Sure, Southwest Idaho is known as a haven for skiers and a magnet for snowmobilers, but that’s just the tip of the Idaho iceberg!
Choose an add-on to your trip or plan a getaway around one of Southwest Idaho’s signature winter events. Either way, you’ll warm up to adventure in no time.
Festival of Trees: Take a glittering tour through a forest of themed trees decorated by Boise businesses at this storied fundraiser for Saint Alphonsus Hospital. Canyon County, just a short drive from the Boise airport, hosts its own sparkling version to benefit the Meals on Wheels program.
Lights, lights, lights: These gargantuan displays pack enough wattage to make Clark Griswold’s efforts look like a nightlight. Winter Garden aGlow takes over the Idaho Botanical Garden, as it has for nearly 40 years. Grab a hot drink, and take in scene after scene. Scentsy Commons, the Meridian fragrance company, opens its grounds so the public can meander through more than 40 miles of eye-catching lights. Not to be outdone, Indian Creek Plaza — a.k.a. the heart of the City of Caldwell — transforms into a winter wonderland of more than one million (yes, one million!) lights. Outdoor mall-and-entertainment hub The Village in Meridian goes all out with the decorations, but if the kids (or you) are too tired for a walk, check out Christmas in Color Drive-Thru at the Idaho Fairgrounds in Boise. Tune your radio to the event’s station to sync music with the dazzling lights.
Sheepherder’s Ball: Take your time touring historic Boise’s Basque Block before heading to this traditional event, a holdover from the days when Basques ran boarding houses and held competing holiday dances throughout downtown. Boise’s celebrated Oinkari Basque Dancers will perform during this lively ball. Nosh on a chorizo sandwich and sample the full bar — your donations will benefit a family facing daunting medical bills.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho’s only bowl game takes place on the legendary blue turf of Boise State University’s Albertsons Stadium. We don’t yet know which teams will clash on the field, but you can be sure it’ll be a tailgaters’ paradise. Potatoes are pretty much guaranteed to be on the menu.
Make some gifts: Earn some extra brownie points by making gifts for your loved ones. Try a glass-blowing class at Boise Art Glass or Zion Warne Studios, make fragrant custom candles at Lit & Co., or create your own pottery or jewelry at Clay Collective. You can also take the easy route and buy unique wares from any of these makers.
Light Up the Night: Brundage Mountain Resort is legendary for its friendly atmosphere and jaw-dropping scenery, and it takes fun to another level during this New Year’s Eve event. Prepare to be wowed by slope-side fireworks, a torchlight parade down the mountain, and plenty of family activities.
Idaho Potato Drop: Of course Idaho drops a potato on New Year’s Eve rather than a disco ball – and it’s just as strange and wonderful as it sounds. This lively event takes place in Cecil Andrus Park in the shadow of the Idaho Statehouse, where you’ll be able to dance the night away, take in art performances, and snack and drink your way into the New Year.
New Year Lantern Lighting Festival: One of the Northwest’s largest lantern lighting fests takes flight in the outdoor paradise of Garden Valley. Ring in the New Year by purchasing a 100% biodegradable lamp, making a wish, and releasing it into the night sky.
Polar Bear Challenge: Kick off 2023 by doing some good! Brave folks plunge into the frigid Lucky Peak Reservoir during this rambunctious event to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Register before you arrive in Boise and do a little online fundraising before wading into the water.
Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo: Idaho is one of the world’s prime fly fishing locations, so it’s no shocker that anglers flock to this annual expo. Take a tying class, see a pro demonstration, or add to your collection of gear.
McCall Winter Carnival: For decades, this beloved festival has been as essential to winter as, well, snow. Explore incredible snow-and-ice carvings and family-friendly activities in gorgeous McCall, nestled along the shores of Payette Lake.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE …
Go Tubing: Let your inner kid loose by tackling the fast-paced Bogus Basin tubing hill. Go during bowl season, and you might find the Boise State Broncos and out-of-state players giggling together as they speed toward the bottom.
Try Park N’ Ski: Pay $25 for full season access to one of 17 cross-country and snowshoe access points. No resorts or fancy lifts here — you really do just park and ski. How easy is that? Six of the locations are just a short drive from Boise.
Cruise the Garden City Craft Beverage Corridor: Warm up with a self-guided beer and wine tour through the Treasure Valley’s most talked about up-and-coming city. Along the way, you’ll hit everything from fun-loving Potter Wines to elegant Telaya Wine Company to party-happy Powderhaus Brewing to Viking-inspired Barbarian Brewing.
Sample the Warehouse Food Hall: One of the most recent additions to Boise’s ever-expanding food scene, Warehouse Food Hall brings some of Idaho’s most inventive restaurants together in one easy-to-navigate downtown space. Hit it up on Tuesdays for trivia, Wednesdays and Thursdays for live music, or set aside the third Wednesday of the month for a meal and a tableside magic show.
Dip into hot springs: Idaho has an abundance of soothing hot springs. Try the luxe and expansive The Springs in Idaho City, relax in Kirkham Hot Springs near Lowman, or go for a proper winter outing by taking a snowmobile to Burgdorf Hot Springs north of McCall.
Take in some culture: new murals are popping up daily in Garden City thanks to the efforts of the Garden City Placemaking Fund. Check out the history of Boise’s long-term focus on public art by taking a self-guided tour. You don’t want to miss Freak Alley Gallery, the most Instagrammable spot in the city.
Explore Idaho history: Get a crash course in Southwestern Idaho history and art at the Erma Hayman House and James Castle House. These two cultural spots tell the story of this unique place through the personal stories and artifacts of Hayman, a native Idahoan and decades-long resident of the diverse River Street neighborhood, and Castle, an outsider artist who created some of the most collectible art in the world.
Amor Towles: The multi million-selling author of Rules of Civility, A Gentleman in Moscow, and The Lincoln Highway will speak as part of the Readings and Conversations Series hosted by The Cabin, the venerable Boise literary center.
See America’s bird: Winter is the best time to see America’s national bird, the bald eagle, in Idaho. These majestic raptors winter in many places in Southwestern Idaho, but one of the best spots to see them is at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Area. Take the 56-mile scenic loop and you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your heated car.
Go rock climbing: There’s a reason many rock climbers look forward to winter: lower temperatures can lead to better grip. Local outdoor climbing sites include the famous Black Cliffs near Boise and indoor spots such as Asana Climbing Gym, The Commons Climbing Gym, and Vertical View.
Meander through Cleo’s Ferry: This folk art extravaganza meanders across acres of ground and is a great visit any time of year. Expect a little bit of history and a whole lot of weird.
Want even more fantastic wintry ideas? Check out our Travel Guides for the best of the best and begin planning your next trip.