Potatoes and skiing summarize the majority of America's perception of Idaho's attributes. Although frequently confused with residents of pancake-flat Iowa, located two doors down in the Midwest, Idahoans take no offense to the error--they actually prefer the anonymity, as it keeps the population and prices down and enables a manageable flow of tourism through their unspoiled state. These same reasons, however, make Idaho a vacationer's paradise: light crowds, fair prices, easy access to the state's best sites, and a burgeoning wine scene all add to the state's allure.
BOISE WINERIES AND THE SNAKE RIVER VALLEY
Boise mirrors the state's national identity as an overlooked destination, but for wine lovers searching for America's next grape frontier, one only has to drive a mere ten minutes from downtown to Garden City to find it.
This one-time Chinatown was so named because its residents grew vegetables for pioneers.Now, the industrial zone serves artists, breweries, and wineries seeking refuge in the cheap cost of warehouse space, and the East 44th Street building leased by Cinder Winery is no different. Making a name for Idaho Tempranillo, Cinder shares the tasting room with two others boutique producers: Telaya and Coiled, the latter known for its vibrant Riesling. Split Rail focuses on reds nearby in a former auto body garage.
Prefer to taste wine amidst the vines? Head west to Nampa in the Snake River Valley, the state's first American Viticultural Area (AVA) just 30 minutes outside of Boise. Most of Idaho's grapes grow here. Lodging and restaurants haven't caught up with the nascent wine trail, but most producers have tasting rooms. The region shares similarities with Washington State, so you'll sample Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Viognier, and Tempranillo. Visit Huston Vineyards, Hat Ranch, Fujishin, Bitner Vineyards (they have two rooms to rent to overnighters), and Sawtooth Winery--plus Koenig Distillery & Winery for potato vodka and fruit brandy, in addition to wine.
KETCHUM AND SUN VALLEY
Ketchum displays just enough polished veneer to suit swanky skiers and snowboarders without compromising its authentic country western roots. Winter sports draw the most attention (no lift lines!), but the area offers year-round pleasures (hiking, biking, fishing, rafting), which means hotels, restaurants, and bars stay open.
While Sun Valley Resort has the greatest guest capacity and proximity to the mountain, an ambitious spa and room renovation takes most of the historic lodge offline this winter. An alternate option: the recently refreshed, Alpine-inspired Knob Hill Inn.
Big country breakfasts of fruit pancakes and crispy hash browns fly from the kitchen at the Kneadery, a festive joint festooned in western décor of animal heads replete with suspended canoe. Locals lunch at casual Perry's for reasonably priced sandwiches stacked high on freshly baked bread; at night, the entire town stalks the hostess at Pioneer Saloon in hopes of satisfying cravings for hunks of flame-licked meat and football-sized baked potatoes. Italian Enoteca serves small plates matched with a good wine list inside an urban interior. Swing by Cornerstone for upmarket, creative cocktails. Sunny Valley mornings draw coffee seekers to sleek and roomy Velocio for Intelligentsia espressos and pour-overs.
Before leaving town, pay respect to Hemingway's gravestone in the cemetery behind Knob Hill Inn; he commit suicide in Ketchum.
When's the last time you gazed up at the sky without tweeting about the rainbow arching across it? Unplug from your overconnected life and head three hours east of Boise into the empty Sawtooth Mountains. Locals claim it has the freshest air in the continental U.S., a compelling argument supported by its blue skies, gin-clear lakes, healthy rivers, and pristine wilderness.
There's so much to do, you might just leave your iPhone behind. Fly fish the Salmon River with Mary Anne Dozer of Silver Creek Outfitters. She's a popular hire, so inquire early, but any of their guides will get a trout on your line, whether you're a newbie or adroit angler. Looking for a new rod? Dozer's husband painstakingly crafts them from bamboo.
Hikers can access a plethora of trails ranging from easy three-mile meadow circuits to strenuous, alpine lake quad busters. The regional trail map outlines the fitness requirements of popular routes.
Soak sore muscles post-hike in one of several natural hot springs. If you spot steam rising along State 75 just north of Stanley, you've found Sunbeam Hot Springs.
Trekking to Stanley without floating on the river is sacrilege to those who've experienced it, as this two street town serves as the nerve center for river adventures. Embark on a half- or full-day of rapids with White Otter, or succumb to the wilderness on a five-day Middle Fork float with Idaho River Journeys or Solitude River Trips.
IDAHO ROCKY MOUNTAIN RANCH
You might actually weep for not discovering Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch earlier when you sip wine in a rocking chair on the porch for the first time. Nestled into the Sawtooths, 9 miles south of Stanley, this meticulously renovated ranch and collection of guest cabins is worth the trip to Idaho alone. Many loyal guests return faithfully each season to partake in the region's activities while indulging in rustic-luxe accommodations at day's end.
Hiking, horseback riding, and fly fishing the trout-stocked ponds and rivers keeps Ranch guests busy from sunrise to cocktail hour. Learn to mountain bike or tie a fishing knot in one of the daily complimentary clinics. Late afternoons are for soaking in the guests-only hot springs.
The meal plan includes hearty breakfasts, packed lunches, and dinners that rotate between themed outdoor BBQs and fine dining nights. Log cabins and lodge rooms provide a taste of western rusticity with the amenities of modern life: stone-tiled showers, heated floorboards, hand stitched quilts, and large stone fireplaces stocked with firewood for guests to light each night as temperatures plummet.