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Our 7 Best McCall Winter Activities

Best 7 McCall Winter Activities

McCall, Idaho is one of our favorite places every season of the year. But for an active family, winter is an excellent time to check out this gem of a small town in the west central mountains of Idaho. We have been to McCall hundreds of times over the nearly 20 years that we have lived in Boise, Idaho. And these are our top 7 McCall winter activities in the area.

Some of the links in this blog may be affiliate links. If you click and purchase, we will receive a commission at no extra charge to you.  We only recommend activities or places we have experienced, and all opinions are our own.

#1 McCall Winter Activity: Skiing

Skiing is our family’s favorite winter activity. And McCall does not disappoint. McCall has two ski areas. 

Little Ski Hill

The first Little Ski Hill is a small, but quaint local hill to grab a run or two. Little Ski Hill only has a single t-bar so this is not the place for more advanced skiers. But if you have beginning skiers or want to grab a few runs before dinner, Little Ski Hill could be the place for you.

The hill is located just 2 miles from McCall and is literally on your way to the larger ski resort, Brundage. In 2022, the cost for a youth to ski is just $20 and $25 for an adult.

In general, this is an afternoon to evening activity: Little Ski Hill is open Mondays through Thursdays from 3:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Fridays 3:30-9:00, Saturdays noon to 9:00 pm, and Sundays noon to 6:00 pm.

Brundage Ski Resort

Next to Bogus Basin, our beloved hometown ski resort, Brundage is our favorite place for Idaho powder. We love this resort so much we put it on our list of top 3 Idaho ski resorts on a budget.

At $86 for an adult lift ticket, a day skiing Brundage is considerably more than Little Ski Hill. And yet,  Brundage gives you all the perks of a large ski resort: lots of vertical feet, multiple lifts and numerous runs. 

The Lake View at Brundage Ski Resort
A Bluebird Day at Brundage

You have to try Brundage to appreciate their claim “the best snow in Idaho.” While we Boiseans sometimes question the claim, given the powder on our own mountain, I can promise that you won’t be disappointed with the quality of skiing, particularly for the cost.  

#2 McCall Winter Activity: Winter Carnival

For two weeks in late January and early February, McCall hosts its annual Winter Carnival. Officially started in 1965, the Carnival’s original intent was to offer relief from the Winter doldrums and support local skiing.

From its small roots, the Carnival has grown to attract over 60,000 visitors to McCall during the celebration (and that is in a town of just over 3,400 people). 

An Ice Sculpture of a Iditarod Sled
Art in Ice

The Carnival has a different theme each year, but what is consistent to the Carnival is the ice sculptures. As a signature piece of Carnival, the sculptures alone are worth the trip.

But if you need more, the Carnival also has an opening and closing ceremony with music and fireworks. There are also numerous food trucks on the streets and bands perform nightly on the weekends. The festival usually features a Mardi Gras style parade as well.

Ice Sculpture
Ice Sculpture of Sharlie, McCall’s Very Own Lake Monster.

Where to Stay in McCall

Although busy, Winter Carnival has great energy, and we definitely recommend checking it out at least once. However, if you plan to be in McCall for more than a day trip during Carnival be sure to book your hotel accommodations well in advance.

#3 McCall Winter Activity: Snowshoeing

If there is a better way than snowshoeing to get exercise and enjoy nature, without needing a bunch of fancy equipment, we don’t know it. If you plan to embrace the snow in McCall…and you should, definitely snowshoe. 

The most unique place to snowshoe is definitely across the frozen Payette Lake. We live for the lake in the summer so it is pretty cool to walk across its frozen surface come winter.

The best way to access the lake is through Ponderosa State Park. Once you park at the visitor’s center there is a clear path to snowshoe down to the lake. Ponderosa is a state park so if you don’t have a pass, the motor vehicle entry fee is $7. There is also a winter access fee of $5 per person. You can also get a season pass. 

Snowshoeing Payette Lake
Snowshoeing Payette Lake

If you aren’t too sure about snowshoeing a frozen lake (although rest assured it is completely safe) another great place to walk or snowshoe is on the public golf course. McCall Golf Course, which is located near the entrance to Ponderosa Park, is open throughout the summer and welcomes winter walkers.

The crew keeps the paths cleared in the winter. However, if you do have snowshoes, you are invited to go off the cleared path as well. 

