Ice Castles

Discover a whole new world of winter wonderful in McCall, Idaho.

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  • Written by
    Norene Sheehan and Corry Cook

McCall, Idaho, located two hours north of Boise, is a vibrant resort town nestled between forested mountains and the shores of Payette Lake. No matter the season, adventure can be found at nearly every turn, and visitors may feel torn between telling everyone they know about McCall’s many splendors and staying silent in order to preserve the magic for themselves. With direct flights available from San Francisco or San Jose to Boise on United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and more, however, this best-kept secret may not stay secret for long…

For my recent winter weekend getaway, the entire trip from San Francisco seemed to fly by—a surprising four hours door to door. (Many a Bay Area resident has been caught in Highway 101 gridlock longer than that.) Upon arrival into Boise, we were whisked away in royal style, the drive to McCall peppered with pretty sights such as the Salmon River Mountains and the dazzling Payette River Scenic byway.

When visiting McCall, it may be hard to decide what to do first, but an easy question to answer: “Where to stay?” Having once been awe-struck by initial sightings of the crystalline waters of gorgeous Payette Lake, my traveling companion and I had booked Shore Lodge, and its famed Cove Spa, for some ultra-luxe pampering at this award-winning lakefront resort.

Prefer a little heat during the winter? 

This winter, Shore Lodge will debut its Snowmobiling to Natural Hot Springs experience, in which Shore Lodge staff steer guests through Idaho’s winter backcountry to take a soak in the natural mineral waters of Burgdorf Hot Springs. The dip is followed by a dinner for two at the newly opened fine dining restaurant The Narrows Steakhouse, as well as a spa treatment at The Cove Spa with indoor/outdoor saltwater immersion pools designed to mirror McCall’s hot springs.

The scene at Shore Lodge is peaceful, yet in the heart of McCall’s indoor and outdoor action, featuring 77 luxurious rooms, three acclaimed restaurants, and the decadent spa. Known as the Mountain West’s “fountain of youth,” The Cove offers travelers, outdoor enthusiasts, and wellness seekers many treatments to soothe both body and soul. Our new favorite full-service spa is also equipped with six treatment rooms, a year-round swimming pool, and hot tubs.

Revived and glowing, we went straight to the action, not wanting to miss a minute. It was a hip and happening weekend during our stay, as the McCall Winter Carnival was in full swing. Since its debut in the 1960s, the Carnival has grown into an iconic Idaho event attracting more than 60,000 visitors annually.

Walking through downtown McCall and its delightful sophistication, it’s hard to believe this lively town began as a 160-acre homestead. Today’s McCall is thriving, but not yet spoiled by the masses—a pretty village with a comfortable Western flavor. Buildings crafted from giant timbers abound, while charming cafés beckon and the shops entice with an impressive array of wares, from home décor and antiques to clothing and gifts.

No doubt the Idaho State Snow Sculpting Championships in Depot Park is the highlight of the Carnival festivities, drawing artists from all over the world. Having received national attention, competition is fierce, with artists working thousands of hours to create extraordinary jaw-dropping ice sculptures that pepper downtown. The Carnival also features Torchlight and Mardi Gras parades, live music, and daily events spanning everything from comedy shows to art auctions and snow bike races to the Monster Dog Pull.

As VIP guests of the Shore Lodge, our weekend also came complete with rare access to McCall’s legendary Whitetail Club, and we immediately found ourselves drawn to the magnetic power of this prestigious 1,300-acre private real estate community. This is a cutting-edge mountain-based sanctuary, paying homage to a time when things were simpler, organic, and genuine. Home sites at Whitetail Club satisfy any owner’s tastes with a variety of breathtaking views, whether it’s of the Salmon River Mountains, the Whitetail Club Golf Course, or Payette Lake. From each of five Discovery Cottages available to prospective buyers at the Whitetail Club, you have front-row access to Idaho’s unspoiled natural world and other dazzling activities and special events for the whole family. Buying options at Whitetail Club range from homesites starting at $325,000, to townhouses starting at $1,395,000, to cottages starting at $1,089,000.

For the sophisticated set looking to own a second, third, or fourth home, Whitetail Club is one of North America’s ultimate year-round playgrounds; there is no end to the high-octane action in this extraordinary spot. Here in the heart of the region’s prized Salmon River Mountains, style meets world-class adventure in a chic gathering place for all ages. Owners also have exclusive access to a variety of amenities, including a 7,200-yard Andy North-designed Whitetail Club golf course named one of Golfweek’s “Best Courses In the Nation,” The Fish and Swim Club, and a one-of-a-kind Lakefront Clubhouse complete with spaces dedicated to children, teens, new dining concepts, meetings, events, and general communing, as well as programs that pay homage to the destination—suitable for any multigenerational explorer and traveler.

From the clear, glacial waters of Payette Lake in the heart of downtown to the three area mountains, to the miles of trails for both summer and winter sports, the outdoors are always open with Whitetail membership. Each winter, ski enthusiasts flock to McCall for some of the country’s best skiing. Day or night, the pulse-pounding downhill slopes at three neighboring mountains (Brundage, Tamarack, and Little Ski Hill) bring skiers from around the world to what National Geographic calls one of the “Best Secret Ski Towns in North America.” Miles of pristine snow piles up on Whitetail Club’s Nordic Trail System for speed-loving cross-country skiers every winter. Backcountry ski sites with untouched terrain are also reachable by Snowcat or snowmobile. With the McCall Municipal Airport only a five-minute drive from Whitetail Club, ski fanatics take note—it may take less time in transit to get to the slopes in Boise than it does to reach Tahoe! Private flyers have the luxury of leasing their own hangar, should they need one (size permitting).

When our blissful weekend of winter fun came to an end, it seemed like the kind of dream you want to last forever. The irresistible experience meant I, for one, fell in love with the breathtaking environment. Fortunately for us all, McCall is very real and closer than we ever imagined.

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