In my mind, there is no better way to spend a winter vacation than by playing in the snow, soaking in hot springs, and sipping hot beverages. McCall, Idaho is just the place to have that iconic winter vacation.
My husband Henry, 11-year-old Anders, 10-year-old Finn, and myself started in Boise and drove north to McCall. When we passed through the little town of Cascade, we took a hard right onto Warm Lake Road. We drove 16 snow-covered miles to a pullout on the left side of the road, located at the turnoff for Forest Service Road 497A and the Big Creek Summit Trail. We had to do a little shoveling to make the pullout big enough to fit our car. Since 497A isn’t plowed, we snowshoed the 0.03 miles to the trailhead to begin our hike.
Day 1: Snowshoeing the Big Creek Summit Trail
The Big Creek Summit Trail starts in a meadow with an old cabin and meanders northeast. According to the Forest Service, the trail is hard to follow without snow so naturally we found it quite difficult with snow too. It didn’t matter to us, though. We had snowshoes, plenty of food and hot tea, and the right clothing for this relatively warm day. So we walked in the general direction of the trail (I think). The official trail is 3.1 miles one-way and climbs along two ridges with spectacular views of Six-bit Creek drainage into the South Fork Salmon River drainage. We hiked about the route for a couple miles before turning back toward the car.
Day 1: Soaking in Trail Creek Hot Springs
It was only another three miles of driving to arrive at the pullout for Trail Creek Hot Springs. This is a popular spot, so we didn’t expect to have it to ourselves and were surprised to see the parking area was empty.
Peaking over the snow bank, we could see steam coming from the river below and we knew we had arrived. A soak in these undeveloped hot springs in the Boise National Forest was just what we needed to start our winter family vacation off right.
We slid down the steep, but short, trail to the creek with my son, Anders in the lead. After a quick stripping, we gingerly hopped across the snow and cold Trail Creek to one of the hot pots. It wasn’t long before a couple joined us and several other people filled the upper pool. Still, it was magical to sit in hot water surrounded by snowy rocks and trees.
After a nice, long soak, we dragged ourselves back to the car for the rest of the drive to McCall where we’d be spending the night at Hotel McCall. For dinner, we went to Salmon River Brewery where I recommend smoked salmon tacos and their Shiver IPA.
Day 2: Snowshoeing in Ponderosa State Park & at Bear Basin Nordic Center
The next morning, my husband Henry and I got in a quick snowshoe at Ponderosa State Park while the boys slept in. The park is located in McCall, on a peninsula that juts out into Payette Lake.
After the boys were awake, we drove to Bear Basin Nordic Center. Bear Basin has 10 km of marked snowshoe trails and all the trails are pet friendly. Day passes can be purchased at $12 for adults, $5 for youth, and $2 for dogs. Children under 4 do not need a pass.
We started by trekking around the George Drouillard and Fur Rendezvous snowshoe loops, each a little over 1 km. We started near the trailhead and then ventured off into unmarked territory, as we are wont to do. Wandering through the mature Ponderosa pine forest, we started talking about French fur traders as it seemed that’s who some of the trails were named for. Finn had us all imagining that we were tromping through the snow on big, basket-like snowshoes, without really knowing where we were going.
One of my favorite things about being outside with my kids is these family bonding moments. There are plenty of times when the kids are unhappy, and therefore we are unhappy. Lots of meltdowns, cold hands, and hanger (anger due to being hungry) over the years, but there are just as many sweet moments. All the times together –fun and stressful—form our family unit and make for fun(ny) memories.
Day 2: Soaking in Zim’s Hot Springs
A couple hours of snowshoeing had us in the mood for something warm. Zim’s Hot Springs is a commercial hot spring pool, actually two pools, filled with natural hot spring water and cooled with water from the Little Salmon River. It’s chlorinated, which we normally don’t like, but it didn’t bother us this time.
The boys splashed and played, while Henry and I had drinks (in non-glass containers) that we brought for the occasion.
Day 3: McCall Activity Barn
Our third day of snowshoeing and hot springing near McCall was all about the McCall Activity Barn. And it didn’t involve snowshoes or hot springs.
The Activity Barn is one part of Brundage Mountain Resort; The other part is the downhill ski area at Brundage Mountain. The Activity Barn is a few minutes south of McCall. It consists of 5 kilometers of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow-biking. There’s also a snow tubing hill and sleigh rides.
We donned our cross-country skis and kicked and glided around the big loop. You could snowshoe here, but it would be at the edge of the ski trail and not very exciting, in my opinion. The rolling, open trails are perfect for skiing or snow-biking.
We worked up a sweat on the trails and spent the afternoon on a sleigh ride and snow-tubing. While our kids like snowshoeing and hot springing, they really love spinning down a hill at breakneck speed in an inner tube. Mom and dad liked it, too
It was time to head back to Boise. Fortunately the drive on Highway 55 is scenic and feels like part of the vacation. There are so many more snowshoe routes and hot springs to explore in the McCall area, I know we will be back.
Location: McCall, Idaho
Snowshoe: Big Creek Summit Trail, Ponderosa State Park, Bear Basin Nordic Center, McCall Activity Barn
Hot Springs: Trail Creek Hot Springs, Zim’s Hot Springs
Where to Stay: Hotel McCall
Where to Eat: Salmon River Brewery