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Boise is Idaho’s capital city and a wonderful place to start exploring the rugged but beautiful southwestern region of the state. French Canadian fur trappers gave the city it’s name because of the cottonwoods, birch and willow trees that line the river flowing through the area. When they came upon this swath of greenery after a long desert passage, they shouted “Les bois!” Today, we simply refer to it as the City of Trees.
Boise was founded on the Oregon Trail in 1863 as a farming and supply center for the many mining communities in the region. Today, it is a bustling city where arts, culture, and history are integral parts of everyday life. Visit the Boise City Department of Arts and History for detailed information about the art galleries, music festivals, live theatre and sporting events as well as the colorful history of the area. The famous Boise greenbelt is a walking, biking, jogging path that follows the beautiful Boise River for 25 miles through the heart of the city, a series of parks and out into the countryside. It is a favorite of wildlife and nature lovers as well as fishermen and those who like to float the river in tubes, rafts or kayaks in the summer.
Visitors are always excited to find the dining and nightlife scene is so much more than they thought it would be. From the four-star establishments offering continental cuisine to outdoor cafes and trendy coffee shops, you’ll find great food, friendly people and lots of reasons to come back for more.
From Boise, you can drive many of the most exciting, beautiful and educational scenic byways in North America. You’ll also find an abundance of places to experience world class luxury, or pioneer-era ruggedness. Whether you seek adventure, relaxation, a romantic vacation or simply want to learn more about the Real America, Southwest Idaho has it all.
Heading north from Boise you’ll find the Payette River Scenic Byway which takes you through the Boise and Payette National Forests and up Highway 55 to the popular resort towns of Cascade and McCall before reaching the northern end of the byway at New Meadows. It can be a distracting drive as this river can be gentle one moment and a wild torrent the next. There are plenty of places to stop to view the wilder parts and treat your senses to the sight, sound, smell, and rhythm of Idaho’s famous whitewater. There are also great locations for camping, hiking, boating, fishing, and guided float trips. Outfitters offer river excursions that range from half-day to three-day outings in rafts or kayaks.
The mountain resort town of McCall sits next to Payette Lake and is a great year-round getaway. It is particularly famous for the annual Winter Carnival, when the streets are lined with ice sculptures.
If you turn off Highway 55 at Banks, you’ll follow the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway beside the South Fork of the Payette River to a junction with the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway on Highway 21. The South Fork canyon is one of the most popular stretches of river for whitewater rafting in the United States. Herds of elk are often seen in the canyon along with mule deer, whitetail deer, chukars, wild turkeys, eagles, ospreys, cougars, bears, and wolves. Several campgrounds have natural hot springs to enjoy, as well as trails for hiking and biking. In winter months, the trails provide miles of snowmobile and skiing adventure. You will also find motels, bed and breakfasts, a musical theatre, and even a golf course. For more information on our scenic byways, visit Idaho Scenic Byways online.
One of the more spectacular sights we have to offer is Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area. Carved by the great Snake River, Hells Canyon plunges more than a mile below Oregon's west rim, and 8,000 feet below snowcapped He Devil Peak of Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains, making this the deepest river gorge in North America. Prehistoric sites representing a 10,000-year history of the Native American culture; historic ruins of the American West; rare combinations of diverse ecosystems; and unique land formations can be viewed from rafts, jet boats, hiking or horseback rides.
We also have the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America at Bruneau Dunes State Park. Idaho's largest public observatory is located at this park and a visitor center offers information on birds of prey, insects, fossils, wildlife and the dunes. Bird watching, fishing and climbing are popular pastimes at the park.
Near the dunes, the even more spectacular Bruneau Canyon will take your breath away. The 60-mile long chasm features vertical walls rising 800 to 1,200 feet above the river.
Highway 78 traverses 80 miles of Owyhee County between Bruneau and Marsing. The worst Indian massacre in Oregon Trail history took place on Castle Creek, about 28 miles from Bruneau, in September of 1860.
A dirt road (best avoided in winter) leads southwest from Murphy to the foot of War Eagle Mountain and Idaho’s best-preserved ghost town, Silver City. Discovery of gold and silver in the 1860’s led to a classic mining boom and Silver City was home to Idaho’s first telegraph and first newspaper. The Idaho Hotel still offers rooms, a café and lounge.
Near Marsing, right beside Highway 78, is Givens Hot Springs, a perfect place to stop and relax after an exciting day of exploring in southwest Idaho. Oregon Trail pioneers Milford and Mattie Givens discovered these natural hot springs in 1879.
On the north side of the Snake River, near Boise, is the World Center for Birds of Prey and the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area. The conservation area was established in 1993 to protect a unique environment that supports one of the world's densest concentrations of nesting birds of prey including falcons, eagles, hawks, and owls. The center is The Peregrine Fund's world headquarters. At the visitor center you can explore and discover the amazing world of raptors eye to eye. They have a courtyard full of native and non-native birds, daily raptor presentations, interactive exhibits and falconry tours.
In winter months, we offer some of the finest winter sports facilities in the USA. Bogus Basin, just minutes from downtown Boise, offers over 2,600 skiable acres for skiers and riders of all abilities. The mountain is open until 10pm most nights, providing a great way to end the day.
Brundage Mountain, right outside McCall, is best known for it’s powder-stuffed glades and luxuriously wide groomed runs. Brundage has 19,000 acres of backcountry Cat Skiing and offers overnight adventures featuring a stay in a Pacific Yurt warmed by a wood fire high on a mountainside.
Idaho consistently ranks in the top 10 of America’s best destinations for snowmobiling. The McCall-Donnelly-Cascade area in the Payette River Mountains Region lies in the heart of the action-packed fun zone for groomer riders and powder shredders. More than 1,000 miles of trails in the immediate vicinity are groomed at least once a week, making for a smooth adventure.
There is much more to this land of adventure we know as Southwest Idaho. We welcome wanderers of all ages and we hope you’ll visit the online pages of the Southwest Idaho Travel Association to plan your visit soon.
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