Boise National Forest Overview
Forget the famous potatoes. When it comes to the natural world, Idaho has a lot more to offer than spuds. With the exception of Alaska, Idaho offers the most federally designated wilderness in America, including Boise National Forest's 2.6 million beautiful acres.
Picture lush purple fireweed blooming in an alpine meadow. Think tufts of red and yellow sedge and canopies of willow trees lining rocky creek banks, or wide blue lakes surrounded by towering ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The natural wonders found in Boise are built into its very name, derived from the French word for wood. And all just an hour's drive north and east of Idaho's capital city.
Most of the forest lies within the Idaho Batholith—a large and highly erosive geologic formation. After eons of heaving, cracking, and carving—the latter service performed by waterways such as the Boise, Payette, and Salmon Rivers—a mountainous landscape arose. Big game such as mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk roam this region, ranging across large areas of the forest during the summer. Ocean-going salmon and steelhead ply the Salmon's many tributaries, and trout inhabit most of the forest's lakes and streams. With so much to offer, Boise National Forest is a natural playground for outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe.
Make a Quick Ski Getaway
Whether you'd rather kick and glide along groomed tracks or carve your own turns through powder, you'll find great skiing in Boise National Forest. For cross-country enthusiasts, Banner Ridge is a good bet. Sixteen miles of trails satisfy the needs of intermediate to expert skiers, but the real draws are the ridge-top view and open bowls for backcountry touring. The trailhead lies about 20 miles north of Idaho City. For a good alpine value, a friendly vibe, and long hours—night skiing stays open until 10 p.m.—Bogus Basin Ski Resort is a great Rocky Mountain destination. Founded in 1943 as a nearby alternative to distant slopes, Bogus Basin offers 2,600 acres of skiable terrain and 1,800 vertical feet just 16 miles north of Boise. The resort also boasts 16 miles of groomed cross-country trails, with views of the Boise Valley.
More on skiing in Boise National Forest
Fish the Alpine Lakes
Seeking a little solitude? Way up at 8,722 feet, Red Mountain and Cat Creek Lakes offer beautiful alpine fishing a good three or four miles past the end of Forest Service Road 515. Hike in among the towering evergreens, set up your backcountry camp, and survey the mirror-like surface of the pristine water. These lakes are stocked regularly via airplane with cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and cutthroat-rainbow hybrids.
Hike The Foothills
Close enough for a quick trip but far enough for great views of Boise and Treasure Valley, the Boise Foothills are a great place to take a hike. The popular, pedestrian-only Hulls Gulch Interpretive Trail offers 3.5- and 2.5-mile loops along gentle grades. Self-guiding signs on this National Recreation Trail inform visitors about local history, flora and fauna, geology, and ecology. Hull's Gulch lies within the 75,000-acre Boise Front, a landmass marked by enough dirt roads and trails to accommodate hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders as well as motor-powered outdoor enthusiasts. Pack the binoculars or camera for the views, as well as the wildlife: Rabbits, squirrels, lizards, snakes, mule deer, skunks, porcupines, badgers, and coyotes all roam the area.
Paddle the South Fork of the Payette
With 3,100-plus miles of whitewater coursing through its borders, Idaho's collection of rivers are nonpareil. For a hearty sampling of classic Idaho froth just an hour's drive outside of Boise's city limits, head for the South Fork of the Payette. The South Fork offers everything from relaxing float trips to experts-only paddling. The river begins life as a small alpine waterway, high in the Sawtooth Mountains. Neighboring streams add their flow to the clear blue water as it funnels between canyon walls, and after the influx of the Deadwood River, the bigger, faster South Fork starts to nosedive downhill, about 40 feet per mile, hitting paddlers and rafters with continuous steep rapids. After portaging around Big Falls—a stunning 40-foot cascade—ragged river runners can take a time-out in natural hot-spring pools. Once the South Fork reaches Garden Valley, the horizon opens up and the river calms down, giving visitors a chance to take in the scenery and spot local wildlife—such as deer, otter, eagles, hawks, and osprey. From lower South Fork to the river's confluence with the North Fork at Banks, the last eight miles rev back up to Class III and IV action.
Soak Your Bones in a Hot Spring
Whether you're a cross-country skier looking for a toasty dip or a hiker needing to rejuvenate aching limbs, a good hot soak will work wonders. And who wants a hot bath at home when you can slip into a hot spring in the great outdoors? Idaho holds some 200 hot-spring pools, and you'll find a good number of these within Boise National Forest. Sacajawea Hot Springs offers a series of springs and pools along the scenic South Fork of the Payette while Boiling Springs—far too hot for soaking at the actual source—provides a nice dip where the outflow collects at the base of a cliff. Bonneville Hot Springs features a large, somewhat secluded soaking pool and a string of even hotter pools downstream; the 108-degree springs mix with cold creek water for year-round use. In the winter, skiers can access the waters—just a mile off the trailhead—from the Bonneville Nordic Ski Trail.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication