A Summer Guide to the Outdoors in Southwest Idaho

When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, Southwest Idaho has received much praise for being among the top destinations in the country for outdoor adventure. In 2014, Conde Nast Traveler called Boise—the capital of the state and the largest city in Southwest Idaho—the West’s best-kept secret. In the story, the author writes about where he stays, the food he eats and the places he explores. One morning he takes a run on the Greenbelt, a 25-mile park along the Boise River. “The park, which is impeccably maintained, is a surprise because it feels hidden, like the rest of the city—a pretty secret that no one is all that interested in sharing.” Except it almost feels unfair not to share what makes Boise and the surrounding region such a perfect place to visit, especially if you love the outdoors. It’s time to bust this big best-kept secret out in the open.

Southwest Idaho is a diverse region often divided into five distinct areas defined by their unique offerings. The thing that brings them all together, though, is that Southwest Idaho as a whole is a haven for outdoor sports enthusiasts for hiking, biking and exploring. Better yet, it’s a great area for outdoor adventure no matter your age. In fact, Outside magazine called Boise one of the 10 best big cities for active families due to easy access to whitewater rafting, mountain biking and hiking. Speaking of whitewater rafting, it’s easily the most popular activity in the region. Southwest Idaho has some of the best rivers in the country for various experience levels, and Idaho has the most miles of raftable waters in the lower 48. Rafters can find a number of whitewater training services and rentals, making it easy for visitors to join in on the fun. From conquering the rapids to mountain biking through hilly terrain, here is your guide to some of the top places and providers for outdoor recreation in Southwest Idaho.

Seven Devils Lodge

Located south of the Seven Devils mountain range, Seven Devils Lodge is a 5,500 square feet resort with six large guest rooms. It’s known for its spectacular location where guests have access to horseback riding, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, ATV, biking, hiking, trap shooting and much more. While there, guests can enjoy the large cabin-style lodge with a spacious patio with bonfires and wooden rocking chairs. Some activities are only offered seasonally like snowmobiling in the winter and guided hunts in the summer. But the most popular program at Seven Devils is the Real Cowboy College, teaching guests about the life and art of being a cowboy. Lessons include horsemanship, roping, shooting and proper attire. 

Cascade Raft and Kayak

Adventurous visitors who want to try out Idaho’s famous whitewater rafting scene might want to go through Cascade Raft and Kayak in Horseshoe Bend. Rafters will be offered four different three-hour programs in several locations on the Payette River (about 45 minutes from Boise) with scenic views and ranges from mild to strong currents. Experienced rafters who want to go at it on their own can also rent kayaks and explore the waters at their own pace. Cascade Raft and Kayak features private and group lessons to ensure river safety, protocol and techniques before guests embark on their adventures. 

Brundage Mountain Biking

Get up close and personal with the area’s natural environment by seeing it by mountain bike. Brundage Mountain Biking in McCall has several trails with various levels of terrain that cater to both first-timers and experienced bikers on Brundage Mountain in the Payette National Forest. Brundage offers a lift service that carries bikes 7,640 feet high and drops them off at BlueBird Quad, which leads to a 20-mile downhill cruise through the wilderness. Bike rentals are available at the premise for people of all ages. 

Payette River Company

Whether guests are looking for a half-day adventure or an extended three-day of unlimited whitewater rafting, Payette River Company in Lowman—an hour and 45 minutes north of Boise— has been serving the area for close to a decade. There, visitors will be trained and guided by experienced rafters that have conquered rivers in Nepal, India and Africa. Guests will raft along the breathtaking canyon and have lunch breaks on rocks off the river. The company provides all the equipment needed for the experience, including freshly made coffee and meals. Rafters can even stay overnight in comfortable tents along the river. 

Boise Greenbelt

There’s no need to venture outside the city to get your outdoors fix. In Boise, the Greenbelt is a 20-mile paved, car-free, urban trail for cyclists to ride throughout the city. Cyclists can ride through the Morrison Knudsen Nature Center, which is 4.6 acres of lush greenery home to wildlife like foxes, deer and variety of birds. The Boise Greenbelt takes riders through the downtown district, historic Warm Springs, and Eagle outside of the city. Along the 20-mile route, cyclists will see the Lucky Peak Dam, Marianne Williams Park, Old Railroad Bridge, Quinn’s Pond and much more. The Greenbelt has several bike rentals facilities like Bike 2 Boards, Idaho Mountain Touring and Boise State University Cycling Learning Center. 

Guided Horseback Tours

Why walk when you can see the best nature Idaho has to offer on a horseback? Sawtooth Wilderness Outfitters gives guided horse tours through lush scenery of lakes, meadows and gigantic mountain peaks. Riders will be given experienced mountain horses and can join a short one-hour ride or plan customized two- to 10-day trips. Several programs are available at Sawtooth like Packing School (where guests can learn back country skills), Wilderness and Whitewater Adventures (combination of horseback riding, whitewater rafting and camping in five days) and All Ladies Rides (a group ride with your gal pals). For a journey back to time, Horse Owners Vacation program may be the best way to experience life as an early pioneer in the country. There, riders will learn how to prepare outdoor cooking, basic riding skills, and how to care for their horses. 

Hells Canyon

Ride on a jet boat over the deepest gorge (7,993 feet) in North America. Hells Canyon is a 10-mile strip of land that goes from Idaho to Oregon. Several boat rentals like Hells Canyon Adventures offer jet boat rides through the wild whitewater rapids (riders will be safely strapped in) to see the unbelievable scenery of 130 million year old rock formations along Snake River. In addition to jet boat tours, you can opt for raft adventures and fishing charters instead. The company offers different options for tours depending on how much time you want to spend on the river.