In Southwest Idaho, there are adventures around every corner.
What about the things that are off the beaten path — the stuff that tourists never see? With over 15,000 square miles to explore, there’s more to Southwest Idaho than meets the eye. And we’ve got the rundown on how to experience it all like a local.
Highway 21 & Idaho City
Photo Credit: Idaho City Chamber
Perfect for: Getting away from it all. This is one of those “not yet discovered” areas, with no real tourist crowds, but lots to do.
Just east of Boise, you’ll find a drive with adventure around every corner. The road to Idaho City, Highway 21, is studded with scenic overlooks, secret trails, and local haunts.
Lucky Peak Dam is a popular spot for cookouts and swimming, but its eastern side is less used. Cross the dam and you’ll find boating and fishing spots, miles of hiking trails, a challenging frisbee golf course, and the Foote Park Interpretive Center.
Head a bit further down Highway 21 and you’ll hit Hilltop Station. Dating back to 1957, this beloved backwoods oasis doubles as a convenience store and restaurant. Do yourself a favor and grab a beer and a burger — they’re juicy, they’re tasty, and they’re absolutely enormous.
Take a left just past mile marker 22 and head down Robie Creek Road. You’ll drive through a towering canyon until you eventually reach Robie Creek Park. It’s one of Idaho City’s best-kept secrets; a sprawling park complete with a beach, swimming area, and scenic walking paths. It’s the perfect place to kayak (or SUP!) in the reservoir and relax with a picnic.
After driving another twenty minutes through pine forests, you’ll finally arrive in Idaho City. It was originally a gold rush town, and today it celebrates that heritage with museums, saloons, and Old West embellishments every way you look. Take the historical walking tour of downtown, or just wander to your heart’s content.
Stop at the quirky Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor for the best huckleberry ice cream you’ve ever tried. And don’t go back to Boise until you’ve visited Diamond Lil’s Museum, Steakhouse & Saloon. You can tell from the name alone that it’s one of a kind.
Plan ahead and reserve a spot at The Springs, a natural hot springs retreat that’s luxurious to its core. Round off your visit with a stay at their rustic-chic hotel, Inn The Pines.
local’s tip: Don’t miss out on some of the prettiest and most accessible hiking around. We’re partial to Buena Vista Trail #262, just down the road from downtown Idaho City.
Photo Credit: Livinginthenews.com
Perfect for: Small-town charm with easy access to outdoor adventure.
Weiser is the friendliest small town around. This little town of 5,000 has a vibrant sense of community that makes every visitor feel like family.
Since it’s located at the confluence of the Snake and Weiser Rivers, there are endless opportunities to explore the outdoors. You’ll find locals out fishing, hiking, boating, and mountain biking in any weather. The Weiser River Trail runs alongside the Weiser River for 84 miles and provides access to 16,000 acres of public land. Wildlife abounds on the trail, and you could spot elk, herons, or even bears.
Head east and you’ll encounter a stark contrast to these dense river habitats. The Weiser Dunes on the Idaho-Oregon border are a popular destination for dune buggies and other off-highway vehicles.
local’s tip: You can’t leave Weiser before paying a visit to the chocolatiers at Weiser Classic Candy.
Weiser is a town that appreciates spectacle. For a tiny town, there’s a myriad of live performances to enjoy. The National Oldtime Fiddlers host the annual Weiser Fiddle Festival competition. They also put on concerts, workshops, and festivals year round. You can also take in a play at the Weiser Little Theater, or catch the Illustrious Onionskin Players in the Star Theater downtown.
Even the local restaurants get in on the fun. Head to Ruszonis Pizza to see live music and grab a slice of Margherita. If you’re in the mood for coffee and a sweet treat, check out The Metropole. Try the pineapple upside down cake or a lavender sugar cookie.
Caldwell & Sunnyslope
Perfect for: Adventurous foodies and wine lovers.
Welcome to Idaho wine country. Nestled in the Snake River basin, the Sunnyslope region is replete with vineyards and orchards, but there’s more to this place than tasting tours.
Let’s start with the most important part: food. Caldwell has some of the best Mexican food in the US, and the best Mexican food in Caldwell is at Amano. It’s a pillar of the community, beloved by locals and visitors alike.
You’ll find Peaceful Belly Farms produce in every trendy farm-to-table Boise restaurant — but why not head straight to the source? They’ve recently opened their Cider House and Farm Cafe, and the menu speaks for itself. Sunchoke gnocchi in clove and warm spiced tomato gravy. Citrus, persimmon, and winter greens salad. And don’t get us started on their ciders. These house-brewed ciders run from the traditional to the experimental, but they’re delicious across the board.
The Orchard House is a classic roadside diner with an extra dose of charm. They’re open all day, but we especially love their breakfasts. Blueberry pancakes, chicken fried steak, and cinnamon rolls from scratch — this is cozy food at its best.
Of course, you can’t leave the Snake River American Viticultural Area without at least a taste. Book a wine tour or check out a couple of the many incredible wineries in the area.
local’s tip: Head to Idaho Mercantile Co. for locally-made souvenirs, nibbles, and art.
Time to take in the views. The Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds Lake Lowell, is just a few minutes’ drive from downtown Caldwell. It’s also one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the nation. It’s a popular spot for birdwatchers and hikers.
Travel a bit further south and hit up the China Ditch Trail near Melba. This loop is perfect for hikers and mountain bikers and shows off the tremendous variety of Southwest Idaho landscape. In this short hike, you’ll see towering crags, arid desert, lush streams and wildflowers, and raptors soaring overhead.
Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism
Perfect for: Sampling Southwest Idaho favorites — whitewater, hot springs, scenery, friendly locals — just an hour from Boise.
