Things to Do in McCall, Idaho
McCall is an Idaho jewel of a tourist town. Located in central Idaho on highway 55, it is just 100 miles north of the capital city of Boise, about a two-hour drive along the winding, beautiful Payette River.
McCall is a small town of 3,000, but there is an absolute wealth of things to do for the visitor to the area. Winter covers the town in a blanket of snow, providing winter activities galore. McCall sits on the banks of Payette Lake, giving rise to summer water sports and the high mountain valley setting provides activities such as hiking and horseback riding.
Within a few miles of McCall are several natural hot springs, Cascade Lake and a ski resort. Vacation cabin rentals dot the area and there are several motels as well. Two large state parks, one bordering each lake, are available for campers with additional campsites available at private campgrounds.
There is something for anyone wanting to escape the steel and concrete enclaves we call cities; take a look below and see what you would find interesting.
New Meadows, Idaho
Gold Fork Hot Springs
DowntownClick thumbnail to view full-size
"Downtown" in McCall is a little different than New York or Las Vegas. Small, it can be covered by foot in about an hour, and there isn't miles of shopping available. What there is, though, is delightful.
Most architecture is distinctly "woodsy" - large beams and wooden pillars are common and it's almost as if steel and concrete had never been invented. The McCall Mall is a rather wide, one story building in the center of town, along with a large park and marina area. Shopping is mostly of the tourist variety, with several small souvenir shops. Make a point to visit the drug store - along with typical drug store items it has a large section aimed at the tourist with lots of fun and unusual items.
At the very center of town is the park and marina with lots of well maintained grassy areas, plenty of boat docks and a nice, if small, sandy beach. Overlooking it is a well done statue of several bears; a natural for a small mountain town. Nearby is a large ice skating rink in that wood post and beam construction.
McCall offers a variety of accommodations including (but by no means limited to) the following:
- Hotel McCall. This charming motel maintains 19 rooms including three fractional condominiums. All are recently renovated in traditional McCall style and charm. The hotel includes an indoor pool with courtyard, overlooking Payette Lake. A Continental breakfast awaits you on rising in the morning.
- Holiday Inn Express Hunt Lodge. Again done in rustic décor the Hunt Lodge offers 83 rooms, an indoor pool and jacuzzi, and a meeting room for 10 to 225 guests. The Hunt Lodge has also teamed with CheapThrills to offer combination packages of lodging and fun.
- Super 8 McCall. Once more decorated in the rustic style almost mandatory in McCall, the Super 8 has 63 rooms, including family accommodations. Smoking and pet friendly rooms are available, as are jacuzzi suites.
- Vacation cabins. There are a large number of cabins for rent in the McCall area, and the link provided here is only one of several. Cabins vary from a cozy made-for-two home away from home to something suitable for the largest family. Look around and you are nearly certain to find something to fit your style and pocketbook.
McCall is an outdoor kind of place, and if you expect to see lots of families camping you would be right. There are two large state parks and several private campgrounds in the area.
- Ponderosa State Park. This beautiful park is set on the banks of Payette, on the outskirts of McCall, Idaho. With campsites offering everything from primitive sites on the north end of the park to full hookups for the largest RV on the south, it has a site for everyone. Hiking trails are available, and brave souls can walk to McCall (I did, by accident, on our stay at Ponderosa).
- Lake Cascade State Park. Located some 20 miles south of McCall on highway 55, Lake Cascade state park surrounds most of Lake Cascade. Camping is available in 9 small campgrounds, with amenities ranging from primitive sites with no services but vault toilets to full hookups for large RVs.
- McCall Campground & RV Park. Located on the south end of McCall, the campground has 29 sites, all with water and electricity. Included are some sites designed for 40' RVs that are pull through. Tents are welcome.
- McCall RV Resort. Located behind the small McCall airport, this resort has both RV camping sites and cabins. Amenities include a hot tub, indoor pool, WIFI, cable TV and a game room. A group site is also available for those traveling in "convoy" with friends.
Other private campgrounds dot the entire area as well. Zims, in New Meadows, has a natural hot springs at the campground. Donnelly, just 10 miles from McCall has campsites, and the town of Cascade, about 30 miles from McCall, has several campgrounds as well. All of these are just minutes from McCall and if your stay is more than just overnight you will likely travel much of the valley anyway. Don't write them off just because they are 20 minutes away.
State Park Campgrounds
Water sports are a focal point with the town on the banks of Payette Lake, and with Lake Cascade and the Payette River just minutes away, but it doesn't stop there. Hiking trails abound and Brundage Ski area runs the ski lifts for mountain biking. Horseback riding is popular and there are both developed and undeveloped natural hot springs for those wanting a lazy soak. These and other things to do in McCall are itemized below, with links where appropriate.
