In my mind, there is no better way to spend a winter vacation than by playing in the snow on snowshoes, soaking in hot springs, and sipping hot beverages. McCall, Idaho, is just the place to have that iconic winter vacation.
My husband Henry, sons Anders and Finn, and I 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 a short walk to the trailhead to begin our first hike.
Day 1: Snowshoeing the Big Creek Summit Trail Near Cascade, Idaho
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 tricky with snow. It didn’t matter to us, though. We had our accessories, including 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 (5 km) 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 of miles before turning back toward the car.
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Day 1: Soaking in Trail Creek Hot Springs
It was only another three miles (4.8 km) of driving to arrive at the pullout for Trail Creek Hot Springs. This hot spring is a popular spot, so we didn’t expect to have it to ourselves and were surprised to see the empty parking area.
Peaking over the snowbank, we saw 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 others filled the upper pool. Still sitting in hot water surrounded by snowy rocks and trees was magical.
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. We went to Salmon River Brewery for dinner, where I recommend smoked salmon tacos and their Shiver IPA.
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Day 2: Snowshoeing in Ponderosa State Park and Bear Basin Nordic Center
The next morning, my husband Henry and I got in a quick snowshoeing at Ponderosa State Park while the boys slept in late. This Idaho park is located in McCall, on a peninsula that juts out into Payette Lake and offers three specific snowshoe trails.
After our outing and the boys were awake, we drove to Bear Basin Nordic Center. Bear Basin has 10 km of marked snowshoe trails, which are pet-friendly. Day, multi-day passes, or season passes are available. However, children under four 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 in this area. 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. Many meltdowns, cold hands, and hanger (anger due to hunger) over the years, but there are just as many sweet moments. All the times together –fun and stressful—form our family unit and make fun(ny) memories.
Day 2: Soaking in Zim’s Hot Springs in New Meadows, Idaho
A couple of hours of Idaho snowshoeing on the trails near McCall had us in the mood for something warm. Zim’s Hot Springs is a commercial hot spring pool, two pools filled with natural hot spring water and cooled with water from the Little Salmon River. It’s chlorinated, which we usually 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 had brought for the occasion.
Day 3: McCall Activity Barn at Brundage Mountain Resort in McCall, Idaho
Our third day near McCall was all about the McCall Activity Barn, which didn’t involve snowshoes or hot springs.
The Activity Barn is one part of Brundage Mountain Resort; the other is the downhill ski area at Brundage Mountain. Only a few minutes south of McCall, it includes a 3-mile (5 km) Nordic trail open to 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. Though the trail is open to snowshoers, it would be at the edge of the ski trail and not very exciting, in my opinion. However, the rolling, open trails are perfect for skiing or snow-biking. Whatever method you choose, winter trail etiquette is key.
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.
Then, 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 many more snowshoe routes and hot springs to explore in the McCall area. I know we will be back.
Additional Info for Snowshoeing and Hot Springing in Idaho
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
What’s your favorite activity or snowshoeing trail in McCall, Idaho? Let us know in the comments below!
This article was originally published on February 13, 2019, and was most recently updated on January 19, 2023.