In the heart of the Treasure Valley, about 20 miles west of Boise, Nampa is a city that mixes small-town charm with the attractions and amenities of a major urban area.
One headline is the Ford Idaho Center, staging big-time events all year, from concerts by top recording artists to one of America’s top 12 rodeos.
For Epicureans, Nampa sits on the east side of the Snake River Valley, the core of Idaho’s burgeoning wine industry. More than 50 wineries are in Nampa’s orbit, and we’ll cover a few of the establishments within a few minutes of downtown.
Meanwhile Boise and Meridian are minutes away, putting family attractions, historical sites, major landmarks and museums at your fingertips.
1. Warhawk Air Museum
In a large hangar at Nampa Municipal Airport on the east side of the city is an excellent museum recounting the history of air combat.
The Warhawk Air Museum touches on WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the aviation technology of the Cold War.
A beautifully presented fleet of aircraft awaits you, counting a Fokker DR-1, a MiG-17, a MiG-21, a P-40E Kittyhawk, a P-51C Mustang, an F-84G Thunderjet and an F-104 Starfighter.
The showstopper may be the Curtiss P-40N Warhawk, restored to flying condition in the 1980s and appearing in the movie Pearl Harbor (2001).
Display cases brim with fascinating memorabilia, and there are binders with interesting personal accounts and preserved documents. Guided tours are available and often given by former servicemen.
2. Canyon County Historical Nampa Train Depot Museum
The palatial Nampa Depot is a preserved former passenger station, built in 1903 on the Oregon Short Line Railroad.
It’s a fine Eclectic building, combining Romanesque and Renaissance details, but predominantly neo-Baroque.
This served as a station until 1927, becoming offices for railroad employees, and then headquarters for the Canyon County Historical Society in 1973 after the organization campaigned against the depot’s demolition.
The society is staffed 100% by volunteers, and the museum, open mainly on weekends, is a treasure trove, filled with railroad artifacts and absorbing details about many aspects of Nampa’s past, from local businesses to Native American culture.
A few of the many curiosities include the first TV set in Nampa, 19th-century mustache cups and antique typewriters, while children will love playing with the miniature train set.
3. Lake Lowell
Forming Nampa’s western boundary is an expansive water reservoir, dammed in 1908 to provide irrigation to farms in Canyon County.
Lake Lowell is one of the largest off-stream reservoirs in the Northwest, but is also a key breeding area for a variety of mammals and birds, and so is encircled by the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
You can visit the shore at a few locations, and the most convenient to Nampa is the 20-acre Lake Lowell Park.
On offer here are activities like swimming, boating, birdwatching, hiking, fishing and hunting, and there are facilities for picnics, barbecues and disc golf.
Much of the lake is set aside for migrating wildlife, but boating is allowed within 200 yards of the upper and lower dams between mid-April and the end of September.
The Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is close by and has interpretive displays, a wildlife viewing area and hands-on activities for kids.
4. Ford Idaho Center
One asset that brings a lot of visitors to Nampa is this massive complex of sports and entertainment venues in the northeast of the city.
Established in the mid-1990s, the Ford Idaho Center is the largest facility of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, comprising the 12,279-capacity Ford Arena for a slew of major concerts and sports events, along with the 10,500-capacity Ford Amphitheater, which has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, Shania Twain and James Taylor.
Added to these are the Ford Theater and the 110-acre Horse Park, the leading horse facility in the Northwest.
This brings us to the biggest event on the center’s calendar: The Snake River Stampede rodeo goes down during the third week of July and takes its place among the top 12 rodeos recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
There’s a lot going on both in Nampa and at the Ford Idaho Center during these five days, from parades to rope & run to mutton busting and a Miss Rodeo Idaho Competition.
5. Nampa Farmers’ Market
Setting up on Saturday mornings, April to October, rain or shine, the Nampa Farmers’ Market has been running for more than three decades.
This Nampa institution brings an added bustle to the Historic Downtown and over time has grown to average 60 to 70 vendors every week.
There’s always an inviting selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as specialty foods like organic herbs, local honey, jams, chocolate truffles and freshly roasted coffee.
The market also has a contingent of craft vendors, weekly live entertainment and a range of ready to eat food, like Hawaiian-style shave ice, Tex Mex or gourmet hot dogs.
6. Lakeview Park
The oldest park in Nampa covers 44 acres on what used to be a homestead dating back to 1888.
This is the origin of the name, which refers to a man-made reservoir that used to be on the property.
The lake is long gone, but the name remains, along with the creek that fed it. As well as beautiful mature trees, a rose garden and ample, lush lawns, there’s a ton of facilities at Lakeview Park.
To name a few, you’ve got areas for baseball/softball, soccer, basketball, as well as a pool, bike trail, horseshoe pits, picnic shelters, a duck pond, volleyball court and amphitheater.
The pool, which has beach entry, is suited to smaller swimmers and complemented by lots of splash pad water features.
7. Vizcaya Winery
The closest of all the wineries in the region is a mere ten minutes from downtown Nampa on Greenhurst Road.
The vintners started out in 2004, growing grapes for other wineries at their Windy Ridge and Vizcaya vineyards in Meridian and Kuna, before starting to produce their own wine.
You can try these at their tasting room close to Nampa, open Fridays and Saturdays. Vizcaya is famed for its superb Tempranillo, which has won multiple regional and national awards (Idaho Wine Competition, Wine Business Monthly) in the last decade.
