wildlife and secluded lakefront homes, as well as beautiful mountain views.

When you need a break from water sports, the trails in the Canfield Mountain Natural Area and Coeur d’Alene National Forest offer miles and miles of hiking and biking.

For a less vigorous activity, sip Idaho wines at one of the area’s many wineries. Coeur d’Alene Cellars is a small, family-owned winery that crafts vintages that reflect the famous terroir of Colombia Valley vineyards. Its small selection of wines is only available in northern Idaho, eastern Washington, and to tasting room visitors. They serve cheese plates and truffle flights to pair with their wine and often host live music.

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Idaho Falls

Photo courtesy of Idaho Tourism

Perched on the eastern edge of the state on the Snake River Plain, Idaho Falls can be a jumping off point for various recreational opportunities or a destination in itself.

Stroll along the Snake River Greenbelt to see the 22-foot fall waterfall for which the town is named and where the city’s energy is generated. The Museum of Idaho explores science and history while The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho includes five galleries showcasing a variety of mediums.

One thing you can’t miss is the Idaho Potato Museum south of town in Blackfoot. It’s kitschy, but where else will you learn about the “revolution of the potato industry”?

Before you leave, pick up an Idaho Spud Bar, a potato-shaped mound of chocolate marshmallow coated with dark chocolate and dusted with coconut, first made by the Idaho Candy Company almost 100 years ago. It is a cultural experience.

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Lewiston

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At the confluence of the Snake River and the Clearwater River sits the town of Lewiston. Thanks to a series of locks on the Snake River, the town can be reached by some ocean vessels, making it the most inland ocean port east of the west coast of the U.S.

In 1864 Lewiston had some of the first vineyards in the Pacific Northwest. The ideal climate and volcanic soils make it an ideal place to grow grapes and to taste wine. Many wineries have popped up in the Palouse region — 4,000 miles of rolling green hills from Lewiston north. Stop by the Clearwater Canyon Cellars tasting room in Lewiston to start your tour of the wineries.

It’s not just the ocean port and wine that makes Lewiston special; it’s also a great location near Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the deepest river gorge in North America. There aren’t any roads through Hell’s Canyon, but there is world class whitewater boating, hiking, and horseback riding opportunities. Plus, abundant wildlife, towering peaks, and artifacts from prehistoric tribes.

“Eat, drink, and be mystic” at the Mystic Café, according to their slogan. Gourmet food and sommelier certification mean the Mystic Café is a step above most Lewiston restaurants. Try the avocado toast at breakfast and Greek veggie burger at dinner.

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McCall

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From Boise, it’s just 2.5 hours north along the pine tree-lined Payette River Scenic Byway to one of the cutest towns in Idaho. McCall is perched on the edge of Payette Lake and surrounded by mountains, making it an ideal outdoorsy getaway.

Summer visitors can relax on the beach at Payette Lake and soak in the sun with spectacular surroundings. Ponderosa State Park has lake access for swimming and boating, hiking and biking trails, canoe and kayak rentals, and campsites and cabin rentals. In winter, the trails are groomed for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Nearby Brundage Mountain is also a year-round resort. Take the lift up and ski down in winter and hike or bike to the bottom in summer. If that’s not enough, Brundage offers sleigh rides, snow tubing, and disc golf.

The Anchor, set in a lovely location on Payette Lake, offers lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Try the salmon with huckleberry beurre rouge. Salmon and huckleberries, both local delicacies, make this a very Idaho meal.

 

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Sun Valley

Photo courtesy of Idaho Tourism

Home to American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, Sun Valley is famous for its celebrities. Its snowy slopes draw the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and other Hollywood Royalty.

Sun Valley is a mix of upscale, European flair and cowboy Wild West. It has luxury shops and spas, skiing, and horseback riding. The epicenter of the region is the ski area. Sun Valley pioneered the modern ski resort and now offers Nordic skiing, ice skating, sleigh rides, a Christmas Market, and ice shows, in addition to alpine skiing and riding. In summer, mountain bikes, hikers, and horseback riders explore the thrilling mountains.

Breakfast at the Kneadery is a must before a long day on the mountain. Try the Huevos Kneadery—cage-free eggs on a flour tortilla and two strips of bacon. Like most Huevos Rancheros, these are topped with salsa, beans, sour cream, cheese, and avocado.

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Twin Falls

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Twin Falls in southern Idaho is known as the gateway to the Snake River Canyon. At the canyon’s eastern end, Shoshone Falls cascades over volcanic rhyolite rock created during eruptions from the Yellowstone hotspot. At 212 feet, the falls are 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls. As the historic end to salmon migration on the Snake River (there was no way fish were getting up this waterfall!), it was a popular fishing spot for the Shoshone and Bannock people.

Trails along the canyon rim lead from Shoshone Falls to the minimalist Perrine Bridge, which spans 1,500 feet across the canyon and 456 feet above the river. Walk to the middle of the bridge for panoramic views and to watch BASE jumpers launch themselves into the canyon with parachutes.

To experience the canyon from river level without jumping off a bridge, paddle your way through the winding waters of the Snake River on a guided trip from Centennial Park to the base of Shoshone Falls.

After a day in or above the Snake River Canyon, stop by Elevation 486 for locally-smoked Idaho trout, King salmon, glorious cuts of steak, and cocktails. The food is divine and the view is magical. From the outdoor terrace and indoor dining room, you’ll gaze on the Snake River Canyon, Perrine Bridge, and the Magic Valley. Bonus: cocktail hour(s) runs from 3-6 pm and from 9 pm to close, seven days a week.

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Victor

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Just over the dramatic Teton Pass, from Jackson, Wyoming, sits the cute, quiet town of Victor. What once was mostly a commuter community for Jackson’s workers who couldn’t afford to live in the swanky town, is now a destination in its own right.

Victor is nestled up to National Forest and the back side of Grand Teton National Park, and there’s great access to both of these wild places, whether on foot, ski, or on the back of a horse. Hike to Alaska Basin in GTNP or drop into the backcountry on skis atop Teton Pass. For the less energetic or more contemplative, cast a fly into local blue ribbon trout streams.

After a hike below the Tetons, stop at the Victor Emporium for one of their famous huckleberry milkshakes made with real huckleberries. This old-fashioned soda fountain also sells cute gifts and outdoorsy gear. For something stronger, check out the Grand Teton Brewing Company tasting room for brews made with water from the Tetons.

Fancy a flick enveloped in the serenity of the great outdoors? Make a date for a stop at The Spud Drive In. Look for the giant potato on the back of an old truck and you will know you are there.

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Feature photo courtesy of Idaho Tourism