There’s something about a lazy day at the beach that makes all your cares drift away. Whether it’s a picture-perfect sunset you’re in search of, an impressive trout for dinner after a day of fishing, or old-fashioned family togetherness, whether by boat or land, escape the city and take a dip in one of Idaho’s plentiful lake escapes because when you're in Idaho, beaches, streams and springs are always closer than you may think.
Years ago, a ferry was needed to cross the Kootenai River but today; you can use the bridge when you visit Bonners Ferry just 25 miles from the Canadian border. Stroll through the quaint downtown area or cross the highway to try your luck at the Kootenai River Inn Casino, owned by the Kootenai Tribe. This lush valley — at only 1,800 feet in elevation — is where farmers grow wheat and oats along with barley and hops for brewing beer. Those of you looking for an amazing mountain biking or hiking experience will be thrilled to find over 300 miles of trails crossing the three mountain ranges that encircle the valley. Be sure to take a side trip (on Hwy 2) over the Moyie River Bridge to see the misty, 60 foot high Moyie Falls. Wildlife watchers and photographers will enjoy the renowned Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge just west of Bonners Ferry. Watch for elk, moose, deer, eagles, and numerous species of small mammals and birds. Don’t forget your field glasses and your camera!
Set on the northwestern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint is an artsy resort town with galleries, shops, and charming restaurants. The town’s coziness and picturesque lakeside setting makes it a perfect spot to stay while exploring the area. Begin at Lake Pend Oreille-one of the country’s largest natural lakes-with boat cruises, fishing, or fun on the beach. The lake is famous for giant Kamloops, a fresh water species of lake trout that can weigh in at 10 pounds. Sandpoint’s two most vibrant events are the Festival at Sandpoint, a celebration of music held in August, and the Sandpoint Winter Carnival held in January. Just north of town, high in the Selkirk Mountains, is the inland northwest’s premier ski resort, Schweitzer Mountain, a spot well worth a visit any time of year to take in the outstanding view of the lake below. Once the snow flies, Schweitzer becomes a winter paradise with 300 inches of powder on 92 runs. You can find lodging in nearby Sandpoint or on the mountain.
From Sandpoint, follow the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Scenic Byway (Hwy 2) to Priest River, and then turn north to arrive at Priest Lake. Here, you will find a world of dense evergreen forests carpeted with ferns and a pristine 25 mile long lake. This natural wonder is actually two lakes connected by a placid two mile river in the shadow of the Selkirk Mountains. If you’re looking for a place of quiet solitude, this is it. The western shore is dotted with rustic lodge retreats while the eastern shore has four different state park venues for camping. The lake is renowned for record Mackinaw and trophy Rainbow trout, and several fishing outfitters are available to lead you to their favorite spots. The scenic splendor and gentle terrain make Priest Lake a snowmobile paradise in the winter, a huckleberry and morel mushroom haven in the late spring, and a popular destination for wildlife viewing any time of year. Plus, there’s horseback riding, golfing, world class canoeing, and all water sports imaginable.
The largest city in northern Idaho, Coeur d’Alene, is a great base from which you can explore the entire region. Set on the north shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake, the city offers abundant activities including lake cruises, seaplane tours, Tubbs Hill hiking, rafting and kayaking excursions, and side trips to historic Wallace and Old Mission State Park, just to name a few. North of Coeur d’Alene is Silverwood, the northwest’s largest theme park and home to over 65 thrilling rides and attractions including four roller coasters. The Boulder Beach Water Park, a charming Victorian Main Street, and a 1915 era steam train add to the fun. Don’t forget your golf clubs-you might want to try your luck at the famous floating green at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course. In addition, there are four more acclaimed golf courses in the area plus many others open to public play. Northern Idaho farmers grow most of the nation’s Kentucky Bluegrass seed, so you can imagine the beauty of the city’s golf courses and lakefront parks. Lodging varies from charming bed & breakfast inns and tranquil RV parks, to the stunning Coeur d’Alene Resort-an 18 story luxury hotel set on elegantly landscaped grounds with an adjacent marina and boardwalk. Idaho’s finest restaurant, Beverly’s, features a splendid view of the lake from the seventh floor. Coeur d’Alene also has many other topnotch restaurants to satisfy even the most discerning appetites.
A river runs through it and makes a mighty roar. In Post Falls, on the Spokane River, Frederick Post secured a treaty with the local Coeur d’Alene Tribe in 1871 and built his town and sawmill. Today, the agreement inscribed in stone can still be seen at Treaty Rock, embedded in a local park. Post Falls is a great place to boat, take a leisurely river cruise, or view wildlife. The popular Q’Emlin Riverside Park invites you to swim, picnic, or launch your boat.
Fishing, A Way of Life
Fish abound in the giant lakes of northern Idaho, the intimate high mountain alpine lakes of central Idaho, the smooth valley reservoirs, and the 3,000 miles of winding rivers. Idaho-born steelhead trout and salmon make one of the longest spawning runs of any anadromous fish in the world. You can fish for steelhead in the swift waters of the Snake, Salmon, or Clearwater Rivers. If lake fishing is your passion, the big lakes in northern Idaho have giant Kamloops, Mackinaw, and monster Chinook. Native cutthroat trout have lived in Idaho waters for centuries and trout fishing is available across the state. Sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America, can be found in the Snake, Kootenai, and the Salmon Rivers. Experts call the Henry’s Fork in Eastern Idaho the “world’s premiere dry-fly fishing stream.” Writer Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Ketchum, loved Silver Creek near Picabo. Other excellent streams include the Teton River and the South Forks of the Snake and Boise Rivers.
Boating, Hit the Open Water
Idaho’s Silver Creek, the Henrys Fork, and the South Fork of the Snake are world renowned for their fly-fishing opportunities. Whether you hope to catch dinner or just catch and release, Idaho is the perfect place to relax on the water. Most state parks have docks, so bring the waterskis, jet skis and tubes, just don't forget the sunscreen.
Soak up the Springs
Developed hot springs are found throughout Southeast Idaho. The largest, Lava Hot Springs, a popular resort town southeast of Pocatello, was a sacred gathering place for the Bannock and Shoshone Indians. Today, it remains a popular spot for people from around the world seeking its soothing waters year-round. The odorless hot spring water is naturally filtered as it moves through four separate pools ranging in temperature from 104° to 110°. Downata Hot Springs, near Downey, offers pools, a water slide, driving range, mini-golf, and volleyball and basketball courts. Riverdale Resort and Maple Grove Hot Springs are both located near Preston, while Bear Lake Hot Springs is located near the shores of Bear Lake Soda Springs began as an oasis along the Oregon Trail. The only captive geyser in the world today, Soda Springs Geyser can be seen on the hour, year round, shooting gallons of sparkling water over 100 feet into the air. The Historic Enders Hotel is a great place to enjoy a meal and view the geyser.