Carving First Tracks

By Marissa Lovell

Northern Idaho may be known for its lakes, but when winter arrives it’s time to head for the hills. The majestic mountains and dense forests of northern Idaho become a playground for die-hard downhill skiers and snowboarders, thrill-seeking snowmobilers and Nordic explorers alike. Whether you’re on the move or exploring from a base camp, these three stops are winter requisites when in the Idaho Panhandle.

Your health and safety are our top priorities. When exploring our beautiful state please follow social distancing guidance from the CDC and make sure to Recreate Responsibly. Review an Idaho travel checklist here.

Stop 1: Sandpoint

Your adventure begins in Sandpoint, a stunning city on the shore of Idaho’s deepest lake, Lake Pend Oreille. Located at the base of the spectacular Selkirk Mountain Range, Sandpoint has no shortage of things to do and sights to see during the winter months.

Activities:

For phenomenal snow and seemingly endless ways to play in it, head to Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Schweitzer offers incredible views of Sandpoint, Lake Pend Oreille and the surrounding area. Skiers and snowboarders have access to 2,900 lift-serviced acres, plus open bowl skiing and some of the best tree skiing in the nation. Non-skiers have 32km of Nordic trail to explore on fat bikes, cross-country skis or snowshoes. To see the mountain sparkle under the night sky, take one of Schweitzer’s Hosted Moonlight Hikes

An epic winter adventure with Selkirk Powder should be on any adrenaline junkies’ bucket list. A guided cat skiing or heli-skiing tour is the absolute best way to ride the world-famous powder of the Selkirk Mountains. Book a backcountry snowmobile tour and spend hours exploring more than 400 miles of snow-covered trail. Selkirk Powder’s trips typically depart from Schweitzer Mountain.

After all the action on the mountain, relax on a Sleigh Ride with Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. Climb aboard a horse-drawn sleigh and dash through snow-covered forests in the foothills of the Cabinet Mountains with fantastic views of the Selkirk Mountain Range. Reservations are required to enjoy this winter experience.

Food & Drink:

Baxters on Cedar is sure to satisfy any type of craving—fresh salads, savory sammies, infamous half-pound burgers and appetizers galore. Be sure to save room for dessert; Baxters’ key lime pie is a must. For great food, an impressive wine list and breathtaking views of the lake, head to Trinity at City Beach. If you find yourself in Sandpoint on a Saturday, visit Small House Winery to sample small-lot, handcrafted Northwest wines. 

Overnight:

For easy access to the slopes, stay on Schweitzer Mountain at Selkirk Lodge, a cozy and convenient ski in/ski out experience complete with all the amenities: a year-round swimming pool, hot tubs, a movie theater and the Chimney Rock Grill. White Pine Lodge has one-, two- and three-bedroom units with all the comforts of home and the luxury of being steps away from the slopes. It’s recommended to book mountain lodging ASAP due to current occupancy restrictions. Lodging in Sandpoint offers close proximity to both mountain and city amenities. Stay at the base of Schweitzer at Hotel Ruby Sandpoint. The Best Western Edgewater Resort offers comfortable hotel rooms with direct access to City Beach. If you are traveling with a pet, look to La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Sandpoint.

Stop 2: Coeur d’Alene

Next stop, Coeur d’Alene. The drive from Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene is about an hour on US 95 South, and while it’s pretty much a straight shot, winter conditions can change things. Before starting out, make sure you have a full tank of gas, a winter driving kit and be sure to download the Idaho 511 mobile app, which provides real-time updates on Idaho road conditions and closures.

Activities:

The city of Coeur d’Alene is right on the shore of the majestic Lake Coeur d’Alene and is a gorgeous destination in every season. From November through February, you can see large groups of migrating bald eagles feeding on spawning Kokanee salmon in the lake. The best way to see this spectacular occurrence is from Wolf Lodge Bay or by hiking Mineral Ridge Trail, a 3.3-mile loop that overlooks Lake Coeur d’Alene. 

Snowmobiling is a thrilling way to take in the stunning scenery around Coeur d’Alene. The massive surrounding forest offers an extensive snowmobile trail network, including Fourth of July Pass Recreation Area, the Coeur d’Alene River Area and the St. Joe River Area. Idaho Parks & Recreation provides up-to-date snowmobile trail information, permit information and an interactive snowmobile trail map. To view a trail map of the Coeur d’Alene area, visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forests website. 

