Let’s all go to Idaho

Try a less conventional destination for a spring trip — as soon as the snow melts
By Glenda Winders // Photography courtesy of Idaho Tourism

Idaho might not be the first place that comes to mind when it’s time to plan a spring getaway, but maybe it should be. This is when a cold northern state becomes the perfect place to vacation.

“Idaho is beautiful in the spring,” says Laurie McConnell, senior tourism communications specialist at Visit Idaho. “It can be a bit chilly still in March and April, but things begin to warm up nicely from there.”

That being the case, McConnell suggests that depending on the dates of your visit you might want to start out in the southern part of the state, which would conveniently put you in Boise, the state’s capital and a good place to learn about this too-often-overlooked part of the country. Good to know before you go: The correct pronunciation of the city’s name is “Boy-see,” not “Boy-zee.”

What to do
Start exploring at the Idaho State Museum, where galleries relate a colorful history that includes Native Americans, pioneers, trappers and fur traders, and silver and gold miners. The museum recently reopened after a four-year closure to expand and install new exhibits. The Idaho Black History Museum in Julia Davis Park tells more of the history with special emphasis on the contributions of African-Americans to the state’s cultural heritage. Also in the park is the Boise Art Museum, which displays exceptional art from all over the world and spotlights the work of Idaho artists. Starting in May and continuing to autumn, you’ll be able to enjoy the outdoor Idaho Shakespeare Festival, this year featuring “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Julius Caesar” along with more modern plays.

For more state history check out the Idaho State Capitol Building, the only one in the country heated by geothermal water that’s tapped and pumped from a source 3,000 feet underground; the Old Idaho Penitentiary museum and historical site, where some of the West’s most notorious characters were once imprisoned; and the Warhawk Air Museum, which honors veterans.
At the World Center for Birds of Prey you’ll be able to see rare falcons and eagles up close and also learn how an endangered species program operates. The logical next stop is Zoo Boise for close-up looks at more than 300 animals from 100 species.

Boise is home to the largest concentration of the Basque diaspora in the United States; make time for a visit to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. Within the complex are a museum of Basque culture — the only one in the country — as well as performances by Basque dancers and authentic Basque cuisine.

Lots of green space within the city makes for walking, hiking, fishing and other sports, and when the ski season is over Bogus Basin Mountain transforms itself into a mecca for outdoor fun with the Glade Runner coaster, bungee trampolining, a climbing wall, disc golf, hiking and horseback riding.

You’ll also want to stop in at the Idaho Botanical Garden, and for another close look at nature, there’s the Idaho Fish and Game MK Nature Center, where you’ll be able to discover Idaho flora and fauna and see what goes on beneath an Idaho river through underwater windows.

If time allows, just a 45-minute drive north will bring you to Idaho City, a fun Western town with a hot springs resort and lots of gold-mining history, original buildings, a pioneer cemetery and trading post.

Where to eat
Boise boasts many wineries, craft breweries and cider houses, so take your pick of those before dinner and then head out to one of the city’s specialty restaurants. Many of them have taken the “loyal to local” pledge and serve meat and produce from the Boise area. One such spot is Alavita, an Italian eatery that also offers fresh pasta, made daily. Others are Fork Restaurant for farm-to-table American cuisine and Boise Fry Co. for Idaho potato fries and bison from nearby Oregon. In addition to steak and more Idaho potatoes, The BrickYard Steakhouse, located in the historic Idaho Statesman building in Boise’s lively downtown, serves entertainment with “dueling pianos” most nights. The subterranean Capitol Cellars is the place to go for fine dining.

Where to stay
Part of Boise’s charm has to do with the many unusual accommodations from which you can choose. At Boise Hillside Suites you can stay in accommodations named Marjorie’s Bedroom, John’s Study and Joan’s Studio. Boise Guest House owner and designer, Eve-Marie Bergen, aims to create a new type of overnight experience with suites designed on themes such as travel and nature and an “art house” where rooms contain work by outstanding local artists.

Leku Ona Hotel, located in the Basque area downtown, offers clean, basic rooms at really reasonable prices, and it’s possible to walk to many places you’ll want to visit as well as enjoy Basque cuisine. The Modern Hotel, also downtown, was once a boardinghouse for Basque immigrants but now has been reimagined with mid-century modern appointments and an award-winning chef. Or how much fun would it be to stay at Hotel 43, a downtown “urban chic” hotel located on the 43rd parallel in the 43rd state?

A two-hour drive north and at a higher elevation is McCall, and again depending on when you go, you’ll have a wide variety of options.

“Spring in McCall can be a loose term,” says McKenzie Kraemer, marketing director for the McCall Chamber of Commerce. “March and April we are still in winter sports mode, but May and June are more traditionally spring-like.”

What to do
Whenever you come to McCall, plan to spend most of your time outside. If you’re early enough for winter play, you’ll find 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, three alpine skiing areas, trails for cross-country skiing and a center for ice skating. In the later spring months there’s plenty more to do outdoors.

Lake Cascade and Payette Lake, on which the city is located, are the places to go for boating, kayaking and fishing as well as biking, hiking and camping. Or hike through Payette National Forest. In late April whitewater rafting kicks off with every level of rapids from the laid-back Cabarton stretch on the Payette River to multiday adventures on the Main Salmon River through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

The International Mountain Biking Association has named the McCall area a Silver Ride Center, and with its miles of trails and ease of getting to the top of the mountain it’s no wonder. Take your bike on the lift to the top at Brundage Mountain Resort and Tamarack Resort or use the shuttle service at Jug Mountain Ranch. If golfing is more your thing, hit the links on four golf courses — McCall Municipal Course, Jug Mountain Ranch with panoramic views, Whitetail Club and Shore Lodge and MeadowCreek Golf Resort.

