You might think of Idaho City as Idaho's "flyover county." It's that place where you have to slow down and maybe grab a candy bar on your way to or from somewhere else: Stanley, Lowman, Sun Valley.
But if you just zoom through it, you're missing out.
The place has so much potential: Imagine a piney mountain retreat at the intersection of two creeks less than an hour from Downtown Boise with the benefit of a rich and colorful mining history. Sounds great, right?
The ramshackle trailer parks and dilapidated shops that line Idaho 21 as you drive through aren't particularly inviting. But there's treasure to be found among those mine tailings, and this day trip will help you find it.
The drive from Boise to Idaho City along Idaho 21 follows Mores Creek for much of the way, lifting you into the trees and mountain air. Start your Idaho City experience with lunch at Trudy's Kitchen right on the highway.
You can get your introduction to Idaho City's rough-and-tumble beginnings on the back of Trudy's menu. For lunch, try a generous bowl of one of the homemade soups served with a large, warm cornbread muffin. Do save room for Trudy's famous huckleberry cheesecake.
The antique and gift shops that line the boardwalked Main Street are worth a post-lunch stop. The shops are the kind that sell relief posters advertising Winchester shotgun shells, and American flags upon which a wolf-emblazoned dreamcatcher image is superimposed. In short, rustic eclectic. Pop your head into Idaho City Trading Post, or head over to Back In Time Antiques & Collectibles on Montgomery Street, and see what you can find.
And don't forget to make time to hit the trails. This is Idaho, after all.
When there is no snow on the ground, head 17 miles northeast on Idaho 21 for a hike on the Crooked River Trail. The trailhead is a mile in on Crooked River Road at the Edna Creek turn-off from the highway. It tracks along the river, gently rising and falling for about four miles at the base of steep canyon walls. Several small sandy beaches give you the chance to take a break and dip your feet in the brisk water.
After the snow flies, take your snowshoes along (or rent them inexpensively in Boise) and check out one of the numerous Park N' Ski trails the state maintains. Choose from trails beginning at the Whoop-em-up, Banner Ridge, Beaver Creek or Gold Fork parking lots on Idaho 21.
For the more adventurous, rent one of the six yurts along the trail system for a night of complete solitude.
After an afternoon hike or a snowshoe, you'll definitely want to soak those muscles in the warm geothermal waters of The Springs, one of Idaho City's newest and most-anticipated attractions. Located on Idaho 21 just south of the city center, The Springs reopened earlier this year.
The facilities are nothing short of luxurious. You have the option of two pools, with the large pool hovering around 100 degrees in the winter and 85 in the summer, and the smaller pool in the 104- to 106-degree range. The water refreshes every six to eight hours.
Plush towels are provided, as are post-soak toiletries (high-end soap, lotion and more) for your private hot springs shower. The resort offers a small menu of snacks, sandwiches and salads, with poolside service that includes craft beer and wine.
At $16 per person, it isn't cheap. But you're free to stay as long as you like to relax in the warm waters. So watch the sun fade and disappear behind the mountains. Sip on a Payette Outlaw Pale Ale with the soothing sounds of Ray LaMontagne playing softly on the speakers. That's worth the drive right there.
Joe Jaszewski is the photography editor at the Idaho Statesman and a lover of Idaho's recreational offerings.