Weekenders: The Heart of Coeur d’Alene

Idaho’s panhandle is an outdoor playground just waiting to be explored.

By Nina Fedrizzi

There is plenty that surprises about the little town of Coeur d’Alene, in northern Idaho, not the least of which is its very French name. Just a stone’s throw away from Spokane, Washington, and not far from the Montana border, this glittering lake town set among rugged spruce hills and former silver mines feels more Wild West boomtown than it does chalet village. With its relaxed, family-friendly vibe, it’s a wonderful place to get outside and test your true grit on everything from scenic hiking, biking and kayak routes to roller-coaster theme parks and towering plates of barbecue. Here are some of the most enjoyable ways to experience this little-known gem of the Pacific Northwest.

Crossroads Town

In 1886 the Northern Pacific Railway became the first to connect the small city of Coeur d’Alene—the name given to the area by passing French fur traders and meaning “the heart of an awl”—with an increasingly westward-moving country. By 1909, however, five transcontinental railroads crisscrossed the Idaho panhandle, exporting the region’s ore and lumber while bringing in adventure-seeking tourists eager to soak up the fresh air, natural beauty and bountiful fish and game. The introduction of the steamboat industry only heightened the public’s desire for access to Coeur d’Alene, and by 1910 more than 40 steam-powered vessels were carrying mail, freight and pleasure cruisers up and down Lake Coeur d’Alene and the surrounding rivers.

Today, rail and steam have mostly given way to rental cars and road-trippers. Coeur d’Alene is conveniently reached from Spokane International Airport by following Interstate 90, or from the town of Blanchard, Idaho, to the north. Once you’re on the grid, follow signs toward the city center and you’ll reach the Boardwalk Marina and the town’s famous Coeur d’Alene Resort. If you’re ready for some fresh air, lace up those hiking boots and stretch your legs at Tubbs Hill Nature Trail, an easy 2.2-mile loop skirting a 120-acre protected area, with postcard-worthy lake vistas at every bend in the path. For a longer option, the 3.3-mile Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail overlooking Beauty and Wolf Lodge Bays is just 11 miles east of downtown. Constructed in 1963 by the Bureau of Land Management, the route includes 22 markers describing the region’s native plants and wildlife. Among them: bald eagles, up to 150 of which migrate to the bays during the winter months in pursuit of spawning Kokanee salmon.

Back in town, lunch starts early at Drummin Up BBQ, an award-winning food truck featuring dry-rubbed beef and pork, slow smoked for 6 to 12 hours before being served with an array of delicious sides. If the kids are picky, head over to Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese, where chef Joe McCarthy (who cut his teeth at Aspen, Colorado’s five-star Little Nell hotel) whips up more than a dozen varieties of America’s favorite sandwich—from the gooey classic to global twists with barbacoa and pork-belly banh mi.

You can’t fully experience this area without spending some time on the azure Lake Coeur d’Alene, and ROW Adventures offers Kayak Coeur d’Alene, guided half-day departures along stretches of some 135 miles of shoreline. Along the way, break at Cougar Bay Preserve, where you can spot ospreys and blue herons while your guide describes the region’s Native American, pioneer and steamboat-era history.

Sherman Avenue, the city’s main artery, is another great place to work off your lunch, and even the kids won’t mind a stop at Mountain Madness Soap Co. Here they can pick out pastel-colored bath bombs at the 10-year-old farmers-market stand turned brick-and-mortar shop that sells natural soaps, body butters and sugar scrubs made downstairs. Farther along the road, the fun-to-say Figpickels Toy Emporium contains hands-on displays, classic board games, scooters, puzzles and crafts. When happy hour calls, there’s plenty of outdoor seating—and even a mister when it’s hot—at Daft Badger Brewing; it offers about 10 house-brewed beers on tap and a menu of hearty pub snacks for the kids.

Hit the Road

The Idaho panhandle’s mountains, rivers and man-made attractions cater to outdoor enthusiasts of every age and ability, and some of the most beautiful are located within a two-hour drive of Coeur d’Alene. Fuel up with a lavender-honey latte at Vault Coffee, which serves locally roasted Doma beans in a 1904 National Bank building. Next, consider paying a visit to nearby Wallace, a quaint mountain town and former silver-mining hub located 48 miles east on I-90. Used as a filming location for the 1997 volcano thriller Dante’s Peak, the town’s early-1900s saloon buildings and antique shops lining Bank Street make it feel as if you’ve traveled back in time to the Old West.

There’s still more fun to be had with ROW Adventures, and on its Spokane Whitewater Rafting excursion through the lower Spokane River Gorge in Riverside State Park, you can paddle gentler Class I through III rapids while passing ponderosa pines, basalt cliffs and the famous Bowl and Pitcher rock formations. A different kind of rush can be found at Silverwood Theme Park, the Pacific Northwest’s largest such attraction, with more than 70 rides, waterslides, magic shows and more. Younger children—or adults in search of something a bit more tame—might prefer the family-owned Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch. Located just 20 minutes from downtown Coeur d’Alene, Seven Stars lets touring visitors experience a taste of ranch life alongside its friendly four-legged residents, including dogs, horses, goats and, of course, alpacas.

Finally, avid pedalers will appreciate the Route of the Hiawatha, on the Idaho-Montana border. This cycling path, along a scenic former railroad route through the Bitterroot Mountains, is ideal for enthusiasts young and old. On-site rentals and a shuttle service are available to its highest point. From there, the 15-mile downhill trail is strewn with sky-high trestles and 10 train tunnels. The route takes just over two hours to reach by car from the city, and Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park is a great place to break up the drive. The hilltop setting of Idaho’s oldest building, built by Catholic missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in the 1850s, makes a lovely picnic spot.

