McCall, Idaho, ranks highly when we think of the ideal getaway location to spend a week or a season. The resort town is located at an elevation of 5,021 feet on the southern shore of the picturesque Payette Lake. The references to being nearly a mile high can be seen throughout this quaint small town.
Framed by colossal, pine-covered mountains that stand between 8,000-9,000 feet tall and the crystal clear waters of Payette Lake, McCall’s logging town origins don’t prevent it from being a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts today.
Home to high-end vacation rental homes, delicious restaurants, and plenty of things to do, it can be tempting to stay put in McCall while on vacation. While we’re certain you’ll have a great trip if you do, you’ll be missing out on a lot of unique places just a short drive from McCall.
Whether you’re into biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, or simply a good ol’ scenic road trip, we’ve got the best ideas for the ultimate day trips from McCall Idaho.
Finding the top parks in Idaho may seem difficult given the stunning 27 state parks throughout the Gem State. But one state park consistently ranks at the top of the list for its magnificent beauty. At an elevation of 5,050 feet, Ponderosa State Park offers you over 1,500 acres of beautiful natural landscapes. In addition, its proximity to downtown McCall (less than fifteen minutes) means you can pack plenty of fun-filled activities into your day or laze it away lakeside.
The focal point of Ponderosa State Park, situated in the center of one of Idaho’s most well-liked year-round destinations, is the stunning Payette Lake. The lake also forms the shoreline of the North Beach Unit, where there is a beach and picnic area for day use. In addition, you can go biking and hiking alone or with a guide, attend a park naturalist’s evening talk at the amphitheater, or stroll beside them along one of their routes.
Throughout the summer, the Junior Ranger Program is open to kids. Visitors can choose from canoe or kayak rentals to meander the North Fork of the Payette River. They can go fishing, go sailing, choose from a plethora of other outdoor activities, or sit and take in the breathtaking scenery. When it snows, the park transforms into a premier Nordic ski area with groomed paths suitable for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Although there are plenty of great hikes in the area, check out the Lily Marsh Hike if you’re looking for a family-friendly, easy hiking trail. Through pine woodlands, this 2.3-mile walk offers even more breathtaking views of the lake. The trail is well-kept and ideal for a sunny day. Finally, Osprey Point’s picturesque overlook is not to be missed. It provides a remarkable view of the lake. Here, you may capture Payette Lake’s jaw-dropping beauty, and you can see for miles on clear days.
Need to warm up? With a handful of hot springs near McCall, one of our favorites is Burgdorf. Thirty-two miles north of McCall in central Idaho’s Payette National Forest, Burgdorf Hot Springs is a charming, old-fashioned resort. Situated on private property and surrounded by the stunning Payette National Forest, this is not your average tourist hot spring because it is also a ghost town.
Burgdorf, an 1870s-era settlement, is close to historic Warren, Idaho. With two small, 6×6-foot spring box pools (113°) and a large, 50×85-foot pool (100°-104°), both of which have sandy bottoms and are heated by 150 gallons of hot water each minute, this is a hot springs excursion you won’t soon forget.
The springs are reachable by car throughout the spring and summer via Warren Wagon Road. Snowmobiles are required to access during the winter months (November to April).
Reservations (Adults, $6) are required, and children ($4, under five free) are welcome. A shallow pool with partitions has been made for the little ones; however, parents must always accompany and watch over their children.
About twenty minutes north of downtown McCall, independently owned Brundage Mountain is a traditional Idaho ski resort with spectacular terrain and a welcoming atmosphere. It is situated high in the Central Idaho mountains and ideal for a winter getaway. Brundage Mountain consistently receives more than 320 base area inches of snow each year, earning it the indisputable title of “Best Snow in Idaho.”
Snowcat skiing is available in the 19,000 acres of the backcountry at Brundage. Join twenty or so other skiers and snowboarders as you travel in a snowcat machine to a secluded mountain for the winter adventure of a lifetime. In addition, take advantage of guided snowmobile excursions, snowmobile rentals, and more.
Whether the kids are hitting the slopes or spending some time in the convenient daycare facility, the drive-up kid’s center offers a one-stop option for families. The Bear Chair links the Kid’s Center to more challenging and advanced starting terrain, making this one of the most family-friendly day trips from McCall Idaho.
Suppose snow isn’t your thing, or you’re visiting in warmer months. In that case, the family-friendly outdoor activities at this well-known resort include:
Once on top of the mountain, proceed 200 yards to the right until you reach the observation tower. You’ll be able to see McCall, Payette Lake, and, on clear days, Oregon! Wander for a while, then ride the lift back down, pedal the 6-mile Elk Trail down, or walk back down.
Brundage Mountain is open from Thursday through Sunday, plus bonus days over the holidays in the summer. The chairlift is available from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. However, checking their website for accurate times and other information is always a good idea.
Riggins, Idaho, dubbed the “Whitewater Capital of Idaho,” is situated 50 miles north of McCall along the magnificent Salmon River. The Salmon River, also known as “The River of No Return,” is ideal for full and half-day whitewater excursions. Whitewater adventures abound in this small hamlet tucked into a river canyon. They are guaranteed to result in memorable family stories that only get better with each telling.
Class II to IV rapids are available with full-day cruises covering 21 miles of the 425-mile river, compared to half-day trips’ 11 miles. In addition, the elevation changes significantly from 5,200 feet to 1,800 feet between McCall and Riggins. The elevation drop is noteworthy because it renders Riggins a great area to enjoy hot, sunny days on the river and white, sandy beaches that rival those found in the Caribbean.
Rafting trips are the best way to take in the impressive canyon walls of “The River of No Return.” From a calm family float to an exhilarating whitewater excursion, knowledgeable rafting captains can guide you. With numerous local whitewater outfitters providing tours that begin in Riggins, you can choose between half-day and full-day rafting experiences. Learn about the river from your guide, mingle with tourists from other countries, “ride the bull” (that is to say, sit at the front of the raft) through the Rattlesnake rapid, and eat lunch on a remote white sand beach.
If you’re not in the mood to drive an hour north for some stellar river rafting, another choice nearby the McCall area is the class II, 18-mile North Fork Payette River. This route runs from Sheeps Bridge to Hartsell Bridge.
Another incredible way to experience Riggins is by jet boat tour. A jet boat is a fantastic choice for people who want to see more of the Salmon River Wilderness at a faster pace. The majority of outfitters provide both half-day and full-day tours; nevertheless, we advise leaving McCall early and committing to a full-day tour.
The Vinegar Creek boat launch is where the jet boat journey begins, 28 miles from Riggins. It takes you right into the heart of the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness, an area of untamed rivers, deep valleys, and craggy, steep mountains. Trek to a hot spring, tour old farms like Polly Bemis and Shepp Ranch, then cool off in the water at one of the many beaches close by.
Over 2.5 million acres of varied woodland and grassland make up the massive terrain of the Boise National Forest. Recreationalists can explore the 2,800-foot-high North Fork Payette River Canyon, located approximately three hours southeast of McCall, all the way up to Trinity Mountain’s almost 10,000-foot summit.
Established in 1908, Boise National Forest boasts more than 250 lakes and reservoirs and over 7,600 miles of streams and rivers, including the Salmon and Boise Rivers. The Cascade, Idaho City, Lowman, Mountain Home, and Emmett ranger districts make up the five geographic divisions of this extraordinary area known for its big game hunting and trout fishing. Anglers will value the numerous options for fishing that the woodland offers. Steelhead fish and rainbow trout stocked year-round in the Boise River area are common species.
In the Boise National Forest, you can go cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, and ice fishing. The Bogus Basin Ski Area, located north of Boise, features 12 miles of groomed Nordic trails, seven lifts, 45 runs, and 2,000 acres of night skiing.
Summertime is prime time for water sports, and guests at the recreation area can enjoy thrilling whitewater rafting excursions, as well as kayaking, canoeing, swimming, boating, and sunbathing. The Boise National Forest also includes hundreds of free equestrian riding paths for horse lovers. There are no horse-only trails, though, and all are multi-use.
Furthermore, the 1,300 miles of riding paths in the forest’s public lands will please cyclists. Many paths are on broad, gated forest roads only accessible by non-motorized means. Only designated roads and trails are permitted for biking, and cross-country travel is not permitted.
Another wonderful thing to do in Boise National Forest is to visit some hot springs. After a long day of hiking, nothing beats a soothing soak. Although there are a lot of pools in the woods, many particularly enjoy Kirkham and others that can be located along the Banks-Lowman Highway and the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway. You’re in luck if you prefer taking picturesque drives in lieu of seasonal outdoor activities! The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, also called the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, is one of the main scenic byways in the Boise National Forest.
Rounding out our list for the ultimate day trips from McCall Idaho is the most extended trip on the list. Although it’s about 5 hours north of McCall, Coeur d’Alene is worth the road trip.
North Idaho’s largest city boasts everything from a world-class casino with the newest games, a championship golf course, a top-notch spa, award-winning food, boating, skiing, ziplining, parasailing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, and so much more! Not to mention, Coeur d’Alene received the “Dog Town USA Award from Dog Fancy Magazine” in recognition of its three amazing dog parks and dog-friendly city. So you won’t have to leave your furry friends at home!
Visit nearby Coeur d’Alene National Forest or Lake Coeur d’Alene. This enormous body of water is over 50 square miles and provides a wealth of recreational activities. But, if the outdoors aren’t your thing, the Museum of North Idaho chronicles the local history, including the community’s old forest industry.
Downtown Coeur d’Alene is where it’s at if you’re looking for a place to eat or shop. There are many diverse restaurants and stores in this bustling area, along with other museums and art galleries. One notable restaurant in the downtown area is Crafted, where you can watch turtles race every Friday! No joke! Not to mention their incredible food.
While McCall itself has plenty to offer its visitors, Central Idaho is full of hidden gems just waiting to be explored. With so much to see and do in the area, we recommend basing yourself in McCall but taking a day or two from your trip to see what else the area has to offer.