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Aaron Theisen worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.

My riding buddy and I are cruising up a climbing trail at the Sherwood Forest trail system in Sandpoint, in northern Idaho’s Panhandle, and we’re already making plans for our next ride. We’ve come up for the day to check out the trail network, and conditions are ideal. Wildflowers carpet the understory, the previous day’s rain has refreshed the rich soil under our wheels, and a breeze blows through the cedar forest and cools our ascent.​​​​​​​

boy riding a mountain bike on forest trail
Sherwood Forest lives up to its fairy-tale namesake. Photo credit: Aaron Theisen.

“We’ll have to come back another day and start on the other side, ride the Rollers and Ripple and Pajama Party and—”

“Wait,” my friend interrupts. “I honestly forgot we weren’t here on a vacation!”

It’s an easy mistake to make.

If Sherwood Forest lives up to its namesake, the town of Sandpoint, sandwiched between Schweitzer Mountain and the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, amplifies that fairy-tale feeling. Lake Pend Oreille, one of the deepest lakes in the nation, even has its own mythical lake-dwelling, Loch Ness-like creature. And while the Pend Oreille Paddler may or may not make Sandpoint its home turf, the pedaler sure does.

From the cloud-capped masses of granite that form the Selkirk and Cabinet Mountain ranges, to the centuries-old cedar trees shading the lowlands, the landscape feels both vast and intimate. For mountain bikers, that translates into perfect dirt and Nature’s air conditioning when summer heats up.

man riding mountain bike in thick brush
The author takes a spin in front of the lens in the Panhandle backcountry. Photo credit: Aaron Theisen.

Syringa Trail Network

You can learn a lot about a trail network by its climbing routes. It’s easy to enjoy a high-speed descent; everyone is a critic on a climb. By that measure, the Syringa Trail Network, just outside downtown Sandpoint, makes the (mellow, incredibly scenic) grade.

The Syringa trail system stitches together a mix of private conservation easements and public conservation lands: Pine Street Woods (PSW), Sherwood Forest and VTT. The smooth, flowy machine-built trails of PSW accommodate beginner riders, whereas the trails of Sherwood Forest skew to the intermediate and advanced rider.

The trail builders didn’t skimp on the descents, though. From the twisty roots and tight rock passages of the expert-grade West Side Trail to the big banked turns of brand-new Momentum, riders will smile from bottom to top and back again.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort

Like the rest of the Selkirk Range, Schweitzer is a mass of imposing granite. That means dedicated downhillers can get wild on natural rock features and steep singletrack but it also provides a solid foundation for flowy, family-friendly tracks. From the top of the Great Escape quad at the resort’s summit, riders can descend High Point to Bear Grass, an intermediate track with big banked turns and even bigger views. And several nationally renowned build crews are readying more flow trails to debut in 2022.

Of course, if you’re searching for rocky technical trails, Schweitzer has those in spades, with Pinch Flat as chunky as Bear Grass is buttery.

Schweitzer’s trail system offers plenty for pedalers too, with a collection of beginner and intermediate cross-country trails accessible from the base area. And, thanks to a partnership between the resort, the City of Sandpoint, the Selkirk Recreation District and the Pend Oreille Pedalers, the local trail-building and advocacy club, Schweitzer connects into a large—and growing—trail system in the Schweitzer Basin below the ski area. The High Point trail continues past the resort boundary into the basin, where the fast, forested berms of Flo and Lower Basin deposit riders some four thousand feet below the summit. A series of access points on Schweitzer Mountain Road allows for shuttling, or for the truly ambitious, a city-to-summit climb. Fortunately, the vistas and huckleberry picking provide plenty of excuses for breaks.

mountain bike rider on rocky point overlooking lake
The mountains surrounding Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille provide ample opportunity to seek the high ground. Photo credit: Aaron Theisen.

In addition, thanks to a partnership between the resort, the City of Sandpoint, the Selkirk Recreation District and the Pend Oreille Pedalers, Sandpoint boasts an epic summit-to-city circuit.

From the top of the Great Escape chairlift at Schweitzer, riders can descend the Highpoint Trail to connect to Uleda Ridge and the Selkirk Recreation District trails down to the valley floor—some four thousand vertical feet over 12 miles, almost all on singletrack.

Eventually the Highpoint Trail will be part of the planned Watershed Crest trail, a multi-year project which will circumnavigate the watershed on some thirty miles of trail.

Mineral Point

Situated on a bluff overlooking Green Bay on the west side of Lake Pend Oreille, the Mineral Point trail network traces six miles of mellow, shaded trails amidst a dramatic lakeside landscape. With a trailhead at the rustic Green Bay Forest Service campground, riders can wrap up with drinks on the cobbled beach—or make a home base for a bikes-and-tents weekend.

mountain bike rider on forest trail
The landscape of the Panhandle ranges from subalpine to thick inland rainforest. Sometimes in the same ride. Photo credit: Aaron Theisen.

Out of Town

Brush Lake

About an hour north of Sandpoint, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest constructed the six-mile Brush Lake Loop with bikes in mind, and it shows: switchbacks are wide so that bikes can handle the turns without skidding, and the climbs are mellow and interspersed with quick descents. More importantly, it’s fun, with granite slabs and swooping turns aplenty. And the dock at the day-use area serves as a launchpad for post-ride celebratory cannonballs.​​​​​​​

boy mountain bike riding on rock slab
The rock slabs of Brush Lake bring out the kid in any rider. Photo credit: Aaron Theisen.

Après

Burritos and bikes go together like…well, burritos and anything else. Joel’s is a Sandpoint institution for a reason, and its burritos—with plentiful options for both meat-eaters and vegans—are worth standing in line for.

Shop

Greasy Fingers Bikes N Repair, in downtown Sandpoint, has all the essentials. More importantly, owner Brian Anderson has first-hand intel on any trail in North Idaho worth riding.

Support

The Pend Oreille Pedalers, the local bicycle advocacy group, built and now maintains most of the biking trails in the region, from Syringa to the Selkirks.

Feature image credited to Aaron Theisen.

Aaron Theisen is an outdoors writer & photographer whose work has appeared in Freehub, Mountain Flyer, Powder, Backpacker and elsewhere. His passions are the big peaks and small towns of the Northern Rockies. When he’s not searching for obscure trails or sampling the region’s dive bars, Aaron can be found mountain biking and skiing around his hometown of Spokane, Wash.

Published on May 6, 2021