Credit: International Selkirk Loop

Winter Family Fun in
North Idaho

A family of four, plus Grandma, piles into the station wagon for an unforgettable family road trip through North Idaho

It might sound like the start of a joke: three adults and two kids pack up an SUV and hit the road. Misadventure ensues. But that was us—me and Mark in the front seat, the boys behind us, and Grandma Lucy, somehow, way back in the third row. We had ski equipment strapped to the roof, luggage in the cargo hold and an appetite for some real winter exploration.

Credit: Tom Holman

Off to
the races

After crawling out of Seattle at a snail’s pace we made pretty good time to Priest Lake, Idaho. The freshly powdered rolling hills were inviting, accentuated by the steep snow-packed peaks of the mountainous region beyond, and we were looking to explore the backcountry landscape from the seat of a snowmobile.

We made it just in time to catch the afternoon portion of the Vintage Snowmobile Race near the Priest Lake Airstrip, on a wide oval track that was carved into the snow. Bystanders lined the loop, watching riders jostle for first place on vehicles made prior to 1985. We caught the junior class heats—riders as small as our boys, their miniature snowmobiles buzzing like a swarm of bees as they zoomed by. Christopher cheered on the racer in the bright green jacket, his little arms flailing with excitement each time he passed.

“You know, Christopher,” I said, leaning down so he could hear me over the engines, “these snowmobiles were made before 1985. That’s almost 25 years before you were even born!”

“Grandma,” Tyler asked, tugging on the hem of Lucy’s down jacket, “Were you alive in 1985?”

Grandma Lucy gave me a wink and a knowing smile, and then replied, “Yes, sweetie, I sure was. I used to ride those when they were brand new!”

After watching the final race—Christopher’s green-jacket hero took second place—we were in desperate need of something strong and hot to warm up. We piled back into the SUV and headed into Coolin, where five steaming mugs of hot cocoa from the Tyee Coffee Company warmed us from the inside out.

The freshly powdered rolling hills were inviting, accentuated by the steep snow-packed peaks of the mountainous region beyond, and we were looking to explore the backcountry landscape from the seat of a snowmobile.

Credit: Schweitzer Mountain

Action packed adventure
and scenery, too

The next morning, we hit the west side of the lake—Priest Lake Power Sports, to be precise—where we rented a set of snowmobiles to do our own racing. Christopher rode with Mark, and Tyler paired up with me. Grandma Lucy, ever the adventurer, took her own ride, howling with laughter as she caught air over bumps in the forest service road.

Grandma’s antics only increased the boys’ excitement, and soon they were begging for a snowball fight. We parked along the shore of the lake and raced each other to make the most cannonball-sized ammunition from the powdery snow. Soon, we were pelting one another, the boys running wild, flinging snowballs with zeal. Finally, lungs aching from breathing in the frigid air, I dropped back and watched as the boys and Grandma Lucy targeted Mark, hitting him with a rapid-fire barrage of snow.

Back at the car, we stripped off our snow-soaked jackets and cranked the heat up. It was time to say goodbye to the lake and find our next adventure. The boys quickly crashed in the backseat, snoring with open mouths as we drove to Priest River. We stopped for lunch at the Village Kitchen Restaurant in Priest River. After a morning of snowmobiling, we’d all worked up an appetite, and their variety of comfort food options and big portions was just what we were looking for.

After lunch, we hopped on Highway 2 and drove a 20-mile stretch of the International Selkirk Loop. Grandma Lucy began telling the boys about the road trip they took when Mark was a child, traversing the scenic byway in their wood-paneled station wagon.

“Your dad and his sister started ripping pages out of my book and making paper airplanes to throw at each other across the backseat,” she explained.

“Well,” Mark said, laughing heartily, “that was long before I came to appreciate a good scenic drive—or a book. What can I say? I was six!”

We could follow all 280 miles of the loop—it would take us up into Canada, through historic towns, over mountain passes and even on a ferry across a stretch of Kootenay Lake, before circling back to this very spot. But today, we would only take a small portion of the drive. Today, it was time to go Schweitzer Mountain.

We checked into the Selkirk Lodge, a classic mountainside ski lodge with snow-covered eaves and a crackling fireplace in the lobby. The boys couldn’t wait to hit the slopes, so we helped them into their snowsuits and then donned our own. Soon, Grandma Lucy was waving us off—today, she preferred a more relaxing afternoon, and was heading to Solstice Spa for a massage.

We parked along the shore of the lake and raced each other to make the most cannonball-sized ammunition from the powdery snow. Soon, we were pelting one another, the boys running wild, flinging snowballs with zeal.

Credit: International Selkirk Loop

Snow much fun!

Tyler and Christopher seemed to be growing into naturals on the slopes. They were much faster compared to last year’s trip to the Cascades, so after a few warm-up runs on Happy Trails, we were ready for something a little more challenging. Christopher gasped when we hit the top of Ridge Run—a thick blanket of clouds lay below us, so it looked like we were on an island in the sky, surrounded only by the other peaks of Schweitzer. We glided down the trail, wind in our faces, snow-packed pines flying by, with permanent grins affixed to our faces.

The following day, we were back down the mountain and onto our next destination—Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. The boys were thrilled to be on a real working dude ranch, and eagerly pointed out every horse and ranch hand they spotted. We bundled up and climbed into the back of a rustic five-passenger carriage drawn by Queen and Justice, two regal black horses decked out in bells and harnesses. Even though it was February, Grandma Lucy led the boys in a festive round of “Jingle Bells,” and Mark and I couldn’t help but join in as we glided through the snowy forest.

After our old-fashioned sleigh ride, we headed to Bonners Ferry for the final night of our adventure. We had two rooms at the Northside School Bed & Breakfast, a charming historic schoolhouse converted into an inn. We capped off the evening with a night skate at a rink downtown nestled between historic brick buildings and the banks of the Kootenay River. After an hour of skating, Tyler wanted a break, so I took his hand and we ambled to the sidelines. As we sat on a bench watching Mark, Christopher, and Grandma Lucy glide around the rink, Tyler yawned and rested his head on me as I wrapped an arm around him.

“Mom,” he said sleepily, closing his eyes, “I’m going to remember this trip forever.”

He was out like a light as I whispered, “So am I, little guy.”

We glided down the trail, wind in our faces, snow-packed pines flying by, with permanent grins affixed to our faces.

Credit: International Selkirk Loop
Credit: International Selkirk Loop
Credit: Local Freshies

Make lifelong memories with your family on a North Idaho road trip