By Lee Juillerat
Truth is, a strong bicyclist could pedal the Trail of the Coeur dAlenes Trail in a day. Could, but why? Think of all he would miss.
The Trail of the Coeur dAlenes is 71 smoothly paved miles from Hnya)pqinn near Plummer, its western trailhead in western Idaho, to trails end at Mullan, not far from the Idaho-Montana border. There is some elevation gain, from 2,767 to 3,277 feet, but thats nothing particularly significant.
A strong cyclist with a Tour de France mentality could clip off the distance in a couple of hours, but why. Part of the allure of making the trip is savoring some of the Idaho Panhandle regions choicest scenery and fascinating history. Over a five-day period I joined others in sampling its many attractions, and as a group weve talked about returning and taking even more time along the Trail and others that intersect a usually too quickly traveled region that often parallels Interstate 90.
Pedaling the Panhandle
Along the Coeur dAlene River
The Trail begins at Plummer, and things get truly interesting immediately.
Within six miles the route enters Heyburn State Park, the Pacific Northwests
oldest state park, and follows old railroad lines along the southwestern shore
of Lake Coeur dAlene. Then it climbs over a former railroad bridge before
continuing north along the lakes eastern shore, then angles east past
a series of lakes and marshes to Bull Run and, at mile 40, its first crossing
on I-90 at Cataldo.
Over the Heyburn bridge
Lazing along the St. Joe
Just like the rest of the Trail, theres no reason to hurry through Heyburn, even though its only a few miles into the ride. A network of biking, hiking and horse trails bisect the 7,800-acre park, which also offers fishing, boating, water skiing, canoeing, sailing excellent interpretative center and, for overnighters, cabins, cottages and three campgrounds. Take a cruise the choices include a themed, lunch, dinner, and sunset dinner cruises - along the St. Joe River aboard an 87-passenger cruise boat.
At Cataldo, where the Trail goes north of the freeway along the Coeur dAlene
River, a dont-miss detour is the Old Mission State Park, the oldest remaining
building in Idaho. The mission was designed by the Italian born Antonio Ravalli,
who was ordained as a priest in 1843 and traveled with other Jesuit missionaries
throughout the Pacific Northwest. Construction on the mission, which replaced
an earlier mission, began in 1850 and was completed three years later. Its
undergone various restorations, but its historic character has been maintained.
Two paintings on the side altars, depicting Heaven and Hell, have also been
restored. We took in a living history program that was equally informative and
informal, and toured the old mission, parish house, cemetery and took a short
hike along the Wetlands Trail.
Old Mission, Idahos oldest building
Looking for snakes in Ina
From Cataldo the Trail follows the Coeur dAlene River, weaving along the old railroad line through a verdant riverside forest. Among the popular stopping points is Enaville, home of The Snake Pit, a restaurant with a lusty history that includes a murder-suicide, knifing and girls of the morning, who were also called snakes. Enaville, 47 miles from Plummer, is named for Ena, the towns postmistress.
We discovered more reasons to linger in Kellogg, at mile 53. An old mining town, Kellogg has sites that literally delve into that history. Kelloggs history came alive at the Shoshone County Mining & Smelting Museum. Especially intriguing are the fluorescent minerals display and outdoor displays of mine machinery. We went underground at the Crystal Gold Mine, where we followed a guide into the mine along a pathway that passes carbonate crystal and stalactite formations. The mine had been closed for more than a 100 years until reopened in 1991. After the tour, we all struck gold, along with garnet, at the free panning boxes.
Inside the mine
Its not gold, but its beautiful
Kellogg is also home to Silver Mountain Resort, a downhill ski-snowboard area thats accessed by the worlds longest gondola. During the summer, 20-minute long gondola rides take visitors to the ski area for hiking, mountain biking and mountaintop restaurant. Opening soon at the resort will be an indoor water park with surfing and tubing in summer and winter.
From Kellogg its only 12 miles to Wallace, the former Silver Capital
of the World. But Wallace remains notorious for its brothels and that
history is kept alive at the Oasis Bordello Museum. The former hotel
closed in 1988, and its occupants left so suddenly they left behind clothing,
makeup, toiletries, food and personal items used in the rooms. Guided tours
reveal a life equally mysterious and pathetic. A menu lists prices
- $15 for a straight, no-frills 8-minute visit; $25 for a half-and-half deluxe
15 minutes; $30 for a 15-minute straight French; $30 for a 69; or
$80 for an hour-long bubble bath.
Looking for love
Looking for love
But Wallace offers more. Its well-preserved historic downtown has a trio
of museums, including Wallace District Mining Museum, eateries that range from
the go slow and hurry back 1313 Club to the tasty Jameson Restaurant,
Saloon & Inn, and, at the intersection of Bank and Sixth streets, a self-proclaimed
star marking The Center of the Universe. Tours for the Sierra Silver
Mine, via a 16-passenger trolley, leave from town to the mine, where retired
miners use equipment that evokes a fading history.
Its there - The Center of the Universe
Its only seven miles to the Trails end at Mullan, but we extended
our travels by catching a ride to the East Portal trailhead just east of the
Idaho-Montana state line to pedal the Route of the Hiawatha, regarded one of
the nations most scenic bicycle rides. The Hiawatha is no ordinary bike
trail. Located in the Bitterroot Mountains, the 15-mile route, all downhill
when starting from the East Portal, passes through nine tunnels, including the
1.7-mile long St. Paul Pass Taft tunnel. Traveling the Taft is an
eerie ride, one that requires strong lights through its extreme darkness. Outside
the tunnels, the views are spectacular, with the old ride line perched high
above the surrounding valley. Adding the golly-gee feeling are seven high steel
trestles. For riders not wanting the reverse the route the elevation
loss is more than a 1,000 feet shuttles haul riders and bikes back to
the East Portal.
Dinner at the Jameson
On the Hiawatha
The Trail of the Coeur dAlenes isnt about speed. Pedaling the Trail is traveling slow in the fast lane.
About the Author
Lee Juillerat writes for the Klamath Falls Herald and News and freelances for a variety of publications, including Northwest Travel, Oregon Coast, Range and Horizon and Alaska Airlines inflight magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When You Go
For information about Idaho, including the brochure, Recreational Trails of the Idaho Panhandle, visit the state of Idaho Web site at www.visit.idaho.org
Heyburn State Park and Old Mission State Park at www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov
Silver Mountain Resort at www.silvermt.com
Crystal Gold Mine at www.goldmine-idaho.com
Shoshone County Mining & Smelting Museum, www.staffhousemuseum.com
Wallace, Idaho at www.wallaceidahochamber.com
Oasis Bordello Museum at www.imbris.net/~mrmayfield
Sierra Silver Mine at www.silverminetour.org
Hiawatha Rail Trail at www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/rec/activities/bikeing/hiawatha