northern idaho travel guide

Still need your ski or snowboard fix? Spring is in full bloom in most of North America, but you’re in luck in Northern Idaho. In fact, because of the tremendous snowfall of late, Sandpoint’s Schweitzer Mountain, the ski resort located in the Selkirk Mountains, is extending their season until April 14, 2013. If you’re a snow chaser, we’ve got your Northern Idaho travel guide as the area offers a rare opportunity to steal a few more precious moments, racing down the glorious fresh powder trails on 2,900 acres of terrain.

But skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling aren’t the only things the area offers. Nearby, Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho is to Seattle as the Hamptons are for New Yorkers – a city dweller’s lakeside playground. CDA (as the locals refer to it) is a 40-minute drive from Spokane International Airport and an hour and a half drive from Schweitzer Mountain, and has an abundance of culinary, historical and outdoor excursions.

On a recent trip to Coeur d’ Alene (pronounced core-da-lane, which means ‘heart of awl’ in French), highlights included bald eagle watching, a trip to the historic town of nearby Wallace, snowmobiling on Schweitzer Mountain and wine tasting at Pend d’ Orelle Winery in Sandpoint.

What to Do

northern idaho travel guide
Wallace, Idaho – Like a tiny town (population 778) frozen in time from its late 1800’s mining heyday, every building is on the historic landmark register. Don’t miss a tour of Oasis Bordello, the nation’s longest running brothel (100 years), shuttered in 1989 and completely intact from the day the FBI was rumored to raid it. If you’re an antique aficionado, Wallace has a plethora of antique shops. And for a local souvenir, stop by Idaho Silver Shop for star garnet jewelry. Four-pointed garnets are a very rare semi-precious stone found only in India and Idaho. Six-pointed garnets are only in Idaho. For lunch, a stop at City Limits Pub in the RV Park, the area’s newest brewery for a beer tasting and Americana pub food completes the Wallace tour. And if you’re lucky, you may run into the unofficial prime minister of Wallace: Rick Shaffer.

northern idaho travel guideSandpoint, Idaho – Locals like to joke that it’s the only ‘blue’ (i.e. liberal) town in Idaho. Located on 43-mile long Lake Pend Oreille, and surrounded by the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, it’s no wonder USA Today named Sandpoint as the most beautiful small town in America in 2011. Home to a thriving arts community, the town hosts festivals throughout the year including the Festival of Sandpoint, Huckleberry Festival, and the Wooden Boats Festival. Before heading out to the slopes, the oh-so-gooey-good sourdough French toast with caramel apple sauce, candied pecans and Chantilly cream at Trinity restaurant is a must (in photo on right).

Birdwatching – During November through January, bald eagles begin migrating south for the winter, and Lake Coeur d’Alene is one of their many wintering grounds where they feed on spawning kokanee. Although sightings per day are down from previous years according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management, ranging from 100 to 283, there are still plenty of bald eagles putting on a spectacular show. Head to Wolf Lodge or Beauty Bay, bring binoculars and look up in the trees for their white heads, which in contrast to the dark green pines, look like polka dots or Christmas ornaments.

Snowmobling on Schweitzer Mountain

Schweitzer Mountain – Schweitzer Mountain Resort boasts the most skiable acreage in all of Idaho and Washington, not to mention some of the shortest lift lines. I opted for a back country snowmobile adventure with Selkirk Powder Company. Oh, what a ride that was. I got my snowmobile stuck in a tree and others dumped theirs, but what a great way to experience the pristine white landscape. And while this doesn’t happen often, a momma moose and her babies crossed our path.

Downtown Coeur d’Alene – In the daytime, it’s bustling with local boutique shopping opportunities. At night, stroll down the main street and you’ll happen on trivia night at a local bar or a gallery opening.

northern idaho travel guide

Tubbs Hill – The hike on Tubbs Hill  is an easy stroll around the lake with gorgeous views. If you’re staying at the Couer d’ Alene Resort, you can almost roll out of bed and be on the hike as the trailhead starts right behind the hotel.

Where to Eat

Beverly's Restaurant Wine Cellar with Eric Cook
Beverly’s ($$$) – On the 7th floor of the Coeur d’Alene Resort is the town’s only 5-star restaurant. The menu is a mixture of modern fine dining cuisine like seared ahi-tuna and oyster platters and local favorites like bison steak. With over 20,000 bottles of wine to choose from, ask expert sommelier Eric Cook (in photo above) for help in navigating the best choice. And although they have a dazzling array of international wines, there are only a few Idaho wines available but plenty of neighboring Washington state wines to choose from. For a sensational sunset or nightcap, head to Beverly’s lounge to listen to the talented jazz guitarist, Robert Vaughn.

The Cellar ($$) – An elegant restaurant and bar upstairs and an ATM-like aka Vino-tek wine tasting bar downstairs.

Fire Artisan Pizza ($$) – Creative wood-fired pizzas, like Thai pizza topped with sweet chili sauce, chicken, cashew satay sauce, sriracha sauce, and a smart beer and wine list, make this a popular spot with the locals. Save room for the giant Bitter Sweet Chocolate Chip Cookie with Gray Salt.

green eggs and hamThe Garnet Cafe ($) – Green (pesto) eggs and ham washed down with a country-folk mimosa aka Brass Monkey (a 40 oz of Olde English beer and orange juice) is what to try here (as in photo to left). Plus, it’s a great place to chat with locals, as it’s a favorite spot in Couer d’Alene. There was a wait even on a Thursday at 10 am!

Michael D’s ($) – It’s down home cooking like grandma on the farm makes it. Biscuits and gravy, fresh baked zucchini bread and omelets to suit your mood from the Adventurous omelet (mushroom, tomato, green onion, Jack cheese) to the Aspiring omelet (spinach, bacon, tomato, salsa, cheddar cheese, sour cream.)  Also, don’t miss sampling the Market Spice Tea from Washington.

Where to Stay

couer d alene resort
Coeur d’Alene Resort ($$) – The resort, right off the town’s main street, is the most luxurious place to stay in CDA. It offers a modern spa with unique amenities like the high-tech showers and light-therapy soaking tubs, a premier golf course with the world’s only floating green and rooms with fireplaces offering great views of the scenic Lake Coeur d’Alene. It’s ideal for a romantic vacation, girlfriend getaway or a family stay.

Talus Rock Retreat ($$$) – If a bed and breakfast stay chock full of charm is more your style, Talus Rock Retreat in Sandpoint is where to head. Located on 32-acres of wilderness with stunning views of Lake Pend Oreille, this Tuscan-style timber frame lodge is a nature-lover’s paradise. Each room is uniquely decorated in whimsical fanfare.

Photo of Beverly’s Wine Cellar by Lindsay Taub, rest of photos are the author’s.

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