Hikes, Bikes, Boats and Brews: A week in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
On our travels we are given lots of recommendations of where to go - "You must go to _____" - fill in the blank ... Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Oregon Coast, Washington. But no one told us about Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I am not sure how it found its way onto our radar. Frankly, before this winter when we started thinking about our summer plans, I had never heard of the place. Now we have spent a week here I realize how surprising that is. This place is beautifully scenic and there are absolutely tons of outdoor things to do.
So why hadn't I hear of it? It's not that remote - if you in Montana or Glacier National Park, or visiting the Pacific Northwest, it's not that far away. Is it because it is in Idaho, and people only associate this state with potatoes not an outdoor wonderland? I still don't know the answer but what I do know is that the city is charming, almost European Riviera in its atmosphere and the scenery is stunning. The lake seems endless with multiple twists, turns and beautiful bays, and the whole area has invested in some great bike trails along with multiple opportunities to hike and kayak.
We had a very active week here. We hiked a scenic shady trail called Mineral Ridge right from Beauty Creek Campground where we stayed, we kayaked on Hayden Lake, which was beautiful but a bit too busy for us to fully enjoy, and we rode on two fabulous bike trails.
Our first ride was the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, which is paved for 71 miles. We cycled along for just 15 of those miles at a section of the trail that runs alongside Lake Coeur d'Alene from Harrison. The trail hugs the shoreline until you pass over an old rail bridge to the other side at Heyburn State Park.
The second bike ride was not lakeside but was no less spectacular and if I had ever actually heard of it before this week, it would have been on my bucket list. It is the Route of the Hiawatha, a repurposed railway line that is now one of the most fantastic bike trails you could imagine. You pay $10 for a one day trail pass, and another $9 if you want to be shuttled back up to save your calf muscles on the return journey. We decided on the muscle-saving route - cycling uphill is not my thing.
The trail begins at East Portal Trailhead and immediately you see this is a different kind of trail. The first 1.7 miles takes you through a railway tunnel, completely pitch black, freezing like a meat locker and unlike any cycling we had ever done before. (Note - I don't recommend this to anyone who is claustrophobic.) We had very meager lights on our bikes and I forgot to bring our camping headlamps, so we actually found this part quite scary and disorienting, but invigorating. It really is completely black so we had to have faith that the tunnel was indeed straight and we wouldn't smack into a wall. There are another nine tunnels on the trail but none are anywhere near this long. In fact only one other really plunges you into darkness and for a much shorter period of time. The 15 mile trail is mostly flat or slightly downhill (Yes!!) and in addition to the tunnels and the seven beautiful trestle bridges, you are surrounding by gorgeous mountain scenery.
At the end of the trail an optional shuttle takes you and your bike back up the hill. They drop you almost back at the beginning,. You actually have to go back through the 1.7 mile tunnel again to complete your return to the parking lot. This time we were much smarter and followed someone with much brighter headlamps than us and basked in their glow as we sped through the tunnel. The whole ride was a great thing to do and although a little pricey, it was a unique experience that I recommend highly.
You can see one of the trestle bridges in the background that we would be crossing later on the trail. Also note the critter by Iain's foot - they learned that cyclists often have snacks and ambushed us all along the trail!
Finally, as if Coeur d'Alene hadn't offered enough already, we found a couple of fun beer-stops too. We especially loved Daft Badger, and Paragon Brewing, who don't brew their own beer but do have lots of choices on tap and some fantastic British/Irish Pub food.
With so much to offer I don't understand why Coeur d'Alene is not in the nation's travel consciousness. It's as great as any of those places that have been recommended to us. I won't tell you any more I'll just say "you must go!"