If you follow our adventure posts regularly, you may be wondering why the title of this post is Idaho Panhandle Adventure II instead of an adventure in Lake Tahoe. We had a last-minute change of plans. When we were heading back home from the Dutch John ~ Flaming Gorge, Utah adventure, we decided that we wanted to revisit the Idaho Panhandle area. I (Stella) scrambled to cancel our reservations in Lake Tahoe and booked a campground in Coeur d’Alene.
During our Idaho Panhandle ~ Canada Adventure last year, we had so much fun and still aspired to do more there. Unfortunately, like all of our other adventures this spring and summer, the weather was uncooperative and we were unable to do much of what we had planned, which was a bummer considering the long drive. And, there were two area fires shrouding the sky in smoke. Fortunately, we were able to do a few new things on this second trip. Naturally, the days after our departure, the weather in the Idaho Panhandle was perfect.
Day 1: Since we had been stuck in the Tahoe for two long days, we were eager to kick off our Idaho Panhandle Adventure II and do a long ride. In the morning, we had planned to bike on the Route of the Hiawatha. The Route of the Hiawatha is a 15-mile-long downhill trail. The trail takes you over seven sky-high trestles and through the 1.66-mile-long St. Paul Pass tunnel, in addition to nine other train tunnels. The trail follows the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains located near the Lookout Pass Ski Area.
Biking on the Trail of the Hiawatha requires a bit of planning, particularly over the summer months as you cannot just show up. For starters, a pass is required along with a few additional necessities. As mentioned earlier, the trail from the start is downhill. You do have the option to ride back up; however, a shuttle is available to return you to the entrance of the St. Paul Pass tunnel, where you will ride your bike back to the parking area. But it was very windy with a high chance of rain.
Instead, we went to Farragut State Park near Athol and hiked along the Shoreline Trail. You may be thinking: “Stella hiking the summer? What?” Yes, I agreed to go on a hike because the trail was flat and the wind kept it very cool. We parked the Tahoe at the Beaver Bay Beach and Swimming Area. Our initial trek took us west, down to Buttonhook Bay. Reversing course, we headed east along the northern shore of Idlewilde Bay on the lower Shoreline Trail, which is entirely dirt-packed. The majority of the trail is tree-covered, providing great shade. As mentioned earlier, this is an easy, flat trail. However, several parts of the trail are washed out from erosion so you have to watch your footing in a few spots.
Once we had reached the end of the trail at Farragut Boat Launch, we returned along the Upper Shoreline Trail. This section is comprised of crushed gravel. There are a few picnic tables and bike racks along this portion of the trail which takes you back to the Beaver Bay Beach and Swimming Area parking lot. We hiked a total of: 3.93 miles.
With the wind still being too high to paddle on Lake Pend Oreille, we headed to Clark Fork. Our journey first took us to the Clark Fork Pantry (a “MUST” visit store) and then to a pull-out along Hwy 200 near the train trestle separating the Pack River delta and Lake Pend Oreille. We were elated to find this area was sheltered from the wind, providing water smooth as glass. On our last trip, we had wanted to kayak on the Pack River but did not have time, so we were very excited to do this!
We paddled north along the shoreline, skirting Hwy 200 before heading west towards the river. You could spend the day paddling around the river delta with all of its small islands to explore. Upon entering the river, our journey took us in a more northerly direction as we crossed under Hwy 200 to further explore. We entered into a channel to the east towards Trout Creek where we meandered a bit further before making the decision to turn around.
At the exact moment we turned around, the wind spurred into action! The entire way back, we fought the wind and water, and as par for the course, we were rained on as well. We consistently experience this exact scenario everywhere we go: perfect weather out and the moment we reverse course, bad weather suddenly begins. Such is our luck. With the kayak loaded on the Tahoe, we headed back to the campground for the rest of the evening. We kayaked a total of: 5.37 miles.
Day 2: This day was a washout, with rain on/off all day long. We went to see “The Meg 2,” where I screamed in the theater a few times, startling everyone sitting around me more than the movie itself. Oh well.
Day 3: On our trip to the Idaho Panhandle last year, we enjoyed two mega bike treks on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a 72.5-mile, one-way, paved trail system between Plummer and Mullan. Last year, we biked 42 miles one day and 50 miles two days later. Each of those days, we had begun at a different point on the trail, the Plummer Trailhead and the Black Rock Trailhead. On this trip, Larry wanted to start biking at the Silver Mountain Trailhead in Kellogg so that we would complete the full 72.5-mile trail system.
The majority of the trail from Kellogg to Mullan runs through housing areas and along the highway following the Coeur d’Alene River. There are only a few forested sections, so this is not a ‘scenic’ portion of the trail system. The trail has a very gentle incline all the way to Mullan but does get slightly steeper the closer you get to Mullan. The trail abruptly ends at a parking lot in Mullan where you look around like, ‘Oh, this is the end.’
