72 Hours in the Silver Valley

By Rick Shaffer

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.

Cataldo Mission, Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park. Photo credit: Idaho Tourism.

Day 1: A Trip Back in Time

Begin your journey in the Silver Valley with some historical stops, museum visits, mine tours, and more.

The first recommendation–get an early start. You’ll need plenty of energy for this day of exploration, so fuel up with a delicious breakfast at the Wallace Inn’s Trailside Café.

Your first stop is Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park located in nearby Cataldo. The exhibits and displays in the park provide a thorough overview of the Jesuit missionaries’ interactions with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the colorful history of the Coeur d’Alene Mining District and the eventual development of the 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 Jesuit missionaries. 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 Shoshone County Mining and Smelting 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.

Traveling three miles east to Kellogg, you’ll find the Crystal Gold Mine tour. With a trusted guide in the lead, guests venture underground into 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 Miners 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.

A visit to Wallace isn't complete without a Sierra Silver Mine Tour.
A visit to Wallace isn’t complete without a Sierra Silver Mine Tour. Photo credit: Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce.

Head to Wallace for lunch at The Fainting Goat Wine Bar & Restaurant. Locally sourced, tasty fare will keep your energy level high (If you are in town on a Sunday, try brunch!). Historic Wallace—where the entire town is listed on the National Historic Register—is just five miles east of the Sunshine Miners Memorial and is the 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 to this day.

With your energy restored, 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. Stroll through the charming Century Historical District on the way to dinner at the historic 1313 Club Historic Saloon and Grill. Its well-rounded menu is sure to please any palate.

Day 2: Route of the Hiawatha & Historic Wallace

Experience the “Crown Jewel” of rail-to-trails before spending an afternoon exploring historic downtown Wallace.

Biking the Route of the Hiawatha. Photo credit: Idaho Tourism.

Bike Ride, Route of the Hiawatha, Near Wallace. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism
Biking, Route of the Hiawatha, near Wallace. Photo credit: Idaho Tourism

Wake up early for a filling breakfast at the Red Light Garage, where you’ll find some quirky decor and an extensive breakfast menu that will tempt your 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 Red Light Garage, step into Wallace’s only flying saucer, right out front–it’s a great photo opp! Rental bikes are available at Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation area. Reserving your bike rentals ahead of time is strongly recommended, and reservations can be made on the Route of the Hiawatha website

This 15-mile downhill ride on the Old Milwaukee Road rail-trail is world-class. The ride starts with St. Paul Pass—a dark, 1.66 mile-long tunnel—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 through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel to their vehicles.

Back in historic Wallace, recharge with lunch and a brew at the City Limits Grill then head downtown for the Sierra Silver Mine Tour. Climb aboard a San Francisco-style trolley for transport to the mine where an experienced miner will share mining tales while guiding visitors underground. The 40 minutes below ground flies by and before you know it, you’re back on the trolley for a 25-minute historical trolley tour through the business and residential districts of Wallace.

Make sure you stop at the Wallace District Mining Museum and the Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum which features a stately brick exterior, spectacular displays and photos. Just across the street, the Oasis Bordello Museum tour details the history of this once functioning bordello. The Oasis closed its doors in 1988, the last of Wallace’s five bordellos to close. Enjoy a delicious dinner at the Blackboard Cafe, SLAB Meat Company, or Cogs Gastropub.

Oasis Bordello Museum.
Oasis Bordello Museum. Photo credit: Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce

Beautiful views from Silver Streak Zipline. Photo credit: Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce.

Day 3: Thrills & Brews

Finish your Silver Valley adventure with an exhilarating zip line tour before kicking back with a brew at one of Northern Idaho’s unique craft breweries.

A visit to Wallace is not complete until you have conquered the Silver Streak Zipline. Staged 1,000 feet above the valley floor, Silver Streak has two thrilling courses that whisk riders at speeds of over 55 miles per hour on a line over 1,800 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, it’s time for one of Historic Wallace’s favorite past times—enjoying a street-side beverage at Wallace Brewing Company. Try a flight of these unique brews and talk about the adventures of the last few days.

Feature image credited to Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce.

Learn more about Wallace and the Silver Valley at ​​​​​​​http://www.wallaceidahochamber.com/.