- Water Sports. Cheap Thrills Rentals offers rentals of boats (pontoon, ski and runabouts), along with accessories such as water skies and tubes as well as personal watercraft. Boat tours are also available around Payette Lake; the views and landscape are fantastic on these guided boat tours.
- Central Idaho has some of the best white water rafting in the country, and there are several companies that provide rafting trips ranging from gentle class II floats to wild rides through class IV rapids that will excite the most jaded rafter. Cascade Raft and Kayak is located a little over an hours drive south of McCall and has a wide range of float trips available.
White Water Rafting On The Payette
- Brundage Mountain Resort is the snow ski area just north of McCall. During the summer months Brundage offers lift operated mountain bicycling on more than 20 miles of trails, with a level of difficulty ranging from novice to expert. Sightseers are also welcome for those that would just like a ride up and down the mountain for the tremendous views from the 7,600 foot summit.
- Horseback riding is a wonderful way to spend a few hours tranquilly wandering mountain trails. Yahoo Corrals provides for several different plans, from 1½ hour rides to horse drawn wagons for smaller groups to sunset dinner rides. Our kids, ranging from 7 to 15 years old, greatly enjoyed the experience of a guided ride.
Horseback Riding In McCall
- Golf. There are 5 golf courses in the immediate area, with two in McCall itself. McCall Golf Club is comprised of three 9 hole courses and is owned by the city. Located just 10 minutes from McCall is Jug Mountain Ranch, a world class golf course designed by Donald Knott. In 2008 Golf Digest readers voted it the second best new course under $75. With magnificent views and challenging holes it is worth the trip to McCall all by itself.
- Developed Hot Springs. There are two natural hot springs near McCall that have been developed with swimming/soaking pools. Zims Hot Springs is located in New Meadows about 13 miles from McCall and has a campground for those wishing to spend the night. Gold Fork Hot Springs is about 20 miles and offers a unique set of soaking pools. Although none are really suited for playing hard in the water, one shallow pool has a sand bottom and is just right for toddlers with a parent in hand. Our group visited Gold Fork for a day and was very pleased with the experience - with 5 different pools of varying temperatures and depths there was something for everyone. It is decidedly primitive. All the lighting seems to be of the solar type and the only restroom was a porti-pottie. No credit cards as there can't be a card reader without power and phone. A few candy bars was the only "food" for sale, but visitors are welcome to bring a lunch and eat it at poolside.
- Natural Hot Springs. There a large number of undeveloped natural springs in the area as well. Some good advice would be to check with the local forest service rangers station before visiting the undeveloped springs for a road and weather report as well as information on the springs. Some of Idaho hot springs are "clothing optional" and not really suited for family fun.
Gold Fork Hot Springs, Donnelly IdahoClick thumbnail to view full-size
As the calendar turns the corner into winter McCall is covered with the white, fluffy blanket of snow that it will normally wear till spring. The fun never stops, though, for McCall is as noted for winter sports and activities as it is for those of summer.
- With winters arrival Brundage mountain truly comes alive. Seeing over 300 inches of snow most winters, Brundage is acknowledge as having the best snow in Idaho. With wide groomed runs as well as ample powder fields that often lay untouched, visitors will certainly appreciate the great snow quality. Almost as much as they will appreciate the short, quick lift lines and the Brundage Kids' Center that houses a state licensed daycare program for the little ones.
- Snowmobiles are very popular and tracks can be seem out over Payette Lake for much of the winter. Snowmobiles can be rented at Cheap Thrills (link given above, under water sports) for those that can't bring their own.
- The McCall Winter Festival is a yearly event near the end of January/beginning of February - precise dates each year can be found with the McCall chamber of commerce. Parades, food stands and the ever popular snow sculpture contest form the backbone of the carnival, making it something not to be missed. The snow sculptures can be amazing with teams competing to build the best sculpture. These fantastic snow creations vary from the size of a small child to magnificent works of art as tall as the store sponsoring them. Dragons, fish and "Nessie" are always favorites, but each year features a different theme and the imagination of the creators is allowed to run where it will.
- Elk feeding tours are fun to participate in the winter - the Points family out of Donnelly feeds wild elk along the Gold Fork River and offers sleigh rides to view and feed the elk. Rides are by reservation, and one must be careful as the wild elk will come right up to the wagon in an effort to get at the hay bales used as seats. Our driver told us that the week before we were there that some idiot reached out to a large bull elk, grabbed the antlers and gave them a good hard shake. He said you could just see the wheels turning in that bulls eyes as he looked the wagon over, deciding whether to come on board and clear the lot of us off the wagon. Never forget that wild animals are wild and cause immense damage at the drop of a hat.
At the end of it all, McCall truly is a jewel buried in the mountains of central Idaho and makes a wonderful vacation destination or a weekend getaway. If you ever visit Idaho, a side trip to McCall is a must.
Ice Sculptures From The McCall Winter Carnival
© 2012 Dan Harmon