Credit: Lookout Pass

Small Towns, Big Memories in
North Idaho

Go Snow and Go Home,
or Go Home and Go Snow?

“Dad, are we there yet?”

This time, it wasn’t my 13-year-old sister or me whining from the back seat. It was our dad, whining from the front seat. Grandpa was behind the wheel—actually going the speed limit for the first time since he turned 70. He was clearly excited about going home. I didn’t think my dream winter vacation involved flying to Spokane and then riding in the back of a minivan through North Idaho. However, I also didn’t think I’d ever hear my middle-aged dad whine. Him being this excited about going back to where he’d grown up had to be a good sign.

Fat bikes and
small-town vibes

“It all comes full circle,” said Mom. She was amused Kaitlyn and I were teaching Dad, who’d taught us how to ride bikes years ago, how to fat bike. In turn, he was trying to get Grandpa comfortable with the idea of riding on snow. Kaitlyn and I may not have had much say over where we spent winter break. But we got to help determine what we did. So, our first stop was to rent a fat bike fleet for the entire family. And while Dad and Grandpa may not have known how to ride fat bikes, they knew where to ride them.

Farragut State Park used to be a WWII-era training station,” Grandpa explained. These days, however, it’s fat biking central. We explored miles of groomed trails on low-pressure tires that could take us beyond the beaten path. It didn’t take long to realize that riding on snow makes you feel like you can do anything. Once the older folks got the hang of it, there was no stopping them either. After the first 4-mile loop, they were almost as fast as my sister and me.

“It’s a historic timber-turned-resort town,” Dad explained that night when we drove into Spirit Lake. We’d only just arrived but we were all already appreciating Idaho’s laid-back idea of a resort town. We’d checked into the charming Moose Inn (instead of a chain hotel), were about to eat dinner in the White Horse Saloon (Idaho’s oldest continuously operating saloon) and were already looking forward to waking up to breakfast at Annie’s Country Kitchen (“IHOP who?” Mom asked).

It didn’t take long to realize that riding on snow makes you feel like you can do anything.

Credit: Spirit Lake
Credit: Brad Sondahl
Credit: Marc Kroetch
Credit: North Idaho Tourism Alliance

Scenic trails
and historic times

“Have you ridden the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes yet?” asked the bike shop employee.

Kaitlyn’s eyes lit up. Our attempt to return the fat bike rentals the next morning was futile. Instead, we drove south to Harrison to hop onto what Grandpa said would be one of the best stretches of the trail. Unlike Farragut—a recreation area with fat biking trails, a sledding hill and a skate skiing loop—this was just a trail. But apparently “just” in North Idaho meant a well-maintained paved bike path skirting the shores of beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene.

If you’re lucky like we were on an early February trip from Harrison to Kellogg, a few inches of dry, lightly compacted snow will make for a fun ride with no big hills. We had plenty of time and daylight to take in the lakes, wetlands, and abundant wildlife, including bald eagles, raptors, quail, coyotes, otters, geese, deer, and moose.

We didn’t see another human out on the quiet, snow-covered stretch of trail between Harrison and Enaville, but we were repeatedly greeted by startled mobs of geese and awed by the serene beauty of the Coeur d’Alene River and silence of the winter wonderland all around us. My dad pointed out that if we had even more time, it would be easy to explore sections of this scenic part of the trail from Enaville, Cataldo, and other trailheads further west towards Harrison.

That afternoon we visited the tiny town of St. Maries where Grandpa was born.

“Was that your house?” Kaitlyn asked when we pulled up to a log home that looked like something Abe Lincoln would walk out of. Grandpa laughed and explained that no, it was the Hughes House Museum. It may not have been his old house, but inside we got to see what life was like in North Idaho when Grandpa was a kid and even before he was born. There was also a special exhibit on the 100 years since woman suffrage. In 1920 women had earned their right to vote, but in Idaho they had been voting for nearly a quarter of a century before the 19th Amendment was ratified, which made Grandpa think about his mom.

We had plenty of time and daylight to take in the lakes, wetlands, and abundant wildlife, including bald eagles, raptors, quail, coyotes, otters, geese, deer, and moose.

Credit: Silver Mountain Resort

Tube races
and perfect powder

“When I was a kid, we had to walk uphill, both ways,” Dad said the next day on the gondola at Silver Mountain. None of us laughed at his dad joke. But that was just because the views had left us speechless. This 3.2-mile, 25-minute gondola ride—which we learned is the longest in North America—was kind of like a plane takeoff. But instead of a brief glimpse of skyscrapers and traffic, we got to stare at a sea of trees and mountain peaks as we ascended. We also saw the tubing hill where we had reservations to ride. Dad’s biggest reservation was that Grandpa would get hurt.

Instead, Grandpa hurt Dad’s ego when he beat him on their first race down the hill. We all had the same big tubes, but Grandpa had a degree in engineering and he wasn’t afraid to use it.

The next morning, Kaitlyn and I were excited to check out Lookout Pass. It was only our third time downhill skiing, but luckily they offered free skiing lessons on Saturdays. Grandpa told us that this is where he’d learned to ski as a kid. “Their free Saturday ski school is actually older than I am,” he said.

The conditions were so great we felt fearless carving through the perfect powder. By the end of the day we were ready to graduate from green runs, and we finished the day on Copper Spur, a blue run. The coolest part of the mountain was that some runs went through both Idaho and Montana.

For Mom and Dad, the coolest part was all the snow. In Chicago we’re lucky to get 35 inches of snowfall a year. Here, the annual average was 33 feet!

Credit: Local Freshies
Credit: Bob Legasa Freeride Media
Credit: Craig Hill

Fresh tracks
and fun for all

We spent the last two days of our trip taking advantage of all the fluffy white stuff. Unlike in the city, the snow here was clean enough to eat. There was also enough of it that we got to snowshoe and cross-country ski from one town—or as it calls itself, the Center of the Universe—to another. Thanks to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, we started in Wallace and ended up in Osburn without ever needing to get on I-90. “If I lived here, I’d want to ski to school in the winter,” said Kaitlyn.

“If I lived here, I’d want to Ski-Doo to school,” I eventually said.

Renting snowmobiles and laying fresh tracks outside of Avery was probably the highlight of the trip for me. I’d been in the country before, but this was the backcountry. It was just our family, the pure mountain air and miles and miles of trails to ride. Sure, this was our last day of vacation. But for now, I just focused on the fun. Mom, Kaitlyn and I were enjoying the elements, and Dad and Grandpa were definitely in theirs.

I’d been in the country before, but this was the backcountry. It was just our family, the pure mountain air and miles and miles of trails to ride.

Credit: Local Freshies

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