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Pedaling the Panhandle
Going Slow in the Fast Lane

By Lee Juillerat

Truth is, a strong bicyclist could pedal the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes Trail in a day. Could, but why? Think of all he would miss.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is 71 smoothly paved miles from Hn’ya’)pqi’nn near Plummer, its western trailhead in western Idaho, to trail’s end at Mullan, not far from the Idaho-Montana border. There is some elevation gain, from 2,767 to 3,277 feet, but that’s 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 region’s choicest scenery and fascinating history. Over a five-day period I joined others in sampling its many attractions, and as a group we’ve 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 d’Alene River

The Trail begins at Plummer, and things get truly interesting immediately. Within six miles the route enters Heyburn State Park, the Pacific Northwest’s oldest state park, and follows old railroad lines along the southwestern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Then it climbs over a former railroad bridge before continuing north along the lake’s 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, there’s no reason to hurry through Heyburn, even though it’s 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 d’Alene River, a don’t-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. It’s 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, Idaho’s oldest building
Looking for snakes in Ina


From Cataldo the Trail follows the Coeur d’Alene 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 town’s 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. Kellogg’s 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
It’s not gold, but it’s beautiful


Kellogg is also home to Silver Mountain Resort, a downhill ski-snowboard area that’s accessed by the world’s 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 it’s 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. It’s 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.

It’s there - The Center of the Universe


It’s only seven miles to the Trail’s 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 nation’s 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 d’Alenes isn’t 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 lee337@cvc.net.

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




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