Life is short, and in Southwest Idaho, you can make the most of it.
Ride the Rapids
Cascade Raft and Kayak Whitewater Rafting Trip
There’s nothing like that first drop into a whitewater rapid. It’s somewhere between riding a rollercoaster and a bucking bronco — the best kind of chaos. In between rapids, you’ll float through wild backcountry that’s otherwise inaccessible.
Whitewater rafting may be THE quintessential Idaho experience. Fortunately, anyone at any level of adventure-seeking can enjoy it thanks to a cadre of experienced guides. You can book a trip that’ll last anywhere from half a day to a couple of weeks. Raft the Main Payette with Cascade Raft and Kayak, the Lower Salmon with America’s Rafting Co., or stunning Hells Canyon with Hells Canyon Adventures and Hells Canyon Raft.
Local’s Tip: Head up to the North Fork Championships to watch the world’s best kayakers tackle Class V rapids.
Soak in a Hot Spring
Pine Flats Hot Spring Near Lowman – Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism
Southwest Idaho’s mountains hide hundreds of hot springs. For thousands of years, people have journeyed to these geothermal hideaways for relaxation and healing. Choose between hidden mountain pools or developed springs with modern conveniences. Take a winter hike up to secret snow-lined thermal springs. Enjoy a glass of wine and watch a summer sunset from a luxurious hot tub.
Whether you go rugged or refined, nothing’s better than plunging into ancient mineral water and soaking your cares away.
Plunge into the surging waters of the Snake River as you navigate through powerful rapids and the deepest gorge North America.
Experience the most remote region of the canyon where you will find the deepest elevations, the biggest rapids and the most stunning scenery.
Local’s Tip: Make your escape and head to The Springs for a sumptuous spa experience.
Experience Basque Culture
The Basque Market Paella
Ongi etorri! Welcome to the American Basque Country. Basque immigrants flocked to Idaho in the 1830s and 1930s during times of civil turmoil in their home county. Today, Boise is the center of Basque-American culture — a culture that’s steeped in resilience, history, and tradition.
The Basque Block in downtown Boise is home to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, bustling Basque restaurants, and the Basque Market.
Basque folk dancing. Fast-paced games of jai alai. Paella that feeds hundreds. Delicious pintxos (Basque tapas) like croquetas, chorizo, patatas bravas, and Spanish-style tortillas. Endless glasses of kalimotxo. What could be better? Come celebrate the spirit of Euskadi. Every five years, the block hosts Jaialdi, a cultural festival that draws thousands of people from all over the world.
Stargazing at Bruneau Dunes
Southwest Idaho is home to dramatic scenery you won’t find anywhere else. Whether by car or on foot, you’ve gotta get out and check out the wild side of Idaho.
The Bruneau Dunes may be only an hour southeast of Boise, but you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. Rolling sand dunes tower out of the surroundings. Serene lakes ringed with desert willows lie at the base. At night, the entire Milky Way stretches overhead. It’s an otherworldly place to hike, camp, and relax.
The Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway connecting Banks and Lowman lives up to its name. It’s 33 miles of breathtaking views. The road follows the turbulent South Fork of the Payette through a soaring canyon. You might spot elk, raptors, and bears in this wild stretch of backcountry.
Want to spot raptors up close? Head to the World Center for Birds of Prey and meet hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons in this high desert conservation center.
There are thousands of scenic hikes all over Southwest Idaho. Desert waterfalls, alpine meadows, lofty peaks, placid lakes — it would take a lifetime to explore it all. Better get started.
Local’s Tip: Our favorite way to spend an Instagrammable afternoon? A voyage with McCall Lake Cruises.
Party in the Streets
Boise is a small city with a big appetite for fun. Head downtown to explore the thriving music scene, James Beard Award-winning restaurants, lively bars, and vibrant atmosphere.
