Family Fun in Boise, Idaho!

By Nora Heston Tarte

School’s out for summer! Grab the kids and hit the road! Boise is an unsuspecting place for a family vacation, but the growing city is packed with attractions and activities for those of all ages. Play inside and outside on waterslides, roller coasters, mini-golf, and more, while also soaking in the natural beauty of Southwestern Idaho on hikes, bike rides, and the water.

Hit the Slides

Just outside of Boise, ID (about a 10-minute drive), the Roaring Springs Waterpark is the perfect way to waste a day (or two). Located about 10 miles outside of Boise in Meridian, the outdoor theme park has space for tots, tweens, and teenagers.

Barefoot Bay caters to the youngest crowd with shallow water babes can stand up in and three slides complete with tubes so toddlers can feel like big kids. For the older, and perhaps more adventurous, crowd, the new corkscrew cavern looping slide guarantees speed. Don’t forget to try the cliffhanger, too, a six-story vertical drop that takes just four seconds from top to bottom. Rent a cabana, grab lunch, and chill out. If you ask us, ice cream is mandatory. 400 W. Overland Rd.

Family Fun

Wahooz! It’s not just what you’ll be screaming as you walk into the family fun center, Wahooz! is the name of the 8-acre indoor/outdoor fun zone featuring 17 attractions, located next door to Roaring Springs. If you spent all morning at the water park, you can spend all evening here, including dining in at the Clubhouse Grill.

The 70,000+-square foot arena features rides, a ropes course, rock climbing, an indoor climbing gym with ball guns, a laser maze, arcade games, and more. All of the rides are located inside and many are reminiscent of attractions you’d see at the fair, including a twisting, rotating, lifting contraption complete with spinning capsules called the Twister. Don’t forget to bowl at PINZ, too; there is an upscale longue featuring eight lanes for those who want a little extra.

Some of the fun is outdoors, perfect for those warm Idaho evenings. Ride the go-karts, play a round of mini golf, or hop in the bumper boats for a spin. 1385 S. Blue Marlin Ln.

Birding & More

Trek out to the hillsides of Boise, miles from the city center, to find the World Center for Birds of Prey. Those interested in getting up close and personal to raptors, vultures, owls, and more, can visit birds in cages, attend a live demonstration with a resident owl, and even catch the birds in flight. The collection includes more than 200 different birds, including both native and non-native species. 5668 W. Flying Hawk Ln.

Hike Idaho

A huge draw of summer in Idaho is time spent outdoors. Hiking is a valuable pastime where families can enjoy vast views on high hills, grounds carpeted in wild flowers, and plenty of wildlife sightings.

Pick a trail primed for every age in your group, and grab appropriate gear if you need to. On warm days, an early hike is often the best way to get started. See the sidebar for our top hiking picks in and around Boise.

Tips for Hiking with Kids:

The youngest adventurers tend to gravitate toward outdoor exploration, but this doesn’t mean they’ll be expert hikers. Consider these tips before starting a trail with your brood, especially if some family members are under the age of 10.

  1. Manage Expectations. If you embark on a hike with reasonable expectations in mind, you’ll set yourself up for success. Remember that kids will need breaks, they may get bored, and they may whine. You may even have to give into carrying the youngest family members for a bit. If you are cognizant of the potential challenges beforehand, you’ll be prepared and not surprised when they pop up.
  2. Choose wisely. This doesn’t only refer to picking a trail that is manageable in length and difficulty for the entire family (although that is certainly important). Also think about your children’s interests when choosing a hike. If wild animals are fascinating to them, choose one with frequent sightings. If you have a birdwatcher in your crew, bring binoculars. Walks along the water are nice, and plentiful, in Idaho, but prepare for bugs and potential bites.
  3. Make it fun. Don’t focus on getting from point A to point B the way you might on an adults-only hike. For kids, the journey is just as fun—sometimes more fun—than the destination, and you might be surprised just how enjoyable it can be for you, too. Let them roam. Just be careful they don’t get off course and into danger.
  4. Bring snacks. Pick items that will fuel little bodies but that are also fun such as nuts, fruit, and more. Choose a treat such as a candy or a lollipop as a distraction when kids start to get cranky.
  5. Make it fun. Play hiking games when kids get bored such as follow the leader or I spy. Honestly, sometimes just seeing who can find the biggest stick or the coolest rock is enough to keep kids engaged and gives them the boost of energy needed to carry on.

