It’s amazing how creative people can get in a small mountain town with a long winter; you make your own fun. The folks in McCall have gotten so good at it, their west-central Idaho enclave has become a hub of recreation. Skiers flock to Brundage Mountain Resort for the deep powder and variety of trails, but winter revelry really shifts into high gear in late January during McCall’s Winter Carnival, with its amazing ice sculptures and festivities. McCall is a great destination for summer fun as well. The ultra-blue Payette Lake plays host to water skiers and sunbathers, and the green, wildflower-studded hills are filled with hikers and mountain bikers. Year-round, many pilots fly in just to dine at the ever-popular Pancake House a block from the airport.
McCall Municipal Airport lies at the extreme northern end of Long Valley. If you plan to arrive or depart via an instrument approach, note the special alternate minimums, takeoff minimums, and obstacle departure procedures, all because of the surrounding high terrain. In summer, McCall is an excellent jumping-off point to access Idaho’s world-class backcountry airstrips. To brush up on your backcountry flight skills, make an appointment at Lori MacNichol’s McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminars—their CFIs have over 75,000 hours of backcountry experience—and don’t leave home without a copy of Fly Idaho!, which provides complete information on Idaho’s airstrips, or the brand new Idaho Aeronautical Chart, which shows all the strips missing from FAA sectionals and much more. The Idaho Aviation Association (IAA) provides bicycles at the airport that pilots may borrow to ride into town; look for the shed with the IAA sign.
Pride is on the line during the 10-day Winter Carnival, as citizens compete to win trophies for snow and ice sculptures that can tower two stories above street level. Months of planning go into designs, with a different theme each year to test frosty limits. The festival begins in late January and packs in all kinds of events, including Nordic skiing, a kid’s play space, snow bike race, ice skating, black and blue hockey game, Iditarod-qualifier dog sled race, a monster dog pull, wine tasting and special dinners, bingo, ice skating performances, live music, a beer garden and vendors, a raucous Mardi Gras parade through downtown, and fireworks over the frozen Payette Lake.
Oh yes, and the skiing: Brundage Mountain Resort is McCall’s main attraction throughout winter. The mountain tops out at 7,640 feet, offering a vertical drop of 1,800 feet, five lifts, and two terrain parks. With four restaurants and an espresso bar, you won’t go hungry while you’re enjoying the slopes. Brundage also operates horse-drawn sleigh rides and a tubing hill at their Activity Barn in McCall.
Near the lake and just two miles north of downtown, the Payette Lakes Ski Club operates both the Little Ski Hill and the Bear Basin Nordic Center. Generations of youth have learned to ski here. The alpine hill has a T-bar with 405 vertical feet of terrain for beginning skiers; it’s also the only lit ski and snowboard hill in the area, so you can play after dark. Bear Basin provides 30 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails and a biathlon range; dogs welcome on the Dog Loop.
Summer brings an array of water sports, hiking, and golfing opportunities. Ponderosa State Park is home to some of America’s largest old-growth trees, plus camping and cabins. Brundage Mountain offers summer chairlift rides, disc golf, mountain biking, and concerts. Special events abound in McCall, like music festivals and Fourth of July events. A perennial favorite is the Payette Lake Antique and Wooden Boat Show. You can ice skate at the Manchester Ice Centre year-round, or visit in October for the annual curling bonspiel. As a year-round destination, or gateway to Idaho’s gorgeous backcountry strips, McCall is the hub of Idaho recreation.
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