A cycle vacation on the 72-mile paved Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes in North Idaho is a great way to discover the beauty, rich history, culture, people, and ambiance of the seven mountain communities the trail touches. You can easily spend a whole week exploring everything there is to do. There is a handy list of FAQs at www.southlakecda.com/trail.htm, and the Idaho State Parks and Recreation Dept. provides updates on trail conditions at 208-682-3814.
Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation and Heyburn State Park
Start at Plummer, Idaho, on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation by checking out the new metal sculpture and memorial wall at the trailhead to honor the tribe's veterans. The modern and spacious tribal Wellness Center just south of the trailhead welcomes day visitors for $5. There are no water fountains at any of the trailheads or wayside stops along the trail, except here, so get water at the stores in the towns along the way.
From Plummer, there's a nice seven-mile ride, mostly downhill, through a forested canyon. There are a couple of rest areas along the way before reaching Heyburn State Park on the south end of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Camping along the trail is prohibited, except at developed sites, and Heyburn has lots of them. The three-mile hike at Indian Cliffs Trailhead is a great place to get an overview of the surrounding mountains and waters. The trail crosses to the east side of the lake in the park over Chatcolet Bridge, which once swung open to let steamboats through on their way up the St. Joe River. It was retrofitted as part of the rails-to-trails conversion with a kind of stairstep design that offers a bit of respite from the climb up and lots of woop-de-doos on the way down. The first 15 miles of the trail are on the Indian reservation so the rest stops are named in the Coeur d'Alene language and the interpretive signs point out places of significance to the tribe. Find information about the tribe's involvement with the trail at: http://www.cdatribe-nsn.gov/Departments/LakeMngmt/CDATrailProject.aspx.
Harrison to Cataldo
On the edge of the rez is the quaint town of Harrison, with restaurants, an art gallery that features regional talent, historical museum, shops, live music, wine tasting, cycle rentals, flat water kayaking, a public beach, and a variety of lodgings, including a campground right on the water. There are bike racks
all over town to welcome cyclists and a lot of riders can be found parked in front of the Creamery and Gig's Landing enjoying ice cream treats.
After Harrison, there is a 25-mile stretch through a remote area with no services, other than the wayside rest areas, some of which have restrooms, so you will definitely want to make sure your water containers are full. Keep your eye out for osprey and eagles as you ride through the Thompson Lake Wildlife Management Area along the Coeur d'Alene River. You'll come out at the Cataldo Trailhead on the western edge of Idaho's historic Silver Valley. There is a spacious campground here along the river and a homey inn where you can get a bite to eat. The Coeur d'Alenes Old Mission Park is an easy three mile side trip and well worth the detour. It features Idaho's oldest existing building, a rustic, but elegant cathedral constructed by Coeur d'Alene Indians and Jesuit Priests in the mid 1800. It may be the only place you'll ever see a ceiling stained with huckleberry juice.
The North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River
Cycle on to Kellogg and Wallace in the heart of the Silver Valley for more adventures. A favorite stop along the way is the historic Snake Pit restaurant and bar where the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River flows into the main stem. There's another tempting detour here, six miles upriver to the Country Lane Resort, where guests can enjoy a fully outfitted float down the North Fork or a fishing trip to a backwoods pond stocked with trout.
Kellogg and Silver Mountain
In Kellogg, ride the gondola to mountaintop activities at Silver Mountain. Pick huckleberries, play Frisbee golf, hunt for geocaches, or trade your trail bike for mountain bike and zoom down 4,000 vertical feet back to Gondola Village. One of my favorite tours in the Valley is the Crystal Gold Mine. There is even free camping for self-contained RVs here. This is the "metro" section of the trail, in other words, you'll be riding in proximity to traffic on I-90 and have access to lots of goods and services. Don't miss the Staff House Mining Museum at the Silver Mountain Trailhead for a historical ground truthing on the area you are riding through.
Step Back in Time in Wallace
Further east in Wallace you will discover a veritable collector's paradise with shop after shop packed with fascinating antiques and one-of-a-kind finds. Is that a spaceship in front of the Red Light Garage restaurant? There is a lively theater troop here, so take in a rollicking show at the Sixth Street
Theater, check out the Northern Pacific Railway Museum, take historic tours on trolleys with guides dressed in period costumes, or just relax at a sidewalk table at one of Wallace's great restaurants and admire the Bitterroot Mountains that circle the town. A mile out of Wallace, you can hike on the Pulaski Trail along Placer Creek. This two-mile trail ends at an old mine tunnel where 45 firefighters and two horses sought refuge from the Great Fire of 1910, which burned a whopping three million acres in the Bitterroots during one horrible weekend 100 years ago. Oh, did I mention that Wallace is the alleged "Center of the Universe?" You'll just have to check this one out for yourselves.
Mullan and Backroads to the Route of the Hiawatha
The last stop on the trail is the old mining town of Mullan six miles shy of the Montana border. Add your name to the guest book of trail riders from around the world at the Bitterroot Coffee house. The Captain John Mullan Museum is the cultural highlight here, but it's only open on weekdays. Some travelers continue on to Lookout Pass and the Route of the Hiawatha through backcountry trails from Mullan. Directions on how to do this are provided by volunteers of the Friends of the Coeur d'Alene Trails at: http://friendsofcdatrails.org/mullan2hiawatha07.html. This group of trail supporters also publishes a fine trail map, so check out their website. The Friends promote the 300k Bitterroot Loop, which includes the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, the Route of the Hiawatha, and the multi use Milwaukee Scenic Route back towards St. Maries, near Heyburn State Park.
Everyone is saying great things about the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene's, and these are just some of the gems to discover along the way.