Adventure In McCall: Central Idaho’s Epic Mountain Town

Multiple times over the past year I’ve been asked, “Where’s McCall?” Situated almost exactly halfway between Coeur d’Alene and Boise, McCall, Idaho, is the largest city in Central Idaho’s Valley County. Originally a logging town, it’s now an outdoor recreation and adventure destination begging you to take a weekend trip south.

Water & Forests

McCall is located on the southern end of Payette Lake and is surrounded by the Payette National Forest to the north and east and rolling meadows to the south. The best place to view the lake is from the sweeping granite cliffs at the far end of Ponderosa State Park, a verdant peninsula near downtown that also offers camping, hiking, and fishing.

At the top of the lake sits North Beach where the North Fork of the Payette River flows into the lake, an area sometimes referred to as “the Meanders.” This lazy stretch of river is perfect for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding and is surrounded by soaring ponderosa pines, lush wetlands, and a wonderland of wildlife.

Other water adventures await at Goose Creek Falls, just north of the town of New Meadows, and Zims Hot Springs a few miles up U.S. Route 95.

View looking down a ramp to a dock on a lake.
Visit Fish Lake during a Mountain Meadow Jeep Tour. // Photo: S. Michal Bennett

If you’re looking for less of a crowd, head 14 miles south to Donnelly and camp at a state park on the shores of Lake Cascade. Tamarack Resort, just up the road from the lake’s east shore, is nestled close to Mica Ridge, a difficult-to-reach but scenic peak. Visit McCall also has great resources for other hiking and mountain biking trails in the area. (Read this OTO story about mountain biking in McCall.)

If exploring the backcountry on wheels is more your style, you can rent an ATV from Mountain Meadow Adventure Rentals or drive up the rough road to the fire lookout on No Business Mountain.

Mountain Meadow also offers boat, wave runner, SUP, and snowmobile rentals in addition to snowmobile, RZR (a sporty side-by-side), and Jeep tours in the Donnelly and McCall areas.

Winter Recreation

McCall isn’t just a summer and fall destination. With Brundage Mountain Ski Resort to the north, Tamarack Resort to the south, the Manchester Ice Center downtown, and Nordic ski trails throughout the area, there is plenty of play to be had during the winter months.

Eat & Drink

Just want to cozy up in a vacation rental, enjoy some great food and drink, and soak up the mountain town life? Here are some of my favorite McCall eating and drinking establishments: McCall Brewing, Evening Rise Bread Co., Café 6 three 4, Blue Moose McCall Drive Thru, Lonchera Rosita Mexican Food Truck, Rupert’s Restaurant (for cocktails), The Sushi Bar, and Frenchie’s on Third.

For more McCall road trip resources, check out

Payette River at sunrise with steam rising off the water's surface, with golden light on the surrounding trees and bushes.
Payette River // Photo by Aaron Theisen

Find more stories about McCall in the OTO archives.

Visit the Travel archives for more adventure travel stories, recommended destinations, and travel gear reviews.

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