Top Hikes in Boise

Castle Rock Loop. This is a good pick for families with young kids. The 2-mile loop offers wildlife sightings and awesome views at the top of a hill. The cadence is also good for kids. You get up to the top of the hill and then the second part of the trip is downhill. Dogs are welcome on this trail, too.

Boise Cascade Lake Loop. This 1.3-mile-loop is another easy option for kids, with views of the lake. Keep in mind that high water levels sometimes close the loop, and there are bugs near the water this time of year.

Table Rock Trail. For more of a challenge, choose the popular Table Rock Trail. The moderately difficult path offers a higher elevation gain (895 feet) and views of wildflowers.

Boise River Greenbelt Trail. This relatively flat trail caters to hikers of all skill levels, but it is long at 10.4 miles. Try trekking out just a few miles on the out and back trail and then turning around to cut the distance down.

Lucky Peak Loop. For experienced hikers, this hike is worth the trouble. The 13.6-mile loop is a difficult climb with a 3,166-foot elevation gain. Choose this one for the views on the backside of the mountain and the natural elements, including a bird observatory. When weather is ideal (typically over summer) the trail isn’t as hard to manage.

Kid Pleasers

What kid-friendly vacation isn’t complete without a trip to the zoo, aquarium, and a park? We can’t think of one. Satisfy those family fun staples by stopping into some of Idaho’s best attractions. Sure, you can do versions of these activities at home, but Boise’s offerings are more than just your typical stops.

Zoo Boise.

Inside the open-air zoo there are 235 animals from every corner of the world, including some species native to Idaho. What makes it special: If you’ve never seen a sloth bear, you wouldn’t be the only one. At certain times throughout the day kids can feed the resident sloth bear during a special animal encounter. There is also a butterfly garden. Step inside and let the butterflies land on you as you walk through. Other cool features include face painting, a carousel, and giraffe feedings. 355 E. Julia Davis Dr.

Zoo Daze

On June 8, Zoo Boise will celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar with special attractions all day (9 AM- 5 PM).

Kids can meet the famous caterpillar, complete crafts inspired by the storybook, and watch zoo animals get toys and treats inspired by the story.

Aquarium of Boise.

The aquarium in Boise isn’t huge. In fact, it’s kind of set off in a nondescript shopping center next to some other stores. While kids can wander through the exhibits to see different kinds of fish, sharks, rays, and other underwater creatures, it’s the interactive elements that make this attraction unique.

Purchase food at the front desk and drop it in giant tanks of strange-looking fish. One tank is filled with fish that flip upside down to eat, which looks rather peculiar. Kids can dunk their hands right in—warn them to be gentle—while feeding and really explore the different species.

Other tide pools include sea urchins and starfish plus a shark and ray pool featuring various shark species, bat rays, and stingrays that you can touch.

There is also a bird aviary inside with colorful, talking parrots where guests can feed birds from their hands as they fly overhead and occasionally land on you. 64 N. Cole Rd.

Julia Davis Park.

This park isn’t like any other. The city park is located in the heart of downtown and houses several prominent attractions. In addition to the zoo, Julia Davis Park is home to the Boise Art Museum, the Idaho Historical Museum, the Idaho Black History Museum, the Idaho Rose Society, and the Gene Harris Band Shell.

Don’t forget to take in the views of the rose garden, punctuated by a gorgeous white gazebo in the center before hitting the more obvious park features—a playground and tennis court.

The last big draw of this expansive park is water access. In addition to the Boise River Greenbelt that runs through the park, there is a pond offering paddleboat rentals and a pedestrian bridge that connects to Boise State University. 700 S. Capitol Blvd.

Wine Tasting

Admittedly when I think of Idaho, wine is not the first thing that comes to mind. As it turns out, however, the Snake River AVA that courses through Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho is ideal for growing several varietals.

While there are 46 vineyards in the AVA, there are only 15 wineries. Throughout the region cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, canadice, chardonnay, cinsault, gewürztraminer, Grenache, lemberger, malbec, merlot, mourvedre, Riesling and syrah are produced.

