I am ALL about festivals, fairs, and carnivals and when I realized I had never been to the McCall Winter Carnival, I knew I needed to attend! The McCall Winter Carnival is known to be a celebration of all things winter and is organized by the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce. Each year the winter carnival is two weekends long and usually starts the last weekend in January and goes until the first weekend in February.
If you’re interested in a bit of history, this celebration was inspired by the Payette Lake Winter Games that were first held in 1924. They then converted the games to the McCall Winter Carnival in the 1960s and it has evolved over the years to what it is today. I’m not going to lie, this festival is VERY crowded—probably the most crowded I’ve ever seen McCall in my life! In fact, they bring in over 60,000 people to McCall every winter carnival. That being said, it was still a blast and I highly recommend going, even if it’s just one time.
One of my favorite things about the festival is that every year they do a different theme so you’ll see the ice sculptures all over town with a similar likeness. When we went the theme was Legends, Myths, and Superheroes. This year the theme is going to be Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales! You can expect so many different events during this festival, including torchlight and Mardi Gras parades!
Want more ideas on what to do in McCall in the winter? Check out this post. While you’re at it, let’s be friends on Instagram!
A Weekend Guide to the McCall Winter Carnival
WHERE TO STAY
The Shore Lodge
This is McCall's most famous resort. It's located right on Payette lake and has gorgeous views, great amenities, and wonderful restaurants. If you're looking for a bit more of a luxurious stay, then hands down stay at the Shore Lodge! I've loved it every time I've stayed. See the most recent prices here.
Airbnb Cabin Rental
I highly recommend booking a cabin if you can find one close to the lake or close to town. My grandparents have a cabin in McCall, so I've always gotten lucky to get to stay with them, but I've also rented a few different cabins in McCall and it's always been so much fun. See all of the open cabins here.
SEE & DO
McCall is seriously one of my favorite places in all of Idaho and I love it in all seasons. See my girls weekend guide to McCall here.
While you're here for the McCall Winter Carnival, it's even more special because there are so many different events going on. Here's what I recommend doing:
Check out the ice sculptures
This was the main reason I wanted to come up to the carnival. I had seen the ice sculptures in photos and I was dying to see them in person. The sculptures are scattered all over town, so you can either get a map on the Winter Carnival website to see where they are all located or just go on a scavenger hunt for the best ones. They usually have one on top of Brundage Mountain so it's worth planning a ski day!
The snow sculpturing at the carnival has turned into an event with national recognition. The teams that attend even continue to compete in international events. So it is must see when stopping by the McCall Winter Carnival.
Watch the parade & fireworks
Each big weekend, they will do a parade and fireworks. This will change each year but is something to look at to see what other activities there are to do and what times the parade and fireworks are.
Go skiing or snowboarding at Brundage Mtn or Tamarack Resort
I grew up going to Brundage Mountain and it's one of my favorites in Idaho because of its terrain and laid-back vibes. Head up early (or during the parade hours) to avoid a ton of crowds. When we were up there, it felt like we had the mountain to ourselves because everyone was at the parade in town. Tamarack Resort is also close by in Donnelly and will probably be even less crowded!
Check out the food trucks, bonfires & music
Each night there's live music, food trucks, and a bonfire by the water. Check the schedule below, but it's super fun to listen to live music while you eat some good grub outside.
Go on a sleigh ride, tube, or fat bike at the Activity Barn
I've been to the Activity Barn to go tubing a few times and have been on a few sleigh rides in McCall to go see reindeer. Both are so much fun! I've also always wanted to try fat biking. Check out the Activity Barn for all of these fun adventures.
