When it comes to adventuring in the great outdoors, this mighty territory has it all.
In fact, southwest Idaho offers such an amazing amount of topographical diversity, its regional tourism organization has found it necessary to divide it into six areas (Landmark Journey, High Desert Vistas, Big City, Small Towns, Raging Rapids and Sunny Meadows) to help us plan our visit and keep our bearings. Each area offers more opportunities for adventure than one can imagine. There’s whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing, mountain biking, golfing, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and we’ve only just begun!
Exploring the Outdoors
Idaho has more raftable whitewater than any state in the lower 48 states. Three raftable rivers — the Snake, Boise and the Payette — converge in the state capital city, Boise, providing everything from gentle trips for beginners to adrenaline-pumping runs for accomplished athletes. In almost every direction, opportunities for downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing last into April and resume again each fall. In the summer, the green to double-diamond ski slopes are open to the public for hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as disc golf. Speaking of mountain biking, this terrain is utter paradise with mountains, desert, and smooth urban trails. And, speaking of golf, the stunning terrain of Southwest Idaho has inspired the birth of many challenging golf courses. An unforgettable way to experience the stunning terrain is on a zip line, and the area has two within 90 minutes from Boise. Forces of nature also created an abundance of natural hot springs in the area, providing the perfect end to another adventure, or an adventure all unto itself. Mountain lakes, streams, and rivers make fishing for trout, salmon and whitefish another exciting option.
Discovering Local Wines
For most of us, when someone says “Idaho,” wine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But long before there were potatoes, wine grapes were flourishing in Idaho. History books tell us that the first vines were planted in the Lewiston area in 1864, making it the first state in the Pacific Northwest to plant grapes for commercial purposes. Idaho wines were recognized nationally, winning medals at expositions in the 1870s and 1880s in Omaha, Nebraska; Buffalo, New York; St. Louis, Missouri; and Portland, Oregon. Prohibition abruptly shut down the entire industry in 1919, and wine grapes were not planted again in Idaho until 1970.
Today, there are more than 50 wineries throughout Idaho, with the highest concentration in the fertile volcanic soils of Southwest Idaho. In 2007, the Snake River Valley was named as an American Viticultural Area. Covering nearly 21,000 square kilometers, the Snake River AVA features some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country.
At first, it’s surprising to think that wine grapes thrive so beautifully in this distinctly four-season climate. But the notably cold winters serve a purpose: They shut down the vines and allow them to go dormant while killing pests and discouraging disease. When summer comes, the territory’s -1 to 4 degree Celcius diurnal temperature swings provide a natural incubator for the grapes as they develop an ideal balance of sugars and acids. Since Southwest Idaho is a high mountain desert, grapes ripen free from mold and other complications caused by too much moisture.
So, let’s get tasting! There are more than 50 wineries in Idaho today, and more than a dozen are a short drive from Boise. It’s easy to stop into a tasting room or two at the end of an invigorating outdoor adventure, or wine touring can be a great all-day adventure of its own, with spectacular scenery for picnics and great people to meet along the way.
What wines will you discover? So many grapes do well here; each tasting room is a like a candy store for wine lovers looking for something new. You can expect to find Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Malbec, Syrah, Viognier and more. And don’t be surprised if you’re invited to sample from a barrel or find out that the nice person behind the tasting bar is the winemaker.
Wine tasting paired with savory entrees
Soaking Up Boise's Culture
By now, you’ve noticed that Boise is many things. It’s southwest Idaho’s hub for outdoor recreation, the gateway to a surprising wine country, and a mecca for culture. The Boise River runs through the heart of the city, and paved pathways run along both sides, forming the Boise Greenbelt. This beautiful urban recreation area stretches more than 40 kilometers, from the Lucky Peak Dam all the way to the Glenwood Bridge, and connects a dozen parks, a public golf course, a nature center, and the city’s natatorium. It’s a mecca for walkers, joggers, bicyclists and nature lovers.
As home to the largest population of Basques outside of Spain, Boise dedicates an entire block to the Basque culture. The Basque block offers two fantastic Basque restaurants, the Basque Market, and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. You’ll see signs of pride for this unique cultural heritage throughout the city and in many events like the annual Sheepherder’s Ball, Wine Fest, and the Saint Ignatius Basque Festival. Every five years, the community hosts the world-famous Jaialdi (meaning festival), to showcase Basque culture through music, food and dance.
With more annual events like the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the Gene Harris Jazz Festival, and Art in the Park, Boise is the center for Idaho culture. It’s also a foodie town where local farms and ranches provide the fabulous fresh bounty for its inland Pacific Northwest fare. Fresh river trout, sugar beets, peas, mint, plums, figs, potatoes and more inspire an impressive range of cuisine from Argentinean and Brazilian to Thai and Vietnamese, with an emphasis on local ingredients. Relaxed, urban restaurants like Red Feather Lounge serve hand-crafted cocktails and dishes like Pinot-braised short ribs with organic potato gnocchi paired with a wine from its three-story wine humidor. Another downtown favorite, Fork Restaurant, developed its own “Loyal to Local” pledge that takes the locavore movement one step further. Besides sourcing as many of its key ingredients from local providers, Fork vows that 75 percent of its spirits, beer, and wine come from the Pacific Northwest, making it a great place to try the wines of Southwest Idaho. Nearby, urban wineries are waiting, ready you to show you even more of what Southwest Idaho has to offer.
Fly into Boise. Stay downtown and let the uniqueness of this outdoorsy city sink in. Then, head for the mountains, rivers, lakes, deserts, and vineyards and let your own adventuring begin!
Horseback riding along the water