Fun Things to Do in McCall, a Lakefront Idaho Gem

Adina Keeling Avatar

two people Canoeing on the Upper North Fork of the Payette River, near McCall, Idaho
Canoeing on the Upper North Fork of the Payette River, near McCall, Idaho. Photo credit: Visit Idaho

Nestled in Idaho’s Payette National Forest, McCall is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. This picturesque mountain town is known for its stunning natural beauty, abundant recreational opportunities and charming small-town atmosphere. Boasting activities and stunning scenery year-round, McCall needs to be on your road trip bucket list.

The town, about a 2 1/2 hour drive north of Boise, borders Payette Lake, and in the summer months, visitors flock to the lake to spend the day swimming, kayaking, canoeing and jet skiing. In the winter, the town transforms into a winter wonderland, with local ski resorts booming. The Idaho town’s winter carnival draws more than 60,000 people, who enjoy live music, parades and ice sculptures. Can’t decide where to start? Here’s our list of the 11 top things to do on your next McCall getaway.

Stay at Shore Lodge with its heavenly views of Payette Lake near McCall, Idaho. Photo: Shore Lodge
Stay at Shore Lodge with its heavenly views of Payette Lake near McCall, Idaho. Photo credit: Shore Lodge

1. Spend the day at Payette Lake

No trip to McCall is complete without a visit to beautiful Payette Lake. This 5,330 acre alpine lake is surrounded by pine trees and snow-capped mountains, making it the perfect spot for a picnic or a leisurely stroll.

With several sandy beaches, the lake also boasts lots of outdoor activities, including swimming, boating and fishing. There are also kayak, paddleboard, canoe and jet ski rentals. Every summer, restored wooden boats line the shore as a part of the Classic and Wooden Boat Show. The public can enjoy a boat parade, and may even ride in one of the restored boats.

Snow sculpture of a train engine at the winter carnival in McCall Idaho.
Snow sculpture at the winter carnival in McCall Idaho, near Kelly Canyon. Photo credit: Shutterstock

2. Visit McCall Winter Carnival

Every year in late January or February, McCall hosts its annual Winter Carnival. This McCall tradition dates back to 1924, when the town organized a carnival to help fight the winter blues. Now, the event is a McCall must-see, drawing more than 60,000 people each year.

This ten-day celebration features more than 100 different events, including parades, live music, snow sculptures contests and fireworks. There is dog sledding, snowshoeing, a theater production, a craft fair, a beer garden and a vendor court.

3. Ski at Brundage Mountain Resort

If you’re a fan of winter sports, Brundage Mountain Resort is the place to be. With over 1,920 acres of skiable terrain, this ski resort features a range of runs, from beginner to expert. There are 68 named trails, but also lots of runs in between those trails. Visitors may also use these trails for Nordic skiing and cross-country skiing. With an average of 320 inches of snowfall per year, the conditions are always excellent.

If you’re not a skier or snowboarder, you can take a scenic backcountry tour of the mountain. You can also rent a snowmobile or sled, or try your hand at snowshoeing or snow tubing.

In the summer months, Brundage Mountain Resort transforms into a mountain biking and hiking paradise, and visitors can use the chairlifts for enjoying stunning panoramic scenery.

4. Relax in a Hot Springs

Looking to relax and unwind? There are several amazing hot springs in the McCall area, perfect for closing out an eventful day. Gold Fork Hot Springs is a popular choice, only about 30 miles from McCall. This family-friendly resort contains six pools and has lots of amenities, including changing rooms, reclining chairs, heated sidewalks and lockers.

Trail Creek Hot Springs is a more rustic option, with two stone-walled pools. Reaching these springs requires a short but steep hike along Trail Creek. About 48 miles from McCall, these Trail Creek Hot Springs make for a great day-trip.

Burgdorf Hot Springs is another rustic option, featuring two pools at about 118°F, and a larger pool ranging between 100-115°F. In the winter, these springs are only accessible via snowmobile, so plan ahead!

