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The Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

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The Pond Oreille Scenic Byway follows Highway 200 east from Sandpoint to the Montana border, between the mountains of northern Idaho and its most unforgettable lake.


During the end of the last ice age, retreating glaciers and the ensuing floods scarred and reformed the landscape of Idaho’s Panhandle. One result of this large-scale terraforming was the pendant-shaped Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-ah-ray): the biggest lake in Idaho at 148 square miles, and the fifth-deepest in the entire US. Its shores are almost completely unpopulated, with just a few towns dotting the northern coast. The lake is so deep and so remote that, during WWII, the US Navy used it to conduct submarine testing.

Although we only saw a fraction of the lake during our drive along its northeastern shore, it was enough to impress. Just outside of Hope, we drove onto a peninsula which is home to the David Thompson Wildlife Reserve. A herd of deer were grazing on the lawns, completely undisturbed by our presence. Even when we left the car and approached them, they continued grazing and munching apples. We got within a couple feet, and possibly could have pet them.


Deer aren’t the only wildlife found around Pend Oreille’s shores; the great majority of the lake is in the Coeur d’Alene Forest, home to grizzlies, wolves, bobcats, bald eagles and owls. The southern tip of the lake is where the Navy set up the Farragut Naval Training Station, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; in its day, it was the second-largest training station in the world. The Navy has left, and today the area is a state park just ten minutes from Silverwood.

After passing Clark Fork, the highway leaves Pend Oreille and skirts along the Clark Fork River, which extends 310 miles into Montana and is that state’s largest river, by volume. We continued until reaching the border, where we’d hoped to see the 1952 Cabinet Gorge Dam, but found it closed for construction. Unfortunate, because it looks pretty cool.

The scenic byway is only 33 miles long but took us about three hours round-trip, accounting for the frequent photo stops. Enjoy our pictures of what might be Idaho’s most gorgeous lake.

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October 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm Comment (1)

Pend d’Oreille Winery

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Idaho’s wine industry isn’t as renowned as those of California or Washington, but over the past decade, that’s been slowly changing. There are currently over 45 wineries in the state, with more opening every year. During our time in Sandpoint, we stopped by the Pend d’Oreille winery, which has been racking up awards and recognition since opening nearly twenty years ago.

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We were surprised to find the winery right in the middle of downtown Sandpoint. The grapes used by Pend d’Oreille don’t grow in the area, but are brought in by truck from vineyards further south in Idaho, or in Washington. The rest of the production is done on-site. We were present as a batch of Chardonnay grapes arrived from Vickers Vineyard in Caldwell, and watched them be crushed into juice.

The owner of Pend d’Oreille, Steve Meyer, joined us during our tour and provided a short history of the winery. Originally from California, he spent a long time in Burgundy learning the art of wine-making from a Frenchman named François. Which is about as perfect as it gets. He came back to the States, and dove into the business — after moving to Sandpoint, he and his wife opened the Pend d’Oreille.

Steve brought us into the storage room where around 200 barrels were stationed and, using a bizarre contraption called a “Wine Thief”, extracted some Petit Verdot. Quite good, despite not being fully finished. When he asked what flavors we detected in the wine, I said “Oak and fruity undertones”. It’s my standard response whenever I’m put on the spot, regardless of the type of wine I’m tasting. And it almost always works.

Inside the winery’s shop, which doubles as one of Sandpoint’s favorite bistros, the tastings continued. Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot and a Cabernet which took home the Double Gold medal in an international competition. All delicious. And, as I remarked in a loud and increasingly confident voice, many had hints of “oak and fruity undertones”. We couldn’t resist buying a bottle of the Shiraz to take home.

Make sure and stop by the Pend d’Oreille Winery if you have some time in Sandpoint. As long as it’s not terribly busy, the crew will be happy to take you on a quick tour of the the premises. And if you can make it out of the store without picking up a bottle or two… you may be insane.

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October 30, 2012 at 12:45 am Comments (0)


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Many of the places in Idaho’s panhandle feature memorable names. Some are drawn from French, such as Coeur d’Alene or Lake Pend Oreille, while others have intriguing historical connotations, like Priest Lake and Bonners Ferry. And then there’s Sandpoint, a town whose name evokes the stirring image of some guy pointing at a pile of sand. Yep, we see it. You’ve found the sand.


But despite its uninspiring name, Sandpoint is the nicest little city we visited in northern Idaho; more relaxed than the comparative metropolis of Coeur d’Alene, and more lovely than rustic Bonners Ferry. Situated at the northwestern end of Lake Pend Oreille, entering the town from the south requires a breathtaking journey over a long bridge. Right from the outset, Sandpoint begins to impress.

