There’s a small mountain town about 100 miles north of Boise that’s a popular winter retreat for Idahoans and tourists alike. But when the weather warms up and the snow melts, that’s when the real fun begins!
August is the perfect time to visit McCall for an adventurous day in the sun. It’s normally about 10° cooler in McCall than it is in Boise and Payette Lake is always refreshingly cold due to it’s constant re-circulation. McCall offers a little bit of something for everyone, from downtown shopping and good eats, to adrenaline filled boating, slower-paced stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, heart-racing mountain biking, or a quiet hike in the woods.
So pack the sunscreen and the bug spray and get ready for a day of adventure!
Downtown McCall is located right on the banks of Payette Lake and is small but full of life. As you stroll along the sidewalk you’ll find stores filled with local goods and beautiful artwork, clothing boutiques, restaurants and more. This is where it tends to be most crowded, especially on the weekend, but if crowds don’t bother you, stick around and enjoy the post-card views, oohing and ahhing of watercraft at the docks, the bars and nightclubs, whatever floats your boat.
Speaking of boat … you just may have to become buddies with someone who has a boat and convince them to make the trek to McCall because Payette Lake is a boater’s paradise. On almost any given day in the summer you will see a range of old fishermen anchored off shore hoping to catch the big one, families taking the ski boat for an afternoon cruise or even the occasional, beautifully restored classic sailboat enjoying the evening breeze.
If you don’t have a boat, don’t consider yourself out of luck because Payette Lake is a popular place to fish from the shore, kayak, stand up paddle board and swim! Don’t have a stand up paddle board (SUP) or kayak, no worries you can rent one from Mile High Marina and other rental companies.
As one can imagine, with all this fun to be had, Payette Lake can become quite crowded on a Saturday afternoon, so if a quiet paddle on glass water is more your style you may want to consider Upper Payette Lake. Just a quick drive up Warren Wagon Rd. leads you to the quiet escape of tranquility. As you relax on the shore or in the water you may see bald eagles soaring above you, an occasional deer grazing near the shore, and fish jumping out of the water just begging to be caught.
McCall is more than just a water lover’s dream. It’s also a very popular place for those who want to go fast … on two wheels (or four) that is. Just outside of town are miles and miles of trails for both mountain bikes and off-road vehicles. A well-known place ride mountain bikes with a variety of trails ranging in difficulty is Brundage while off-road enthusiasts can ride on countless trails to lookout towers and scenic views.
The BEST, and yes I’m going on the record and saying the BEST thing to do in August in McCall is huckleberry picking. A popular and easy place to pick huckleberries is Ponderosa State Park, some say they can pull off the side of the road and fill a bucket, but as you guessed they can get cleared out very quickly. If you want to venture away from the crowds, I suggest researching exactly what kind of plant you are looking for(they look very similar to blueberries and tend to be on medium sized, wide bushes) and try your luck.
Much like a favorite hunting or fishing spot it’s damn near impossible to get someone to tell you where their prized secret huckleberry picking spot are, so I’m going to keep this vague (because as much as I may love you, I’m not going to tell you either ♥), take a drive, find a forest service road and get to walking. I hiked only about a mile or so up a particular dirt road and found a good sized patch. This also happens to check off another item on the McCall summer bucket list … Take a hike! McCall is a hiker’s paradise (just be bear aware) and since your going to be burning so many calories you’re perfectly justified in eating your weight in huckleberries!
If your striking out on a random forest road, I will tell you that they can be found around Upper Payette Lake … there I’ve said too much! I can hear the townsfolk chanting and carrying pitchforks now!
Where to stay:
I knew you wanted to stay longer than a day, so rest assured rental cabins and AirBnBs abound in McCall! I have stayed in a rental cabin off Warren Wagon Rd. in the winter time and it was a great way to experience the mountain life without having to spend the hefty price tag of buying a lodge…
Ponderosa State Park is a popular place to camp near town, but there’s also remote camping in the neighboring forest, along with campgrounds at Upper Payette Lake.
BUT …. if you’re feeling a desire to splurge, and you’re lucky enough to get a reservation … the place to stay in McCall is the Shore Lodge . Be prepared to drop some major dough but the luxury is unrivaled in town. There’s an onsite spa, fine dining, and gorgeous views. A personal cherry-on-top feature of mine is that it’s surprisingly dog friendly! For an additional $25 your fur baby gets to tag along and stay in a designated dog friendly King Suite and receives a pet welcome letter, baggie mitt, dog treat, dog bowls and a mat! I’ll be honest … this is still on my McCall to-do list, like I said summer books fast, but you can often find discounted rooms in the off-season!
Where to grub:
A personal favorite is My Father’s Place in downtown. The patio is dog-friendly and the burgers, sweet potato fries, and huckleberry milkshakes are absolutely amazing.
But save room for dessert and take a little walk to Ice Cream Alley . A local and visitor favorite alike, you’ll know you’re at the right place when you see the long line of kids, both young and old, eagerly waiting in the hot summer sun for a mountain of ice cream. The photo below is a single scoop!
If you’re craving a beer and good pub food Salmon River Brewery is always a good idea. The pretzel and beer cheese dip is a guilty pleasure when it’s paired with a good chocolate oatmeal stout …
If you’re looking for somewhere with a little more of a low-key atmosphere, Bistro 45 is a great place to grab a light bite, a good glass of wine and enjoy the shade and even an occasional local band playing some tunes.
Whether you decide to play for a few hours or a weekend, McCall is a fantastic summer getaway with so much to offer. Please remember that some people call this place home, so clean up after yourself, be friendly, and support local shops and restaurants!
= dog friendly