O and his dog, Lily, walking on the cleared paths at McCall Golf Course
O and His Dog, Lily, Enjoying Those Cleared Paths.

Don’t have snowshoes? There are several places to rent in town, but we recommend Gravity Sports, which will rent you a pair for around $14 for a half day. 

#4 McCall Winter Activity: Snow Tubing

If your want some winter downhill thrills but don’t ski, try snow tubing. Located at the McCall Activity Barn just south of town, snow tubing is perfect for the entire family.

And don’t worry, they won’t even make you haul your tube and trudge up the hill. The tubing hill has a magic carpet that will whisk you to the top. Okay, not really whisk more like slowing pull.

The tubing hill is only open on the weekends: Friday-Sunday. And children must be a minimum of 36 inches to ride.

#5 McCall Winter Activity: Soak in Hot Springs

Idaho is one of those very lucky mountain states that has amazing hot springs. And McCall is great base to explore several hot springs:

Gold Folk Hot Springs

Just 25 miles from McCall is Gold Folk Hot Springs. With 6 pools, Gold Fork is perfect for the entire family. And the cost is very inexpensive: $10 for both adults and children.

Burgdorf Hot Springs

High in the mountains of the Payette National Forest is Burgdorf Resort. As a relic of the 1860’s gold rush, Burgdorf is a historic as it is restorative.

And part of its charm is it’s inaccessibility. Only accessible by snowmobile in the winter, those up for the adventure will be rewarded with tranquil hot springs amidst some of Idaho’s most stunning nature.

Zims Hot Springs

Just to the West of McCall near the town of New Meadows is Zims Hot Springs. Operated by the Nez Perce Tribe, Zims has a smaller soaking and a larger swimming pool.

Entrance for adults is $10, $8 for seniors and $6 for children.

#6 McCall Winter Activity: Ice Bumper Boats

Okay, so clearly the picture, with O is his shorts, gives us away. Ice Bumper Boats is a year-round activity in McCall. And yet, nothing says winter like skidding across the ice in a bumper car with an inflatable bottom. 

O in a ice bumper boat.
O is Ready to Go!

Ice Bumper Boats are one of many activities available at Manchester Ice and Event Center, which is conveniently located in the center of McCall. The center also has public ice skating times.

You don’t need a reservation to bump. Just be sure to check the schedule for the next session. The Ice Bumper Boat experience is 13 minutes long and costs $9 for all ages. Or you can combine it with ice skating for $15. When the boats are going, the rides occur every 15 minutes. 

Oh, and if Ice Bumper Boats aren’t your thing, Manchester Ice and Event Center also has curling nights. 

#7 McCall Winter Activity: Take the Polar Plunge

#7 best McCall Winter Activity: a polar plunge
Nope!

Okay maybe it isn’t even fair to list this as one of our favorite McCall winter activities because the truth is we would NEVER do this.

But if you are feeling particularly bold, you can bring your ice drill down to Payette and make yourself quite the experience.

Payette Lake is also a great spot for ice fishing. So even if you don’t want to put that body in the freezing water, you might consider lowering your rod to catch some trout.

Ice conditions vary so be careful. And of course, if you are snowshoeing, plunging or fishing, do not go alone.

Getting To McCall

McCall is 100 miles from Boise, Idaho. The McCall airport only supports private planes. So if you are getting to McCall, you are getting there by car or bus. And most likely from Boise. 

By Car

Most people get to McCall by car. There are two routes from Boise to McCall. The most direct being Highway 55, which is a beautiful scenic route through the mountains and along the Payette River Scenic Byway.

And scenic it is. But be aware that the road is prone to closure for slides. So be sure to check ahead before setting off. 

If the road is closed or the scenic byway feels a bit much, you can always take Highway 95 as an alternative route. Highway 95 does add 30 miles to your trip. However, if the weather is particularly bad or the roads icy, it is definitely the safer choice. 

By Bus From Boise to McCall

While most people don’t even think of bus, Greyhound is a great way to get from Boise to McCall. Traveling by public transit in stead of by rental car is one of our budget saving strategies.

The bus leaves from Flying J Travel Plaza on Federal Way in Boise, and is a direct trip to McCall. The trip takes 2.5 hours and costs $60 in 2022.

