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Idaho’s year-round playgroundIdaho’s year-round playground

McCall, IdahoMcCall, Idaho

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.

  • Winter or summer, take the chairlift up Brundage Mountain Resort for beautiful views of Payette Lake. Skiers and snowboarders can enjoy 1,500 acres of lift-served terrain rated 30 percent expert, 50 percent intermediate, and 20 percent beginner. Powder hounds get their fill of soft stuff in the numerous quiet glades; most groomed runs are luxuriously wide. Plus, over 17,000 acres of snowy steeps, tree-lined glades, and powdery bowls are available for guided backcountry cat skiing day trips. Photo courtesy Brundage Mountain Resort.
  • McCall’s Runway 16/34. Borrow a bike for the short ride into town at the southern shore of Payette Lake, or walk across the highway to The Pancake House. Photo by Jim Raeder.
  • Quality bicycles, provided by the Idaho Aviation Association, are available on a donation basis and stored in this shed near the tiedown area. Photo by Andrew George.
  • The beautiful Shore Lodge, McCall’s signature property, sits right on the beach. Huge log beams and rock accents lend a warm feeling to the lodge. Most guest suites boast lake views and have balconies or patios. Luxurious baths sport granite counters, large tubs, and separate glass showers; living rooms are fully furnished with flat-screen TV. Complementary services include WiFi, year-round outdoor pool and hot tub, cruiser bikes in summer, 43-seat movie theater with hundreds of DVDs, year-round evening s’mores on the private beach, 24-hr fitness center, winter gear valet and tuning room, and shuttle service to Brundage Mountain and McCall airport. Dine at the Narrows Steakhouse or Cutwater restaurant. Photo courtesy Shore Lodge.
  • The Shore Lodge boasts indoor and outdoor saltwater immersion pools, part of their Forbes-acclaimed Cove Spa. Photo courtesy Shore Lodge.
  • The family-owned Hotel McCall is just half a block from the lake. Rooms are modern, with rust and cream walls, local artwork, granite counters and glass showers. Guests enjoy WiFi, continental breakfast, an indoor infinity saltwater pool, and a workout room. Spa services are available in guest rooms or the downstairs spa room. Some guest rooms offer views of downtown, others have partial lake views. Condos are also available with lake or hotel courtyard views; they sleep up to six two bedrooms with full kitchens, two baths, and washer/dryers. Photo courtesy Hotel McCall.
  • Rupert’s at Hotel McCall offers fine dining with an atmosphere in line with the hotel’s rooms—colors of rust and cream, with heavy wood beams in the ceiling. Vintage propellers are a reminder that the patriarch of the Carey family, who own the hotel and restaurant, spent decades flying his Maule into the Idaho backcountry and beyond. Photo courtesy Hotel McCall.
  • Each year, McCall celebrates its wintry pride with 10 days of events collectively known as the McCall Winter Carnival. Some of the biggest draws are the elaborate ice sculptures. Just walk up the main street and along the lake shore to marvel at the icy creations. Photo courtesy McCall Chamber of Commerce.
  • During Winter Carnival, the sculptures are just the beginning. From the dog pull contest to a raucous Mardi Gras parade through downtown, the festival packs in all kinds of events, including nighttime fireworks over Payette Lake and live music each day. The lake is usually a giant frozen playground, especially for kids with sleds. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • During the Winter Carnival, vendors along the shore of the frozen lake sell everything from freshly made kettle corn in multiple flavors to colorful winter beanies with animal faces and long arms you can wrap around your neck like a scarf. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The Winter Carnival Snow Bike Racing is always popular; a full list of events can be found at the McCall Chamber of Commerce website. Photo courtesy McCall Chamber of Commerce.
  • Uncrowded fishing is one of McCall’s best secrets. Fish for cutthroat and rainbow trout, Chinook salmon, steelhead, smallmouth bass, Kokanee, crappie, yellow perch and more in the diverse rivers and lakes throughout the area. If you want a guide, Fly Fish McCall is licensed on over 50 bodies of water in the central Idaho back country. They use electric boats and drift boats, float tubes, and llamas to access pristine alpine lakes. Their guides are experienced local residents. Fly fishing gear, lunch and transportation are supplied at no extra charge. A fishing license is easily obtained in McCall or online. Photo courtesy McCall Chamber of Commerce.
  • Summer on the beach in front of the Shore Lodge on Payette Lake. You can swim, fish, water ski, take a boat cruise, or just relax. Photo courtesy Shore Lodge.
  • Guests of the Shore Lodge have exclusive access to Whitetail Club’s private, award winning golf course. Play among centuries-old ponderosa pines, trout-filled ponds, and powerful granite boulders as you attempt to master the 7,200-yard, 72-par course. The Whitetail Club was rated among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest” and Golfweek’s “Best Resort Courses 2014.” After you play, end your day at the Golf Grille for delicious food and drink. Photo courtesy Shore Lodge.
  • The Payette Lake Antique and Wooden Boat Show is a perennial Idaho favorite. Every summer, Payette Lake is filled with beautifully restored wooden boats for three days of shows, cruises, competition, and socializing. Boats usually arrive Friday, with the first tours that afternoon. Saturday brings a boat parade across the lake followed by a chance for the public to check out the floating beauties at the Shore Lodge docks, pictured in the background. Join owners for a BBQ lunch with live music. The boats return to Shore Lodge Sunday before being carefully pulled out of the water for another year. Photo courtesy Shore Lodge.

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.

Drive or bike north of the airport one mile on Highway 55 and you’ll find yourself downtown, at the southern shore of Payette Lake. The beautiful Shore Lodge, McCall’s signature property, sits right on the beach and offers a spa and fine restaurants with panoramic lake views. The family-owned Hotel McCall is just half a block from the lake and boasts the award-winning Rupert’s at Hotel McCall. See photo captions for details; for more choices, try the statewide lodging planner.

Buzz Lightyear towers above a young visitor to McCall’s Winter Carnival, the town’s signature winter event. Photo courtesy Bears Knight Inn.

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.

Short legs? No problem! The monster dog pull is one of the Winter Carnival’s enduring and popular events. Photo courtesy McCall Chamber of Commerce.

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.

Take the lift up, and then ride a mountain bike down Brundage Mountain. Photo courtesy McCall Chamber of Commerce.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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