When 19th-century French-Canadian fur trappers came across the site of present-day Boise, legend has it they started shouting excitedly: “Les bois!” they exclaimed, “The trees!” Boise (pronounce it BOY-see if you want to blend in with the locals) is surrounded by high desert, but thanks to the river of the same name, the capital of Idaho earned its “City of Trees” nickname.
Boise has maintained its adventure base camp status in the intervening century. Whether your preferred outdoor pursuit requires rugged trails, high peaks, fast-moving water, or 360-degree landscapes, you can find it on a multitude of adventures within a few hours of Boise. And with a relatively small population of fewer than 230,000—not to mention the low population density throughout the rest of Idaho—it’s easy to have a slice of wilderness all to yourself. Below are just a few of the best adventures from Boise that will inspire you to hit the road.
6 Adventurous Escapes Near Boise
1) Mountain Bike at Bogus Basin
Boise’s local ski hill is just sixteen miles (about 40 minutes) up winding Bogus Basin Road, and in the summer, it’s the starting point for a huge network of incredible mountain biking trails—so many that Boise has earned the top-level ride destination status by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. There’s lift-served mountain biking at the ski area itself; for those who prefer to pedal uphill, the 10-mile Around the Mountain Loop circumnavigates Deer Point and Shafer Butte. Feeling adventurous? You can ride mountain bike trails all the way back to Boise on this nearby adventure.
2) Soak in Bonneville Hot Springs
Idaho is home to the highest concentration of hot springs in the country—more than 340, of which well over 100 are soakable. Many are within a few hours of Boise, but for a quintessential Gem State soak, head to Bonneville Hot Springs. The drive is just over two hours via ID-55 and the Banks-Lowman Road. The main pool is on the banks of the South Fork Payette, so it’s easy to cool the 185-degree temperature with river water. There’s also a small bath house and a couple of more secluded pools up the hill, and you can pitch a tent at the adjoining campground.
3) Raft the Main Salmon River
Rafting through the Frank Church “River of No Return” Wilderness is a truly special experience, punctuated by fun Class III rapids, picture-perfect campsites, rugged beauty and even colorful characters (the homestead of mountain man Buckskin Bill is a highlight). The Salmon River canyon is the second-deepest on the continent, adding to the trip’s feeling of isolation. The put-in for Main Salmon rafting trips is farther north, near the town of Salmon, but most outfitters get clients there via a scenic flight from McCall (just two hours and 15 minutes north of Boise) and take out just up the road in Riggins.
4) SUP on Redfish Lake
The rugged Sawtooth Mountains are as jagged and aesthetic as the Tetons and boast even fewer people. They’re a highlight of Idaho recreation—and Redfish Lake, situated at 6,500 feet, is one of the most scenic spots in the range. The glacial lake has 17 miles of shoreline housing several developed campsites. Its best adventure entails taking a boat or SUP onto the lake itself. Head to the southern end for jaw-dropping views of Mount Heyburn and Grand Mogul. It’s hard to believe this utterly wild spot is just two and a half hours from Boise.
5) Take in the Views of Sun Valley
Sun Valley is known for its skiing, and for the fact that writer Ernest Hemingway spent much of his later life there. But the resort town and its neighboring community, Ketchum, are a vibrant summer hiking destination. Area trails are filled with cheerful yellow arrowleaf balsamroot and purple-and-white lupine, not to mention the big-sky views Idaho specializes in—all just two hours and 45 minutes from Boise. The four-mile Proctor Mountain Loop teems with wildflowers in June and July. It also starts and ends at a Hemingway Memorial and is dotted with relics of the area’s ski history.
6) Climb at City of Rocks
City of Rocks National Reserve is almost exactly three hours from Boise, and it’s a choice rock climbing destination. The area is home to more than 500 climbing routes ranging from beginner-friendly to a challenging 5.12 rating, not to mention ample camping among the otherworldly granite towers. If you’re not a rock climber, there’s plenty to do on the ground. The reserve boasts historic wagon trails, the rare pinyon pine tree, and no shortage of hiking and exploring the area’s fascinating geology for the whole family.
Photos: Stand up paddleboarding on Redfish Lake – Idaho Tourism; Mountain biking near Boise – Bogus Basin; Rafting on the Main Salmon River – James Kaiser; Hiking near Sun Valley – Ray Gadd / Visit Sun Valley