As the summer crowds attest, it can be hard to leave the shore of Payette Lake in McCall. But Payette and its aquatic-kin Cascade Lake to the south form the embarkation point for adventures in the mellow and welcoming mountains of west-central Idaho.
Hikers should head up Lick Creek Road east of Payette Lake, which provides access to a number of justifiably popular hikes, most of which access granite and lilypad-lined lakes with little effort. Just east of Lick Creek summit, about twenty miles out of McCall, the Duck Lake trailhead takes hikers to either Duck (2.4 miles round trip) or Hum (4.4 miles round trip) Lake through the ruddy color of huckleberry shrubs and sedge.
West-central Idaho is a hotbed of geothermal activity, and visitors can soak sore muscles in a number of hot springs, both commercial and natural. East of Donnelly, about twenty minutes south of McCall, Gold Fork Hot Springs features a set of hot concrete-lined pools that drain down to a pair of sandy-bottomed warm pools. Before you leave civilization, be warned: Gold Fork is cash only. For a more natural experience, take the short hike into Last Chance Hot Springs, between McCall and New Meadows. The small spring pools into a rocky alcove where swimsuits are definitely optional.
Power boaters often ply Payette Lake, but human-powered watercraft will find calm water on the Upper North Fork of the Payette where it pours into the lake. Backwoods Adventures rents canoes, kayaks, and SUPs on-site at the inlet.
For a post-hike/SUP/soak beer or dinner, stop in at Salmon River Brewery. Housed in McCall’s old train depot, the brewery boasts a fine view of the lake from its outdoor seating area. Pair a beer with pub fries (parmesan bacon and rosemary) for a snack or order the Black-N-Blue Elk Burger for something more substantial.
Of course, it’s hard to beat simply sitting on the grassy lawn of Legacy Park on the shore of Payette Lake and watching the sun behind Brundage Mountain.