Article | Our McCall Winter Weekend Itinerary. This December, we headed to the scenic town of McCall, Idaho on the southern shore of Payette Lake, for a wintery weekend getaway, packed with cross-country skiing, delicious food and coffee aplenty.
Never heard of McCall before? Neither had we, and that’s probably part of why it’s perfect – it is far from undiscovered, but the warm bustle is also fortunately still a ways from being over-run with crowds.
Our verdict, get yourself to McCall asap, and to help you out, here is Our McCall Winter Weekend Itinerary:
We were already in Boise, the capital of Idaho, to see family, so our easy journey started from there. The 100-mile trip from Boise to McCall is one of the most scenic I’ve experienced in a long while. Up and over the snow-covered mountains before winding with the Payette River, through the quaint towns of Horseshoe Bend, Cascade and more, sipping a hot coffee and spotting elk off in the distance. Take the car, or for just $35, grab the Greyhound bus.
Upon arrival at McCall, the scene gets even better. This place really is just waiting for someone to film a TV show there; a snow-laden, mini-downtown of local cafes and shops frames the view straight to the frosty lake, with the pine laden mountains all around as a backdrop.
Our first destination was a popular looking old-time fast food place stroke diner on 3rd St called My Father’s Place, who’s slogan is ‘Best Burgers in Idaho’, which sounded very promising indeed, and certainly looked very picturesque: snow covered, outside neon diner lights mixing with Christmas lights, and lots of happy looking people packed inside.
The menu offered a wide selection of beef and chicken burgers, and a vegetarian option, all with a range of yummy sounding ingredients including jack cheese, cheddar, bacon, mushrooms, jalapeños and more.
Between three of us, we ordered the 1/4 lb burger, cheese burger and the veggie option, Paula’s Nut Burger, made with a secret recipe, along with a big basket of fries and a couple of milkshakes.
The food is served fast-food style with checkered black and white paper, piping hot, and really hit the spot. The milk shakes were super thick and required a spoon to tackle them.
Full-up, we did a bit of an afternoon recce – first to the visitors centre for Ponderosa State Forest, set right up against town so that you can walk or drive, where they very helpfully gave us a map of the cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing trails to get us set-up for the next day.
Then back for a wander in town along the lake to watch kids and parents with their sleds and saucers enjoying whooshing straight down the hill from the sidewalk to the lake’s edge – at least one of us contemplated asking to borrow one, but in the end wasn’t quite bold enough, though if you fancy it, you can easily walk two minutes up 3rd Street to Ace Hardware to buy your own sled.
Next we browsed the 1/2 mile or so of cosy streets of shops and cafes. I highly recommend seeking out the second-hand stores on Lenora St, both Mc Paws Thrift Store and St Luke’s McCall Auxiliary Thrift Shop are full of gems, including warm weather gear if you still need to kit yourself up.
And then we we stumbled across the bake-goods wonder that is Stacey Cakes on Lake St.
Stacey Cakes is a cozy little cake shop with a huge selection of yummy looking homemade treats including slices, scones, mousse, cheesecakes and much more. We settled on a sea salt caramel cheesecake and a triple chocolate mousse cake, with black drip coffee to warm us up.
Both cakes were amazing, and come highly recommended, but the sea salt caramel cheesecake deserves a special mention. It was out of this world.
After another wander along the lake front, watching the early sunset and people sledge down the snowy slopes, we sought out a place we had passed earlier for a pizza dinner, Crusty’s on Lenora St.
It’s a casual, laid-back kind of place with a cabin feel, which quickly filled up with locals ordering takeaway and eat in pizza, salads and beers.
Despite the popularity at dinner time, our margarita and vegetarian pizzas arrived within 20-minutes. They were just as I like them, thin and airy base, plenty of sauce and not overloaded with toppings.
As we finished up, the live music was about to start, however, we were ready for an early night, to get ready for cross-country skiing in Ponderosa State Park tomorrow.
While wandering on day 1, we spotted a number of cafes, which we added to our ‘must-try’ itinerary, and we decided to make FoggLifter on 3rd St the first spot we tried to kick-off day 2.
It was clearly a popular corner spot for breakfast and lunch and offered a selection of coffees including drip and lattes, simple avo on toast, breakfast burritos, eggs benedict, and a selection of sides.
We opted for avo on toast with poached eggs and huevos rancheros with a latte. The avo was simple yet delicious and the huevos rancheros happily came in a half order, making it a filling but not belly stretching pre-skiing option.
As with many of the cafes in McCall, Fogglifter was a warm, cozy place, clearly a popular local hangout, with a welcoming, friendly vibe.
