The first thing you’ll notice as you get closer to the Northern Idaho town of Coeur D’Alene is the ethereal beauty of the mountains, lakes, and forests surrounding it.
And the first thing you’ll notice as you enter the town is that this place is different.
Coeur D’Alene (pronounced kor duh·layn), in fact, seems delightfully stuck in another era. As you enter town, for example, you’ll find plenty of authentically restored, early-1900s Craftsman and Queen Anne-style homes full of character and charm. You’ll find, too, wide pedestrian-friendly sidewalks lined with Old-Time green streetlamps topped with Idaho flora. There are over a hundred red-brick antique shops, local breweries and “collectibles” shops, and whimsical restaurants and galleries. And friendly local folks who’ll be happy to help you find your way around town and to make recommendations about restaurants, shops, and places of natural beauty.
While wandering along these streets, you’ll also come into contact with the 2.5-mile Mudgy Moose Trail, a series of four life-size moose sculptures (Mudgy) who finally finds the fifth sculpture – his new love, Millie. These five bronze statues were created by acclaimed artist Terry Lee, a native of Coeur d’Alene.
This town got its name from 18th-century French trappers who conducted some commerce with the region’s first inhabitants, the Coeur D’Alene tribe. In French, Coeur D’Alene means “Heart of the Awl” (an awl was a tool used to cut leather) – but historians believe the name referred to the tribe’s skill as traders.
This quaint village sits on the shores of Lake Coeur D’Alene, a 25-mile-long alpine lake in the mountains of the same name, with 110 miles of forested shoreline…and innumerable ways to enjoy it.
One of the best ways is with Lake Coeur D’Alene Cruises, with double-decker craft operating day and night out of the world-class Coeur D’Alene Resort. During the day you’ll be treated to majestic – that’s the only word that describes it – views of these crystal-clear waters, edged by dense forest in which you may be lucky enough to catch a view of a bear or moose at water’s edge. You’ll also pass some beautiful Northwestern mansions owned by footballers John Elway, hockey players Wayne Gretsky, cyclist Lance Armstrong, and actors Matthew McConaughey and George Clooney.
At night, these tours also offer views of the moon at different stages, reflections of the moon and stars on the water, and a stillness that enhances the whole experience. Every boat this company offers has a full bar, and some cruises also offer meal services.
Sightseeing boats are only one of the myriad ways to experience Lake Coeur D’Alene. You can rent various boats here from The Buoy CDA Boat Rentals. In addition, the ROW Adventure Center offers one-day rafting and guided fly-fishing trips, with some great whitewater experiences on rivers such as the Clark Fork and the St. Joe. Moxy Excursions offers mountain-biking, lakeside yoga, kayaks, hiking and horseback riding. Coeur D’Alene Adventures takes guests on exciting whitewater- or scenic rafting trips, in addition to varied fishing and “boarding” experiences. Or you can pilot your own craft with CDA Boat Charter.
If you’re more of a landlubber, right in town, at the foot of Lake Coeur D’Alene, is Tubbs Hill at 2,520’ altitude. It’s filled with dense Northwestern foliage, a 2.2-mile hiking trail, swinging bridges, and great lake views. And it’s filled, as well, with the serenity of silence and only a few other hikers on the trail.
Back in town, you’ll experience various interesting shops and eateries. Pilgrim’s Market is a great place for natural and organic food. Beverly’s Restaurant offers great Northwestern specialties, and Beverly’s Wine Cellars offers the most extensive restaurant collection in the Northwest. And for a very cool sample of regional cuisine, try Daft Badger Brewing…which offers Beer Cheese Soup!
Interesting shops include “All Things Irish” and Cisco’s Gallery, which specializes in one-of-a-kind pieces about the American West. And if you’re in town during the last Sunday of each summer month, Coeur D’Alene Flea Market features unique foods and interesting arts, and it’s a fun place to mingle with the locals.
CDA also has two farmers markets that run May through October, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, with items by local craftspeople in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Interestingly, this quiet region near the Canadian border has some unique attractions, as well. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for example, you can navigate a rented mountain bike through the black, abandoned railroad tunnels known as the “Route of the Hiawatha.”
The “Hiawatha” was a legendary luxury train that traveled from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest up until 1961. Here, you can ride a bike into the tunnels where she once transported the Hoi Polloi through the 7,000-foot peaks of the Bitterroot Range.
Interestingly, part of this stretch of track was converted into a mountain bike route through the abandoned railroad tunnels, some two miles long. When you arrive, you’ll be given a bike and a helmet at the office and some advice on how best to navigate the route. The route is 15 miles long, with ten large tunnels and seven sky-high walking/biking trestles with breathtaking views of the snowcapped Bitterroots around you…and breathtaking drops into the forests below you.
You won’t need sunglasses in the tunnels because they’re pitch-black. And prepare to be bounced around because each stretch of darkness has large puddles, potholes, and cracks you can’t see. But you’ll emerge from the last tunnel with memories that will last a lifetime!
Back in town, in addition to the aforementioned Lake Coeur D’Alene Cruises, you can get a birds-eye view of the region with Brooks Seaplane. Both are located at The Coeur D’Alene Resort, an award-winning resort widely considered one of the best in America and overlooking the iridescent-blue lake.
Brooks Seaplane takes off from here in its cozy seaplanes – yes, you take off and land in the water – affording you stunning vistas of the Bitterroot Range and its crystalline lakes and rivers. You’ll get a 360-degree view that stretches into Canada. And if you’re lucky, you might get a seat up front with the pilot.
Back on the ground, The Coeur D’Alene Resort’s 338 guest rooms afford guests great views of the lake and mountains though wall-to-wall picture windows and large balconies, along with interesting Northwest decor and design. The resort offers an award-winning spa and 11 restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines, among them the (Five-Star) Beverly’s and a floating restaurant called The Cedars.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about the CDA Resort is its golf course, which features the only floating – and only movable – green on Earth. The legendary 14th Hole actually sits in Lake Coeur D’Alene! It’s the site of a lot of frustrated yells and, occasionally some joyous shouts, because it’s an extraordinary challenge even for advanced golfers to navigate a 2,200-ton, ever-changing hole situated on a giant lake. And to make it even more difficult, the size of the green and the position of this par-3 hole change daily, thanks to an underground cable system. It’s the most famous golf hole in America…and the world.
Coeur D’Alene is one of those places where you’ll run out of time long before you run out of memorable experiences.
About the Author: Steve Winston
I’ve written/contributed to 17 published books. And my articles have appeared in major media all over the world, among them The New York Times, “Business Week,” “Travel & Leisure,” “Men’s Health,” CNN, “Forbes,” The Jerusalem Post, The Irish Times, The Boston Globe, The
San Francisco Chronicle, The Toronto Star, “Western Art & Architecture,” and The Associated Press. In pursuit of “The Story,” I’ve been a war correspondent in a combat zone; been a cowboy in Arizona; jumped into an alligator pit; trained with a rebel militia in the jungle; climbed 15,000-foot mountains; rafted Class V rapids; flown World War II fighter planes in aerial “combat”; gone on an expedition into the Arctic Circle; explored ice caves at 10,000-feet in Switzerland; encountered a bear on a black night in the Rocky Mountains; been invited to dinner by a President and by a Prime Minister; and been tossed out of a London reception given by Queen Elizabeth. My website is https://stevewinston.com/