Indoors there’s plenty to explore, as well. With such scenic surroundings it’s no wonder that local art is readily available. Check out Gallery Fifty-Five, an artist cooperative located downtown, for fine art. At Granite Mountain Nature Gallery, “a candy store for nature lovers,” you’ll find all kinds of rocks and fossils, as well as items made from them, such as jewelry and bowls. Also check out musical performances by the McCall Folklore Society and the McCall Music Society and legitimate theater at the Alpine Playhouse.

Whatever else you do, don’t miss the opportunity to unwind at one of the hot springs for which the area is known. You’ll find Gold Fork Hot Springs, Burgdorf Hot Springs, Mundo Hot Springs and Trail Creek Hot Springs.

Where to eat
If you’re a craft-beer aficionado, why not start by sampling craft beer at one of the local breweries, such as Broken Horn Brewing Co., McCall Brewing Co. or Salmon River Brewery? When it’s time for dinner, the choices are many: Check out The Anchor for lakefront dining; Cougar Dave’s Food and Spirits; the Intersection BBQ; The Sushi Bar; and historic Lardo Grill and Saloon. Rupert’s at Hotel McCall provides an unusual fine-dining experience. For a starter try the grilled local venison meatballs or Himalayan Momos, which are steamed yak-meat dumplings with tomato chutney. Then move on to entrees that include wild game ragu Bolognese and fig-honey glazed duck breast.

Where to stay
Bear Creek Lodge provides a “magical mountain retreat” with both rooms and family cabins. Bonus: It’s one of the few accommodations in town that welcomes pets. Shore Lodge, situated on a mountain lake at 5,000 feet, boasts an elegant spa and several dining options on the property. The Hotel McCall is historic and luxurious, and it’s also where you’ll find those game-meat dinners at Rupert’s. The conveniently located downtown Rustic Inn exudes a mountain vibe but with comfortable amenities. The nearby Third Street Inn offers several types of rooms at affordable prices.

Coeur D’Alene
“While beautiful Coeur d’Alene has something for every season, spring is an especially exciting time of the year,” says Mark Robitaille, executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Locals and visitors alike relish the sunny days and budding blossoms as we transition from winter to spring and summer.”

What to do
Coeur d’Alene is even farther north, but outdoor activities abound. Golfers will be able to scratch off a bucket-list item at the lakeside Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course, where they’ll arrive by boat and have a shot at the famous Floating Green. Other possibilities are Circling Raven Golf Club, Coeur d’Alene Public Golf Club and StoneRidge Golf Community and RV Resort — the only RV resort in the country with an 18-hole golf course and six pickleball courts. Play cowboy at the Red Horse Mountain Ranch starting in May, or enjoy boating, rafting and water sports with plenty of outfitters ready to provide whatever equipment you need. For even more excitement there’s Timberline Adventures for zip lining and the Row Adventure Center for rafting, kayaking and lots more.

Learn about this city’s rich history at the Museum of North Idaho. Coeur d’Alene is also rich in art informed by that history, such as the one-of-a-kind artifacts, antiques, fine art pieces and Western furnishings at Cisco’s Gallery. More Western art can be found at Coeur d’Alene Galleries, and exhibits at the artist-owned Art Spirit Gallery change monthly.

If the kids are along, they’ll clamor to go to Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach Water Park. With 70 rides and shows, this is the largest theme park in the Northwest. Other possibilities are Raptor Reef Indoor Water Park and Triple Play Family Fun Park.

Where to eat
In a city filled with tempting options, the only problem you’ll have at mealtime is deciding where to eat. From casual to fancy, it’s all here. Chef Jason Rex at Collective Kitchen Public House says he loves to push boundaries, so the menu ranges from barbecued brisket tacos with mango salsa, lime and avocado to sashimi, a curried vegetable stir-fry and a salmon BLT. The menu at Crafted Taphouse boasts of 62 beers on tap and scratch-made food with such intriguing names as Hummus Where the Heart Is, The Magic Kingdom and One Way from Harbour Grace. Honey Eatery and Social Club presents modern comfort food for breakfast, lunch and early dinner with honey playing a part in several of the recipes.

For fine Italian cuisine there’s Tony’s on the Lake with lots of outdoor seating that overlooks Coeur d’Alene Lake. Crickets Oyster Bar calls itself “the only game in town for oysters.” Its menu does captivate diners with lots of oyster and seafood dishes, but look past those items to find even more, including Thai chicken and cinnamon-crusted pork. Fire Artisan Pizza is the place for just about any kind of pizza you can imagine, as well as salads and starters. You might want to finish off your meal with its bittersweet chocolate cookie with gray salt and vanilla bean ice cream; after all, you’re on vacation, right?

Where to stay
Coeur d’Alene Resort is where the golf course and world-famous Floating Green are located, but you don’t have to be a golfer to want to stay here. The rooms have been completely renovated, a full-service spa provides pampering treatments, and the several dining options include The Cedars Floating Restaurant, where you actually dine on the water. Blackwell Hotel is a boutique hotel housed in a luxurious older home with modern amenities as well as original artwork and fireplaces in some rooms.

For more intimate bed-and-breakfast experiences, try The Roosevelt Inn, where you’ll stay in what was originally a schoolhouse located downtown. The McFarland Inn bed-and-breakfast is located in the historic Garden District but within walking distance of many places you’ll want to visit. The Greenbriar Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to 315 Martinis & Tapas, which is a good place to unwind after a day of exploring this fascinating city.