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A Visitor’s Guide to Ponderosa State Park

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You’re all settled at your McCall, Idaho, vacation home. Step outside on your balcony or porch, and you’ll see a stunning view of the lake — a scenic overlook with Western larch trees and 150-ft-high ponderosa pines sitting at the base of the West Mountains.

But what brought you to McCall in the first place? Maybe you plan to visit the Burgdorf Hot Springs, golf at Osprey Point, or fish along the Payette River — these are all secondary excursions to the wonders of Ponderosa State Park!

But hang on, you already have accommodations. Fret not; this park’s wonders span past the peninsula campground. No matter where you’re staying in McCall, Ponderosa State Park is the ultimate day trip!

First time? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with our complete guide on Ponderosa State Park, including packing essentials, top hiking and biking trails, campsites, huckleberry picking spots, and more!

Let’s start with the basics:


Ponderosa State Park is a 1,500-acre state park covering Payette Lake peninsula in Northeast McCall, Idaho. Many people gravitate toward Boise National Forest for their Idaho travels; however, more and more travelers flock to Ponderosa State Park each year, yearning for outdoor adventure and escape from a wi-fi-centered society.

The legislature decided to make the land a state park over 100 years ago, in 1905. However, development plans and facilities weren’t in construction until the 1960s. The park was officially purchased in 1973, including both the acre peninsula and the North Beach area. Church camps, RV campgrounds, private cabins, and other attractions followed soon after.

Today, this Idaho state park is known for its picturesque views, sky-high Ponderosa pine trees, and endless activities for the hiker, camper, forager, parent, or child. Any time of the year is a great time to go. If you’re a skier, you’ll enjoy the slopes on Brundage Mountain each winter. The snowy months also make the park a fantastic spot for snowshoeing.

But spring, summer, and fall offer unique opportunities to really engage with Ponderosa State Park’s natural wonders. You can enjoy kayaking, hiking, huckleberry picking, swimming, fishing, and more.

Ponderosa State Park Location & Quick Facts:

  • Visitor Center Address: 1920 N Davis Ave McCall, ID 83638
  • Phone: (208) 634-2164
  • Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Coordinates
    • Latitude: 44.925188
    • Longitude: -116.091053
  • Elevation: Over 5,000 feet
  • Area: About 1,500 acres
  • Established: 1973
  • Driving distance from
    • McCall: 10 minutes
    • Boise: 2 hours and 10 minutes
    • Halfway, Oregon (near state line): 2 hours and 30 minutes

Things to Do in Ponderosa State Park

You can be the pickiest traveler, and Ponderosa State Park will still have an exciting activity to enhance your trip. Here are some ideas about spending your time at Ponderosa State Park.

Hiking Trails

You’ll have a few hiking trails around McCall to choose from, each lasting about a mile. But many of the best are within Ponderosa State Park. Ponderosa State Park is the ideal hiking spot for families and people who want a laid-back experience. You won’t have to trudge through endless steep hills, out of breath and uncomfortable.

Relax as you walk through the park’s tranquil trails, adorned with ponderosa pines, flowers, and lookout points to take in the gorgeous scenery. Make sure you bring some sandwiches and snacks — you’ll definitely come across one of the park’s 20 picnic tables.

Here are some trails you might enjoy:

  • Payette Lake Peninsula Trail
  • Meadow Marsh Hike
  • Huckleberry Bay Loop

You’ll almost certainly see the American red squirrel, but these grounds are home to more wildlife like mountain lions, beavers, otters, elk, raccoons, and moose!

Wildflower Watching

Photo Credit:

Ponderosa State Park’s flora is abundant and colorful. You’ll see different trees and flowers depending on where in the park you’re at.

Of course, the ponderosa pine is the dominant species, reaching heights of 150 feet and as old as 500 years. But, if you venture toward the Meadow Marsh, you’ll see soft cattails, lively rushes, and fragrant yellow water lilies!

As you make your way through the park’s many hiking trails, pay special attention and be on the lookout for wildflowers like:

  • Hairy Clematis: a blue buttercup
  • Western Trillium: tri-lead, small white flower
  • Fairy Slipper (calypso orchid): a deep purple, bulb-like flower
  • Honeysuckle: a white, daffodil-looking flower that’s edible

To make the most of your wildflower search, stop at the Visitor Center. They will offer valuable advice on the types of flowers to look out for and where to find them.

Water Sports

Jet skiing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming — Payette Lake is the stomping ground for almost every water sport you could think of. Some people even go scuba diving, but fair warning: you’ll freeze your tail off!