The town is most famed around Idaho as home to Schweitzer Ski Resort: the only resort in the world named after a Swiss hermit with a penchant for stealing and eating cats. It was the beginning of October when we visited, too early to hit the slopes, but everyone we talked to kept bringing conversation around to the opening of ski season. It’s a safe bet that everyone in Sandpoint skis, and that the town empties out entirely when there’s fresh powder.

We stayed in the Sweet Magnolia Bed and Breakfast, run by Calvin and Jill Ogle, originally from Georgia. This was a comfortable place to rest our heads, conveniently located downtown. Breakfast was awesome. Along with homemade granola and cookies, Calvin had fashioned up a southern egg bake. Despite our time in Savannah, we were unable to identify the secret ingredient in the crust (hint: rhymes with “Fritz”).


Sandpoint itself has cute shops and off-key cafes that cater to a well-to-do crowd. The highlight for us was City Beach, a park on Lake Pend Oreille where we found a replica Statue of Liberty, holding her torch out over Northern Idaho. She was considerably smaller than her New York City sister, but enjoys the more tranquil view. And is less likely to be torn asunder by terrorists.

We only had one night in Sandpoint, so were lucky to be invited for dinner at the best restaurant in town: Trinity at City Beach, which boasts a great view over the lake. We got to meet the owner, a former Idaho State football player whose left forearm was roughly the size of my left thigh. As we were leaving, he asked how our dinner was. “Oh, great, very good, thank you very much, thank you, please don’t crush me.” Luckily, I wasn’t forced to lie; I had ordered baked halibut on a bed of creamy linguine, and it was as delicious as it sounds.

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October 27, 2012 at 12:56 am Comments (6)

Pictures from Lake Coeur d’Alene

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For 33 miles, a scenic byway hugs the eastern coast of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Given the bustle of the city, the road gets into some surprisingly remote territory: over the gorgeous Mineral Ridge, through the tiny town of Harrison, and into pristine forests. We visited during the autumn and were blown away by the beauty of the drive.

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October 26, 2012 at 12:51 am Comment (1)

Oh, To Be Rich in Coeur d’Alene

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Coeur d’Alene is the largest city in the Idaho panhandle; a mix of remote nature, urban ease and ostentatious wealth. It’s well-known in the Pacific Northwest as a resort destination, with a prime location on the lovely lake which shares its name. We had been eagerly anticipating our short, two-day stay there, and found it to be just as memorable as advertised.


On the banks of gorgeous Lake Coeur d’Alene, you might not see another person for hours. We drove up and down Highway 97, through the historic town of Harrison and right alongside the eastern coast of the lake. On an old dock sticking out into the water, we took a lunch break, with nothing but a cool breeze for company. The faraway sound of a boat motor eventually broke the spell; Coeur d’Alene is actually one of the most popular lakes in Idaho for water sports, especially among the rich weekenders who come in from Washington and California. (See more pictures of the scenic drive.)

No, Coeur d’Alene is no hidden gem. A stroll along the boardwalk of the Coeur d’Alene Resort should convince us of that. Hundreds of expensive speedboats, sailboats and cruisers anchor in hotel’s marina. It was hard not to feel inferior while passing by. Even the floating boardwalk is over the top: the world’s longest. We stood on the bridge for awhile, watching a sun-tanned gentleman and his young, unnaturally voluptuous wife (we’ll be kind, and assume “wife”) steer their yacht underneath us and into its parking spot. A parking spot which is probably more valuable than my life.

With the lakeside resort as its nucleus, downtown Coeur d’Alene extends to the west, where there’s a beach and park, and also to the north, where we found art galleries, upscale souvenir shops, slow traffic, a couple good bars and cafes, and … hipsters? Yes, Coeur d’Alene harbors a healthy population of trendy young hipsters, complete with tight-fitting jeans and thin mustaches. We spent a couple hours in Java on Sherman, sitting next to a couple fashionable young dudes who were playing chess and discussing Grizzly Bear’s new album (their verdict: it’s great). I almost felt like I was back in Savannah!

CDA, as the cool kids call the city, takes its name from the Coeur d’Alene people … who take their name from the French for Heart of an Awl. This strange name was bestowed upon the tribe by a French Canadian fur trader, who was impressed and frustrated by their unforgiving negotiating style. If there are any tribe members left in the city, they stay out of sight; like the rest of Northern Idaho, CDA is overwhelmingly white. 96%, in fact.

