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Heart & Soul of Idaho

Idaho City’s historic small town charm during a weekend winter wonderland getaway

Article by Ashley Loeb

Photography by Ashley Loeb

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

Evergreens nestled into a sparkling blanket of white along the winding Highway 21 as we approached Idaho City. This historic town encompasses so much of what makes Idaho great that one might consider it to be the Heart of Idaho, and after our winter weekend escape there, it certainly has a special place in my heart!

Idaho City is sprawling with history that still lives through its people, like Shelly Heffington. Owner of Majestic Mountain Ranch, Shelly doubled-back to Idaho City several years ago to care for the late Bill Sterling and continue his dreams through developing a peaceful property into the perfect year-round retreat. After a welcoming tour of the property, we were supplied with maps to soak in more of Idaho’s history as we cozied up in our well-appointed, Rebels Rendezvous suite — a full kitchen,  plush bed, and an alluring copper soaking tub surround by sunflowers.

As the night settled in, we joined most of the town at the Gold Mine Saloon for Idaho City Limits. No one at this establishment is a stranger, only new friends, and neighbors, including the owners, Steve and Steve, who serve up cocktails and conversation, including shots from a unique whisky decanter! A local musician shared her story with us at the bar as I munched on a savory BBQ pulled-pork sandwich that’s worth going back for! Lively music still ringing in our ears, we finished the night in a bubbling warm oasis on our suite patio beneath the glistening icicles beneath a midnight sky. 

Waking for a morning stroll, I stepped into a snow globe with snowflakes dancing silently amongst a background of pine, some leaving kisses on my face. The chill of the air left me as I dove into a plate of egg-battered bread drenched in a syrup as sweet as the waitress at Diamond Lil’s. Part museum, steakhouse and saloon, the walls, bar, and ceiling are saturated with historic relics that left my mouth hanging open. Diamond Lil’s is the epitome of small town home cooking inside a time capsule filled with gems from the booming past that Idaho City had as a destination for settlers heading west for gold!

Winter felt a bit warmer as we stepped back onto Main Street, ready for the main event on this beautiful weekend in March, the Idaho City Chili Cookoff! The sun parted through the clouds as local business owners engaged in a spirited competition, offering a feast on the streets of Idaho City.  Steaming chili was ladled into our souvenir bowls as we meandered from one station to another amongst the crowd of hungry visitors. Our tastebuds ignited with both classic and unique spoonfuls of red chili, white chili, and alligator chili!  Violinist Alyssa Joy Claffey and guitarist Ronnie Long played as a lively duo as we tried to decide which chili to vote for as our favorite. 

On the way to check in for our next overnight accommodations, we made a pitstop at the Idaho City Grocery to fill a growler with the owner’s tasty homemade root beer with a fresh licorice flavor, just one of the several options on tap tucked at a bar behind the groceries and goods. I also couldn’t resist stopping to pose for a fun photo op in the Idaho City Post Jail! I quickly freed myself to explore the edible goods, souvenirs and locally made artwork in this adorable little shop. 

The Idaho City Hotel, a grand, snow-white two-story building just steps from the Chili Festival, gave us the opportunity to experience the history right in the heart of downtown. The stairs to the second level rooms gave a welcoming creak as we headed up to discover a clean and quaint room where I took some time to read up on the many outdoor winter activities in Idaho City, including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and a family friendly sledding hill just a couple minutes outside town. 

As the sun set behind the trees, we sauntered back through the snow to check out the steakhouse and saloon side of Diamond Lil’s. Locals wished the bartender happy birthday while I sipped on a classic mule sat atop a money-plastered bar beneath more antique bills dangling above. Country tunes belted from a glowing jukebox while billiard balls pinged together behind us as we enjoyed a cowboy style dinner at the bar. 

I scrambled outside the next morning to soak in the beauty of the freshly fallen snow glittering in the sun beneath a crystal blue sky. My nose soon led me into Walulla’s Coffee and Bake across the street, where it was hard to resist the alluring aroma and fresh baked goods. Back outside, I strapped on my snowshoes for a trek amongst the brilliant and bright winter wonderland. I felt immersed in nature in the quiet calm of winter without seeing another soul while circling through the forest around the quiet local airstrip on the Buena Vista Trail. Reluctant to leave the snow but having worked up an appetite, I returned for breakfast at Trudy’s Kitchen. We were welcomed by the waitress who had been our bartender the night before, as I gawked at a display case of delectable cream pies which are a feast for your eyes as much as they are for your taste buds! The staff move like a well-oiled machine to serve a hot and satisfying breakfast, including scrumptious cinnamon rolls. 

The weekend ending much too soon, we headed past the city limits, making a quick stop to get a glimpse of The Springs, which made me wish I’d made a reservation. The wintry views were some of the most idyllic that I’d ever seen amongst their shared pool or private spas. People were lounging, enjoying cocktails and snacks served by attentive and welcoming staff. Adding it to our bucket list for next winter, it has become clear that Idaho City has no shortage of friendly faces, historic relics, comfort food and fun opportunities to experience the great outdoors, especially during the picturesque winter season! 

Idaho City Business Highlights

1.     Majestic Mountain Ranch

9 Lodgepole Ln, Idaho City, ID 83631

Shelly Heffington / (208) 695-9402

2.     Idaho City Hotel 

215 Montgomery St, Idaho City, ID 83631

Tara Gee, Manager / (208) 392-4499

3.     Idaho City Grocery 

3868 ID-21, Idaho City, ID 83631

Bobby Matthews / (208) 392-4426

4.     Goldmine Saloon and Hotel

3867 ID-21, Idaho City, ID 83631

Steve Twilegar and Steve Ellis (208) 392-4787

5.     Diamond Lil’s Museum, Steakhouse and Saloon

409 Main St #407, Idaho City, ID 83631

Teresa Gehrals Manager/ Holly Call Owner / 208) 392-4400

6.     Trudy’s Kitchen

3876 ID-21, Idaho City, ID 83631

Trudy Jackson

7.     Idaho City Trading Post 

243 Main St, Idaho City, ID 83631

Theresa Meyer / (208) 392-6723

8.     The Springs Hot Springs

3742 Hwy 21, Idaho City, 83631

208-392-9500

9.     Walulla’s Coffee and Bake

101 Walulla St, Idaho City, ID 83631

Mikaela and Mike Heighes  / (208) 513-9777

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