Garden City, one mile outside of Boise city limits, is home to a line-up of tasting rooms. Located on 44th street, which looks a tad industrial, guests can walk up and down the stretch to hit three stops. While wine tasting may not sound like a family-friendly adventure, you’d be surprised! Some of the tasting rooms, like Cinder, fill corners with toys and feature long tables where families can play games or cards while the adults sip, although you may have to bring your own deck.

Garden City Tasting Rooms

44th Street Winery Complex:

Cinder

Telaya Wine Co.

Coiled Wines

Nearby:

Split Rail Winery, 4338 Chinden Blvd., Garden City

Syringa Winery, 4338 W. Chinden Blvd., Garden City

Museums

In addition to the museums housed in Julia Davis Park, Boise is home to many others. Here are a few worth mentioning:

Old Idaho Penitentiary

Take a historic walk down memory lane. The old penitentiary is no longer operating, but it is open to guests who want to explore its spooky hallways and gruesome tales of violence and execution.

The prison was in working order for more than 100 years, and during that time it became the background for a lot of historic stories. Tour the cell blocks, gallows, common spaces, grounds, and solitary confinement as well as weapons, photographs, and other artifacts housed inside. Most exciting are the stories published throughout the jailhouse, telling of the crimes dangerous criminals were there for, and some of the disturbing tales from inside the penitentiary. 2445 Old Penitentiary Rd.

Paranormal Investigations

If you like ghost stories, visit the penitentiary after dark for a paranormal investigation. From 9:15 PM-2 AM, Big River Paranormal hosts guests. Using special equipment, the experts try to connect with former inmates and guards (18+ only). Or, take advantage of the chance to stay overnight. Sleepless in Stripes II invites adults to enjoy (or not enjoy) a simulated prison experience. In addition to typical inmate activities including recreational time and dinner, there will be a paranormal investigation, as well. This event takes place June 8 from 7 PM – 7 AM.

Discovery Center of Idaho

For less chills and more thrills, head to Boise’s discovery center. The children’s museum encourages scientific exploration over several exhibits and demonstrations. To celebrate the museum’s 30th anniversary this year, a collection featuring 12 exhibits in over 2,000 square feet offers a brand new take on some of the museum’s most popular attractions. 131 W. Myrtle St.

Warhawk Air Museum

The Warhawk Air Museum is also celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Located about 20 miles outside of Boise in Nampa, the museum is home to an impressive collection of both permanent and visiting aircraft, including both the P-40N Warhawk and the P-40E Kittyhawk. 201 Municipal Way, Nampa 

Where to Stay

When it comes to traveling with kids, there are a few luxuries worth investing in. Make travel easier by booking a hotel that caters to the family experience.

The Oxford Suites in Boise checks all the boxes. Indoor pool to wear kids out before bedtime – check! Free breakfast served buffet style (not continental) – check! Evening receptions with free beer and wine for you – check!

Book a room sized for your family. A three-queen suite offers extra beds, while other rooms boast full kitchens. 1426 S. Entertainment Blvd.

Where to Eat

You’ll need food to fuel you between all of these adventures. Check out these family-friendly places to grab meals along the way.

Boise Fry Company

It should be no surprise that we’re suggesting eating potatoes in Idaho, but the Boise Fry Company takes their fry offerings seriously. Instead of serving one or two kinds of fries to accompany your burger, this restaurant serves six kinds of potatoes in five different cuts. Don’t forget to sample sauces from the self-serve bar to create all of the possible flavor combinations you can. Multiple locations

Old Chicago

This is a another great stop with a family-friendly atmosphere (i.e. kids can be somewhat loud in here) where the food doesn’t pale in comparison. Drink local brews on tap—we suggest the aura guava & hibiscus sour from Payette Brewing Co.—before diving into the menu. The taproom grub is bar food elevated, and shareable pizzas are perfect for large groups. 350 N. Milwaukee St.

Legends Pub & Grill

A few blocks from our recommended place to stay sits Legends Pub & Grill, a sports bar serving American food and pizzas. The restaurant markets itself as one of Idaho’s largest pubs, with 360 seats. Here, everyone roots for the Broncos of Boise State University. 7609 W. Overland Rd. # 100

Tucano’s Brazilian Grill

Just outside the hotel doors sits this Brazilian grill. The dining experience isn’t quite what you’re used to. Instead of ordering full meals, waiters bring around grilled meats and vegetables for churrasco style dining. The food keeps on coming until you’re full. 1388 S. Entertainment Ave.

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