Half an hour west of Boise, Caldwell is a former frontier town on a natural corridor that allowed passage to the Pacific Northwest long before settlement in the 19th century.
With fertile volcanic soils, and rolling, sun-baked slopes, the landscapes all around Caldwell are given over to agriculture.
For visitors it’s an agritourism paradise, with a designated “AgVenture” trail linking ethical, family-run farms happy to show visitors around.
Caldwell can be your first step on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, with more than a dozen wineries in the Snake River Valley AVA welcoming guests for tastings and purchases.
Back in town, Caldwell’s center has been transformed since the 2010s, with a sociable plaza, framed by elegant restaurants and the glistening waters of a creek once buried beneath the city.
1. Indian Creek Plaza
Over the last 20 years, something special has taken place in downtown Caldwell. The seeds were sown in the early-2000s, when the bubbling Indian Creek was brought to light after decades buried under the city.
This picture perfect water feature, with green, landscaped banks, adds natural splendor to the heart of the city, and before long was accompanied by Indian Creek Plaza.
The latter, an urban renewal project, took shape throughout the 2010s, giving rise to a “living room”, where residents and visitors can gather, unwind and play.
The Plaza has a raft of inviting restaurants and independent businesses on its margins, and schedules exciting events and experiences, from summer festivals to the unique skating ribbon in winter.
In summer, Tuesday evenings are a treat, when you can browse the farmers’ market but also catch some live music as part of the Summer Concert Series.
2. Sunnyslope Wine Trail
The Snake River Valley gained AVA status in 2007, but the local wine industry, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, has been around since the 1980s.
The scenic plains on the east bank of the river have a continental climate resembling European wine regions along the Danube, with loamy volcanic soils.
The great news is that as many as 17 wineries and vineyards in the AVA sit within Caldwell’s boundaries, most offering friendly and enlightening tasting experiences, or enticing wine-paired meals with a farm-to-table philosophy.
Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Tempranillo are some of the varietals that produce sophisticated wines in this region.
In early August Indian Creek Plaza hosts the Sunnyslope Wine Trail festival, an extravaganza of great wine, delicious local food and live music.
3. Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge
In the south of Caldwell is an enormous sheet of water, created as a reservoir for agriculture in the early-20th century.
This is Lake Lowell, and no sooner was the Boise River impounded, Theodore Roosevelt announced a national bird refuge on the site in 1909.
The Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, couched in undulating sagebrush-covered hills, is not only an important breeding area for local mammals and birds, but is also a stop on the Pacific Flyway, receiving thousands of Canada geese and mallards during their migrations in fall and spring.
The refuge is open to visitors for hiking, fishing and hunting, and in summer you could make the short trip to Lake Lowell Park on the Nampa shoreline to swim, use the boat ramp, hike the trails, take picnics and test your skills on the disc golf course.
4. Lakeview Fruit
The local go-to for super fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, Lakeview Fruit is within walking distance of the Lake Lowell shore and open all summer long.
This fruit stand used to be a gas station in the 1930s and 40s, before finding its new role in the 1970s.
Lakeview Fruit grows almost all of the fruit that it sells, none of which has traveled more than a few miles to get here.
Depending on when you come you’ll find plums, nectarines, apples, as well as sweet corn, carrots, beets, summer squash, peppers and tomatoes.
But what pulls in the crowds are the peaches, which thrive in the local soils and sweeten up thanks to the Idaho heat. You can also pick up homemade pies, honey, milk, cheeses and delicious ice cream.
5. Babby Farms
A summer rural attraction in Caldwell that children will adore, Babby Farms is a small zoo, keeping more than 150 animals.
The zoo is run by a non-profit organization that provides animal experiences for children and adults with disabilities, but is also open to the public for a small fee.
This started out as a simple petting zoo on a working farm, but has grown into a full-fledged animal attraction, with creatures as diverse as lemurs, zebras, several monkey species, anteaters, camels, alpacas, otters, turtles, sloths and kangaroos.
And in the spirit of a petting zoo, there’s still a lot of interaction, with baby goats, sheep and kangaroo joeys.
6. Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History
This museum on the College of Idaho campus is a crucial educational resource for a region that extends beyond southwestern Oregon, into Oregon and Nevada.
You’ll find it in the basement of Boone Hall, entering a repository of specimens for archaeology, entomology, ornithology, invertebrates, molluscs, gems & minerals, Egyptology and fossils, all labelled and accompanied by interpretive info.
The College of Idaho has conducted extensive research in the Mexican state of Baja California, so there’s an impressive array of insect specimens from this part of the world.
Other standout collections cover Native American ethnography, modern Idaho fish, artifacts from Ancient Egypt and Rome and paleontology.
7. Our Memories Indian Creek Museum
In 2006 the Canyon County Historical Society took up stewardship of this former medical office, dating back to the 1950s.
In the former labs and examination rooms are some 30 exhibits charting the history of Caldwell across 140+ years.
