'Tis the season to get outdoors: Don't let your holiday guests get cabin fever

rphillips@idahostatesman.comDecember 26, 2013 

Ho, ho, hum. The relatives are here, and you've caught up with family news, opened presents and eaten multiple times. Now they're getting restless.

The beauty of Southwest Idaho is that there's always something to do outdoors in almost any weather, so you can dress your guests up warm and get them outside.

You have lots of options close to home or within a reasonable drive.

Don't like snowy or icy roads? Head toward the Snake River, which is usually an easy drive on dry pavement during winter.

But don't overlook the whole "winter wonderland" thing. Idaho obviously has plenty of snow sports such as skiing and snowmobiling, but those can be gear intensive, expensive and tough to get an extended family involved in. Don't worry - they can still slide on snow.

Don't feel like road tripping? There are several good options around the Treasure Valley.

Here are some ideas:

TUBING

Tubing is a great winter activity. You just show up in your warm clothes and start sliding.

Idaho X-Sports in Garden Valley has a cool tubing hill, along with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

There's also an outfitter that offers horse-drawn sleigh rides at the same location, so there's something for all ages.

You take the scenic drive up the Payette River and get from the Treasure Valley to the tubing slopes in about an hour.

Reservations are recommended, especially during the holidays. Go to idahoxsports.com. For sleigh rides, go to idahosleighrides.com.

There are also tubing hills at Bogus Basin Mountain Resort and in McCall, Sun Valley and Idaho City. They all operate a little differently, so go to these websites for details before you go:

• Bogus Basin: bogusbasin.org/tubing.

• McCall: activitybarn.com.

• Sun Valley: sunvalley.com; click on "Things to do" and "Winter Activities."

• Idaho City: steamboatgulch.com.

GREENBELT

The Greenbelt is kind of a no-brainer for getting relatives out of the house, but here's where you, the host, get to be the hero.

Do a little sleight of hand. Tell them they're going for a walk on the Greenbelt, but throw in a twist they don't expect. Take advantage of one of many restaurants located on the Greenbelt or a short ways off it. Stop by and get something to eat or drink. Or you can hit other cool places near the Greenbelt, like the MK Nature Center, Zoo Boise or the Boise Art Museum.

Scout out a place to park that is about a mile or so away from your destination. Walk and spend some time there, then head back to your vehicle. It's a great way to stretch a short walk through a whole morning or afternoon.

DEDICATION POINT

This is another great sleight-of-hand trip. Calling the drive from Kuna to Dedication Point "scenic" is a bit of a stretch, but tell your visitors that and try to keep a straight face. It's hard, but you can do it.

When you get to the Dedication Point parking lot, a short hike ends at an amazing overlook of the Snake River that will make the drive worthwhile.

Make sure your guests are dressed warmly, as the wind can be brutal. Plan some time there and take lots of family photos (maybe next year's Christmas card).

From there, you can head back to Kuna for lunch or dinner, or continue down to Swan Falls Dam or over to Celebration Park downstream. Both parks are typically snow-free, and it can be surprisingly warm along the Snake River on a calm, sunny winter day. Go for a hike or just see the sights around the canyon.

Getting there: Go about 15 miles south of Kuna on Swan Falls Road.

Here's where to go for more details:

• Dedication Point: Go to blm.gov and do a search for "Dedication Point." You can do the same for "Swan Falls."

• Celebration Park: canyonco.org; click on "Our Parks."

HOT SPRINGS

Nothing melts away the tension and stress of the holidays quite like a dip in a hot springs. If your relatives are the adventurous type, there are lots of natural hot springs on public lands that you can drive or hike to, and your family will have an experience - for better or worse - they won't likely forget.

But if the idea of changing into a swimsuit while standing on frozen ground and hiding behind a tree doesn't sound appealing, there are tamer options.

Hot springs in Idaho City and at Gold Fork give you swimming-pool-sized hot springs that have been developed to make the experience hassle-free, comfortable and relaxing.

There's nothing quite like witnessing the winter wonderland while seeing the steam rising around you and feeling the soothing natural hot water.

Get driving directions and details at:

• goldforkhotsprings.com or call 890-8730. (Note: Bring cash; no debit or credit cards accepted.)

• thespringsid.com or call 392-9500. The number of people allowed in the springs at one time is limited, so reservations are recommended.

FOOTHILLS TRAILS

If your guests are ready to graduate from walking the Greenbelt to hiking in the Foothills, it's another great way to get them outdoors.

With more than 100 miles of trails available, picking the right one can be tricky. Great views of the city get the most oohs and aahs out of a hike, and you usually don't have to hike far to find one. You have many options.

Note: Trails can be muddy during winter, so it's best to get on them early while they are frozen. If you hit mud, turn around and go back. For current trail conditions, go to the Ridge to Rivers Facebook page.

Military Reserve: Elephant Rock (Trail 23A) is an easy mile loop and is great for families with little kids, according to Julia Grant, Boise open space coordinator.

David Gordon, Ridge to Rivers trail coordinator, recommends the Central Ridge Trail (Trail 22) for its famous view of the state Capitol building and Downtown Boise. It's a longer hike, but has a spectacular view.

Camel's Back Park: The park's namesake trail (Trail 40) is a steep climb but has a great view of the city, and there's a playground at the park for kids if they don't burn enough energy climbing the hill.

Seaman's Gulch: Head north toward the landfill on Seaman's Gulch Road in Northwest Boise and park at the trailhead on the right. Take the trail that goes around back of the water tank and climbs about a mile to a nice overlook of the city.

Dry Creek Cemetery: Veterans Trail (Trail 114) offers a great view of Eagle and beyond as you crest the ridge. Park at the trailhead on the east side of Dry Creek Cemetery (across from the Optimist Sports Complex on Hill Road Parkway). Another option is a small trailhead at the end of Big Springs Boulevard off Horseshoe Bend Road.

Table Rock: The namesake trail (Trails 15A/15) starts at the Old Idaho Penitentiary off Warm Springs Avenue. It's a steep climb to the top, but you can also drive to it.

Oregon Trail Reserve: Although not in the Foothills, this has trails (Trails 101/102/103) off 4500 E. Lake Forest Drive in Southeast Boise that are worth a hike. They are mostly easy (flat) paths, and they're gravel so you can hike them in any weather. The trails include an overlook with beautiful views of the Boise River, Barber Park and the Foothills.

For trail information and maps, go to ridgetorivers.org.

HYATT LAKE PRESERVE

One good reason to visit this spot is that you probably haven't been there yourself. It's a cool wildlife habitat oasis in the middle of the suburbs at the intersection of Maple Grove and McMillan roads in Boise.

The 54-acre site is a former gravel pit that has a 28-acre wetland surrounded by undeveloped land. Where there are wetlands, there's wildlife, and you can be sure to spot some.

There are walking paths through the area and parking off Maple Grove less than a quarter mile from Chinden Boulevard, and the parking lot has restrooms.

The ponds were frozen over earlier this month, but there was still wildlife to be spotted, including great blue heron, hawks and waterfowl.

Tracks in the snow also showed several animals had been passing through the area.

It won't take long to hike the whole thing, and the trails are broad and relatively flat. It's a quick, easy getaway for people who live in West Boise, Meridian and Eagle.

Leave your dogs at home because they are not allowed at the preserve.

To learn more about the park and see a map, go to parks.cityofboise.org, and click on "Parks and Locations."

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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