Are you freezing and looking for something new to do? You don’t have to travel outside of the Gem State this winter to find a new snow-soaked ski hill or unique winter activity to enjoy with your family. Instead, you can stay local by visiting attractions in Northern Idaho.

Idaho’s panhandle is loaded with various options and has a little something for everyone. Why travel all the way to Minnesota to snowmobile or to Colorado to ski when access to staggering mountains, dense forests, and exclusive events are right outside your front door? Mark your calendar and take notes as we guide you through some of Northern Idaho’s first-rate winter activities and relaxing family day options.

1. Sandpoint Winter Carnival

Skijoring at the Sandpoint Winter Carnival. Photo credit: Annie Pflueger
Skijoring at the Sandpoint Winter Carnival. Photo credit: Annie Pflueger

The Sandpoint Winter Carnival has been held every year since February of 1973. This party up north is the perfect way to celebrate winter, with events such as restaurant tours, ski and board parties, bonfires, a Parade of Lights, sleigh rides, and concerts featuring big-time artists. This year’s performers include G. Love and Special Sauce, who will be playing at The Hive on February 11th. Check them out for yourself and share your experience with us Instagram or Facebook, #VisitIdaho.

Sandpoint’s 2016 Winter Carnival will be held from February 10th – 21st this year, so be sure to plan your trip ahead of time by viewing the events list and lodging page.

Hotels and Resorts in Sandpoint

Sandpoint has everything from luxurious and affordable lodges to nationally recognized mountain resorts. To help narrow it down for you, here is a list of three highly recommended places to stay during your trip up north. Make sure you book your stay ahead of time as spots tend to fill up quickly!

  1. Lodge at Sandpoint, Phone: 208-263-2211
  2. Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Phone: 877-487-4643
  3. Hotel Ruby Ponderay, Phone: 208-263-5383

To see a full list of hotels and resorts in Sandpoint click here.

Restaurants in Sandpoint

Sandpoint hosts a wide array of culinary options with everything from pubs and grills to upscale lounges. Be sure to call ahead and make reservations whenever possible, as the Winter Carnival draws a large crowd. To view the list of restaurants in Sandpoint, click here.

2. Earn Some Turns at Silver Mountain, Lookout Pass, and Schweitzer

Silver Mountain Resort

Ski Silver Mountain
Emerging from a plume of Silver Mountain’s finest.

Silver Mountain Resort is situated in Idaho’s panhandle and offers an extensive terrain park for serious riders including 73 well-groomed trails, 1,600 acres of pristine terrain, and more than 300 inches of snow on the ground each year. Make sure you visit Gondola Village while you’re there – it’s filled with excellent shops, restaurants, and a day spa to help you relax while your kids play at the Silver Rapids Indoor Waterpark. For more information, visit Silver Mountain Resort online.

Hotels and Resorts Near Silver Mountain

I highly recommend staying at Morning Star Lodge. This resort offers incredible rooms for the prices, and the waterpark is great for the kids with a lazy river, slides, and hot tubs.

Restaurants Near Silver Mountain

A must-try restaurant near Silver Mountain is Moose Creek Grill, where the portions are monstrous and well worth the price. Be sure to try the filet mignon or crab legs, locals rave over how tasty they are!

Lookout Pass

Rolling Thunder Terrain Park at Lookout Pass.
Rolling Thunder Terrain Park at Lookout Pass.

Nested just outside of Mullan, Lookout Pass receives over 400 inches of annual snowfall. Lookout spans 540 acres with 34 named runs and prime powder glades, the longest of which is 1.5 miles. The majority of the terrain is built for intermediate skill levels, which makes it  ideal for family outings. Rentals and repairs are offered with a 24-hour notice, as well as lessons for any level of expertise. Visit Lookout Pass for further details.

Hotels and Resorts Near Lookout Pass

Most skiers tend to stay in Coeur d’Alene when skiing Lookout Pass, just a short one hour drive to the east. If you decide to take this route, be sure to stay at the Coeur d’Alene Resort and relax in their one-of-a-kind spa after your long day up on the hill.

Restaurants Near Lookout Pass

Adventures in Deliciousness, known for its unique cuisine, has been a local favorite for years. Order the mac & cheese with bacon balls for the kids and treat yourself to the chorizo burger with fried eggs.


Taking in the views from the top of Schweitzer's peak.
Taking in the views from the top of Schweitzer’s peak.

Schweitzer Mountain is one of the most incredible ski hills in the Northwest, and it just so happens to sit right in the heart of Idaho’s panhandle. This beautiful mountain is known for jaw-dropping scenery, with views of three mountain ranges from the top of the summit. This skier’s utopia has over 2,900 acres of impressive terrain and multiple runs that tailor to every level of skier and boarder.

Hotels and Resorts Near Schweitzer

No visit to Schweitzer is complete without a stay at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. It’s located only 11 miles from downtown Sandpoint and features heart-stopping alpine views with extraordinary dining and lodging.

Restaurants Near Schweitzer

Take a short 11-mile drive to Sandpoint and visit Mickduff’s Brewing Company. This family restaurant and brewery has 100% all-natural handcrafted beers and delicious food such as gorgonzola cheese fries and chicken ciabattas.

3. Snowcat at Priest Lake

Winter at Priest Lake.

If you feel like winter has passed you by this year, there’s no need to panic, there’s still plenty of snow piling up on top of Idaho’s mountains. So if you’re looking to get outside and cruise through some deep snow, you’ll want to head up north. There are few places that get as much powder as Northern Idaho’s Elkins Resort on Priest Lake. This gorgeous area is not too far from the Canadian border and is perfect for snowmobilers looking to test their skills.

The Elkins Resort is a winter enthusiast’s paradise with two trailheads that carve access far and wide over the Selkirk Mountain Range. The best part? All of this terrain is directly accessible from your cabin. There are hundreds of miles of thick snow-packed trails that climb up mountain tops as high as 7,000 feet. You can explore lush wooded trails and wide open snow-drenched valleys. You’ll want to take your camera along for this ride to capture Idaho in all of her natural beauty.

If you’re worried about food and refueling there’s no need to fret. There are pit stops and excellent guideposts that will safely guide you down the trails that lead to restaurants in town.

Restaurants Near Priest Lake

Make sure you stop in at Sweet Lou’s in Sandpoint during your visit and enjoy a mouthwatering bison burger with a cold brew or explore the wide array of culinary options Sandpoint offers from pubs and grills to upscale lounges. To view the full list of restaurants in Sandpoint click here.

Northern Idaho is loaded with fun family options and has a little something for everyone. If you’re looking for more fun up north, things to do, events, or places to stay, check out Visit North Idaho online for more information.

This author is a paid content writer for Idaho Tourism.

Tyler Schnur

Published on January 26, 2016