There is only one bus per day, which leaves Boise in the morning. The return trip from McCall back to Boise is in the early afternoon.

The bus takes Highway 55, which is the scenic route you will also take if you go by car. Except the beauty of the bus–especially in the winter–is you can leave the hazardous driving to the professionals. 

Public Transit in McCall

And once you arrive in McCall, you don’t have to worry about missing your car. The Mountain Community Transit is a fare free service with two lines. The red line circles through the town of McCall. And the green line runs between McCall and Cascade. The bus runs 7 days a week from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Additionally, if you do want to take advantage of Idaho’s best snow at Brundage, there is a daily shuttle from McCall to the mountain. And did I mention the shuttle is also free.

The Bluebird Express route starts at the McCall Post Office, stops in town at the McCall Transit Center (210 E Park Street), and at the Bus Shelter across Highway 55 from Shore Lodge. The shuttle leaves to the mountain at 7, 8 and 9 a.m. And returns in the afternoon and 3, 4 and 5 p.m.

Where To Eat in McCall

Even though McCall only has 3,500 year-round residents–two of which are our family member–the town has several world class restaurants.

If you are celebrating something special while in McCall, we definitely recommend swinging for Shore Lodge. The high end lodge has two restaurants: The Narrows Steakhouse and The Cutwater that overlooks the lake.

For us, Shore Lodge is a bit too steep for our budget. But we still love to go for a pre-dinner cocktail. There is truly nothing as magical as overlooking the lake with a roaring fire at your back.

If you are looking for a more reasonable meal out, we are fans of Salmon River Brewery. In McCall’s old historic train station, the brewery offers a wide range of dishes and great beers to please all.

Where to Stay In McCall

A good value hotel in McCall is the Nordic Inn. Recently refurbished, the Nordic Inn offers a great location, clean and comfortable room and a reasonable price.

For families staying in McCall there is nothing better than the very centrally located 3 bedroom condo at Alpine Village. The fully equipped condo with a kitchen and washer and dryer is the perfect spot for an active family. And the quaint town of McCall is literally just outside your door.

Or for a really unique stay, try the Brundage Bungalows. Just across the street from Payette Lake, each bungalow is like a small alpine cabin.

The bungalows range in size and number of beds making them perfect for solo, couple or family travel. And each comes with small kitchen and bathroom. If you are looking for that rustic cabin in the woods, this is definitely for you.

Enjoy Yourself Some McCall Winter Activities

Whether you are daytripping or heading up for the weekend, McCall is the perfect winter getaway. And hey, if you get up and don’t feel like doing anything. Not to worry. This quaint little town also has great places to grab a cup of hot chocolate, walk along the frozen shoreline of Payette Lake, and just be. 

FAQs

What are winters like in McCall, Idaho?

At nearly the 45th parallels, McCall Idaho embraces its winter. The town gets an average snow fall of 132 inches. With the mountain at Brundage getting an average of 300 inches.

Winter months bring an average temperature of 30 for the highs and 13 for the lows.

Are their bears in McCall, Idaho?

While grizzly bears are not known to be in live in north central Idaho where McCall is located, there are definitely black bears.

In McCall you will notice bear-proof trash cans all aorund town. Any wildlife specialist will tell you a fed bear is a dead so never, ever feed bears or other wildlife.

Just remember, if you do encounter a bear stand your ground, but remain calm. Bears attacks are very rare. Mostly bears are just curious so talk softly to them, hold firm and they should move on.

What other wildlife can be found in McCall, Idaho?

In addition to bear, McCall has elk, fox, coyotes, wolves, moose, mountain lions and tons and tons of deer.

The first time you come to McCall, you will probably be enchanted with the herds of deer that daintily walk down the sidewalk or stop in your front lawn to nibble from your trees.

But just like bears, never feed these deer. While they are truly beautiful, feeding them can artificially increase their herds and cause issues not only for the herd but also the town.

When is the 2023 McCall Winter Carnival?

The 2023 Carnival will run from January 27th-Febraury 5th.

This year’s theme is Fairy Tales, Folk Tales and Tall Tales.

Is McCall, Idaho Worth Visiting in the Winter?

Absolutely. While McCall, Idaho is a all-year round destination, it is truly a winter wonderland from November-April.

Best 7 McCall Winter Activities

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