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Boise, Idaho
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Where to Live and Play: Boise or Bust!
Welcome to Boise, Idaho, the last great place in the American West—where housing remains affordable, Western culture still thrives, and access to the nation's wildest state begins within city limits.  
Text by Dan Koeppel   Photograph by Woods Wheatcroft

Photo: Climber in Boise, Idaho
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL CLIMB: Bouldering off the Rock Island Trail, above Boise's new Boulder Heights subdivision.

It's not because Boise is situated perfectly between Idaho's Rocky Mountains and the vast Great Basin deserts that stretch northward from Nevada. Nor is it that three rivers converge near here: the Boise, the Payette, and the Snake. It's not that the Boise area includes some of the country's best mountain biking trails, or that deep powder and steeply pitched rock are less than 20 minutes from downtown restaurants and coffeehouses. These things alone would beckon pilgrims, like me, in search of urban-outdoor nirvana.

Adventure Guide: Boise, Idaho  |  30 More Towns Perfect For You

BOISE BY THE NUMBERS:

Population: 211,473  
 
Elevation: 2,842 feet (866 meters)  
 
Average Temperature:
Summer:71°F (22°C)
Winter: 32°F (0°C)   
 
Median Home Price:
$210,450
 
Median Household Income:
$38,112
 
Number of Roadless Acres in Idaho—the Most in the Lower 48:
17 million
 
Relocation Information:
www.boisechamber.org 
    

But at the moment, on this Saturday afternoon in May—it is bright and sunny and temperatures have risen into the 80s—the thing that turns Boise into my kind of paradise is a grizzly-bearded surfer named Lakota Burwell. Burwell is on his board in the Boise River near the bottom of 36th Street, a few blocks from the bus station, the Idaho State Capitol, and the world's largest french fry factory. He's on his belly, drifting downstream past a half dozen kayakers who sit along the riverbank and watch as he goes by. Burwell is headed toward what locals call the 36th Street Wave, a once-a-decade phenomenon that occurs when the winter snow has been thick and an early patch of summer weather causes flash melting in the Boise Mountains. With all this flow, the river tears through town, changing from a family-friendly meander into the natural equivalent of a machine-generated rip curl at a water park. At 36th Street, it creates a four-foot-tall (1-meter) standing wave—a perpetual motion machine that rolls over onto itself, churning and looping.

When the wave is running, local kayakers congregate at 36th Street, maneuvering into the watery halfpipe to perform flips and spins; as the crowd grows, a time limit of two minutes is enforced. But few kayakers succeed at staying on the wave for their allotted time. I've been watching from the south bank as paddler after paddler has moved into the foam and caught the wave, only to be shot out into calm water with as little as a second or two of coveted hang time. For the past ten minutes, though, the line has been halted. Everyone is waiting for Burwell.

Map: Boise, Idaho

On his first attempt, he drifts back into the wave but misses the high spot and is ejected instantly. On his second try, he manages to hold himself in place for half a minute, but the moment he tries to stand, he's bucked off.

One more try. This time, Burwell holds himself in the current, his board lifting in place as the wave rolls onto itself. Two minutes pass, and then he vaults and stands. The board sets into the wave and stays there. It isn't one of those huge, picturesque overheads, but the current is moving as hard and fast as any shoreline break. It takes pure strength for Burwell to stay upright. Ten . . . 20 . . . 30 seconds: He's out.

Just half a minute. But it is enough. The paddlers, along with a dozen bike riders and joggers who've stopped to watch, burst into applause. Here, in the most remote urban area in the United States, with the nearest ocean more than 500 miles (805 kilometers) away, a surfer caught and rode a wave.

I want to talk with Burwell, but he's on the other side of the river. So I jump into a truck belonging to my buddy Roger Phillips, an outdoor writer for the local Idaho Statesman newspaper, and we head a few blocks west to the Veterans Memorial Centennial Bridge. For the past several days, I've been testing out Boise with Roger and other friends, meeting paddlers and mountain bikers, rock climbers and trail runners, and discovering what might just be the largest concentration of within-city-limits outdoor activity in the U.S.

Telling people that you're thinking about moving to Boise can be a surprising conversation starter. Everyone assumes that there's plenty to do outdoorswise, but the perceived redneck factor is unavoidable. Suggest the town to someone who's been dreaming of Asheville, Boulder, or Bend, and the notion of living in a place where, presumably, there will be no one to help with the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle produces this response: Boise? Idaho? Are you kidding?

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Adventure Guide: Boise, Idaho  |  30 More Towns Perfect For You

Map by Anthony Morse

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Adventure's September 2006 issue features 31 amazing adventure towns; chaos at the top of Mount Everest; an inside look at surfing California's Lost Coast; 11 fall weekend getaways near you; the best high-tech footwear, world class adventure travel; hiking the Alps, and more!




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