At the western end of the Treasure Valley, Payette is a city by the confluence of the Payette and Snake Rivers.
The Snake River also serves as a state line here, and on the opposite bank is Ontario, the easternmost town in Oregon.
This area is steeped in the history of the Oregon Trail, and Payette itself is named after one Francois Payette (1793-c. 1855), a fur trader who spent much of his life on trapping expeditions in the Northwest.
On the Oregon side of the river you can visit several places with wagon ruts and even a building surviving from the days when hundreds of thousands of people passed through on their long journey west.
1. Kiwanis Park
Payette’s most visited park is at the southern end of Main Street on the edge of downtown. Something you’ll notice right away is the bandshell, staging all sorts of outdoor events in the summer.
One is the Payette Apple Blossom Festival in mid-May, with free concerts here and at Central Park, as well as a parade and one of the largest carnivals in the region.
Also at Kiwanis Park is a superb skate park, which was built with the material and a lot of man hours donated by the community.
Another big draw is Payette’s public pool, which we’ll talk about a little later in this list.
2. Four Rivers Cultural Center & Museum
Something interesting about the neighboring city of Ontario is its Japanese American community, harking back to when the city opened its arms to Japanese American workers during WWII.
Initially conceived as a Japanese cultural center, the Four Rivers Cultural Center & Museum comprises a gallery, event & conference center, diorama museum, newly revamped theatre stage and a Japanese garden.
A word first on the museum, which is dedicated to the social history of the region, and tracking the settlement patterns of the Northern Paiute people, as well as Hispanic, Basque, Japanese and Euro-American immigrants.
Outside, Hikaru Mizu is the only Japanese garden within 400 miles. Sitting in 1.3 acres, this was laid out in memory of the Japanese Americans who lost their freedom during internment in WWII.
The photography-oriented Harano Gallery is also well worth your time and has displayed work by the likes of Dorothea Lange.
3. Payette County Museum
The museum for the Payette County Historical Society has a beautiful setting, in the Gothic Revival Methodist Episcopal Church, completed in 1904.
As well as showing off some lovely church fixtures like stained glass windows, the museum has extensive collections of historic clothing, hand fans, home appliances, toys, agricultural equipment, tools and much more besides.
One compelling detail is a Confederate Civil War cannon, cast in bronze in 1861 and purchased by the city after a fundraising campaign in 1912.
Also on the darker side of Payette’s past is an authentic KKK costume, evoking a gathering that took place in the city in the early 20th century.
This is displayed not as a point of pride but as something unflattering not to be shied away from.
4. Centennial Park
The main launch point In Payette for recreation on the Snake River is this waterfront park that was laid out in 1991 to coincide with the city’s hundredth anniversary.
The boat ramp/dock is at the west end, by the parking area and RV dump. Further east, towards the bridge, the riverfront is furnished with a row of picnic tables.
Cut in and there’s a football field, as well as open green spaces dotted for trees for a short, relaxing stroll.
5. Scotch Pines Golf Course
Out in the rolling hills northeast of Payette is an excellent 18-hole public course that was landscaped in the early 1960s.
Depending on the weather you can play golf at Scotch Pines all year round, and there are tees to suit all ability and experience levels.
The course and greens are always in great condition, and have forgiving layouts, except for the tricky doglegs at the third and thirteenth holes.
You can get warmed up at the practice bunker, putting green and driving range, while the Pine Room Bar & Grill has burgers, wraps, sandwiches and more, for a satisfying post-round bite.
6. Payette Municipal Swimming Pool
A real strong point for Payette is this newly renovated community pool complex in Kiwanis Park. There are three pools here, two of which are open-air and one inside that is used all year round.
The outdoor area consists of one wading pool for smaller children and a full-sized pool. That third, indoor pool is in a temporary building, with walls that can be removed in warmer weather.
All summer long there’s a busy activity calendar, with water aerobics classes and lessons, while the jacuzzi is a popular new addition.
7. Weiser River National Recreation Trail
Nearby Weiser is the southern trailhead for an 84-mile trail that runs all the way to New Meadows in Adams County.
This follows the railbed of a former stretch of the Union Pacific Railroad, and is Idaho’s longest rail trail.
The route follows the course of the Weiser River, with the namesake town located at the river’s confluence with the Snake River.
On the way, the trail, open to hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, leads through an ever-changing array of landscapes, from desert canyons to alpine meadows and coniferous forests.