Also well worth a sip are the Malbec, Rosé, Albariño, Pinot Gris and red blend, Windy Ridge Red.
8. Roaring Springs Water Park
The biggest waterpark in the Northwest is only ten miles (15 minutes) east of downtown Nampa, in neighboring Meridian.
Roaring Springs boasts more than 20 attractions, with plenty for parents, thrill-seeking teens and the smallest members of family to love.
For high-speed fun you’ve got the two-person bowl ride, Viper’s Vortex, the vertiginous Cliffhanger, and Corkscrew Cavern, the Northwest’s first 360° looping waterslide.
There are many gentler options suited to younger children, like the tube slide Kiddie Kowabunga, the many smaller slides and play features at Bearfoot Bay and the gentle, shallow waters of Leisure Lagoon.
Families seeking a little extra luxury can rent a cabana, complete with comfortable pool furniture, hand-delivered food and drinks and free Wi-Fi. .
9. Wahooz Family Fun Zone
For a fun combo, you can head to this family activity center right next door to Roaring Springs and linked by a walkway.
Ideal for those sweltering summer days, Wahooz Family Fun Zone is loaded with indoor attractions like high-tech amusement rides, laser tag, a laser maze, an 80-game arcade, clip ‘n climb, ropes course, multi-level indoor playground, 24 lanes of bowling bumper cars and more.
Outside you’ve got two 18-hole mini golf courses, open all year, as well as go-karts for different ages, batting cages and bumper boats.
10. Sawtooth Winery
Out in 70 acres of scenic country, ten miles west of Nampa, just past Lake Lowell, is one of the premier wineries in the Snake River Valley.
Sawtooth Winery was established in 1987, when the Pintler family realized the wine-growing potential of their steep, south-facing pastures.
The high elevation, at 2,700-feet, long daylight hours and cool summer evenings, are ideal for sophisticated, aromatic wines.
Varietals like Merlot, Pinot Gris and Tempranillo have helped make a name for Sawtooth, while their Riesling and Merlot have won multiple awards.
You can sample these creations at the boutique tasting room, with dreamy views of the Owyhee Mountains from the vineyard.
11. Wilson Springs Ponds
There’s a lovely parcel of nature in the south of Nampa, covering 55 acres and made up of a chain of ponds on what used to be marshy pasture for livestock.
The land was bought by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in 1989 and was slowly given over to nature, now serving as a peaceful place to go for a walk and a much-loved urban fishing area.
You’ll find four ponds, encompassing 25 acres, fed by springs and providing a vital resting spot for migratory ducks and geese.
As for fish, largemouth bass, bluegill and trout, shelter in the deeper, shaded parts and come up to the shallows to feed. If you have a valid permit or license you can fish at the South Pond, which has a little dock.
12. Indian Creek Winery
You can continue your Idaho wine experience at Indian Creek Winery, roughly between Nampa and Kuna, with 40 years of winemaking knowhow.
Now in its second generation, Indian Creek has gained plenty of recognition both for the quality of its wines, and as a great place to taste them.
The winery is in five acres of gardens, where hundreds of dahlias bloom in summer. Indian Creek’s most cherished wines include a Pinot Noir, White Pinto, Viognier, Star Garnet, Mountain Syringa and Dry Rosé.
There’s also a choice of small-lot wines, among them a Chardonnay, Merlot, Moscato, Cabernet and a Port. Come for a tour, flight board and one of the many events taking place throughout the year.
13. Nampa Dog Park
Opened in 2009, this fully-fenced dog park attracts dog owners from miles around and is a valuable resource for anyone who needs to exercise their pup off-leash.
If you’re in town with your own four-legged companion you might be surprised by the quality and range of the facilities at Nampa Dog Park.
Just to summarize, there’s a swimming pond, shade shelters, walking trails named after dog breeds, lots of trees, drinking fountains (for dogs and humans), lots of seating and designated areas for large dogs and small/senior dogs.
14. RedHawk Public Golf Course
Nampa’s local public course could not have a prettier location, right on the shore of Lake Lowell, with the Owyhee Mountains ever-present in the distance.
The 18-hole course was landscaped as recently as 2014 and poses a rewarding challenge with its rolling fairways and smooth, fast greens.
And if you need to polish your game, the practice facilities are high-class, with a driving range, putting green and practice bunkers.
Green fees are affordable, with no difference between weekend or weekday rounds, as well as twilight discounts for rounds beginning after 3pm.
If you’re up for more, the highly-rated Ridgecrest Golf Club (27 holes) and Centennial Golf Course (18 holes) are also located in Nampa.
15. Bogus Basin
In winter there’s a ski resort within an hour of Nampa, at Bogus Basin, which lies just over 30 miles away to the northeast.
You’ll get there up a winding mountain road, leading you into the Boise Range right from the state capital.
Bogus Basin is unusual for a number of reasons, one of the biggest being that it’s run by a non-profit, putting all of the proceeds back into the facilities and the wider community.
Despite being very accessible from the Treasure Valley, there’s an extensive skiable area, covering 2,600 acres, with 91 named runs served by 11 lifts, making it the second-largest in the state.
The season normally runs from Thanksgiving to mid-April, and when summer comes around activities like hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and river tubing are in store.