My husband Rob and I share a mutual love for outdoor fun, so as our first wedding anniversary approached, we heeded the call of the open road and set out on our dream road trip—an action-packed outdoor adventure in Southwest Idaho.
Our first stop was the famed Bruneau Dunes State Park, home of the tallest single-structure dune in North America. We arrived at the Visitor’s Center in time to see the ranger unlock the front doors and were first in line for board rentals. I’m not normally a fan of early mornings, or blowing sand, but I was so overcome by the extreme landscape of this 11,000-year-old force of nature that small discomforts didn’t even register. The stark outline of sand, sweeping upward against the brilliant blue sky, took my breath away.
So did the hike to the top of the dune. But it was something so different than anything I’d experienced before, that I hardly noticed how difficult it was to climb uphill. I kicked off my shoes and enjoyed the feeling of my feet sinking through the sand, still cool in the morning light. It was hard to believe that I was in Idaho, a state I’d always associated with pine forests, raging rivers and mountain passes.
After an intense climb, while a herd of antelope lazily grazed by the lake below, I reached the summit. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I strapped into my board. Would my snowboarding skills translate to these sandy slopes? Only one way to find out. Rob and I raced down the side of the dune, carving through the sand sending plumes of powder into the air.
Waking up amidst the pines to another beautiful day in Southwest Idaho is a breeze. Spending it traversing the mountain bike trails just outside Boise, on the other hand, requires some exertion. Sure, there are plenty of beginner rides in Treasure Valley, including Boise’s beloved paved Greenbelt, which runs along the river for 25 miles. But Rob and I were after the kind of terrain only found on a ski hill, in this case, Boise’s Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area.
The only thing higher than my heart rate was the altitude. Starting at Deer Point chairlift meant starting at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. It also meant taking advantage of an incredible network of covered forests and exposed slopes. Dense patches of tall trees gave way to open meadows dotted with of wildflowers, and even though we’re total thrill junkies, we had to pause every once in awhile to take in views of the valley below. For every minute spent strategically bunny-hopping over logs and roots, there was at least 30 thrilling seconds of reaching max speed on an open run. Our Kona mountain bikes may not have been made in Southwest Idaho, but they were definitely made for Southwest Idaho.
While our mountain biking adventure involved a few yard sales (looks-worse-than-it-feels spills), our next adventure against a Ponderosa pine backdrop involved voluntary dismounts. That’s not to say we didn’t have to earn each refreshing dip in the river during our afternoon with Cascade Raft and Kayak. Our guide put us to work paddling our 15-foot-long vessel through Class IV rapids like Bronco Billy and Staircase.
While the guide shouted instructions over the raging whitewater, Rob and I and the rest of the right side of our raft paddled backward against the strong current. Just as my core was about to combust—or my six-pack was about to be born—we got our next command. Bracing myself for the impending wave, I instinctively closed my mouth. A rush of cold, fresh water blasted me. Rob, whose GoPro was capturing all of the action as well as wildlife sightings, was soaked, too. He summed up the quarter-mile-long ribbon of rapids perfectly: “Now I know how it feels to be in a pinball machine!”
I didn’t disagree. Still, I was willing to bet my life that a half-day on the Payette River provided more exhilaration than one could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime of arcade hopping.
Camping is one of the best ways to experience Idaho in the summer. But for the final nights of our anniversary getaway we splurged and reserved a room with real sheets and running water. On paper, the name Seven Devils Lodge doesn’t exactly scream “romantic.” However, in person, the property’s pastoral setting on a historic cattle ranch—nestled at the base of the Seven Devils Mountain Range—is perfect for falling (or in our case, re-falling) in love. It’s heaven on earth, unless you’re allergic to horses.
Eager to get our shiny new cowboy boots dirty, Rob and I followed our guide out to the barn to meet Bandit, Shanghai and the rest of the herd. We spent most of the morning in the arena, learning the art-meets-sport of barrel racing. Drawing a clover leaf on paper requires a steady hand but isn’t too hard. Creating one in the dirt, on horseback and against the racing clock, on the other hand, requires breaking a sweat (and hopefully not a bone or two).
After an afternoon trail ride to Bear Creek Falls and a sunset Champagne toast, Rob suggested we test out the lodge’s hot tub. He didn’t want to see if the jets were working as much as he wanted to soak his muscles. I knew this because I, too, was wonderfully exhausted from the past few action-packed days.