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Three Great Restaurants in Cascade

Great BBQ Place in Savannah

For the first time in half a year, we were living in a place with a fully-equipped kitchen, and were finally able to cook at home. So we didn’t eat out a lot during our month in Cascade. But occasionally, we felt like letting someone else do the work. For such a small town, there are quite a few good dining options in Cascade. Here are our favorites.

Huckle-Berry-Pancake
Gramma’s Kitchen

Order an omelette for breakfast at Gramma’s Kitchen, and you’ll be skipping lunch… and possibly even dinner. Gramma serves up some giant portions. On our first visit to this unassuming restaurant on the north side of the town, I asked our waitress about Huckleberry Pancakes; even though they weren’t on the menu, I thought I would try my luck. “I’m so sorry, honey, we don’t have any”, and so I ordered an omelette.

But the cook had overheard my request, and went about scouring the kitchen for any extra huckleberries that might be laying around. When my meal came out, it was with a giant huckleberry pancake on the side, free of charge. And just like that, Gramma’s Kitchen won an eternal place in my heart.

Location on our Map

Idaho-BBQ
Dollar Bill’s Redneck Kitchen

We stopped at the brand new restaurant called Dollar Bill’s after breathless recommendations from a few people in town. Well, “restaurant” might be a stretch. Bill had just opened for business and there wasn’t much to the place, besides a grill on his deck and a few tables in the yard. A little skeptical, we asked Bill to make us whatever he thought was best.

While our food was cooking, Bill told us about his story. Turns out, he’s quite the character, a chef who’s worked around the country at a number of posh resorts. Most recently, he was in charge of the restaurant at Cascade’s Golf Club. At Dollar Bill’s, he specializes in his favorite foods: BBQ and seafood chowder. We got a bowl of the chowder; rich, creamy and cheesy. Delicious. Even Jürgen, who’s no fan of seafood, ate every bite.

Swing by Dollar Bill’s if you’re looking for a good, no-nonsense lunch. You can’t miss it: the bright red cabin, where a bunch of people with barbecue-smeared mouths are sitting on benches in the yard.

Location on our Map

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Clear Creek Station

Found a few minutes south of Cascade on Highway 55, Clear Creek Station is referred to between Jürgen and I as “Merlott’s”. Anyone who watches True Blood will understand the reference. Clear Creek Station is just like Merlott’s. The owner even looks like Sam, and has the same affable personality. I’m not sure about the shape-shifting abilities.

Our first time in Clear Creek, I ordered a side of short ribs which were the best I’ve had in years, and Jürgen choose a giant burger which almost defeated him. Portions are big, beers are cheap, and the place is understandably popular with locals. Absolutely recommended, even if you have to wait for a table. We liked it so much here, that we made it our final meal in Cascade.

Location on our Map

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More pictures from Gramma’s Kitchen
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More pictures from Dollar Bill’s
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More pictures from Clear Creek Station
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September 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm Comment (1)

In the Water with Cascade Raft & Kayak

Everything you need to know about Whitewater Rafting

“Do you want to go whitewater rafting with us?” I had only asked out of politeness. Never did I suspect that my mother’s response might be “Sure, why not?!”

In business for 27 seasons, Cascade Raft & Kayak is the largest whitewater company operating on the Payette River. They had invited us out for a day of rafting, and I had just assumed that my parents — who had come up from Ohio for a short visit — would be content to wait around and read a book while we got wet. Nope! Although my dad had to sit out due to the flu, he only did so very reluctantly. And my mom didn’t hesitate at all.

Whitewater-Rafting-Idaho

As she strapped on her life jacket and climbed into the raft, I looked at her in bewilderment. Who was this lady? My mom’s most exhilarating pastimes included jigsaw puzzles and afternoon naps.

Under the direction of Lauren, our guide for the day, we set off on an adventure called “The Splash”, starting at Banks and ending at Cascade Raft & Kayak’s offices just north of Horseshoe Bend. Neither Jürgen, my mom, nor myself had ever been on a raft before, and this moderately easy route proved to be a perfect introduction to the sport.

Within minutes of disembarking, our raft hit the rapids known as Whitewater 101. And right away, we were soaking wet — especially Jürgen and I, who were sitting in the front of the raft. We didn’t have much time to recover before hitting the next set: Whitewater 102. True to their name, these were a bit rougher. But this time, it was Mom who got it. I turned around and laughed at the sight of her, shell-shocked and soaking wet. But she was laughing, too. Getting drenched with freezing water doesn’t sound amusing, but when you’re on a raft, laughter seems the only reaction possible.

