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Outdoor Ascent in Boise

Boise is called Treasure Valley for a reason.

Cradled by a majestic mountain range and hewn with rivers and hiking trails, the area is an often-overlooked gem in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to its variety of natural terrain and a pleasant, high desert climate, opportunities for sports and recreation abound, and outdoor enthusiasts thrive in the city. Boise also features abundant ways to enjoy its cultural diversity and rich history, from the westward expansion to its Basque heritage.

With a population of just 237,000, Boise still retains a laidback, community-oriented feel, despite being Idaho’s largest city and state capital. Its walkable downtown is packed with local businesses, from hip cafes to trendy boutiques that give the city just as much Pacific Northwest personality as towns in Oregon and Washington. Boise’s citizens have a reputation for friendliness and welcoming spirit; combine that with an affordable price tag and it’s easy to see why Boise is gaining traction with groups.

Basque Culture

One of Boise’s most delightful surprises is its abundance of Basque culture. In the 1800s, a large number of Basques — a southwestern European group inhabiting a region in Spain and France — came to the Boise area to herd sheep.

Today, the city honors its Basque heritage with Basque Block downtown. It’s home to the Basque Cultural Center and Museum, which examines the history of the group in the state and the American West in general. Exhibits explore everything from sheepherding, the livelihood of many Basque immigrants, to Ernest Hemingway, whose interest in the culture can be noted in some of his works.

Groups can take a walking tour of Basque Block, which is home to many notable cultural landmarks, including historic boarding houses that once primarily served Basque immigrants; the Basque Market, which sells Basque goods and food; and several pieces of Basque-themed public art, including a mural and sculptures.

Basque restaurants, such as Leku Ona, serve traditional Basque fare, which includes plenty of seafood and steak dishes. Notable menu items are braised lamb shank, seafood stew, Trout a la Navarra and beef tongue. Bar Gernika, a nearby pub, serves craft beers and light fare such as croquetas and Solomo, pork loin served on a French baguette.

Public Art

From abstract, obscure murals to meaningful and thought-provoking sculptures, Boise’s public art scene brings both life and color to the city. Groups can take guided or self-guided tours of the city’s public art.

Freak Alley Gallery, an alley between Eighth and Ninth streets in downtown Boise covered in murals and artwork, is one place to snag a photo-op. Groups can tour the Boise Art Museum, also downtown, which features galleries and a sculpture garden.

One of the most meaningful pieces of public art can be found at the Anne Frank Memorial, a local park and memorial to the 15-year-old Holocaust victim whose diary became a symbol of hope. The memorial was built in 1995 and features quotes from Frank’s diary etched onto walls as well as a statue of Frank.

“A group of concerned citizens decided they wanted to create something to show Idaho was not a place of hate but a place of tolerance,” said Alyssa Bell, community programs specialist at the city’s Wassmuth Center for Human Rights. “This memorial is a memorial built by the community for the community.”

On the Water

With the Boise River running through the city, it should come as no surprise that water activities are popular in Boise, particularly in the warmer seasons. Thanks to the Boise Whitewater Park, right on the river, visitors can easily enjoy aquatic activities like kayaking and surfing.

A popular and adventurous activity for groups to participate in is whitewater rafting. Though it may seem daunting at first, rafting is easy to learn and can become the highlight of a trip for newbies and seasoned rafters alike. Cascade Raft and Kayak, an hour north of downtown Boise, is a great spot to begin. The outfitter was founded in 1985 and is owned and operated by the Long family. They can work with groups to design the ideal rafting or kayaking experience, complete with a catered meal after a day on the water.

“We love sharing the Idaho outdoors with everybody,” said Debbi Long, co-owner of Cascade Raft and Kayak.

Groups divide into smaller groups of around six, and raft on Class I, Class II and Class III rapids found on the Payette River. Trips with Class IV and Class V rapids are also available for experienced rafters. Knowledgeable guides lead groups down the river to make sure each group has a blast and stays safe. As travelers float along the river, they will see breathtaking Idaho scenery and wildlife.

Local Flavors

Boise brims with pride in its large selection of local restaurants, coffee shops and cafes.

The Warehouse Food Hall is a large food hall in downtown Boise with an impressive lineup of vendors. It draws about 70,000 visitors each month. It’s an excellent stop for a group meal, since its cuisine ranges from fresh seafood to pizza to Asian fusion.

Boise’s love for all things local also extends to its breweries and wineries. One popular brewery is Boise Brewing, which serves craft brews like IPAs, lagers and ciders in its downtown taproom.

Many of the area wineries can be found along the Boise Greenbelt, a recreational trail that follows the Boise River. Along the Greenbelt in nearby Garden City, Telaya Wine Co. can give group tours of the winery and host tastings and catered group meals. This local winery was named for a combination of the words “Tetons” and “La playa” because of its owners’ love for the Teton Range of mountains and the beach.

“They wanted to combine science and hospitality, and wine was the perfect avenue for that,” said Emily Balluff, private event coordinator at the winery.