7 Things to do in Idaho during Winter (besides skiing)
While I’m in New Zealand, it’s been dumping snow in my home state of Idaho. Thanks El Nino! Skiers and snowboarders everywhere out west rejoice.
But what if you don’t like to ski? There are still a ton of things to do in Idaho during the winter. Here are 7 creative ways to get into the winter spirit beyond the slopes.
1) Dog sled through the state’s mountain landscapes.
Most people may think of Alaska or Canada when they hear dog sledding, but Idaho has a long mushing history as well. Originating back in 1917, Ashton’s annual American Dog Derby is the longest-standing all-American dog sled race in the Lower 48. Held every year in the third week of February, this two-day event draws the best dog sled teams in North America to race from Ashton, Idaho, to the west corner of Yellowstone National Park, a 55-mile endeavor. Dog owners who want to give mushing a try can jockey for a title in the 100-yard Mutt Race.
To get started, check out the dog sled tours offered by Silver Sage Mushing, also located in Ashton. You’ll get a chance to learn the basics as you navigate the big mountain landscapes in Idaho’s Targhee National Forest.
Photo: Dave Dugdale
2) Access gorgeous winter terrain on a fat bike.
These hefty mountain bikes outfitted with even heftier tires were first allowed onto ski-mountain Nordic trails at Grand Targhee Resort, just over the state line from Driggs, ID. The trend has quickly spread, and today the 20 miles of forested terrain at northern Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain have become a fat-biking favorite. Farther south, fat bikers can roam for hundreds of miles in Teton Valley. The end of Horseshoe Canyon Road (west of Driggs) is a good place to start — park where the plowing ends and ride out to Packsaddle Rd for a quick excursion, or venture to the nearby Big Hole Mountains for an all-day outing.
Photo: Schweitzer Mountain Resort
On the other side of the state, McCall’s Jug Mountain Ranch offers some of the best fat biking trails in the country. This private residential community has opened its paths to fat bikers (and their dogs) with 14 miles of singletrack and cross-country trails looping in and out of the woods, along the reservoir, and cruising down into the valley. You can rent a bike onsite at the ranch’s pro shop.
Fat bike races are also popping up all over the state. Ones to check out include Stanley’s WinterFest 40, Jug Mountain’s Snowy 45 Relay, and Sun Valley’s Snowball Special.
3) Snowshoe your way to hot springs.
With more soakable hot springs than any other state, Idaho offers a unique way to keep warm during the winter. There are plenty of springs accessible right off the highway, but for a quieter, more solitary excursion, strap on a pair of snowshoes and hit the trail.
Just north of Lowman in the Boise National Forest, the all-natural Bonneville Hot Springs stays open through winter, even after snow has closed the road to the campground. Best reached with snowshoes, the springs are approximately one mile from the road — enough to deter the crowds that typically visit here in summer.
The four-mile round-trip snowshoe to Goldbug Hot Springs is a slightly more challenging trek. Located in the Salmon-Challis National Forest off Highway 93 (near mile marker 282), this creekside soak consists of a series of steamy, waterfall-fed pools with gorgeous views of Goldbug Ridge and Poison Peak in the distance.
4) Ride a horse-drawn sleigh to dinner.
Sixteen miles from Boise up at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area, Bogus Creek Outfitters run evening horse-drawn sleigh rides to a cabin deep in the woods where you can feast on a three-course steak dinner while listening to tunes and stories from true Idaho cowboys. Another option is Sun Valley’s Trail Creek Cabin, an Old-Western-style log home that’s been transformed into a restaurant. Sleighs depart Wednesday through Sunday from the Sun Valley Lodge for this winter destination. The menu has a Western spin, featuring items like Idaho trout, bison short ribs, and locally produced wine.
At the northern end of the state, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch can tailor sleigh rides to your liking: A two-person sleigh is available for the ultimate winter date, or a 12-person sleigh can be reserved for a mobile winter party. After being whisked through the forest, where you’ll have views of the Selkirk Mountains, you’ll end up at the main lodge. There you can warm up by the fire with a hot cocoa or toddy in one hand and a bowl of freshly popped popcorn in the other.
Photo: Bogus Creek Outfitters
5) Take a break from the snow in a backcountry yurt.
Located all over the state, public and privately owned yurts make for an awesome backcountry base camp. These shelters provide access to fresh powder and first turns for skiers and split boarders, and miles of peaceful terrain for snowshoeing or the ultimate snowball fight.
Within Idaho’s rugged Sawtooth range, Sun Valley Trekking operates six solar-powered wilderness yurts that can each accommodate 16-19 people — some even come with hot tubs. They’ll also prepare your meals and transport your gear in by snowmobile.
Photo: Sun Valley Trekking
For something slightly less posh but still clean and well-appointed, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation operates another six backcountry yurts near Idaho City. These are located just over an hour from downtown Boise, sleep up to six per night for $85, and make for a quick getaway where you can spend the day playing in the snow, enjoy a home-cooked meal and some local Idaho wine, and kick back with a game of cards. Tip: Reserve in advance, as they’re quite popular!
**If you need more inspiration to plan a hut trip, check out this post: 15 Reasons to take your first Backcountry Hut Trip this Winter.**
6) Go ice fishing on one of Idaho’s many lakes.
It’s possible to land a big one year-round on Idaho’s lakes; all you need in winter is a pole, lures, an auger, and some warm clothes (and some whiskey 🙂 or hot chocolate). With four species found nowhere else on Earth (including the Bear Lake whitefish), Bear Lake in southeast Idaho is a popular ice fishing spot, but you can set up shop on any lake where the ice is thick enough. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game recommends an absolute minimum of four inches if you’re solo and without an ATV or snow machine, or somewhere between six and 10 inches for a large group or those with heavy equipment.
Head to McCall or Sandpoint for lakes coupled with mountain town amenities. For more ideas about where to go, conditions, and regulations, see this page on the Idaho Department Fish and Game website.
If you want to drop a line but have no gear or would rather head out with an expert, Southern Idaho Fishing Excursions offers a guided experience on Lake Cascade; Fins & Feathers Tackle Shop covers northern Idaho.
Photo: Roger Phillips / Idaho Department of Fish and Game
7) Get wild at the McCall Winter Carnival.
Kicking off the last weekend in January every year since the ’60s, this Idaho festival features some of the world’s most elaborate larger-than-life ice sculptures. There’s also a beer garden, a full-blown downtown Mardi Gras parade, snow tubing, gold panning, a Dutch oven cookoff, snow golfing, and one of the biggest fireworks displays in the state.
At night, many events are held in venues around town: There’s live music at the Salmon River Brewery, the winemaker dinner at the luxurious Shore Lodge, and quirky events like the “most unusual beard” and “sexiest legs” (males only) competitions are held at the Yacht Club, McCall’s long-standing waterfront bar. It’s a wild winter time.
Photo: McCall Chamber of Commerce
*** More things to do in Idaho***
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN WINTER?