We stayed in Coeur d’Alene’s Best Western, just north of the city center along Highway 95 — it was a comfortable place to rest, with decent restaurants in walking distance. After a long day of sight-seeing, we had dinner at Tomato Street, where one portion was enough for a small family. I slept well that night, belly bursting with pasta, and dreamed that I was a rich playboy tooling around the lake in my new mini-yacht. Coeur d’Alene is the kind of town that inspires such dreams of grandeur when you’re asleep. And fits of jealousy, when awake.

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October 25, 2012 at 11:22 pm Comments (4)

Silverwood Amusement Park

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I’m from Ohio; not a fact I usually brag about, but it does come with some perks. For example, Ohio is home to the world’s greatest amusement park. Oh, shut your cheese-hole, Mickey. Disney World doesn’t hold a candle to Cedar Point, and you know it.

I only mention this, because growing up so close to Cedar Point has made me a little snobbish when it comes to theme parks. Before we even arrived at Silverwood, 30 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, I was scoffing. “Will they have seventeen roller coasters? Heh. Doubt it.”

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To be honest, Silverwood is no Cedar Point. But that’s alright; it’s still the largest amusement park in the Pacific Northwest, with enough rides and entertainment to easily occupy a day.

We visited at the end of the season, when the park was busy transforming itself into Scarywood for Halloween. Normally, Silverwood projects an “Old West” sort of charm, but was busy ratcheting up the fright-factor: cobwebs had been draped atop the old-time general stores, vampires and mummies peered out from windows, and creepy huts were selling inedible monster-food like Dots Ice Cream.

After walking around and taking in the atmosphere, we had to make some tough decisions. We had arrived late in the day, after spending the morning on Kellogg’s gondola, and there was only enough time for two rides. Our first pick was easy. The Aftershock was a crazy-looking coaster which lifts you vertically into the air and then drops with terrifying speed, before sending you into loops and twists, and eventually dirtying your diapers with another vertical climb… which now drops you backwards.

Our second choice, the Timber Terror, was even better. Rickety and wooden, this was one of those old coasters which you’re sure is going to fall apart as you’re hurtling down at Mach Four. Adding to the fun, its cars had been positioned backwards in preparation for Scarywood. This one had our stomachs up in our mouths the whole time. Plus, there was the added fun of torturing children; two young girls were sitting behind us and we never stopped pretending that we were about to vomit on them.

If you’ve had enough of Idaho’s scenic byways, hikes and peaceful landscapes, and could use a good jolt of roller-coaster adrenaline, Silverwood manages to pack quite a lot into its modest size. We had a good time.

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October 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm Comments (2)

The Enaville Resort, AKA The Snakepit

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It’s a little hard to feel that thrill of discovery, the joy of unearthing another hidden travel gem, when the gem in question is as popular as the Enaville Resort. But we couldn’t resist patting ourselves on the back after entering this Silver Valley establishment. Even if it’s no secret among the locals, to whom it’s known as the Snakepit, it was an exciting find.

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On the Coeur d’Alene River Road, the Enaville Resort is just far enough away from I-90 to feel off the beaten track. We pulled up and were immediately encouraged by the giant wooden building and its ultra-retro decor. Bison skulls, rocking chairs, antlers and neon… and that was just the facade!

Inside, the retro-chic is taken up a few notches. There’s not a corner of the restaurant that isn’t covered in some sort of kitschy memorabilia. We sat down, ordered a couple burgers, and read up on the history of the Snakepit. There are battling theories as to the origin of the nickname. The first is simply that there used to be a lot of snakes around. Years ago, this had been a swampy area.


The story I prefer is that the Enaville Resort was formerly a well-known brothel; the ladies slithering out of the resort in the early morning were termed “snakes” by unsympathetic locals. In one of the skulls which decorate the facade, you can still see a red lightbulb. When it was switched on, the brothel was open for business.

The history is fun, the decor is ridiculous and the food was great. If you find yourself in the area during meal-time, you owe it to yourself to stop in at the Enaville Resort.

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October 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm Comments (5)

Riding the World’s Longest Gondola

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The longest single-stage gondola in the world isn’t found in the Alps or Asia, and doesn’t belong to a famous resort like Vail or St. Moritz. Nope, this record goes to the Silver Mountain Ski Resort, in humble little Kellogg, Idaho.


Silver Mountain’s gondola runs for 3.1 miles, climbing over 1000 meters (3400 feet) for nearly twenty minutes. There are longer gondolas in the world, but those either use “angle stations” or don’t carry people.

We’re constitutionally unable to resist anything that owns a world record (see our trips to the world’s biggest department store, and the world’s biggest beagle-shaped bed & breakfast), so there was no way we’d be skipping out on Silver Mountain’s gondola. Although it was well before ski season, the gondola runs on weekends throughout the summer and fall. At the top of the mountain, there are a couple hikes and mountain bike trails.