The water was cold, but the sun was shining bright. In between rapids. Lauren let us float slowly down the river and we’d almost dry off before hitting the next rough patch. The rapids were manageable — only once did I feel the fear of flying off. We paddled on Lauren’s commands (“Forward Two! Back One!”) and while tackling one reasonably calm set of rapids, she had us do the “Teacup”. Those on the left side of the raft paddled forward, those on the right backwards, and we spun around furiously while crashing down the rapids.

Idaho is known as the “Whitewater State”, and it’s not hard to see why. There are a ton of operators to choose from, but we couldn’t have been happier with Cascade Raft & Kayak.

Cascade Raft & Kayak – Website
Location on our Idaho Map

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September 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm Comments (5)

The Town of Cascade – Our Home for a Month

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In 2001, the Boise Cascade Sawmill ceased operations. It had been the largest employer in Cascade and its closure forebode a grim future for the tiny valley town. But Cascade refused to abandon hope; instead, it took a good look at the incredible nature surrounding it, and decided to give itself a makeover. There was no reason this former lumber town couldn’t become a tourist destination.

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In 2004, the Tamarack resort was opened. The Cascade Reservoir was given the more enchanting name of Lake Cascade. Rafting and kayak shops opened their doors to take advantage of the town’s prime location between the lake and the scenic Payette River. The nine-hole golf course was put under new management. And in 2010, Kelly’s Whitewater Park debuted, serving as both a water sports practice zone and a welcome center for visitors. Cascade was ready for business!

Within a couple days of moving in, we had become intimately familiar with the town; not exactly a difficult task, considering its size. Highway 55, the Payette River Scenic Byway, cuts through downtown and, if you blink, you might miss the smattering of shops along the side of the road. The bar, movie theater, pharmacy and grocery store (which closes at 7:30pm) are within spitting distance of each other, and nothing’s more than a short walk away. Not the golf course, the ranger station, or the lake.

Roxy-Theater-Cascade-Idaho

Cascade is the kind of town where the movie theater still has a grand old piano next to the screen. And where they’ll hold off on showing the movie ten or fifteen minutes, until the folks waiting for their popcorn have taken their seats. Where, if the film stops running a couple times due to electricity faults, the projectionist will announce “Cascade in August, folks!” to a roomful of laughs.

There are still some businesses shuttered; Cascade hasn’t yet become a resort town of wild prosperity, but that’s mostly to its benefit. There’s none of the stuffiness which can ruin wealthier places. We went into town nearly every day for shopping, food or fun, and couldn’t have been happier to call it home for our first month in Idaho. Cascade is ideally situated, about 90 minutes from Boise and 45 from McCall; close to natural hot springs, and some great hiking in the Boise National Forest.

Location on our Idaho Map

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September 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm Comments (2)

Boiled Alive in the Public Hot Springs of Cascade

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Idaho has more usable hot springs than any other state in the union, and many of them are found on public land, which means that they’re free to access. Quite a few can be found around Cascade, so we decided to go hot-spring-hopping one sunny Saturday morning.

Saoking in a Hot Spring

he water in Idaho’s hot springs is heated by friction between tectonic plates, and comes bubbling up out of the ground at temperatures that can reach boiling point. Idaho rests on top of a ridiculous number of fault lines, along which the hot springs (and earthquakes) appear. It’s as though the Earth wants Idaho to relax in a hot bath, before unleashing the cataclysms which destroy it.

Trail Creek Hot Springs was first on our list. Easy to find off NF-22 near Warm Lake, about 20 miles northeast of Cascade (location), this spot is popular with locals. Luckily, we got there early and had a pool to ourselves. It was more developed than I had expected; the pools were walled up and you could regulate the temperature by opening a valve to allow cold river water in. And, as I immediately realized on putting my legs into the pool, some regulation was necessary! The spring water was piping hot, and I needed a few minutes of acclimation before submerging.

From NF-22 we turned onto NF-409 and passed by Molly’s Tubs. We didn’t approach the bathing area, because it was already claimed by what looked to be a rowdy party. Past the tubs, we discovered Molly’s Springs after parking near a trail head and hiking about ten minutes off the road and into the hills (location) I don’t know who this Molly broad was, but she lays claim to some beautiful land.

