This Mountain Town Is the Northwest’s Favorite Place to Escape
Never mind the potatoes, it’s time to recalibrate what you think you know about Idaho—and specifically its wild, friendly, and vibrant capital, Boise. Shortlisted as one of the best places to live in the country, it’s an equally alluring place to visit. Presiding over a state with nearly five million acres of designated wilderness (third highest in the U.S.), Idaho’s largest city has quietly evolved into one of most stylish and sophisticated towns in the West—seamlessly blending its fun foreground with an unbeatable backdrop of rivers, green spaces, and mountains right at your doorstep.
How many cities have this in their backyard? Boise’s numerous hiking trails include this neighboring stretch along the Arrowrock Reservoir.
Anna Gorin/Getty Images
Home to an emerging culinary scene, several excellent bars and breweries, and boutique hotels like The Avery and Inn at 500 Capitol, Boise is also well-served by its spectacular green spaces and rugged backcountry—laced with hundreds of miles of trails within walking distance or a quick drive. Whether you’ll be hopping on a fat tire bike, clicking into your snowboard, or grabbing a kayak paddle at a year-round whitewater park on the Boise River, it’s time to test out this town from main street to mountaintop. Here are 10 things to do in Boise to put this getaway capital at the top of your adventure list.
Boise’s Ridge to Rivers network links up nearly 200 miles of interlinked trails for hikers and bikers.
Courtesy of Visit Boise
Explore Boise’s Ridge to Rivers Trail System
Your calves are going to burn here, but in a good way. The 190-mile interconnected trail system known as Ridge to Rivers running through the Boise Foothills links up neighborhoods with public lands, offering a wide range of stunning terrain for hikers and bikers. One of our favorite spots here is the Table Rock Area, a giant sandstone formation just northeast of downtown Boise ripe with difficult hiking and mountain biking routes. Start with Table Rock Trail #15, a steep ascent from the town’s famous Old Penitentiary (more on that later) to the top of Table Rock. Or, helmet up for the Rock Island Trail #16B, a technical feat for mountain bikers experienced enough to navigate challenging rock features. If you’re looking for something a bit mellower, head to Camel’s Back, an 11-acre reserve furnished with a picnic area, playground, and tennis courts.
Boise Whitewater Park’s adjustable waves cater to surfers and paddlers of all levels.
Courtesy of Visit Boise
Paddle or Surf the Boise River
Foam aficionados have two options here. First, there’s Whitewater Park, where two cutting-edge wave shapers slice up the Boise River as it flows through town. A sophisticated system uses air pressure to elevate and lower stainless steel flashboards, forging custom-shaped waves that are constantly changing. A popular destination for kayakers year-round, the primary 20-foot wide waves and a longer 25-foot secondary wave are also suitable for “green wave” surfing. In the summer, Whitewater rafting on the Payette River with Cascade Raft and Kayak is a must, less than an hour from downtown Boise. The eight-mile excursion features class III rapids, splashy whitewater, and time for swimming.
Bogus Basin—18 miles north of town.
Ski, Hike, or Bike Bogus Basin
As its name might not entirely suggest, Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area is a stellar four-season choice for adventurists within easy striking distance of town. During winter, local skiers and snowboarders make the easy 18-mile commute here for a reliably epic day on the slopes. When the hills aren’t covered in snow, out come the mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. Bogus Mountain also features the state’s one and only mountain coaster—the Glade Runner—blasting through 4,330 feet of mountain forest-flanked twists and turns while hitting speeds of 25mph to keep your adrenaline on high.
Over a dozen breweries call Boise home, including some of the most prized microbrew brands in the Northwest.
Savor Boise’s Best Craft Breweries
Beer fans will find no shortage of refreshing options in Boise, an emerging powerhouse in the craft brewing scene. First, swing by Lost Grove Brewery, known for both its leadership in sustainable brewing practices and silly-good beer—located in Boise’s emerging Lusk District along with several new restaurants. Other standouts include: Payette Brewing, home to Blood Orange Rustler IPA and Mutton Buster Brown Ale; Boise Brewing Co, inspired by a community garden model where locals can purchase a share in the brewery; Barbarian Brewery is operated by a husband-and-wife team focusing on sour and barrel-aged beers. Cider lovers can scope out Meriwether Cider—a family-run hard cider hangout in downtown Boise, specializing in drinks made with Northwest apples and zero artificial flavors.