The ride back was quite a bit faster since it was mostly downhill. Once we had reached the Tahoe, I desperately wanted to continue riding but I had a falling out with my bike saddle (seat). It had caused me a great deal of discomfort and I just could not tolerate riding for one more second. It is unfortunate because I had tested it out multiple times (for a total of about 50 miles) prior to this trip and did not experience any problems with it. After biking, we had planned to kayak or paddleboard on either Lake Coeur d’Alene or Lake Pend Oreille but it was too windy once again. We biked a total of: 37 miles.
Day 4: On our trip to the Idaho Panhandle last year, we spent a lot of time kayaking and paddleboarding on Lake Pend Orielle since we had stayed at a campground in Hope, located right on the lake. We had attempted to paddle on Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River, but every time it had been too windy. On this day, we had great luck – finally!
We parked the Tahoe at Heyburn State Park, which has a boat launch area and is also along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. The southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene, after the bridge, is actually considered to be two different lakes even though they’re one big body of water: Round Lake and Lake Chatcolet. These two smaller lakes are separated by the St. Joe River.
We started our paddle on Lake Chatcolet heading to the southern end of the lake, paddling through and around a myriad of lily pads. Our adventure continued along the southern shore before paddling under what we thought was an abandoned train trestle, all while Larry was looking for the entrance to the St. Joe River. I did not care what body of water we paddled on – I just wanted to paddle! After reversing course and paddling under the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes Bridge, we were technically on Lake Coeur d’Alene at that point.
Crossing under the bridge, there is a row of small cottages on Hidden Lake (one of the many named lakes on Lake Coeur d’Alene) to the left. My ears picked up on a dog barking very loudly and incessantly, from what sounded like the inside of a metal boathouse due to the echoing effect. I was immediately on alert and insisted that we paddle over there to investigate, much to Larry’s chagrin. When we arrived at the cottage, a dog charged out from around the back of the house and onto the boat dock next to us.
I was relieved that the dog wasn’t cooped up inside a hot metal boathouse, but was instead alarmed that the homeowners had left the dog outside, completely alone! My mind conjured up a dozen immediate dangers that could befall the pup. And because of it’s barking, I was concerned that something was wrong behind the house. We then paddled to a cottage where a gentleman was sitting outside. He said that the homeowners often leave the dog alone like that so there’s nothing to worry about. Well, that didn’t relieve my concerns entirely, but at least I knew what was going on. As Larry always tells me, “Stella, you can’t save them all.”
We had great weather for the entire paddle! And we would have continued paddling but I was really eager to do some biking since we were right by the trail. Unfortunately, once we got the kayak loaded on the Tahoe, I realized just how unrealistic that aspiration was. I was still far too sore to bike. We then thought about walking on the trail for a bit but I was just irritated with not being able to bike, as well as the dog situation, so that was it for the day. We paddled a total of: 13.04 miles.
Day 5: This day was a washout, with high winds and rain on/off all day long. We took a drive to Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint. The drive up is beautiful, as it winds through bushy, green trees, packed so densely that one cannot even see through them. I am fascinated with trees, and the forests in the Panhandle are very different from other areas of the western states; the beetle kill infestation at the moment, is minimal here.
At the top, we parked the Tahoe and walked over to an area where a mountain biking class was taking place. Upon inquiry, we learned that it was a camp for kids, teaching them how to mountain bike! We were enthralled with this! We do not have children; however, we are firm believers in providing kids, at the earliest age possible, with the opportunity to take risks, challenge themselves, and overcome fear, which is exactly what this camp is all about! The confidence that kids develop from giving them these opportunities is such a huge reward, and will encourage them to continue trying new things throughout the rest of their lives. After driving back to the bottom of the resort, we explored a few landmarks in Sandpoint before heading back to the campground.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It is a huge bummer that we were unable to do much of what we had planned during our Idaho Panhandle Adventure, but this has been par for the course for us this summer. The next time that we visit the panhandle area will likely be in the winter so we can explore the Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges on our cross-country skis and snowshoes! There are ample places to adventure there in the winter.
With that being said, unfortunately, the Idaho Panhandle Adventure II will be our last trip this year. October is when I am usually in planning mode for our winter excursions. However, this upcoming winter season will not include any cross-country skiing or snowshoeing for me. I am undergoing bilateral ankle surgery on both the tendons and ligaments in both ankles, and I have six months of physical therapy, lasting until March 2024.
It is my prayer that this sacrifice will yield long-term benefits. I’ve encouraged Larry to go on without me so that we (myself and our followers) may live through his experiences this winter season. And even though we do not have any winter adventures planned at this time, we do have several gear reviews that will be coming out over the next few months.
WHAT NEXT: What is in store for Paddle & Trails in 2024? We changed our website and logo for a reason… Stay tuned!
GUESS TO WIN: What is the name of the mountain range in our new logo? It was meticulously designed to match a particular U.S. mountain range. For the first 10 people who answer correctly, we will send you a free sticker! (Limited to the United States and Canada) It is simple, just leave a comment with your guess.
SOME OF THE GEAR USED: