Ponderosa State Park: water, snow, and crowds

Ponderosa State Park: water, snow, and crowds

State Park Overview

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Ponderosa State Park is in McCall, Idaho, which is two and a half hours north of Boise. Boiseans enjoy this park in all seasons, with hiking, boating, cross country skiing and mountain biking accessible in a pretty area.


  • Lots to do
  • Pretty area
  • Close to Boise


  • Half of Boise shows up on the weekends
  • Not a great road to get there     
  • Did I mention half of Boise shows up on the weekends?
Ponderosa State Park
Lots of Ponderosa pines at Ponderosa State Park. Go figure.

What To Do

  • Boat
  • Fish
  • Hike
  • Cross country ski   
  • Mountain bike


One of the most popular parks in the Idaho State Parks system requires good amenities. You can see the full list on the Park and Rec’s site. Ponderosa State Park has some really nice cabins available to rent, but you can bet your bottom dollar they get snatched up fast.

Crowd situation

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This place is busy, no matter the time of year.

Ponderosa State Park visitor center
Look at all that stuff that has happened in this park!

Unique to Ponderosa State Park

The 1941 film Northwest Passage featuring Spencer Tracy was filmed on the North Beach of Payette Lake. Also unique, there is an outdoor-focused K-12 school located within the park boundaries.

A little history about Ponderosa State Park

The idea to turn this part of Payette Lake into a state park started percolating around 1900. However, politics being politics, it took until 1957 to finalize the contract. Loads of people recognized this was hot property during the time that it took to become a park. Idaho Department of Lands owned the property at this time and leased it out to private parties who could see the investment potential. Hence lots of little rentals popped up along the lake’s edge. I can’t fault them.

Payette Lake
Yep, a cabin right here would be pretty sweet.

Explore nearby

  • McCall is a cute town, but visitors overrun it. It isn’t quite as snooty as Sun Valley, but still has decent food options and some cute boutiques.
  • Lake Cascade State Park is located 30 miles to the south.
  • Tamarack and Brundage ski resorts are both nearby.

Our experience at Ponderosa State Park

We visited Ponderosa State Park in February, when McCall hosts its annual Mardi Gras party. February in the Idaho mountains means snow, so we could cross country ski all around the park. We weren’t super great at locating the trail as this park is expansive, but once we got on it we had fun skiing through the pine trees.

Cross country skiing at Ponderosa State Park
A little precipitation didn’t hurt us.

Later on in the year during the summer, we went on the same trail that we skied on, but this time just walked. The pine trees provided nice shade from the heat. We wandered to the water and were rewarded with a pretty little beach where we could have gone swimming if we were wearing suits and felt like freezing. This water gets pretty chilly. 

Payette Lake at Ponderosa State Park
This water is as cold as it is clear.


Ponderosa State Park is large and in charge. There’s lots to do but because of this, there’s lots of people. The views are lovely though, so it might be worth fighting the crowds.

Note: we visited Ponderosa State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!

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