On a tour with an enthusiastic volunteer guide you’ll get a peek into the lives of Caldwell’s residents over time.
You’ll see suffragist campaign sashes, signs from long-gone businesses, lots of photography, some remarkable old tools and appliances, documents of all descriptions, military uniforms, lots of antique medical equipment and the interiors of a mid-century beauty salon and early-20th century home.
8. Ste. Chapelle Winery
A linchpin on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, the pioneering Ste. Chapelle has been here since the mid-1970s and has the leading winery in the state by production and sales volume.
Commanding rows of vines, the tasting room is inspired by the eponymous 13th-century Gothic chapel in Paris, complete with vaulting ceilings and pointed arch windows.
The tasting room is open daily and has beautiful panoramas from the deck. Ste. Chapelle produces Chardonnay, Sauivgnon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and more, but is famed for its high-quality Riesling, also making a sweet late-harvest variety.
9. Sawtooth Winery
In the mid-1980s the Pintler family recognized the wine-growing potential of their steep, south-facing pastures.
In the intervening years Sawtooth has become the most significant grower in the Snake River Valley, with almost 500 acres at two locations, cultivating Riesling, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Gris and more for its own winery and for acclaimed winemakers across Idaho.
You can visit the boutique winery at the 70-acre Sawtooth Estate, just past the west shore of Lake Lowell and with lovely views of the Owyhee Mountains.
Publications like Wine & Spirits and Wine Enthusiast have lauded Sawtooth’s Riesling and Syrah, and these go great with the hilltop views.
10. Fujishin Family Cellars
Established in 2009, this winery less than ten miles from downtown Caldwell sources its grapes from vineyard partners only based in the Snake River Valley AVA.
Fujishin Family Cellars has also planted its own estate vineyard, further west in Wilder, growing Syrah as well as Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Tannat and Barbera going forward.
There’s an assortment of reds and whites on the menu, including a fruity Merlot, dry Riesling, spicy Mourvèdre, crisp Albariño, a sweet late harvest Riesling and the flagship Amatino blend, which has blueberry, violet and spicy notes.
In the busy fall season, make a reservation for an unpretentious but informative tasting, paired with snacks.
11. Little Cow Mountain Farm
Around ten miles onto the plains north of Caldwell you’ll come to Little Cow Mountain Farm, raising pastured livestock in scenic country.
Little Cow Mountain Farm specializes in American Aberdeen Angus Cattle and poultry broilers, both of which are grass raised and have a high quality of life, benefiting from a lot of space and sunshine.
The farm is a local magnet for agritourism, opening its doors to give you an idea of its operation on a 90-minute tour.
Depending on the season you can also visit the shop for products like eggs and high quality cuts of meat, as well as homemade pastries, pies, breads jams and homegrown fruit and nuts.
12. Lovely Hollow Farm
Also on Caldwell’s “AgVenture trail” is this delightful U-Pick flower farm, welcoming the public July through October.
At Lovely Hollow Farm you’ll be armed with a bucket and can make your way through the blooms, taking in the idyllic scene while choosing your favorites to take home.
The farm is well-known for its stunning dahlias, which cost a little more to pick, and you can come for pumpkins at the end of the season.
Most of the fun is wading through the fields, with blooms reaching waist height and taking photos that would make a pro proud.
13. Whittenberger Planetarium
On the College of Idaho campus at Boone Hall is a science facility that has served the public for more than half a century.
The Whittenberger Planetarium has space for an audience of 50, beneath a dome 24 feet in diameter.
Here you can view projections of the sun, moon, several deep space objects, the northern and some southern constellations, as well as the planets visible to the naked eye.
The planetarium doesn’t have a fixed schedule, but opens regularly for important events in the stargazing calendar like the equinoxes and solstices, and for special themed evenings.
14. Winter Wonderland
Caldwell really gets into the festive spirit during the holiday season, putting up more than a million lights on buildings, trees and bridges around the city.
This lasts from the weekend before Thanksgiving to the first week of January, and a lot of the fun centers on Indian Creek Plaza.
In one corner is a massive singing Christmas tree, while November through February the plaza is home to Idaho’s only ice ribbon, a meandering circuit that is especially pretty illuminated in the evening.
Afterwards you can warm up with a cup of hot chocolate and go on a horse-drawn carriage ride, while children can meet Santa. Winter Wonderland gets underway with a kick-off market, with food trucks and vendors of all kinds.
15. Indian Creek Festival
This annual celebration was launched in 2003 when the first stretch of Indian Creek was uncovered after many years underground as a sewage conduit.
Falling in mid-September, the Indian Creek Festival takes over several blocks of downtown Caldwell across two days.
On the agenda for this packed event is a car show, car cruise, market, a chalk art contest, dog fashion show, dance performances and live music.
The most anticipated, and certainly the wackiest, event is a cardboard kayak contest on the creek, in which teams build impromptu vessels out of nothing more than duct tape and cardboard.