Day Trip or Overnight: Getaway to McCall Idaho

My girlfriend from Savannah, and I,  had been planning this get together for over a year.

We met in college in the early 80’s and became fast friends.  While contact between us during the long years since college were sparse,  in the past 5 or 6 years, we’ve revived our friendship and we now catch up on the phone monthly.

A year ago, we planned a rendezvous where Cheryl would travel to Grangeville, ID in mid July, to visit and enjoy each others’ company at my home base.

My husband and I moved to Grangeville in 1999, from the south.  Our beloved property is on a dead end road about 8 miles outside of town, on a 20 acre spread.  We love our life in Central Idaho and I wanted to share the beauty of our surroundings and the comforts of our home with my dear friend, Cheryl.   So while she was planning her airfare and details in travel, I set about planning some fun things to do.  One of those things included an overnight trip to McCall Idaho.

My husband suggested that I should take Cheryl up to Coeur D’Alene, which is certainly a gorgeous location with lots to see and do.  But I personally did not desire an 8 hour round trip by car.   McCall is only an hour and a half drive south, from Grangeville, and seemed to me, the perfect location for some girl fun.  North Payette Lake is so scenic and I’d always wanted to dig into the nuances of McCall, check out the shops and restaurants and the cooler temps in that mountain resort town seemed attractive as well.

Cheryl arrived at Lewiston airport and we hung out at my house the first full day.  I felt it was important for Cheryl to rest and recoup from her long flight.  We sat on the front porch a lot and talked and talked, like girlfriends do. In her adult life, Cheryl had never traveled west of Wisconsin.   So this was a thrill for her, just to see the landscapes, mountains and rivers that are plentiful in our neck of the Idaho woods.

The next day, we loaded up with our necessary bags and supplies and cooler of cold water, and headed south.   

The first town south of Grangeville, in our travels, is White Bird idaho.  We did not stop, but I pointed out the stunning landscape and its history that is embedded in the rugged hills of golds and browns (in July) once travelers top the White Bird Hill heading south on Hwy 95.   The Nezperce Indians and U.S. Calvary fought a fierce battle starting on June 17, 1877 at White Bird Canyon.

Wikipedia says:

  1. The Battle of White Bird Canyon was fought on June 17, 1877 in Idaho Territory. White Bird Canyon was the opening battle of the Nez Perce War between the Nez Perce Indians and the United States. The battle was a significant defeat of the U.S. Army. Wikipedia

Continuing southward, Cheryl remarked at how beautiful the Salmon River is, with its steep canyons and open landscapes.  Hwy 95 winds along the Main Salmon River all the way to Riggins, ID, which is a 45 minute drive south from Grangeville.   At the bridge, where the Salmon crosses and flows north from the east side of Riggins to the west side, the Time changes from Pacific to Mountain time.

We pulled into the little park where tons of whitewater rafters were standing, with life vests and their summer beach clothing,  ready to embark on their half day whitewater adventures.    We eased in and parked to stretch our legs and sit in the shade, overlooking the river.   We opened water bottles and quenched our thirst as we chatted about various topics of interest.

Back on the road, we traveled easy through the area of New Meadows but ran into a bit of road work on Hwy 55 as we made our way up Goose Creek Canyon into McCall.

McCall Idaho is certainly a summer destination for recreation on North Payette Lake including boating, jet skiing and relaxing on the beach to admire the beauty of this huge freshwater alpine lake framed by mountain peaks.  Wealthy executives from Boise corporations own numerous vacation homes and cabins that line the north shores of the lake, carrying on the traditions of their family vacations spanning generations, at this quaint mountain resort town. Golfing opportunities are plentiful as well.

In the winter, McCall is mecca for snow lovers.   Brundage Mountain Ski Area can be seen rising toward the sky from the north shores of Payette Lake.   Skiing and winter sports are a huge attraction in McCall, and the number of lodgings and vacation rentals available make it evident that no matter what season, McCall is a town of resort quality and affluence.