Just like its world-famous whitewater, Garden Valley is dynamic and full of energy. Outdoor adventures are around every corner.
In fact, it’s hard to know where to start. Visitors looking to test out all that Garden Valley has to offer should start at the Terrace Lakes Resort. Winter visitors can access over 250 miles of groomed trails for nordic skiing and snowmobiling. Play a round of snolf (snow golf) before you soak in their huge geothermal pool. Summer sightseers can access miles of hiking trails, and you’re steps away from the Payette River rapids. Their 18-hole golf course is totally unique — think golf meets wilderness.
The Hot Springs Campground is a hidden paradise. The campsites are surrounded by Ponderosa pines and summer wildflowers, and a natural hot spring on the banks of the river offers a place to relax, watch the sunset, and get totally lost in the beauty of nature.
local’s tip: You might not think that a small-town mountain theater would be exceptional. Starlight Mountain Theater is ready to prove you wrong.
When you’re ready to return to civilization (if you ever are), there are tons of cozy watering holes to be found in Garden Valley. The Mudroom Coffee Shop has delicious coffee, homemade pastries, and sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. Wild Bill’s Coffee & Bistro is a classic small-town diner. Locals playing cribbage on the porch, staff that treats you like family, and a delectable all-day menu — it’s a must-visit. In the evening, head to the Dirty Shame Saloon for live music, fancy cocktails, and draft beer.
Photo Credit: Deidre B Photography
Perfect for: Big vistas and small-town charm.
Talk about a hidden gem of a cowboy town. Located in between Hells Canyon and the Payette National Forest, Cambridge is a true gateway to adventure.
Start by booking a room at the Cambridge House B&B. It’s the perfect base camp. Who doesn’t want to start a day of exploration with a home cooked breakfast?
Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America. It’s famous for its boundless vistas, huge rapids, and miles of untouched wilderness. Camping, wildlife-spotting, fishing, rafting, and rich Indigenous history; there are a million memories to be made there. It’s best to get started with guidance from the experts. Check out Hells Canyon Adventures and America’s Rafting Co. and let their experienced outfitters show you the best this area has to offer.
The Payette National Forest is an alpine paradise, with countless possibilities for hiking, snowmobiling, and camping. Locals head there for salmon fishing in the late spring, huckleberry gathering in the late summer, and mushroom picking in the fall. In the winter, snowmobiling with Snowmobile Idaho is the name of the game. You’ll be able to cover miles and miles of untouched snow at a spine-tingling pace.
But what good is all this outdoor exercise if you can’t soak in a hot spring afterward? Mundo Hot Springs is a few minutes outside of Cambridge. It’s right alongside the Weiser River and offers lodging and a bistro in addition to its giant soaking pool.
local’s tip: Head to the Office Bar & Grill in downtown Cambridge for a charmingly quirky evening with top notch food. Meatballs and karaoke, anyone?
Don’t leave town without picking up some unique local specialties. Fresh baked bread and donuts from Calf Pen Products. Stunning paintings from the Kaye York Gallery. Honey and beeswax from the fifth-generation beekeepers at Kind2All Honey. This tiny town is bursting with hidden talent.
McCall, Cascade & Donnelly
Perfect for: Those who love the classic mountain escape, but want to discover something new.
Time for another road trip. Highway 55 winds north from Boise towards McCall. Along the way, you’ll pass small-town charms and magnificent scenery.
Your first stop: Volcanic Farms. You’ll find it in Horseshoe Bend, right across from the Chevron. They’re famous for their pies — in fact, many locals consider a Volcanic Farms pie an essential part of every Highway 55 journey. Take it from us when we say that you’ll want to set aside some time to tap into your adventurous side and experience the thrill of zip lining with Zip Idaho.
Summer visitors should make a stop in Cascade to visit Lake Cascade State Park. It’s chock-full of recreation opportunities. Swim. Sail. Kayak. Hike. Camp. You’ll recapture that summer camp feeling from childhood. After burning all those calories, head down the road to Cougar Mountain Lodge. It’s a beloved institution dating back to 1941. Burgers, malts, fish, fries, and prime rib on Saturdays — this is the epitome of authentic backcountry Americana.
local’s tip: Stay the night at Ashley Inn in Cascade for the perfect romantic getaway.
Making the trip in winter? Stop in Donnelly and check out Hap and Florence Points Sleigh Rides. It’s pure holiday magic. You’ll travel alongside the Gold Fork River. Along the way, you’ll spot sweeping vistas and plenty of wildlife — especially wild elk, who may even come up to the sleigh hoping for treats.
Swing by Tamarack Resort for more than just skiing. There’s also shops, restaurants, bars, and more. After your journey, warm up in one of Gold Fork Hot Springs’ five beautiful pools.
It would take you months to even scratch the surface of what McCall has to offer, but there’s more to this place than its most popular tourist destinations. Its local stomping grounds are just as awesome.
Spend the day swimming and relaxing at one of the public beaches, or explore the trails at Ponderosa State Park. If you’re craving something sweet afterwards, stroll down to Ice Cream Alley for a mountain-sized scoop. Or treat yourself to gingersnaps and potato knishes at Stacey Cakes.
Go full mountain man and book a trip with Hells Canyon Raft. Nothing will make you feel like a native Idahoan like sleeping under the stars, surrounded by miles of untouched backcountry wilderness.
Our favorite outdoor refuge in McCall is Charlie’s Garden. It’s a little hard to find but worth the effort. This botanical garden combines vibrant, manicured garden beds with rugged Northwest scenery. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else in the world.
Wanderlust still not sated? Learn how to let loose like a local in Boise, or discover more small town travels.