Boise is the little US town that’s having a really big moment. Named the fastest growing city in the US by Forbes magazine, it’s the new Salt Lake City, the new Boulder, the new Denver filled with a huge range of microbreweries, hip cafes, cider houses and more, and surrounded by some of the best ski resorts in the country.
With a river running through the heart of Idaho’s capital city and a heap of tree-lined trails, this little slice of paradise is pronounced ‘Boy-see’ by the locals, and the perfect place to explore more of the state – the largest area of remote wilderness in the US outside of Alaska.
When it’s safe to travel again and you’re planning an adventure, this is the ultimate place to discover a side of America that few Aussies ever get to see – and tick off the best ski resorts while you’re there.
Fly in, hang out for a few days before hitting the slopes. Here’s how to discover the urban along with the mountains in Boise.
The Basque block
The Basque Block is one of the things that makes Boise exactly what it is – incomparable to any other US city. There’s a significant Basque population in Boise, originating from the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of France and Spain; they speak their own language and have many of their own traditions. You can immerse yourself in those traditions on the Basque block, which features a museum, cultural centre and the Basque Market.
The block also hosts the country’s first restaurant-distillery, Bardenay, offering up a high range of drinks with their homemade rum, gin and vodka, along with dishes such as tacos and sea-bass gnocchi.
The ski vibes
The Lonely Planet reckons that Idaho has 114 mountain ranges – which is a whole lot of mountains to discover. The closest to Boise in Bogus Basin, and at just 40 minutes away, the locals literally leave work and still get in numerous runs thanks to the solar powered lighted night skiing options.
This old-school ski area first opened in 1942 and has been a not-for-profit ski area for 77 years. They now offer up 2600 acres of ski terrain, 1800 feet of vertical and almost seven metres of snowfall every year, plus they’re home to Idaho’s only mountain coaster.
You’ve also got Soldier Mountain to discover, just two hours from Boise and offering a cat-skiing experience like no other. With 2000 acres of terrain over 3000 feet of vertical, the guides here will take you among the glades, trees, and wide-open bowls to discover incredible powder.
Or check out world-famous Sun Valley, just two and a half hours from Boise. Sun Valley was the USA’s first destination ski resort, and they say it’s where ‘skiing learned to ski’, with the world’s first chairlift going in at one of their two ski areas, Dollar Mountain. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Bruce Willis has graced the slopes here, but you’ll still find plenty of empty lift lines across the 121 runs.
There’s the Idaho State Museum in the city, showcasing Idaho’s gold mining, logging and Oregon Trail pioneer history. Or the Boise, Boise Art Museum, Idaho Black History Museum, Zoo Boise and the free Idaho Fish and Game MK Nature Center full of underwater fish and animal viewing areas.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary is well worth a visit. From 1872 to 1973, some of the country’s most notorious criminals settled in here, before Idaho was technically even a state. Then swing by the Freak Alley Gallery, the largest outdoor mural gallery in the Northwest of the US and open 24/7.
Discover everything from dive bars to fancy cocktail bars and everything in between – plus everything’s in walking distance to everything else, so you can enjoy a tipple or two while wandering around town.
A favourite is Boise Brewing Company on Broad Street, which brews a huge variety of beers and hosts events like trivia nights and “brewery yoga”.
Also to be found on Main Street are Cactus Bar, which is the oldest bar in downtown Boise, and Pengilly’s Saloon, which has $US2 drinks on Tuesdays.
Don’t go past the Spacebar Arcade, a retro underground bar where you can drink cheap beers while playing Pac-Man and pinball.
Or if you’re feeling up to something a little more than beers, you have the Snake River Valley, an award-winning wine region with almost 40 wineries – the next Napa Valley, some say. Get in now and have bragging rights forever.
Bunker down in a big potato
Yes, really. Sitting in the middle of a patch of Idaho farmland, there’s the Big Potato, a six ton potato which was built in 2012 to celebrate the Idaho Potato Commission’s 75th anniversary.
It travelled around the country on the back of a semi trailer for seven years and has now been converted into the most unique place you might ever spend the night, and you can book it on AirBNB right here.
The Big Potato has been meticulously designed to allow for stylish private comfort and amenities, plus a customized silo turned into a spa retreat perfect for soaking while looking up at the stars. It even comes with a jersey cow to make friends with while you’re there.