Growing up near the coast in Southern California, I often found myself wearing a tank top and sandals on Christmas Day, dreaming of what it would be like to wake up to a winter wonderland in my own front yard. Well, fast forward a few years and I would find myself arriving to a snow covered Boise on December 27th …
50° was cold in my hometown, so you can imagine just how quickly that excitement wore off when the thermometer read a chilly -6° while I was still unpacking my UGG boots and sweatshirts. The first few months of Idaho life was filled with learning how to shovel snow (which is a great winter workout by the way), buying legit snow boots & beanies (lots of beanies), and mostly unpacking and settling into our new home.
This year marked my third “real winter” and I think I’ve got it figured it out. You can’t get cabin fever, you have to find activities that will make you say winter went by too fast. He are my tips on how to have a very merry winter :
Soaking in hot springs:
Idaho has a lot more than potatoes under ground, it has a surprising amount of geothermal activity (we are close to Yellowstone after all). Idaho has these hidden gems many outsiders don’t know about, and that would be its hot springs! There is something truly special about soaking in a natural hot spring during a snow storm. There are dozens of natural hot springs to be found and you can find some great info online at Idaho Hot Springs .
A personal favorite of mine is Kirkham Hot Springs off of Highway 21 just outside of the mountain town of Lowman. It’s a short (and slippery, so come prepared) walk from the parking lot. There are several pools next to the Payette River varying in temperature. It can be quite crowded on the weekends, so I suggest sneaking away during the week for some quiet and solitude.
*local tip – after visiting Kirkham Hot Springs stop by the town of Lowman and visit my friends at South Fork Lodge for some good food, a drink by the fire pit, or even a relaxing stay in one of their rooms! Their dining area is beautiful!
For those of us who spend spring through fall riding on two wheels, winter can be a long wait for the snow to melt away. But, if you find yourself missing the twist of the throttle and the smell of fuel, there’s a way to battle those winter blues: hop on a snowmobile and experience the trails in a whole new way! I was hesitant at first and obviously worried about the cold, but with the proper equipment it wasn’t bad at all! The mountain town of McCall is the go-to place for snowmobiling close to Boise with a good mixture of groomed trails and fresh untouched powder to play in. Don’t have your own sled? No worries, McCall has several rental companies who rent out snowmobiles and even some snow bikes. Our buddy came out for a visit from NorCal and all he wanted to do was go snowmobiling! We rented our snowmobiles and gear from CM Backcountry Rentals and Adventures . I rented a Polaris RMK 600 and the hubby and friend rented the 800 pros and they were perfect for the type of terrain we were riding. It’s not a cheap day trip (but a heck of a lot cheaper than buying your own). It was a great day spent on the trails, digging out my husbands sled, and soaking in hot springs.
Oh yes, more hot springs. It’s a must-do when riding a snowmobile in McCall. Burgdorf hot springs is an easy ride off of Warren Waggon Rd. It costs $10 a person to soak and they don’t have any beer or alcohol, but they do have food and soda available for purchase. It can be crowded on the weekends, but since we were there on a Tuesday it was quiet and we only had to share the massive pool with a sweet couple visiting from Rhode Island. Ride a snowmobile, pull off to the hot springs, rent a suit and towel for $3 and soak away the miles of weary bones. Sounds like a good day doesn’t it?
Finish your day of adventuring with a drink in your hand at Salmon River Brewery. It’s a great place with views of the (now frozen) Payette Lake and a rotating tap. Their nitro stout is amazing and goes perfectly with an elk burger, fried pickle spears, and pretzel w/beer cheese dip (and yes you will be so famished after a day on the trails that you will want to order everything).
Speaking of McCall… you must go to the Winter Carnival in February, all of your friends and coworkers will be talking about it and you’ll regret it for a year if you missed your chance to wander through ice sculptures while holding a warm cup of hot cocoa. The normally quiet town of McCall comes to life for 10 days for their Winter Carnival which includes dozens of ice sculpture masterpieces, concerts, fireworks over the lake, a parade and more. If you want to get the whole experience I suggest renting a cabin for the night so you have 2 days to soak in the experience. A great place to eat in McCall is My Father’s Place right in the heart of town. The patio is dog friendly (even in the winter), the burgers are amazing, sweet potatoes and fry sauce are a must, and for some reason you will suddenly be craving a huckleberry milkshake in spite of the bitter mountain cold.
(I may be a bit biased, but Butters makes a pretty adorable fish hook)
Oh what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh … Ok it may not be a one horse drawn sleigh, but it will get make your inner Christmas elf grin with glee! It has been on my bucket list for quite some time to go on a sleigh ride in the mountains and this past Christmas I was able to do so while my parents were up for the holiday. The town of Garden Valley is only about an hour outside of Boise, but it’s truly a winter wonderland. Surrounded by rugged snow covered mountains and with a population of only about 400 people you’ll quickly realize just how far away you are from the chaos of the nearest mall filled with crazy shoppers. Idaho Sleigh Rides is the star of this town come winter time and has several different options to choose from when it comes to their sleigh rides. There’s hot cocoa and coffee waiting for you when you get back from a 45 minute ride through the snow with breathtaking views and a few local elks waiting to get up close and personal with your sleigh.