5. Hike in Ponderosa State Park

Ponderosa State Park, one of Idaho’s top state parks, is a natural oasis located just a few minutes from downtown McCall. The park spans more than 1,500 acres, and includes a peninsula that cuts into Payette Lake. The park also offers camping, fishing and boating opportunities. In the winter, visitors can even Nordic ski through the park.

One of the most popular hiking trails is the Payette Lake Peninsula Trail, a 75-minute hike along the waterfront. This trail offers breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Hikers can also hike to Osprey Point, a scenic viewpoint that offers panoramic views.

Ponderosa State Park abounds with natural wildlife, so keep an eye out for osprey, bald eagles, mallards, wood ducks and deer.

6. Go snow tubing at McCall’s Activity Barn

Looking for a thrilling winter activity for the whole family? Go snow tubing at McCall’s Activity Barn! Part of Brundage Mountain Resort, the Activity Barn offers several winter activities, the most popular being its snow tubing. The recreational center has six groomed lanes, allowing several people to tube at the same time. It also provides a conveyor belt to transport tubers back up the hill.

In addition to snow tubing, the Activity Barn also offers other winter activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There is also a winter bike trail.

7. Mountain bike at Jug Mountain Ranch

Jug Mountain Ranch is a mountain resort, known for its large golf course, beautiful event spaces and exhilarating mountain biking trails. Biking here is great for those seeking an outdoor adventure, and trails are available all year-round. Riders can choose from a variety of trails that wind through dense forests, open meadows and rugged terrain. The trails are well-marked and maintained.

There are guided tours available for those who want to explore the trails with an experienced guide. In the winter, visitors can bike the trails on fat bikes. Trails are also free to use, though guests are encouraged to drink and dine at the Clubhouse Restaurant and Bar after a day of biking.

8. Explore Downtown McCall

Spend an afternoon or evening exploring downtown McCall. This charming area is home to unique shops, galleries and restaurants. Visitors can sample local cuisine, browse handmade crafts or simply take in the small-town atmosphere.

Cool off with some ice cream from Ice Cream Alley or grab a coffee from FoggLifter Café. Appease your pizza cravings at Crusty’s Pizza or enjoy a beer at Salmon River Brewery. If you’re planning on staying in downtown McCall, make your reservation at the centrally-located Hotel McCall.

Legacy Park is located just beside the shopping area. In the summer, visitors and locals flock to the park to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, like swimming, playing volleyball or picnicking.

9. Go rafting down Salmon River

The Salmon River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the United States. Experience the river in a whole new way by planning an excitingwhite water rafting adventure. Known as the “River of No Return,” Salmon River contains areas appropriate for beginner rafters as well as experienced rafters.

Visitors can choose from a variety of guided tours, ranging from several hours to all-day adventures. Along the way, rafters can expect beautiful views of the surrounding canyons, pristine wilderness and vibrant wildlife.

10. Visit the Central Idaho Historical Museum

Learn about McCall history while visiting the Central Idaho Historical Museum. The museum preserves the area’s rich history and showcases eight history buildings, including a carpenter shop, a fire warden’s house, a bunkhouse and a machine shop.

Visitors can explore a wide range of exhibits, artifacts and photographs to explore McCall history. The museum also hosts educational programs throughout the year.

11. Take a day trip to Lake Cascade

Although technically not in McCall, Lake Cascade is only a short drive from the city and makes for a perfect day trip. The lake offers a host of recreational activities, including windsurfing, boating, swimming and hiking. Lake Cascade is also a popular spot for fishing, with a variety of fish species including rainbow trout, coho salmon and smallmouth bass.

To turn a day trip into a weekend trip, visitors can also camp along the lake. Visitors can opt for traditional campsites or stay in yurts.

Adina Keeling Avatar
Adina Keeling is a freelance travel writer from San Diego, CA. She worked in local news for a year until her wanderlust drew her to Costa Rica, where she is now based while freelancing and traveling the world. She has lived in three different countries and traveled to 27. An avid solo traveler, Adina wants to empower other women to safely travel alone.
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