Small Town, Big Recreation
Tucked off state Highway 55 is a sleepy little mountain town where being a local is synonymous with loving the outdoors. Donnelly, Idaho, sits 100 miles north of Boise on the northeast shores of Cascade Lake surrounded by mountain ranges. Originally a summer lodging site for Nez Perce, Bannock and Shoshone Indian tribes, farmers and ranchers built homesteads in Donnelly in the 1880s. The population reached 200 in 1916, still the highest to date.
“Donnelly has a lot to offer and is truly a pleasant, great and tranquil place to live, raise a family and play,” says Brian Koch, mayor of Donnelly.
Koch moved to Donnelly from Texas 11 years ago, when he and his wife, Kim, were looking for a mountainous area to raise their four children. Donnelly had the hometown feel the Kochs desired.
Local businesses in the city’s downtown core are beloved by community members and frequented by tourists. Flight of Fancy is a popular bakery and espresso bar, serving desserts with local ingredients, such as huckleberry bars. The Silver Tip Hat Company is famous for constructing handmade hats made by well-known milliner Randy Priest.
Despite Donnelly’s small size — the population totals little more than 152 residents and the city barely covers half a square mile — the recreation adventures in and around the town are endless.
You’ll find some off-the-beaten-path gems in Donnelly, like Gold Fork Hot Springs in the foothills of the North Fork Range. The resort-quality natural rock pools are fed from mineral-rich waters. Along those same banks of the Gold Fork River is Hap and Florence Points Sleigh Rides, offering jaunts that bring visitors up-close with Rocky Mountain Elk. Donnelly is also home to dozens of alpine lakes perfect for swimming and boating. And the town is gateway to more than 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and host to an active snowmobile club. Huckleberry Days in August is an annual highlight, with a rodeo, fun run, parade and concert in town.
Tamarack Ski Resort
The construction of Tamarack Resort in 2004 — North America’s newest ski resort since 1981 — put Donnelly on the map. The resort is east of the town center against the West Mountain.
“We’re a place to visit year-round — it’s pretty special,” says Brad Larsen, Tamarack general manager. Groomed trails make Tamarack a haven for skiers in the winter and bikers in the summer. The bike trails cost $2 million to develop and are serviced by ski lifts. “People can take the lift up and let gravity take them down.”
Summer is a busy season for Tamarack, thanks to the camping and boating offered along the resort’s edge at Lake Cascade. It’s also wedding season, which is a major tourism boon to the area.
“Donnelly is special because it still has that small-town charm but also offers lots of things to do for visitors who come up to enjoy the beauty of the mountains,” says Laura Cimbalik, a Long Valley photographer who runs Cimbalik Photography with her husband. They frequently shoot weddings at the historic Roseberry Barn in Donnelly and at Tamarack. “It is so picturesque and truly encompasses the beauty of the mountains of Idaho.”