Now we were set for the main reason we’d come to McCall – cross-country skiing. While there are three well-known options for downhill skiing in McCall, my partner grew up cross-country skiing in Alaska, and as she had only been once in the past 15 years, she was eager to get in as much cross-country as our legs could stand in the next two days.
We strolled 5-minutes from breakfast to Gravity Sports on Pine St, where the staff were extremely helpful, and 15-minutes later, we left the shop clutching our newly hired gear. A 24-hour package (skis, poles and boots) cost $30 USD per person.
There are several options for groomed cross-country trails in McCall including Bear Basin offering over 18 miles of trails, and Ponderosa State Park, a thousand-acre peninsula on Payette Lake, only 1 mile away from downtown and at $5 per day, a bargain for skiing.
As we didn’t have a car (it’s such a compact town, plus there is free public transport, so you really can get by without one), we set off on foot for the closer option – Ponderosa State Park. It’s a pleasant walk following the quiet Mill Road and McCall Avenue for approximately 20-minutes walk to the parks’ Visitor Information Centre, where we kitted up and set off.
We skied for over 3-hours, on trails appropriately named ‘Easy Does it’, ‘Not So Easy’, ‘Through The Woods’ and so-on, stopping often to admire the snow-covered Ponderosa pine trees, views of Payette Lakes, deer appearing from the brush or simply so I could catch my breath (I’m definitely a newbie to skiing!). It’s a stunning spot and perfect for exploring a little of the wilderness.
As a post-ski treat, we strolled to Mountain Java on Pine St, a small coffee shop which was recommended by a local lady we chatted with. It was the first place I’d seen a macchiato on the menu in McCall, plus the egg-nog latte (it was Christmas after all…) sounded very appealing. The staff were cheerful and chatty, the cafe warm and cozy and the coffee was sublime – probably the best I had in McCall.
We strolled some more of the shops and wandered to the well-stocked Albertsons supermarket on Lake St to stock up on raspberries, brie and other essentials.
We decided to try The Sushi Bar on Railroad Ave for a late lunch/early dinner. As we approached, distracted by a couple of deer casually strolling pass the restaurant, we noticed a queue at the door. A quick glance at the clock showed we’d accidentally timed it perfectly for their opening time of 4 o’ clock, and with that the door opened and we were shown to a table upstairs with a splendid view of Payette Lake.
This place is very popular and the tables quickly filled up and incredible sushi plates started to be ushered out. We ordered edamame to start and the Green Dragon sushi, Charlies Garden sushi and a seaweed salad.
The staff were excellent and super attentive. Our food swiftly arrived and was equally swiftly devoured. Who knew sushi was the perfect food for post-skiing hunger?
On our final morning in McCall, we hit up Ponderosa State Park extra early to fit in a final ski, as well as some photography of the lake, forest and wildlife. While the sun had barely come up, the trails were already groomed smooth and ready.
For a late post-skiing breakfast/early lunch, we wandered to Ruby’s Kitchen on Lake St. At 1.5 miles from our hotel, it’s hardly an epic hike, but still the longest trek we’ve had to make, and as we walk, the free public transport bus pulled up and calls out ‘want a ride?’, so we gratefully hop aboard for the last half mile.
McCall’s free little red bus operates daily from 7 am to 7 pm, looping through town allowing you to simply flag it down and hop aboard and hop off again at any point on the route – no set stops. It’s a fantastic public transport system, and apparently also allows you to request pick-up and drop-off at points slightly off-route as well.
Ruby’s Kitchen has a log cabin look, and like so many other McCall places at this time of year it’s very busy and bustling with activity. Plus, there’s a magnificent view of Payette Lake.
We opt for one of their bowls with black beans, hash brown, basted eggs and guacamole, and my favourite go to, avo on toast with their basted eggs and a black drip coffee (with infinite refills!).
The staff buzz around from table-to-table, and we gaze enviously and eagerly watching the food being delivered – the sandwiches in particular look astounding. Our food does not disappoint either and gets the full-tick of approval from both of us.
With only an hour left before our Greyhound bus leaves, we decide to revisit a couple of our favourite cafes to get something ‘for the road’.
We pop back into Stacey Cakes on Lake St and select a scrumptious looking huckleberry coffee cake and wander to Java Mountain for another egg-nog latte.
Then it’s onto the bus for the easy 2 1/2 hour trip to Boise, but already with dreams of coming back to McCall again.
It’s hard not to fall in love with McCall in winter – the charming snow-covered cabins with just the right amount of warmly-weathered edges, the abundance of warm, cozy cafes, the friendly people who chat and tell you about the best McCall spots, Lake Payette looking stunning, the endless skiing possibilities, the wilderness and wildlife, the free public transport, as well as a well-utilised, kid-friendly green flag system at the zebra crossings that shows just how much they want you to enjoy exploring on foot – what’s not to love about McCall!
Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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