You’ll cross historic trestle bridges, savor glorious fields of wildflowers in spring and see charming farmhouses, barns and quaint old town centers.
And as for wildlife, you may happen upon great blue herons, turkeys, coyotes and elk, but also wolves, bears and maybe even a mountain lion.
8. Payette River Greenbelt
Centennial Park is also the start of a short but well maintained riverfront walk. You’ll begin on the Snake River, heading west to the mouth of the Payette River before turning south.
The greenbelt is designed for pedestrians and cyclists and has a few spots where you can pause and admire the scenery.
The land here on the west side of the city center is mostly undeveloped and, when we wrote this article, plans were afoot to allow even more access to the riverfront and extend the trail down to Kiwanis Park.
As it is, the trail concludes just past a popular fishing pond stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and rainbow trout.
9. Farewell Bend State Recreation Area
On the Oregon bank of the Snake River, about 20 miles northwest of Payette you can get a taste of the high desert and the Oregon Trail.
There are historical markers and interpretive boards throughout the park recalling the site’s role in emigration some 170 years ago.
Pioneers would take a rest here before departing the Snake River for the last time, having traced the valley for hundreds of miles.
Aside from interesting historical details there are plenty of activities available at Farewell Bend, like swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing on the river’s Brownlee Reservoir, and horseshoes, basketball and volleyball on land.
You can take a picnic on the lush grass by the river and, for an authentic pioneer experience, you can spend the night in a genuine covered wagon or Native American tepee.
10. Keeney Pass Interpretive Site
After departing the Snake River the first stop in Oregon along the Oregon Trail was this spot, around 30 miles southwest of Payette.
Keeney Pass was named for the pioneer Jonathan Keeney who spent a career trapping and trading in this region for the American Fur Company from the early 1830s.
This is one of numerous places along the route of the Oregon Trail where you can still see the ruts left by thousands of wagons more than 170 years ago.
There’s a walking loop two thirds of a mile long, accompanied by fascinating details about life on the trail and the native peoples of the area.
11. Stone House Museum
In the town of Vale, close to the Keeney Pass you can visit the Rinehart Stone House (1872), the first permanent building in Malheur County.
Constructed from rustic sandstone blocks, this sits on the course of the Oregon Trail and replaced an earlier log building raised by Jonathan Keeney.
For decades tired travelers would rest at this building, and in 1878 this served as a makeshift defence during the short-lived Bannock War.
The Stone House is open from the start of March to the end of October and has a helping of artifacts and accounts relating to the Oregon Trail.
12. Ontario State Recreation Area
There’s a lovely place to relax by the Snake River, a little way downstream in Ontario on the Oregon bank.
Tracing the riverbank for almost a mile, this state recreation area faces a chain of little islands in the river. On the bank are big parcels of green space, shaded by junipers, sumac and cottonwood trees.
These are extremely pretty during the fall months and offer ample cover for picnics in summer.
The park also shines for its nature spotting opportunities, with Canada geese, great blue heron and river otters commonly sighted, while if you come at dawn you may see herds of deer grazing on the river islands.
13. Babby Farms
Open in the spring and summer, this exotic petting zoo is little more than 20 minutes southeast of Payette.
Babby Farms is managed by a non-profit organization enabling children and adults with disabilities to interact with animals.
For this reason, many of the animals on the farm have been hand-raised to ensure tameness. A few of the many residents include zebras, alpacas, sloths, lemurs, kangaroos, anteaters, ponies, donkeys and yaks.
You can purchase feed for many of these animals, and there’s a gift shop selling lots of cute things to raise money for the charity.
14. Payette County Fair
The fairgrounds for Payette County are a short way up the Payette River in New Plymouth. The big event usually takes place across four days in early August, and has something for all ages to enjoy.
Of course, there are classic livestock and crop displays, demonstrations and competitions but there is also live music, dance performances, raffles, old-time amusements and quirky fun like a stick horse race, duck race, siphon tube contest and a pet parade.
The curtain falls on the County Fair on the Saturday night with an end of fair dance that finishes at 11 pm.
15. Cruise Night and Car Show
A Payette institution, this classic car event has been going for more than 30 years and takes over the lots around A&W on South Main Street at the start of September.
Organized by Rods of Idaho and Oregon, the Cruise Night and Car Show is a two-day event bringing an armada of hot rods and motorcycles from across both states.
On Friday you can catch a cruise along Main Street. And then on the Saturday there’s a “Show & Shine”, with awards and trophies in more than 70 categories, as well as a swap meet that continues all day long.