The Best River Towns in America: Boise, Idaho

In Boise it's all about the Greenbelt

Dawson's coffee shop Boise.

Dawson's coffee shop, Boise.     Photo: Joshua Roper

The Stats

Boise, Idaho
Population: 205,671
(metro area: 616,000)
Media Age: 35
Median Annual Salary: $50,402
Median Home Price: $163,000
Unemployment Rate: 8.8 percent
Votes Received: 4 percent

In Boise it’s all about the Greenbelt. The 26-mile parkway lining the Boise River and bisecting downtown is the city’s lifeblood, providing access to more than 20 parks, multiple biking and hiking trails, pedestrian bridges, and an outdoor amphitheater. “Put simply, life revolves around the river,” says Jeff Reynolds, co-owner of ad agency Rizen Creative. It was a common refrain. “We have a whitewater park minutes from our house,” notes Sarah Mello. Says local Greg Sims: “I rode my bicycle from home and caught three 30-plus-inch salmon in the course of an hour.” Reynolds even offered a dare: “I challenge you to find a Boisean who didn’t float, fish, walk or ride along, play in, SUP, or kayak a Boise-area river last year.” Off the water, readers highlight everything from Alive After Five, a free summer concert series, to the city’s farmers’ market to the 130 miles of singletrack in the nearby Ridge to Rivers trail system. The political climate (mostly conservative) won’t appeal to the liberal-leaning crowd—“Don’t care for Idaho politics but love Boise and its people,” says Rob Love. But the city’s also home to Boise State University, which adds collegiate verve and, of course, the Broncos’ trademark blue turf.

BEST SATURDAY ITINERARY: “Tubing the Boise River from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park,” says Rachel Hugens, a nurse at St. Luke’s hospital. Afterward, you “can’t go wrong with brew-pubs like Highlands Hollow and TableRock.”

ON THE TOWN: Since 1977, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival has staged plays during the summer, and
in 1998 it constructed a 770-seat amphitheater next to the Boise River. “Being at the Shakespeare Festival on a summer night, having a picnic with a view of the river before the play, and feeling the cool river air as the sun sets is one of the absolute best ways to enjoy Boise,” offers Lisa McMillin, a library assistant at the Boise Public Library.

WHAT YOU GET FOR $199: A season pass to Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area, just 16 miles from town. For one week each February, the 2,600-acre non-profit ski area sells the tickets at a deep discount, a generous nod to its mission to create “accessible, affordable, and fun mountain recreation” in Treasure Valley.

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