As we drove into the town, our hotel appeared before us – Hotel McCall.   I had passed this hotel for years if we made a trip to Boise, but now I would get the chance to enjoy its firsthand.   Hotel McCall has a few suites and rooms with a balcony and lake view, but they were pretty well booked when I made reservations.  I got a room overlooking Main Street with two Queen beds.   Perfect!   When we checked in, I found that the Hotel McCall had the qualities of an older historic building that had been well maintained and upgraded to modern standards.  An elevator was very handy, next to the office where I checked in.  We hauled bags up to our hotel room and unpacked a bit before hitting the streets on foot.

The room I booked was $150 per night and was really nice, fairly spacious, with a large window that not only overlooked Main Street, but turning toward the northeast, I could see the lake in all its gorgeous sparkling qualities.   YEY!  The bathroom was spotless and large enough for two small ladies to share.

A few weeks prior, a group of us [See Central Idaho Jeep Adventures ] had stayed at the Holiday Inn Express after a long jeep adventure through the mountains.   It was another half mile or so away from the heart of downtown and while very nice, the rooms there were $167 per night.   On the other hand, I knew I could get a room cheaper than $150, but this was a special trip.   I wanted us to be close to the hub of action, as a priority, and enjoy the cozy and cultured atmosphere that I was hoping we’d find at Hotel McCall Cheryl and I had both been saving up for this get together, and we wanted to kick up our heels to celebrate!

After freshening up, we headed back out to move my car to the parking lot behind the hotel.  It is not a covered parking lot but better than having to park on the street somewhere.

We headed off to the McCall Yacht Club, a couple of blocks away.    I had planned to reserve a sunset cruise in advance, but for some strange reason, Weather.com had shown 80% precipitation that day, while Grangeville was zero.   I decided to wait and see how the weather would pan out.   Sure enough the 80% dropped to 20% for that day, but when we arrived at the office to make reservations, they were totally booked.   DARN.   So I left my phone number with the office gal, just incase there was a cancellation.

Cheryl and I wandered back along the lake.   From the balcony of a restaurant, we rested in the shade and continued our conversations, admiring the beautiful views of the lake.  Off on foot again, we walked down to the beach, enjoying the sights and sounds, and the fresh mountain air, keeping a mindful eye on the formation of nasty clouds to the south.  I had texted my husband an alert about a Severe Weather Alert that I’d received for Grangeville.   Looked like that gathering storm was prepared to make its way to McCall as well.

The wind picked up and the dark clouds got closer and closer, but we were having fun, and decided to stop in at a little dockside restaurant where we ordered a Blue Moon beer.   “Hey, they even included an orange slice” Cheryl exclaimed!  I was not savvy with Blue Moon beer, but Cheryl informed me that it was traditional in Savannah to order a Blue Moon beer that was always served with an orange slice.  It was a tasty beer and we sat watching the lake, and the brewing storm, continuing our jibber jabber.   When we’d almost finished our beer, we decided to head back to the hotel before all hell broke loose, as the wind had begun to howl.   Too late.   Just after we left the little dockside bar, the rain began blowing sideways in the whipping wind.   Though its not the best place to run to, we took refuge behind a giant shade tree,  next to some shops, while people ran and scattered around us.   At that moment, amidst the laughing and shrieks between us,  my phone rang. It was the Yacht Club and they’d had a cancellation for the McCall Lake Cruise.  We were game and felt sure the rain would subside.   So the sunset cruise was a GO.  We just had to return to the office by 7:45pm.   Right on!

By now the rain had lessened to a light sprinkle, so Cheryl and I, tipsy on our one Blue Moon beer, quickly walked back to our hotel, which was so centrally located, it wasn’t more than a hop, skip and a jump.   We dried off, primped a little more, and decided to head down to Ruperts Restaurant,  located in the same building as Hotel McCall I was charmed to find out it was Thai night.   We asked for a table and the nice girl apologized and explained that reservations were required and they were totally booked for the evening.  Double Darn.   BUT, she said we would be welcome to have dinner at the bar.  It was a tiny bar, with only 4 chairs, but it worked for us.  We sat down, still swooning from our Blue Moon beer, and requested water instead of any more alcohol.  Thai night at Ruperts offered a variety of delicious sounding specials and we took advantage of it.  Cheryl had a fresh tuna grilled lightly with a spicy shaved veggie mix.   I ordered the seafood with coconut curry sauce and Jasmine Rice.   YUM!   I love Thai food and this was absolutely top notch!

