Big outdoors and a small Basque community make this Idaho locale worth a springtime getaway
written by James Sinks
photography by Visit Idaho
Wednesdays and Fridays on Grove Street in downtown Boise, a line of hungry noontime patrons forms outside the Basque Market, as a giant pan of steaming saffron-seasoned paella simmers on an outdoor stove.
The biweekly culinary pilgrimage celebrates the city’s Basque heritage, which traces to the influx of immigrants that began arriving in the 1800s from near the France-Spain border. Initially searching for gold in the West, Basques were sought to tend the huge flocks of hungry sheep that once chomped their way through the surrounding high country and range.
Today, the Idaho state capital is home to the continent’s biggest Basque community and, while many cities have Chinatowns, Boise boasts the Basque Block. Roam between former boarding houses and shops, experience authentic Iberian fare like pintxos (think tapas) and Ansot’s housemade chorizo, and prowl the Basque Museum, which includes a preserved sheep-wagon, basically a wooden camper of yesteryear.
And that’s all waiting in just one remarkable block. Once a stopover point on the Oregon Trail, Boise is now a too-much-to-see-in-one-trip destination. An hourlong flight or seven-hour drive from Portland, it also ranks among the fastest-growing metro areas in the country.
Discover upscale hotels, breweries, distilleries and exciting eateries near the Capitol, and enjoy easy access to a bounty of recreational, cultural and sightseeing options inside the city and out, from hiking and bicycling trails, to a 180-foot-long wall inscribed with human rights quotes at the Idaho Anne Frank Memorial, to a municipal whitewater kayak park, to North America’s largest raptor rookery.
And if you need any additional enticement to visit, there’s BACON Boise, a sizzling downtown breakfast-brunch-and-lunch (and bloody Mary) hotspot. True to its name, the place has specialized in an assortment of the salty delicious stuffsince opening in 2011, and they sell a lot of it. Like 15 tons in 2022. They also sell hats that say “bacon” on them.
Why bacon? “It makes everything good,” said chef and founder John Berryhill in 2020, in what may have been the understatement of the decade.
Discover upscale hotels, breweries, distilleries and exciting eateries near the Capitol, and enjoy easy access to a bounty of recreational, cultural and sightseeing options inside the city and out.
In the freewheeling Old West, counterfeiters known as “spelterers” in the nearby hills would melt gold dust together with lead filings to make a quick buck. You’ll no longer find those particular outlaws, but their legacy is immortalized in the name of the Bogus Basin ski and recreation area, just 16 curvy miles north of town. Typically open for skiing until mid-April, the resort sports seven chairlifts and 23 miles of nordic trails, and hiking, biking and an alpine coaster come summer.
For year-round downhill thrills, rent boards and slide down the nation’s largest freestanding sand dune—at 470-feet above the surrounding desert—a half-hour southeast at Bruneau Dunes State Park. Weekend nights from April to October, the park’s observatory lets you peer through telescopes into Idaho’s famously dark night sky.
You also can look upward and see an estimated 700 nesting pairs of residents in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, established by Congress in 1993, and springtime is the best season to do it. The birds nest in crags and float in thermal updrafts, and can be viewed from the Dedication Point overlook at the rim of the river canyon or below from a network of hiking and biking routes.
The riverbank trail system can be accessed downstream at Celebration Park, the state’s only archaeological park, which also is home to petroglyphs carved by the indigenous tribes that roamed the region for thousands of years.
Rather stay nested in town to see big birds? Meet condors and raptors up close at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. Or ready for vino? Wineries in the up-and-coming Snake River Valley American Viticulture Area specialize in varietals that thrive in the summer heat.
And if Idaho makes you dream of potatoes—at least, more than you usually do—order them many ways at Boise Fry Co. or try the renowned poutine at Bittercreek Alehouse. Ice cream potatoes (actually vanilla ice cream rolled in cocoa powder) await at the venerable Westside Drive-in. And for fresh Northwest fare, explore the #LoyaltoLocal menu at farm-to-table restaurant Fork.
Finally, to bask in your bird, bacon, and Basque adventures, saunter to swanky downtown bar Press & Pony. Enter through the thick stage curtains off Idaho Street, and ask the barkeep for the “Pick your Poison,” a personal cocktail crafted based on your libation preference.
Maybe spicy, surprising or exotic. And just like Boise, flavorful, bold and eminently memorable.
Boise Fry Co.
Press & Pony
Westside Drive In
Inn at 500 Capitol
Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area
Boise River Greenbelt
Bruneau Dunes State Park
Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial
Snake River Valley wineries
World Center for Birds of Prey