The Boise River Greenbelt is a popular nesting ground for eagles and other iconic birds of prey.
Darwin Fan/Getty Images
Admire the Birds of Boise
You don’t have to be a professional birder to be moved by the rich avian life in and around Boise, home to many of your favorite raptors—including bald eagles, great horned owls, and numerous hawks. Start your flight at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, where you can learn about conservation efforts for raptors now on behalf of more than 100 species in 65 countries worldwide, including the California condor and aplomado falcon in the United States. Then head to Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve for more superb bird watching. The City of Boise manages the 44-acre reserve, home to numerous bird species and several walking trails. The Boise River Greenbelt (see below) and Hulls Gulch Reserve are other top birding destinations nearby.
Links with wildlife and a postcard backdrop at Quail Hollow.
Golf With a Gorgeous View
If atmosphere is important to you when you drive and putt, Boise has some courses you need to try. Awarded four stars by Golf Digest, Quail Hollow Golf Course features 18 holes of cinematic views across Treasure Valley and its surrounding mountains. Yes, you’ll likely be spotting deer, bobcats, foxes, and other wild residents along the way. Another favorite choice, Warm Springs Golf Course, is set right on the banks of the Boise River.
Sopa del dia at the Basque Market.
Courtesy of Basque Market
Dine and Dance on the Basque Block
One of Boise’s culinary hubs centers around the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, where you can learn about Basque communities from Spain relocating to the American West or catch a traditional dance and music performance at the Basque Center. When hunger strikes, Boise’s Basque Block features spots like The Basque Market and Leku Ona for regional classics that including pintxos (Basque tapas), paella, and Spanish wines. Ansots, a two-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee, is known for its otherworldly Basque chorizo.
Press & Pony
Courtesy of Press & Pony
Go Boise Barhopping
Boise’s bar scene is perfectly sized and situated for a great night of craft cocktailing in a gorgeous locale. Among plenty options, start your odyssey at the congenially speakeasy-ish Press & Pony, reminiscent of a dimly lit West Village or Beverly Hills haunt. There’s room here for about 25 people, bobbing heads over jazzy tunes while sipping designer highballs amped with house-made tonics. Try the Tiki Toddy (a hot tropical libation with Kōloa Rum, pineapple saccharum, citrus, and cinnamon) or the seasonal HumBug (egg white sour blended with cinnamon, citrus, vermouth, and smoked rosemary). Then head a few blocks to Art Haus at KIN, showcasing a tight list of beer, wine, and seasonal cocktails from Kris Komori—Idaho’s first James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Mountain Region.
Boise’s infamous Old Idaho Penitentiary was shuttered in 1973 shortly after a prisoner riot. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places its open for chilling tours.
Courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society
Check Out the Old Idaho Penitentiary
Note we said check out, not check into these former criminal quarters. Dating back to 1872, the Old Idaho Pentitentiary housed some of the most infamous criminals of the West in solitary confinement, cell blocks, and the gallows. After touring 30 historic buildings and special exhibitions, including the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit of Arms and Armaments, you’ll never binge-watch Locked Up with quite the same eyes.
The 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt winds through the heart of the city, linking up several riverside parks.
Roam the Boise River Greenbelt
This 25-mile, tree-lined pathway is one of Boise’s most cherished parks and a favorite eco-friendly commuter route for locals. You could easily spend a day or two exploring the entire Boise River Greenbelt, but one must-see stop here is The Idaho Fish and Game MK Nature Center, which centers around the StreamWalk, brimming with diverse landscapes, plenty of animals, and underwater viewing windows. What makes this greenway especially appealing later in the day are its pair of urban wineries, Telaya Wine Co and 3100 Cellars, housed in the Boise metro area of Garden City. For trivia night, take note that The Ribbon of Jewels, the 12 parks that run along the Boise River Greenbelt are all named after women who have positively impacted the city. The newest of the “Jewels” is Esther Simplot Park, a 23-acre oasis where you can fish, swim, kayak, and SUP with rentals from Idaho River Sports.