Burned River

This area was devastated by a 2007 wildfire, which left the forest dead, but hauntingly beautiful. Molly’s Springs weren’t as clean as the pools at Trail Creek, but more remote and exciting. We sat down gingerly in the almost unbearably hot water, and cooked in silence while admiring at the river valley through the blackened skeletons of pine trees. If I hadn’t been so concerned about my kochende eier, I could have stayed here an hour.

We got back into the car completely relaxed and continued down NF-409 to find the Vulcan Hot Springs (location). This required a hike of about twenty minutes through the forest, alongside a creek, ending in a foul-smelling morass of sulphur and algae, where extremely hot water was bubbling out of the rock bed. Even if we had wanted to get wet here, the pool was too shallow and grubby. It was a neat area, but not for bathing.

Visiting these public baths is kind of a crap shoot. We had great luck at two of the four we visited, but unless you’re a local (or have local advice), there’s no guarantee. If in doubt, consult the useful website IdahoHotSprings.com, which attempts to list all of the public and private hot springs in the state, along with pics, grime-level and detailed accounts of past visits.

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Trail Creek Hot Springs:

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Molly’s Tub:

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Molly’s Hot Spring:

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Molly's Tub
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Vulcan Hot Springs:

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August 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm Comments (5)

Snowbank Mountain and Blue Lake

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Wearied by the three-day journey across America, we kept close to Cascade during our first week in Idaho. Not a problem, since there is plenty to see. The day after our loop around Lake Cascade, we drove up to the summit of Snowbank Mountain and completed a short hike to Blue Lake, tucked away in the hills of the Boise National Forest.

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Don’t be shy; we see you, Blue Lake

The drive up Snowbank was uncomplicated, following NF-446 all the way to its end. This was our first time on one of Idaho’s many National Forest Service roads, and it wasn’t nearly as rough as we had feared. Not all the NFS roads are as well maintained, particularly as you get away from population centers. But NF-446, while unpaved, was smooth and easily large enough for two vehicles.

We started our ascent in the morning, and enjoyed spectacular views of Cascade’s Long Valley awakening to vibrant life in the strengthening sunlight. The scene from the top of Snowbank Mountain was magnificent. We passed by an FAA Radar Station and parked next to an antenna tower where we took in a panoramic view which stretched out over Lake Cascade, extending for miles in every direction.

On the way back down, we stopped at a trailhead marking a one-mile hike to Blue Lake began. This was a short, simple walk, which wound slightly downhill through fields of wildflowers until reaching the lake, as sparkling blue as its name implies. There were some fishermen already present, as well as a rowdy group of kids on the far end of the lake who had spent the night camping.

Location of Blue Lake on our Map

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August 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm Comments (2)

A Slow Drive Around Lake Cascade

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Propped up against the Boise National Forest, and just an hour north of the capital, Lake Cascade is a convenient spot for restless city-dwellers to get their nature fix. The charming resort town of McCall crowns the northern end of the lake, while the smaller villages of Cascade and Donnelly line the east, providing an abundance of places to stay the weekend.

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On our first full day in Idaho, we mapped out a drive around the lake in order to get a sense of its size, and also to explore the area. I thought the simple loop would take perhaps an hour, tops, but hadn’t reckoned on two things: (a) how huge Idaho is, and (b) how picturesque. Lake Cascade looks like a tear drop on the map, but has a surface area of 30,000 acres.

Jürgen is a professional photographer and, after all the years we’ve spent travelling together, I’ve become accustomed to pulling over and letting him take pictures. It’s his job; I understand. But during our tour of Lake Cascade, we were stopping with absurd frequency. “Pull over here. I’ll be right back!” I’d wait in the car, frustration level slowly rising, until he returned, grinning from ear to ear and proudly displaying a picture of some field, or old bridge. And then, just as soon as I’d finally nudged back over 20mph, he’d ask to stop again.

On the western edge of the lake, we followed West Mountain Drive, which brought us to the doorsteps of Tamarack Resort. This sprawling four-season resort opened in 2004 and almost immediately fell into financial ruin; it’s now in foreclosure. We drove up into Tamarack, past hundreds of impressive lodge houses which were impressively empty. Not a soul anywhere you looked, it was like a ghost town for very wealthy spirits. We later learned that some of these beautiful lodges had been auctioned off for as little as $60,000.

We completed our loop of Lake Cascade in four hours, and were compelled to scrap all remaining plans we’d had for the day. Underestimating the time required for excursions and road trips would be a recurring problem during our 91 days in Idaho. But Jürgen was on cloud nine, and I couldn’t help but share his elation. Our first little road trip had only confirmed how amazing Idaho was going to be.

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August 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm Comments (2)