  • Fishing: Rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, walleyes, catfish, and kokanee salmon are on the fishing menu at Payette Lake. You’ll catch plump salmon in all of May, extending into the summer and fall months for trout and other fish.
  • Jet Skiing and Boating: Bring your own or take a walk to Cheap Thrills Rentals. This business has been renting water vehicles since 1995. Pick from jet skis, ski boats, or pontoons. You can rent them for half or full days and ride them all across Payette Lake.
  • Kayaking: You can rent a kayak or canoe along the lake’s perimeter. Backdoor Adventures is a good place to start, but you check to see if your vacation rental includes a canoe or kayak first!
  • Swimming: If you have the pleasure of experiencing Ponderosa State Park in the summer, you can’t miss its beaches. Pristine sands kiss the shore of Payette Lake from all angles. Each one is a deluxe experience, especially North Beach and Davis Beach! Pro tip — stop and check in at the Visitor Center to snag a volleyball first!

Mountain Biking

Didn’t bring your bike? Luckily, McCall has tons of bike rental spots. Hit one up and make your way to Ponderosa State Park’s lovely rolling biking trails. The views of Payette Lake or lush forests are phenomenal on any of these trails:

  • Huckleberry Loop, 5 miles
  • Fox Run, 2 miles
  • Sunrise Trail, 0.5 miles

Winter Activities

Traveling in the snowy months? Ponderosa State Park transforms to a winter wonderland after the first snowfall. Here are some winter activities you might enjoy:

  • Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing: Park staff work tirelessly to transform paths into groomed trails for Nordic skiing — cross-country skiing, that is. And if you’re more of a snowshoer, take the Lakeside trail, a designated trail where you’ll meet other racquet-footed peers. Check-in with the Visitor Center to find the torch-lit path. Follow it toward the Blue Moon Yurt, a large tent structure hosting a restaurant experience since the mid-90s. But here, the journey is just as magical as the destination. You’ll feel resplendent as you glide through the snow and relish the precious sites of icy leaves, snow-tipped mountain peaks, and star-sparkling skies.
  • Snowmobiling: Remember when we mentioned renting boats at Cheap Thrills Rentals? They also rent out snowmobiles, an easy activity to experience the park’s trails and connect with loved ones.
  • Scenic hikes: Bundle up and bring a hot cup of cocoa in a thermos with you. Pick any hiking trail and enjoy the park’s stunning sites with a Winter lens!

Foraging: Mushrooms and Huckleberries

Imagine a blueberry’s sweetness with rhubarb’s tartness — voila, you have huckleberries. Ponderosa State Park is full of them for your foraging pleasure. Give them a quick wash and eat them as-is, or collect them and make yourself a delectable huckleberry pie. You’ll also see red buffalo and thimble berries, the latter of which is a fantastic source of Vitamin C. Many of Ponderosa’s trails are lined with morel mushrooms — a spongy, wrinkly variety with a nutty taste!

Channel your inner Sioux Chef Sean Sherman and forage through the forests alone. And if you need a helping hand? Just go on a guided walk or tour, where naturalists will help you find your berry patch.

Ponderosa State Park Packing Essentials

  • Water bottle
  • Baby wipes
  • SPF lip balm
  • GPS
  • Altimeter watch
  • Bandana
  • Wooly socks
  • Fleece pants
  • Moisture-wicking underwear and t-shirt
  • Extra jacket or layers for cooler evenings
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Satiating protein bars
  • Containers for berries
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Swimsuit and towel
  • Sandwiches for picnic areas
  • Propane, only if you plan to camp one night
  • Tissues or toilet paper (in case the restrooms ran out)
  • Map or compass
  • Cash (for the Chokecherry campground use fee if applicable)
  • Binoculars for lookout points
  • Bear spray
  • First-aid kit
  • Knife
  • Bug spray
  • Extra batteries
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Whistle
  • Fire-making materials

Safety Tips for Ponderosa State Park

The chances of danger are slim, but it’s better to be prepared. What if you see a mountain lion or find yourself lost in the park? Here are some safety tips for every beginner to Ponderosa State Park:

  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • If you see a mountain lion, wave your arms wildly and appear bigger than you are while backing up and creating more distance between you and the animal.
  • Bring bear spray, but stay calm if you see a bear. Wave your arms and back up slowly, without making eye contact or turning around.
  • Plan your route ahead of time to avoid getting lost.
  • Stay hydrated and bring snacks.
  • Avoid traveling alone when possible.

Experience Ponderosa State Park with DoneRight Management

Your accommodations — whether a cabin, chalet, or villa — can make or break your vacation. That’s why it’s so important to book vacation rentals with trusted management companies with a strong track record. DoneRight Management has decades of experience connecting budding vacationers with the perfect rental.

We have romantic cabins, cottages, and family-friendly homes for your perfect trip to Ponderosa State Park. And, we won’t charge you booking fees.

Book a vacation rental today!

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