Our trip was just as fun and scenic as we figured it would be. Twenty minutes can pass by pretty fast when you’re soaring above a landscape as lovely as the Silver Valley’s.

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October 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm Comments (0)

Kellogg – Our Base in the Silver Valley

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Although it’s not as well-known as nearby Wallace, Kellogg is the Silver Valley’s largest town, and was our base during our four-day stay in the region. It’s a nice village stretched out along the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, with a population around 2000; less historic and picturesque than Wallace, perhaps, but with a burgeoning tourism industry of its own, thanks largely to the Silver Mountain Ski Resort.


We stayed at the The Summit, a small house rented out by Kellogg Vacation Homes. Comfortable, with plenty of room to stretch out, a fully-equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, and an enormous hot tub. Our days in the Silver Valley were packed with activity, and an extended soak in the hot tub was the perfect way to end every night.

In 1885, prospector Noah Kellogg was searching for his lost donkey, and found it grazing near a large deposit of valuable galena lead. The town was established shortly thereafter, and people from the Silver Valley are fond of pointing out that Kellogg was “founded by a jackass, and still inhabited by its descendants”. Like every town in the region, mining was the only industry that mattered for a very long time. It was in Kellogg that the Sunshine Mine Disaster of 1972 happened. Almost a hundred men were trapped in the mine when a fire broke out, and 91 of them died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We took a self-guided walking tour of Kellogg’s historic downtown; it’s just a single street and took all of five minutes. Not overly impressive, but we did stumble upon one unique shop. From the window, Sideways looked like a model train shop, but inside we found an RC funpark where model car aficionados can come to play and race. The bulk of the shop is an enormous track, complete with mountains, ponds, shops and even a zeppelin landing-pad. Spectators can sit in dining booths, and a motorized train putters around the shop delivering hot dogs and snacks.

We really enjoyed our short stay in Kellogg; an unpretentious and surprising little town. For those looking to spend some time in the Silver Valley, it’s a good alternative to Wallace.

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October 22, 2012 at 12:26 am Comment (1)

Biking the Hiawatha Trail

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Billed as one of America’s most unforgettable bike rides, the 15-mile Hiawatha Trail follows the path of a former train route through pitch-black tunnels and across bridges which overlook vast valleys of pine. On the final weekend of the season, we rented bikes and completed the trail — “unforgettable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.


Our guide for the day was Chris Barrett, who met us at the Lookout Pass Ski Lodge, just over the Idaho-Montana border on I-90. After getting outfitted with bikes and packed lunches, we drove to the trail’s starting point. The day’s prognosis went from “good” to “glorious” when Chris told us that the trail would be almost entirely downhill; a shuttle bus run by the ranger station would return us to the starting point. Works for me. My favorite type of exercise is the kind that doesn’t involve exercise.

The Hiawatha Trail opened up in 2001 as part of the Rails to Trails initiative, which seeks to restore life to decommissioned train tracks across the country. Between 1906 and 1909, the Milwaukee Road Railway Company had constructed this unprecedented line through the rough and largely unexplored Bitterroot Mountains. The result was an engineering marvel: tunnels, bridges and the first long-distance tracks to be electrified. Eventually, passengers were able to travel west along the rails in the fabulous Olympian Hiawatha: a domed, double-decker car which connected Chicago to Tacoma. Eventually supplanted by air travel and semi-trucks, the route saw its final train in 1980.

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The conversion of the train tracks to a bike route was an inspired idea. The Hiawatha is gorgeous, soaring through the Bitterroots atop pristine forests of white and lodgepole pine trees. The path took us through nine tunnels, including the 1.66-mile St. Paul Tunnel, but I most enjoyed going over the old trestled bridges. We stopped frequently in the middle of them, leaning over the sides to peer into the canyons below. Amazing that workers had built thee things by hand, over a century ago. Just looking over the side was enough to make me sick.

We paused for lunch on one of the bridges, letting our feet dangle over the edge and having hilarious conversations with Chris. He’s a snowboard instructor in the winter, and you get the feeling he spends about 90% of his life in the great outdoors. A fun person to spend the day with, and he sports the sickest tattoos I’ve ever seen.

The Hiawatha Trail closed for winter at the end of September, and we were lucky to be make it on the last weekend. It was easily the most enjoyable bike ride I’ve ever done. Beautiful scenery, fun company and an easy, downhill trail. For any fan of nature, it’s absolutely unmissable.

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October 21, 2012 at 9:26 pm Comments (7)

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The Pend Oreille Scenic Byway The Pond Oreille Scenic Byway follows Highway 200 east from Sandpoint to the Montana border, between the mountains of northern Idaho and its most unforgettable lake.
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