You don't have to venture far to experience some of Idaho's wildest winter scenes. A 150-mile loop that begins and ends in Boise threads through an old gold rush town and past nordic skiing trails, hot springs, and a winter range for elk.
The route follows scenic stretches of the Boise River and South Fork Payette and Payette Rivers. Start just after dawn to spot bald eagles near Lucky Peak Reservoir on State 21 ― and still have time for hiking, soaking, and elk viewing in Garden Valley by dusk.
WHAT: Half-pound burgers, thick onion rings, and a view of the Payette. WHEN: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Wed-Mon. HOW MUCH: $. WHERE: 101 Riverside Dr., Horseshoe Bend; 208/793-2651.
WHAT: Homestyle breakfast with fresh ingredients and Trudy's local gold rush lore. WHEN: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. HOW MUCH: $$. WHERE: 3876 State 21, Idaho City; 208/392-4151.
Growling Bear Outfitters.
WHAT: Snowshoe rentals ($15) and Park N' Ski passes (from $7.50). WHEN: 10-5 daily. WHERE: 206 Main St., Idaho City; 208/392-9597.
WHAT: A 1-mile snowshoe climb through snow-laced conifers for a spectacular view at Banner Ridge. HOW MUCH: Buy a parking pass at Growling Bear Outfitters, above. WHERE: Trailhead at Banner Ridge Park N' Ski Area, 23½ miles north of Idaho City on State 21. Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, 208/334-4180 ext. 208.
Kirkham Campgrounds and Hot Springs.
WHAT: A waterfall and pools of 102° to 118° mineral water surrounded by magnificent scenery. WHEN: Open 24 hours daily. HOW MUCH: Free to park outside entrance; after May 26, park in lot ($4). WHERE: 4 miles north of State 17/Banks-Lowman Hwy. on State 21 along the South Fork Payette River. Lowman Ranger Station, 208/259-3361.
WHAT: Huge wapiti (or elk) herds feeding roadside. Also look for bald eagles, mule deer, and wild turkeys. WHEN: Sightings usually at dusk or dawn. WHERE: A 5-mile stretch near Danskin Station river access on State 17/Banks-Lowman Hwy., Garden Valley. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, 208/465-8465.
Info: Take State 21 north to Lowman, then travel State 17/Banks-Lowman Hwy. before heading back to Boise on State 55.