Take a dip at the local hot springs
There are a few hot springs around McCall, but some of the ones that you can actually pay to go to are Burgdorf and Gold Fork. Gold Fork gets really crowded during this time of year, so just be conscious of this. If you're more adventurous you can rent snowmobiles at "Cheap Thrills" Rentals and take them into Burgdorf Hot Springs. Remember to be respectful of these hot springs and don't trash them! Idahoans take their hot springs really seriously. 🙂
Have a night out on the town
The winter carnival brings out all sorts of wild and fun crowds! Head over to Foresters or The Yacht Club for some crazy times. One of them usually throws a party on this weekend, so look out for that and a potential cover charge.
When Is McCall Winter Carnival 2023?
This year the McCall Winter Carnival kicks off from January 27 – February 5, 2023. The 2023 theme is going to be Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales!
McCall Winter Festival Schedule
You can view the full schedule of the Winter Carnival here or even download the PDF. But here are some of the events you can expect during the 2023 winter festival!
During the first weekend, there will be a ton of exciting events. The first night will offer a Local Snow Sculpture Contest, fireworks over Payette Lake, a vendor court & beer garden paired with live music on the Main Stage
On Saturday, a pancake breakfast will kick off the morning followed by a Mardi Gras Parade at noon. Later you can enjoy the Flashpoint Snowbike Race before watching the Alpine Playhouse Theater Production.
Then when Sunday rolls around, watch the McPAWS Monster Dog Sled Pull before trying out Snowshoe Golf!
During The Week
During the week you can view the Idaho Dog Sled Challenge prior to indulging in a Chef Collaborative Dinner or even a Wine Dinner. Each day will bring different happy hour and food specials for you to enjoy.
Don’t forget to check out the Idaho State Snow Sculpting Championships for new entries!
During the second weekend of the festival, the Idaho State Snow Sculpting Championship Winners are awarded. You can also get a seat at the McCall Starz on Ice and attend the Children’s Torchlight Parade.
If snowmobiling is your thing, stick around for the second Saturday which will have a McCall Area Snowmobilers Fun Run. Then support all of the local Idaho talents at the Local Talent Showcase on the Main Stage
There will be Live Music on the Main Stage and a Vendor Court & Beer Garden during most of the days. So relax and grab a beer while enjoying some music from local artists. Stay tuned for their schedule of art auctions too. It is a fun way to bring back a souvenir from McCall, Idaho.
EAT & DRINK
Keep in mind that a lot of these places might be busy, so if you can get reservations, try doing that!
The CutWater @ ShoreLodge - I love eating here for lunch. It's so peaceful and has a view of the water, plus their food is amazing.
My Father's Place - Go here for the perfect down-home burger, fries, and a shake. Don't forget to get fry sauce!
Stax - This is a great spot to grab an awesome sandwich and soup.
Salmon River Brewing - Need a liquid lunch? Come here for a beer flight and great pub food.
Bistro 45 - This is a great spot in the summertime because of its outdoor area and bocce ball. I haven't been here in the winter, but their food is great.
Frenchies on 3rd - This is a newer Creole/Cajun restaurant that serves lunch and dinner. Try a po-boy!
Steamers - This is a popular spot for steak and seafood in town.
The Sushi Bar - I haven't been here yet because every time I go the wait is over an hour! People love this place which is surprising because it's sushi in a mountain town, but there's something good about it!
Ragazza Di Lago - This is a newer spot by a chef that's opening up multiple locations in Idaho because people just love his food. It's right on the water and in the perfect location for dinner!
I hope you have a fun time at the McCall Winter Carnival! Let me know if you've discovered any other really fun activities to do there in the comments below!
12 Things to Do in Boise Idaho Winter
Cascade Idaho: The Ultimate 3-Day Winter Itinerary
10 Best Winter Activities in Sun Valley Idaho
Idaho City: A Fun Day Trip from Boise
What to Wear for a Trip to Idaho
12 Best Places to Visit in Idaho
The Ultimate Girls Weekend in McCall, Idaho
Stunning pictures! The food and sculptures look great.
Aww thank you!!
Hi , what is the best hot spring in mc call?
One of the best well known ones is Goldfork!