A visit to northern Idaho just isn’t complete without spending time in Wallace – the self-proclaimed ‘Center of the Universe.’ Here is a jam-packed itinerary to give you a taste of all the Silver Valley has to offer.
The first recommendation – get an early start. You’ll need plenty of energy for this day of exploration so fuel up with a delicious and complete breakfast at the Wallace Inn’s Trailside Café.
Make your first stop the Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park located in nearby Cataldo. The exhibits and displays provide a thorough overview of the Jesuit Priest’s interactions with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the colorful history of the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, and the eventual development of area. The Sacred Encounters tour is a must-see at the Visitor Center. The Old Mission itself is the oldest standing structure in the state of Idaho. It was built by hand in 1848 using no nails, screws or bolts – only mud, dowels and straw. The impressive structure is a testament to the strong working relationship between the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Black Robes who were invited in by the tribe to help improve their lifestyles. The mission and subsequent building of the adjacent Mullan Road exposed the area, soon to be known as the Silver Valley, to a national audience.
Heading east on Interstate 90, stop in Kellogg, and take the 3.1 mile long Silver Mountain Gondola up to the top of Wardner Peak for some jaw-dropping international views. Take a hike or hop on your mountain bike for a thrilling ride to the bottom. Back in town, a visit to the Staff House Museum introduces visitors to the Bunker Hill Mine & Smelter complex. In its day, Bunker Hill mining was the main industry in the valley, employing thousands with good paying jobs.
Traveling three miles to the east to Kellogg, check out the Crystal Gold Mine tour. With a trusted guide in the lead, guests go underground in one of the oldest mines in the area. Back outside in the sunshine, everyone can try their hand at gold panning.
Following the frontage road further east toward Big Creek, plan a stop at the Sunshine Mine Memorial commemorating one of the most horrific mine disasters ever. On May 2, 1992, 91 men lost their lives in a cave-in at the Sunshine Mine, once the largest producer of silver in the world. Their loss had a profound effect on the Silver Valley population, and is still felt today. Fortunately, the disaster brought changes to the mining industry that help to keep miners around the world safe today.
Head to Wallace for lunch at The Fainting Goat Wine Bar & Eatery. Locally sourced, tasty fare will keep your energy level high. (If you are in town on a Sunday, try the brunch!) Historic Wallace, where the entire town is listed on the National Historic Register, is just five miles east of the Sunshine Mine Memorial and basecamp for the remainder of the itinerary. It is known as the Silver Capital of the World thanks to the local mining district producing over 1.4 billion ounces of silver over the past 130 years, and they are still pulling silver from the ground.
With a full belly, it’s time for a hike. Take a drive on Forest Service Route 456 (packed gravel road) to access the Historic Pulaski Fire Trail. This trail is four-miles round trip with a 600-foot elevation change. It documents the details of one of America’s largest wildfires which had a disastrous impact on the town of Wallace. Informational kiosks tell the story of the Big Burn and of Ed Pulaski’s heroic actions. At the end of the trail, hikers can see the mine tunnel entrance where Big Ed Pulaski led 41 firefighters to shelter, saving them from certain death during the raging fire.
The Wallace Inn is a great hotel to use as a base camp while in Wallace. Walk through the charming Century Historical District on the way to dinner at the historic 1313 Club Historic Saloon and Grille. Its well-rounded menu is sure to please any palate. You might even cross paths with Wallace’s very own Prime Minister at this popular hangout.
Up early for a filling breakfast at the Red Light Garage, where the decor is interesting and the wide ranging breakfast menu will temp the taste buds. You’ll need the energy for the bicycle ride of a lifetime on the acclaimed Route of the Hiawatha. But before you leave, step into Wallace’s only flying saucer, right out front – it’s a great photo opp! Rental bikes are available at Excelsior Cycle in Kellogg or at Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation area, where you purchase trail tickets. This 16 mile downhill ride on this classic Old Milwaukee Road rail-trail is world class. The ride starts with a 1.66 mile, dark tunnel (St. Paul Pass) through the Bitterroot Mountains. Riders will encounter nine more tunnels, seven sky high trestles and 36 historic markers detailing the railroading history of the area. At the bottom of the trail a shuttle awaits to whisk riders back to the west portal for a ride back thorough the St. Paul Pass Tunnel to their vehicles.
Back in historic Wallace replace lost calories with lunch and a brew at the City Limits Grill and North Idaho Mountain Brewery then meet downtown for the Sierra Silver Mine Tour. Climb aboard a San Francisco-style trolley for transport to the mine where an actual miner will share his tales while guiding visitors underground. The 40 minutes below ground flies by and you are back on the trolley for a 25 minute historical trolley tour through the business and residential districts of Wallace. Learn about mining wars, gambling and prostitution, and how millions were made and lost.
Make sure you stop at the Wallace District Mining Museum and the Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum, with its stately brick exterior and spectacular displays and photos on the inside. Just across the street, the Oasis Bordello Museum tour tells how the madams kept their ‘houses’ in order, and reveals the serious and difficult life of a soiled dove. The Oasis closed its doors in 1988, the last of Wallace’s five bordellos to close.
Refresh at the Wallace Inn before a downtown dinner at the Historic Smokehouse Barbecue and Saloon — the best Memphis barbecue this side of Tennessee that just happens to be located at the probable Center of the Universe. Housed in a historic building, the meat and fish entrees are smoked right on the curb, offering unbelievable tenderness and flavor with homemade sides to match.
After dinner you can take in a show! Sixth Street Melodrama performances are held nightly at the Lux Building, the oldest wood structure in Wallace. The locally written and staged production requires audience participation with bad guys, good girls, good guys, bad girls, booing, hissing and cheering. After the 45 minute show, Kelley’s Alley Revue takes over with good songs, dance and a few bad jokes.
A visit to Wallace is not complete until you have conquered the Silver Streak Zipline. Staged 1000 feet above the valley floor, Silver Streak has two thrilling courses that whisk zippers at speeds of over 55 miles per hour on line over 1800 feet long. On the final zip, riders can “go dual,” racing side by side. Whatever course you choose, thrills are guaranteed.
Back on terra firma with your heart rate moderating, it’s time for one of Historic Wallace’s favorite past times — enjoying a street-side beverage at the Wallace Brewing Company. Tasters at the award winning Wallace Brewing Company may relax with darts or pool, or get comfy on one of the sofas to talk about the adventures of the last few days.
Learn more about Wallace and the Silver Valley at http://www.wallaceidahochamber.com/.
Author Rick Shaffer, a Wallace resident and innkeeper, is also an avid hiker, biker, skier, and northern Idaho ambassador. Rick is a guest contributor to this website.
Feature image credit: Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce