Getting Away

& Out of My Head

Replacing the to-do list with must-do experiences

We’d explored north, south and west of our hometown of Bend, Oregon—again, and again. And again.

With two activity-laden kids and my husband and me both typically working more than 40 hours a week, it was tough to set aside time for getaways that were longer than a weekend. Unfortunately, the repetition of hitting up our usual haunts took our quick vacations from tried-and-true to just tired. I’d spend time away from home thinking that I should have just stayed behind, running errands and catching up on laundry.

My husband suggested we go somewhere new. With an upcoming three-day weekend on the calendar, we decided to head east to the southwest corner of Idaho. The first of many trips we’d be thrilled to make again, and again. And again.

Cascade

With the weather in our favor, our tent and sleeping bags in the trunk, and bikes loaded atop our SUV’s roof rack, we headed to Lake Cascade to connect and camp in the wild. We set up our site among the pine trees at Rainbow Point, on the water’s edge, and quickly set off adventuring. Typically by this time in a weekend getaway, I’d be fretting over lunch plans. Here, away from it all, I had no choice but to let go and trust it would all work out. 

My son and I hiked along the Crown Pointe Trail in search of wildlife tracks, including deer and elk hooves, and the large padded paws of passing-through bear. We found mostly dog paw prints, but did gape at a hawk’s wide wingspan as it flew above us. 

As we walked, my husband and daughter were shore-side fishing. While their goal was to catch enough rainbow trout for dinner, the entire family was holding out hope that they’d catch a record-breaking perch. Recently, Lake Cascade has produced several state-record setting yellow perch, the result of a “lake rehab” in the early 2000s. 

We ended the evening beside a campfire, grilling rainbow trout and looking for shooting stars. As one soared above, I closed my eyes and made a simple wish: To enjoy the weekend with my family. 

We ended the evening beside a campfire, grilling rainbow trout and looking for shooting stars.

Weiser

One of my husband’s coworkers heard about our mission to explore Southwest Idaho, and recommended the Weiser River Trail. This 84-mile pathway—the longest rail-trail in the state—was a former Union Pacific Railroad freight train line turned mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking and trail running destination. 

After a campfire breakfast at our site, we drove to Weiser. Our ride started at mile zero, mere feet from where railroad tracks came to an end, beside the catfish-filled Weiser River. I took the lead on my bike, with the kids between my husband and me on the trail’s wide route.

I was used to rushing from thing to do to thing to do on our vacations, trying to pack as much as possible into each second. I let go in Southwest Idaho, speeding between farmland and low hills, turning back to point out special scenery, and slowing down to watch the river bend closer to the trail. At one bend, our family paused to make eye contact with a pair of deer grazing on Idaho grass ahead of us. 

Our reward after a several-miles-long ride: lunch and chocolates at Weiser Candy Company. Sandwich highlights included my son’s Turkey-Yaki—teriyaki-marinated turkey breast, whipped cream cheese, sprouts and Swiss cheese—and my husband’s order, the Queen Liz, with Canadian bacon, Provolone and Thousand Island-style dressing. Delicious as the sandwiches were, they were overshadowed by the colorfully wrapped confections we treated ourselves to. 

Weiser Candy Company was established in 1984 after a local woman was encouraged by her children to sell her fudge during a local festival; it was so popular, the rest is history. We shared a combination of truffles, caramel and the legendary fudge, but the highly recommended velvet mints were a standout. Soft on the outside and creamy and peppermint-flavored on the inside, we purchased a variety to use in s’mores for dessert later—that is, if my daughter didn’t eat them first. 

We took the scenic route away from Weiser, journeying from Payette to Horseshoe Bend on Highway 52, along the Lower Payette River Heritage Byway. We wound in our car to the left and right and over the Payette River, admiring the region’s beauty. 

I let go in Southwest Idaho, speeding between farmland and low hills, turning back to point out special scenery, and slowing down to watch the river bend closer to the trail.

Tamarack Resort

After two evenings of camping, we traded rugged for refined with reservations at Tamarack Resort. Tamarack Resort is a—well, it depends on the season. In summer, it’s a water wonderland with whitewater rafting, kayaking and stand-up paddling. Spring and fall bring mountain biking, hiking and more. Winter fills Tamarack Resort with thousands of beanie-to-snowshoe clad skiers and snowboarders.

After hot showers and a top-notch lunch, the four of us prepared for an activity best enjoyed on sunny summer weekends like this.

The resort’s zipline course is 3,500 feet of high-energy fun, 1,800 feet above the ground. We followed a guide and zoomed over creeks and canyons, soared through the forest canopy and landed at a tree house, 105-feet high, across eight different ziplines and two suspension bridges. 

I was so thrilled to be flying between station to station, and so focused on cheering the rest of my family on, I was sad for the experience to come to an end. It signified the beginning of the end of our weekend getaway, and I wasn’t ready to head back to the grind quite yet.

By experiencing something new and different, I was able to savor each moment. And the to-do’s back home? They waited.

I couldn’t wait to come back to Idaho.

Garden Valley

The next free weekend, we took a family trip to nearby Garden Valley, leaving work a little early to arrive before showtime. I’d come across the family-friendly lineup at Starlight Mountain Theatre and purchased tickets to a live version of Disney’s High School Musical, plus dinner. 

While the population of Garden Valley is fewer than 400 people, it’s a tight-knit community of talent—you could see how much fun the performers were having from curtain close to open. Both of my kids were up on their feet dancing during the “All In This Together” closing musical number. The talent onstage extended to the interactions pre- and post-show—the dinner servers and actors were so polite. That evening, our AirBnB transformed into a high school campus, as the kids re-enacted scenes from the play in the living room. 

The next day, we went from standing ovations to sitting saturations. We’d booked a half-day whitewater-rafting trip with Cascade Raft and Kayak, and, on such a warm day, I was excited to feel the splashes of cool water from the rapids.  I was also a bit nervous because, rapids.

No time to think. Son, daughter, husband and I were loaded into the raft. My helmet was buckled and my vest was strapped—both tight. I grabbed my paddle and relaxed for a few moments before the rapids. Our adventure on the Payette River reminded me of the thrill of ziplining. I knew that this weekend vacation would eventually come to an end, but I also knew that we’d discovered the secret to making weekends feel longer: trying something new, preferably somewhere fun like Southwest Idaho.

But I didn’t have too much time with my thoughts. We approached our first rapids and quickly dunked and dived and dipped and drenched, and our family laughed and laughed throughout the experience.  

As we dried off in the sunshine at a cove off the river, I realized: we had a whole other day of weekend fun ahead of us. I couldn’t wait to make the most of our free time, thoughts of the work week schedule far behind us over the state line.

Son, daughter, husband and I were loaded into the raft. My helmet was buckled and my vest was strapped—both tight. I grabbed my paddle and relaxed for a few moments before the rapids.

See where your family ends up on a Southwest Idaho road trip