After driving through Soda Springs and Montpelier, we continued along Highway 30 into the southeastern extreme of Idaho, occupied by Bear Lake and a handful of small towns. It was late October, but winter had come early to the region and a fresh layer of snow was blanketing the ground.
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.
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.
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.
In 2001, the Boise Cascade Sawmill ceased operations. It had been the largest employer in Cascade and its closure forebode a grim future for the tiny valley town. But Cascade refused to abandon hope; instead, it took a good look at the incredible nature surrounding it, and decided to give itself a makeover. There was no reason this former lumber town couldn't become a tourist destination.
A popular walking loop leads from the Chinook Campground in the Payette National Forest, along the banks of the Sesech River to the majestic Loon Lake. We woke up early on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to tackle the hike, which impressed us not only with its beauty, but with a fascinating piece of history hidden within the woods.
Idaho has no shortage of incredible hikes, and we were overwhelmed with options when choosing the destination of our first big day out. Browsing through a formidable collection of books, pamphlets and online guides, the name "Lava Lakes" popped out. The eight-mile round-trip hike in the Payette National Forest sounded perfect, promising unforgettable wilderness, sweeping views, strange geology, wildlife and solitude. And it delivered.
Wearied by the three-day journey across America, we kept close to Cascade during our first week in Idaho. Not a problem, since there is plenty to see. The day after our loop around Lake Cascade, we drove up to the summit of Snowbank Mountain and completed a short hike to Blue Lake, tucked away in the hills of the Boise National Forest.
Propped up against the Boise National Forest, and just an hour north of the capital, Lake Cascade is a convenient spot for restless city-dwellers to get their nature fix. The charming resort town of McCall crowns the northern end of the lake, while the smaller villages of Cascade and Donnelly line the east, providing an abundance of places to stay the weekend.