I have absolutely fallen in love with snowshoeing! It’s the perfect winter excursion for those who need to get out of the house and take a walk in the woods. There’s something about the sound of snowshoes crunching in the snow. One of our absolute favorite places to go is at Whoop Em Up Creek off Highway 21 in the Boise National Forest and is only about an hour and a half drive from Boise. The trails are easy to moderate in skill level and can be navigated to make either a quick short stretch of the legs or a longer trek to a yurt that you could rent out. Sadly, in 2016 the Pioneer Fire swept through the area and charred a lot of the forest, but it’s still beautiful when it’s covered in feet of snow! Butters often tags along with us on our snowshoeing excursions and so can your dog too. I highly recommend starting with short walks in the snow and keeping an eye out for the danger signs of exposure to your pup (especially their paws). This can be a great dog friendly winter time activity with the right breed and the right dog. When Butters comes along we know that day is more about her and doing what she’s comfortable with and for how long. Talk to your vet or local specialty pet store about booties, creams, and more to make snowshoeing that much more enjoyable for man’s best friend!
After hours of snowshoeing and burning all of those holiday calories you’re probably going to be starving! Good. You MUST stop in Idaho City and eat at Trudy’s Kitchen. You’ll know you’re at the right place when over half of the cars you see in Idaho City are all in one parking lot, right in front of the diner. The chicken strips and finger steaks are amazing. My husband devoured his burger and my mom was practically in heaven as she was savoring her French dip sandwich. But the best part about going to Trudy’s is finishing the meal off with a slice of their world famous huckleberry cheesecake. It’s seriously some of the best, if not THE best cheesecake I’ve ever had. You will not regret the calories but you will regret not stopping at Trudy’s!
For less than $10 and without ever having to leave Boise you can provide yourself an afternoon of fun that will have your inner child squealing with delight as you rush down your neighborhood hill on a sled. There’s something about huffing and puffing your way up a hill dragging a piece of plastic with a rope and then sliding all the way down to the bottom as fast as you can go! This is probably one of the cheapest and easiest forms of winter activities I’ve found and is something that can be done even after a long day at the office and you just want to let that stress go for a few minutes! Camelback Park in Boise and Settlers Park in Meridian seem to be the hot spots to go around these parts, but I prefer to take a quick drive to the forest and find a more secluded spot to avoid collisions.
We gave our niece & nephew the whole Idaho experience when they came up for a visit! They were very excited to play in the snow and escape the desert of SoCal for a bit!
S’mores by the fire:
Ok this may not be much of an activity and is most of the time associated with the good ol’ days of summer, but what’s better than a nice and toasty fire when it’s below freezing outside. Bust out the beanie and the gloves and build yourself a fire in the backyard and roast up some mallows. It’s a great way to get outside and reminisce about warmer days for a bit without freezing to death!
Oh yes the old standby. I’ll be honest I’m not much of a snowboarding type, but man do Idahoans love it! Only 45 minutes from my front door lies Bogus Basin, the local ski resort and we have 3 other mountains all within 3 hours from here! Sun Valley is very popular along with Tamarack and Brundage near McCall. They all rent skis and snowboards so if you don’t think that you would use them enough to own them you can always rent for the day! I’ve found that heading up to Bogus is a great way to escape the gloomy inversions we tend to get in January and February here in Boise. It may be gloomy down in the valley, but a quick drive up the mountain and you have clear skies and fresh powder for days.
Ok you know I had to have something about a road trip on here. I saved this one for last not only because I save the best (in my opinion) for last, but also because it’s a great activity for that end of winter weekend where it’s not quite warm enough to bust out the hiking shoes but you can’t going snowshoeing again for the umpteenth time this season. My absolute favorite drive to do here is what’s called the Lowman Loop. It’s about a 3-4 hour drive from Boise round trip and it takes you through mountains, valleys and even by some hot springs. You begin in Boise by heading north on Highway 21 until you reach the town of Lowman, you then turn onto the Banks Highway which takes you through Garden Valley and then to the small town of Banks where you would turn south onto Highway 55 back to Boise. My favorite part of this drive, besides the scenic view points that give you the opportunity to stare out at postcard picture views, has got to be the wildlife. Come late January through spring the elk and deer make the Banks Highway home and in the time it takes you to do the loop you could have the opportunity to see hundreds of deer and elk, and I’m not exaggerating! Obviously proceed with caution on this loop in the winter due to the wildlife but also because road conditions still may be a little sketchy in certain places. So I advise you to slow down, pack an emergency bag with the essentials,take in the view, enjoy the lack of traffic and watch the elk and deer graze alongside the highway. Butters absolutely loves this drive and even knows the word “Look!” means to wake up there’s a deer or elk to bark at!
This is also a great time to enjoy one of natures finest treasure hunts: shed hunting. I absolutely love trying to find antler sheds! Pull off the side of the road and try your luck at finding your next best fireplace mantle decor!
Winter can be a tough season to get through, this year especially with record breaking snowfall and with snow flurries being seen as late as the end of February. But with a little creativity, some warm clothes and an adventurous spirit come March you’ll find yourself looking forward to next winter already.