When you picture your perfect summer vacation, is there sun and sand? Lazy pedaling to lakeside ice cream shops? Quiet trails under fir canopies? Maybe riding rapids through a rugged canyon? If you’re thinking any—or all—of these, you’re thinking North Idaho.

North Idaho is best known for its endless H20, like the shimmering Lake Coeur d’Alene and its namesake small city; Lake Pend Oreille on the shores of the picturesque Sandpoint; and the St. Joe River, a blue-ribbon trout stream. But there are plenty of great family-friendly, offshore adventures, too. Check out some of these options, then just try not to schedule a trip!

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Plan for long, happy days of swimming and boating, plenty of fishing, and lakeside hiking or cycling. You’ll find plentiful services and lodging options at Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille near Sandpoint, and the more pristine and remote Priest Lake. Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint are home to art galleries, boutiques, and shops (you’ll definitely find that ice cream cone here), while Priest Lake is more remote, with cabins and a state park nestled along its forested shores.

If you have golfers in the family, make a reservation to play on the famous Coeur d’Alene Resort course, known for its majestic lake views and the world’s only floating green.


For all-day screams and smiles, head to Silverwood Theme Park to ride coasters, log flumes, and kids rides, plus—of course—eat your share of “fun” food. Passes include entry into the adjacent Boulder Beach Water Park’s wave pools, slides, and kid splash areas. In Hayden, a few minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, the Triple Play Fun Zone is an awesome arcade-style destination for go karts, mini golf, laser tag, and an indoor water park.


For a more rugged adventure, try a whitewater trip down the Moyie River, which flows through a remote wilderness canyon north of Sandpoint. Your family will help paddle Class II-III rapids in one of Idaho’s most scenic settings—and spot osprey and (fingers crossed) the occasional bear. This is an all-day adventure with ROW outfitters, and it runs only in early summer.

See Idaho’s wild side at the 2,774-acre Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge near Bonners Ferry. This habitat is home to hundreds of species of animals and birds, including raptors, moose, elk, deer, bats, and coyote. Four easy hiking trails—of which two are wheelchair-accessible—wind you through different habitats and lead to observation points. You’re most likely to see moose at dusk, when they wander through the wetlands and riparian areas in search of dinner. No matter the time of day you visit, bring binocs and a camera!

Combine several adventures near Wallace, where you can soar 300 feet above mountainous terrain with Silver Streak Zipline Tours, or take mountain bikes on the lift to the top of Silver Mountain for a downhill ride that’ll get your heart racing. Too much adrenaline? The whole family can rent bikes and pedal the more relaxed Route of the Hiawatha, a 15-mile rail trail that meanders along the North Fork of the St. Joe, taking you through railroad tunnels, over trestle bridges, and past never-ending waterfalls. While you’re in Wallace, where the whole town is on the National Register of Historic Places, visit the mining and railroad museums that celebrate the area’s industrious past, and go underground for guided tours of the Sierra Silver Mine.


Take a day off from sunning and running to drive the Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway, which follows the lake’s eastern shoreline. You’ll spot bald eagles and osprey; this stretch is actually home to the largest population of nesting osprey in the West. The route continues through gentle hills and dense forests to the charming town of Harrison, a beautiful spot to grab lunch or dinner and stretch your legs.

For more information to help plan your perfect north Idaho family vacation, visit http://visitnorthidaho.com.

Trip Tips

If family vacations tend to leave you exhausted, spend part of your north Idaho vacation in a more remote setting like Priest Lake, where you can relax on the deck while the kids swim on your own private beach.

Even if you think you’ll mainly be swimming and boating, pack sturdy shoes and other hiking gear. Once you catch a glimpse of north Idaho’s rugged mountains and forests, or even the easily accessible trails like the Tubbs Hill Trail near downtown Coeur d’Alene, you’ll get an itch to explore off-beach.

Book lodging, including campsites, several months in advance. Not all campgrounds in the area accept reservations; for instance, Priest Lake State Park is walk-up only (first-come, first-served). You’ll have better luck if you arrive at a walk-up campground on a Thursday, then reserve your spot through the weekend.

If your calendar is open, consider scheduling your vacation during the Festival at Sandpoint in August, featuring eight nights of music on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille. If you’re in Coeur d’Alene on Sundays in the summer, head downtown from 1 to 4 pm for the City Park summer concert series.

Pack some long sleeves for your north Idaho evenings. Days are warm, but evenings can be refreshingly chilly. Average overnight lows in and around Coeur d’Alene are in the 50s during the summer.

Laurie McConnell

Published on April 1, 2015