My home state Idaho is known for many things. We grow potatoes. Our college football team plays on blue Smurf Turf. Our state’s gem is the Star Garnet, found only in two places in the world, in Idaho and Africa. We are home to the desert but also stellar mountain ranges such as the Sawtooths and Selkirks. We are also home to an array of scenic byways, such as the Payette River Scenic Byway.
I live in Northern Idaho, so I do not spend a lot of time in Southern Idaho. When I do I am most often heading to our capital Boise. There are many ways to get to Boise, but the most eye-catching way it to take the Payette River Scenic Byway.
The Payette River Scenic Byway takes its travelers from New Meadows Idaho to Boise Idaho. The road traces the Payette River along Idaho Highway 55. The byway is 112 miles long and will take approximately 2.25 hours without any stops.
But why would you not stop when you could take a break in McCall Idaho, just a mere 11 miles from New Meadows?
McCall is home to Payette Lake, Ponderosa State Park and three breweries, McCall Brewing, Broken Horn Brewing and Salmon River Brewing. If you only have time for one brewery stop, make sure it is Salmon River Brewing. Their beer selection is fantastic. My favorite beer is the Black Happy American Black Ale. This velvety, roasted goodness will tempt you to take home a growler or several bottles. Luckily both are available for purchase. Food is traditional pub fare and delicious.
After you get your fill of beer and snacks you can take a stroll along the shoreline of Payette Lake. The Rotary Park located more than a walk away from the brewery is a nice spot with picnic tables, restrooms, and views that you will want to write home about.
Before leaving McCall check out Ponderosa State Park. The park is open year-round with several dog-friendly options for your furry friends to partake in. Camping, mountain biking, swimming, hiking and winter activities are in abundance.
Heading south on Highway 55, departing from McCall, your next stop will be Lake Cascade State Park. There are many entrances to this state park but most of the park’s activities, as well as the visitors center, are located at the Southern Unit entrance near the town of Cascade, about 28 miles south of McCall.
Another highlight near the town of Cascade is the Cascade Dam. The Spillway can be seen from the highway, which is what caught my attention while driving by. The dam is a short drive off the highway. No tours are allowed of the dam but there is a perfect viewpoint of the spillway along with an informative sign offering up history and project information about the dam.
Once you arrive at Cascade the Payette Scenic Byway really settles into its beauty. The highway saunters alongside the river with many pullout opportunities to admire the river. Hit this scenic byway during spring runoff, like I did, and you will be treated to raging waters that would make even Kevin Bacon quiver in fear on the wild river.
Highway 55 carries on to the small town of Horseshoe Bend. Here the Payette River takes a dramatic curve, creating a bend in the river. There are viewpoints south of town as you head up the mountain, however, the main pullout spot does not grant you the best overlook of the town. Better views are closer to town, so be sure to pull off the highway before getting near the top of the hill. Horseshoe Bend is also where you and the Payette River will part ways as the highway continues to Eagle Idaho and the Payette River takes a sharp turn west.
Highway 55 dead ends into Highway 44 giving you the option to turn west to Eagle Idaho or east to Boise. Either way, you will find yourself in a mini-metropolis of Idaho, as Eagle and the surrounding areas are the urban sprawl of Boise.
After you have enjoyed your day following the Payette River be sure to stop by Payette Brewing in Boise (733 S Pioneer Street) and grab yourself a pint or two. I’m a big fan of most of their beers. The Blood Orange Rustler, Recoil and Mutton Buster are some of my favs. Also if they have any of their sours available it is imperative that you get your hands on those as well. You will not be disappointed. Their taproom is dog-friendly along with a beautiful facility, an outside area filled with yard games and most often a food truck. It is pretty much heaven for beer lovers.