If you are itching to get back on the slopes, Silver Mountain Resort and Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area are both easy day trips from Coeur d’Alene. See Stop 3 below for more information. 

Food & Drink

Sit down dining is best done close to the lake. Visit Beverly’s, located within Coeur d’Alene Resort, for upscale dining with unmatched views of Lake Coeur d’Alene or go to Seasons of Coeur d’Alene for seasonally-inspired creations and a warm, comfortable atmosphere. For more laid-back dining go to Café Carambola, a family-owned Latin American restaurant, or Moon Time, an easy going ale house serving excellent pub grub and microbrews.

Good beers and bar food can be found at Daft Badger Brewing, awesome food and cocktails can be found at Bardenay Restaurant & Distillery or go to Paragon Brewing for British-style bar bites. Douse your sweet tooth with a Gooey, a special ice cream creation that can only be found at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Overnight:

Coeur d’Alene Resort is the area’s upscale, lakeside resort and home to the world’s only floating golf green. The resort has several room configurations, luxurious amenities and unmatched access to Lake Coeur d’Alene. Stay in the oldest remaining schoolhouse in the area—The Roosevelt Inn. The grand five-story bed and breakfast offers 14 rooms and suites, plus amazing customer service. If you’re looking for lodging in the heart of the area, look to the Best Western Plus Coeur d’Alene Inn.

Stop 3: Kellogg & Wallace

Located in the Silver Valley of northern Idaho, the historic towns of Kellogg and Wallace offer winter activities, incredible views and an interesting history. Wallace, dubbed “The Center of the Universe”, once produced more silver than any other mining district in the country. Kellogg may be a quiet little city, but it’s overflowing with outdoor opportunities. 

Activities:

Silver Mountain Resort, in Kellogg, is a hub of winter fun with skiing, snowboarding, lift-served snow tubing, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Take a scenic ride on the nation’s longest gondola—a 3.1-mile cruise from Kellogg to the top of Silver Mountain. Silver Mountain Resort is also home to Silver Rapids, a large indoor water park that is available to guests who utilize Silver Mountain’s accommodations. 

Outside of Wallace, Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area straddles the Idaho-Montana border and boasts more than 400 inches of playful, powdery snow each year. Lookout Pass encompasses 540 acres, which is set to nearly double during its expansion over the next few years. 

Snowmobiling is incredible in this area. Zip through the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains on more than 1,000 miles of groomed Silver Valley Snowmobile Trails, which stretch from Coeur d’Alene to Montana. 

One could easily spend a full day exploring the historic town of Wallace. Known as the Center of the Universe, Wallace is also home to the Oasis Bordello Museum, the Wallace Mining Museum and numerous historic trails, though these may have limited accessibility depending on winter snowfall. 

Food & Drink:

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​In Wallace, visit City Limits Pub & Grill, a brewery, pub, grill and RV Park all in one area. Stop by Wallace Brewing Company to try an award-winning Redlight Irish Red Ale or a 1910 Black Lager. For great pub food and a bit of local history, try the 1313 Club Historic Saloon & Grill or head to Blackboard Café, a dual market and eatery that has out-of-this world sandwiches by day and gourmet Italian dinner fare by night. 

In Kellogg, stop by Radio Brewing Company, a brewery and restaurant that gives a nod to the Golden Age of radio. The cozy taproom has great pub fare and a solid beer lineup, with each brew named after an old radio show. For no-frills American food with a great atmosphere, head to Hill Street Depot, or go to Casa de Oro for traditional Mexican dishes and great service. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Overnight:

If you plan to do all your activities on the mountain, it’s best to stay at Silver Mountain Resort. The Morning Star Lodge offers condominiums with several floor plans and access to the resort’s indoor water park, Silver Rapids. At the base of Silver Mountain is FairBridge Inn & Suites, a classic hotel right next to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. In Wallace, book a room at the comfortable Wallace Inn or the boutique Ryan Hotel.

Make the most of your time in northern Idaho and explore all the region has to offer

Stay Safe with the 511 App

For real-time road conditions, visit 511.idaho.gov or download the free Idaho Transportation Department app on Google Play Store (Android) or the App Store (iOS).