Time to Unwind

Idaho may be among the last 10 states added to the Union (it beat Wyoming by just one week!), but its history is rich. At the Museum of North Idaho, a collection of 30,000 images, artifacts and archival material chronicles the Coeur d’Alene region’s development from the time of its native Schitsu’Umsh, or Coeur d’Alene, people to an epicenter of lumber and logging at the turn of the 20th century, and beyond. During the summer months, Robert Singletary leads living-history walking tours of Old Fort Sherman and the downtown area, conducted in character as a steamboat captain or fort commander. Or sit back and relax while treating the kids to a show at the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, Idaho’s oldest performing arts organization specializing in full-scale Broadway-caliber musical productions, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and South Pacific, which are performed June through August.

There’s a different kind of scenery on display when you venture out with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises, which has 90-minute tours that depart three times a day during the summer months. Aboard its two-deck, climate-controlled boats, families can scan for wildlife along miles of shoreline, passing celebrities’ homes and even the Coeur d’Alene golf course’s famous “floating green.”

For the best of both worlds, you can book a table at another city landmark: The Cedars Floating Restaurant at the confluence of Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River. Built using 600,000 pounds of Styrofoam encased in concrete, this upscale yet easygoing eatery serves locally sourced beef and fresh seafood (the cedar-planked salmon with honey chipotle sauce is a standout) while bringing new meaning to the term waterfront dining. It’s just one of many unexpected views you’ll encounter in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene—a town you may never have heard of but will be hard-pressed to forget.

EAT

Beverly’s
Housed on the Coeur d’Alene Resort’s seventh floor, this scenic fine-dining restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows, an extensive wine cellar and a seafood-forward menu by chef de cuisine Jim Barette. Coeur d’Alene Resort, 101 Sherman Ave.; 208-765-2300; dinner for two, $99*

The Cedars Floating Restaurant
1514 N. Marina Dr.; 208-664-2922; dinner for two, $110

Drummin Up BBQ
3023 N. Government Way; 208-771-0568; lunch for two, $20

Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese
1735 W. Kathleen Ave.; 208-664-1717; lunch for two, $25

Michael D’s Eatery
Towering portions, affordable prices and all-day breakfast are hallmarks of this rustic crowd-pleaser, a favorite among locals and visitors alike. 203 E. Coeur d’Alene Lake Dr.; 208-676-9049; breakfast for two, $19

1313 Club
Decorated with wildlife trophies and cheeky signs, this historic Wallace saloon and restaurant serves Mexican fare and diner classics. 608 Bank St., Wallace; 208-752-9391; lunch for two, $24

Vault Coffee
324 E. Sherman Ave.; 208-966-4193; drinks for two, $9

EXPLORE

Kayak Coeur d’Alene (ROW Adventures)
418 E. Coeur d’Alene Ave.; 208-770-2517; tours, $69 a person

Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail
U.S. Hwy. 97; 208-769-5000

Museum of North Idaho
115 Northwest Blvd.; 208-664-3448; admission, $4; living history tours, from $15 a person

Fort Sherman Chapel
Abandoned in 1900, this 1880 chapel was constructed by the U.S. Army and is Coeur d’Alene’s oldest church, school, library and meeting hall. The structure is operated by the Museum of North Idaho. 332 Hubbard St.; 208-664-3448

Spokane Whitewater Rafting (ROW Adventures)
209 S. Washington St., Spokane, WA; 208-770-2517; tours, $69 a person

Tubbs Hill Nature Trail
210 S. Third St.; 208-769-2300

PLAY

Route of the Hiawatha
Lookout Pass Ski Area, I-90 Exit 0; 208-744-1301; trail pass and bike rental, from $42 a person

Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch
2885 S. Folsom Ridge Rd.; 208-755-4925; admission, $10

Silverwood Theme Park
27843 U.S. Hwy. 95, Athol; 208-683-3400; admission, $48

RELAX

Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park
31732 S. Mission Rd., Cataldo; 208-682-3814; admission, $5 a vehicle

Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre
4951 Building Center Dr. Suite 105; 208-660-2958; tickets, from $49

Daft Badger Brewing
1710 N. Second St.; 208-665-9892; drinks for two, $10

Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises
115 S. Second St.; 208-765-4000; cruises, from $25 a person

SHOP

The Culinary Stone
In a 5,500-square-foot space modeled after an Old World outdoor market, this culinary playground offers kid-friendly cooking classes, a deli, and olive oil and butcher shops. Riverstone Shopping Center, 2129 N. Main St.; 208-277-4116

Figpickels Toy Emporium
Resort Plaza Shops, 210 E. Sherman Ave.; 208-667-2800

Mountain Madness Soap Co.
310 E. Sherman Ave.; 208-918-0667

Price Tag Antiques & Silver Tea Room
This two-story antique store in downtown Wallace sells vintage dresses, retro lamps and other collectibles. 618 Bank St., Wallace; 208-556-1500

The Well-Read Moose
An independent bookstore and café offering coffee, wine and beer and tomes for all ages while supporting local authors and artists. 2048 N. Main St.; 208-215-2265

STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts near Coeur d’Alene include:
Stoneridge Resort 0249

This resort is about 33 miles from Coeur d’Alene. There’s fun for everyone at its 24,000-square-foot recreation center, which includes a steam room, game room and gymnasium. 176 Holiday Loop, Blanchard
Member Review: “Lovely grounds and outstanding staff.”

For complete member review (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI® affiliated resorts in Coeur d’Alene:
Coeur d’Alene Resort

Sprawling lakeside property housing a spa, golf course and restaurant within walking distance of downtown shops and recreation. 115 S. Second St.; 855-999-7998; cdaresort.com; doubles from $289 a night

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: May 2017