Get dressed up (or not) and stroll down to 8th St., where you’ll find bustling crowds and laid-back patio dining. It’s the heart of Boise’s food scene. Local chefs treasure farm-to-table ingredients and a relaxed ambiance. Begin your culinary adventure with apps at longtime favorite Bittercreek Alehouse, or just choose one spot to enjoy a meal and some good people-watching.
Take a walk down Freak Alley after your meal and snap some pics. Freak Alley, the northwest’s largest open-air, multi-artist mural gallery, is lined with graffiti and street art. It’s a celebration of Boise’s booming art community.
Ready to get the party started? Boise’s nightlife ranges from crowded dance floors to laid-back beer gardens. Wine bars, cocktail lounges, breweries, and nightclubs pack downtown all within walking distance.
Local’s Tip: Don’t miss the party of the year. Every spring, Treefort Music Festival takes over downtown Boise. A five-day celebration of music, art, and culture.
Explore the Wild West
View of the Owyhees
The spirit of the Old West is alive and well in Southwest Idaho. Cowboy up and start exploring.
Schedule a stay at one of Southwest Idaho’s guest ranches, such as Wapiti Meadow Ranch. These working ranches double as vacation retreats. Spend the day horseback riding, fishing, and tossing horseshoes. End the night telling ghost stories around a roaring campfire.
Idaho City was once the gold rush capital of Idaho. Now it’s a cozy mountain town chock-full of history. Visit in the fall to experience Idaho City Days, complete with cowboy poets, fresh-pressed cider, antique vendors, and tall-tale competitions.
Pack a picnic and venture back in time to one of Southwest Idaho’s ghost towns. Silver City is an old mining town nestled high in the Owyhee Mountains that comes back to life with visitors every weekend. Roseberry, an old Finnish settlement, is a semi-preserved ghost town outside of Donnelly that hosts a summer music festival.
Local’s Tip: The Weiser Fiddle Festival will have you tapping your toes to the music of the old frontier.
Have Some Frosty Fun
McCall Winter Carnival
Clear skies. Bright sunlight. Blinding snow. Winters in Southwest Idaho are beautiful — and packed with fun.
Journey up into the mountains for downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and nordic skiing. Disconnect from everyday worries while gliding through silent snow-covered pines. Southwest Idaho’s ski resorts — Tamarack, Brundage, and Bogus Basin — draw visitors from all over the country.
The McCall Winter Carnival is a real-life winter wonderland, complete with snow sculpting competitions, candlelit parades, firework shows, and live entertainment. It’s an icy Mardi Gras that’s not to be missed. Pull on your mittens, help yourself to some mulled wine, and let the festivities begin.
Dine in style at the Blue Moon Yurt. This cozy yurt is hidden away in an old-growth Ponderosa forest. Guests ski or snowshoe along a mile of lit trail to reach their home for the evening. You’ll enjoy a multi-course gourmet meal and mugs of hot cocoa as the snow drifts down outside.
Local’s Tip: Light up those long winter nights with night skiing at Bogus Basin, one of the biggest night skiing operations in the US.
Savor Idaho Wines
Idaho Wine Trail
The Snake River Valley’s volcanic soil and warm microclimate create a winemaking haven in the heart of Southwest Idaho. Vineyards blanket the valley. Rolling hills slope down to the meandering Snake River. And award-winning wineries lie around every corner. Welcome to Idaho Wine country.
Snake River Wine Tours offers customizable excursions through this flourishing winemaking region. You’ll meet experienced vintners, wander through spectacular gardens, vineyards, and orchards, and taste the best Southwest Idaho has to offer.
Sip a small-lot Viognier and listen to live music at Indian Creek Winery. Enjoy an inky malbec and gaze at the Owyhee Mountains at Hat Ranch Winery. Sample a private reserve chardonnay during a harvest party at Huston Vineyards. Finish the day watching the sun set over the gleaming Snake River. Idyllic.
That’s it — our not-to-be-missed Southwest Idaho bucket list. We’d love to hear your ideas, too. Please share what you would add.