The skies had cleared, so we paid our bill and headed on down to the Yacht Club, paid for the tickets ($25 each) and immediately boarded the pontoon boat with other guests for the two hour sunset lake cruise.   Cheryl and I sat downstairs in the enclosed area of the boat.   I had brought a warm poncho and a jeans jacket just incase the lake air was too cool.   They were passing out blankets right and left for the folks who had chosen to sit on the top deck.   As dusk settled into the mountains, with the orange glow of a beautiful sunset, we viewed the lovely homes along the lake, and saw the twinkle of lights on the opposite shore where the boat was moored.   They have a little bar setup inside the boat where guests can purchase beverages of all types,  including soda, lemonade, coffee, as well as alcoholic drinks.   The cruise was really enjoyable and I would recommend it to anyone wishing to experience North Payette Lake in all its beauty.   There’s also a 2pm cruise for those preferring the cruise while the warm sun is still in the sky.

By the time we were back at the docks, McCall had pretty much closed up for the night.  It was 10 pm and I was rather sleepy.   So we headed back to our hotel room and hunkered down for the night.

Next morning, I awoke early and slipped out to find a cup of coffee for us.   Hotel McCall offers a very nice complimentary breakfast and coffee – setup in Ruperts for all guests to enjoy.   They had a nice assortment of quality breakfast items, not unlike what you would find at other hotels, with fruits, english muffins, donuts and cinnamon rolls, cereals, etc.   I grabbed two coffees and a toasted english muffin with peanut butter and made my way back to the room.   We watched the news and took turns in the bathroom, getting ourselves ready for more adventure.   Checkout time is 11am so we decided to load our bags in the car and check out early so we didn’t have to rush back.

By 9-ish, we were back outside, walking the opposite direction we’d gone the day prior.  We ran into a delightful kitchen shop and meandered through it, looking at fun utensils and gadgets, picking up a few gifts here and there, and enjoying the fun of two girlfriends shopping with no other obligations than the present.   We continued walking back in the direction of the BIG TREE that gave Cheryl and I cover during the rain storm the night before.   We stepped into several shops in that area – and bought a few additional ditties.  It was getting toward lunchtime and I was hungry.   We loaded our prized purchases in the car and headed back north, stopping at Lardo’s for lunch.  Its a large restaurant on the outskirts of McCall with a handsome menu and good food.   We lingered and enjoyed our meal.   By 2-ish, we were on the road, headed for home.

McCall Idaho is a beautiful and fun place to visit in the summer for just a day or an overnight stay.   Cheryl and I had a fantastic time and it was the perfect treat for two old friends to rekindle good times.

McCall is a popular winter resort town, as well.   Although my snow skiing days are over, due to a bad knee, Brundage Mountain offers a wide variety of downhill skiing for all skill levels.  Another excellent reason to ski at Brundage is the lack of big crowds.  You can ski all day and never have to wait to jump on the next ski lift, so you really have more time to enjoy those downhill runs.   Centrally located downtown,  there’s a large indoor ice skating arena that I assume is open year round.    Snowmobiles are often the vehicle of choice, for getting around in McCall,  with lots of backcountry trails to explore as well.  The McCall Winter Carnival is always fun to peruse.   Huge and ornate ice sculptures are created all over town, and always follow a theme of some sort.

One other fun activity that a lot of people enjoy is to visit the hot springs in the area.   There are three McCall Idaho Area hot springs I can think:  One is Burgdorf Hot Springs,  up Wagon Wheeler Road around 35 miles, a second is Zims Hot Springs, in New Meadows,  and the other is Gold Fork Hot Springs, south along Hwy 55 near Donnelly, Idaho.

Whatever season you enjoy, McCall Idaho is a beautiful place to getaway for a day, overnight or longer.   Cheryl and I enjoyed our getaway in McCall and I look forward to heading that way again in the future.