Coeur d’Alene ID: Intriguing, Mystifying, Alluring – Well, Not So Much


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North America » United States » Idaho » Coeur D'alene
October 1st 2014
Published: October 20th 2014
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As the itinerary for the 2014 chapter of The Great Adventure became more distinct, my plans called for a week-long stop in Lewiston ID. After I lost my cell phone on the Missoula to Saint Regis to Libby to Kalispell Loop on Monday, September 22, 2014, those plans changed. My phone was found by a couple who live in Noxon MT – a town I had passed through in the far northwest of Montana as I made my way to Libby. A long story made short, they called my sister who is listed as an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact who contacted me, yadda-yadda-yadda. Arrangements were made for me to get my phone on the way to Idaho on Wednesday.

Instead of embarking on another scenic drive, Tuesday found me in the planning mode. Massaging MapQuest told me that the detour northwest to Noxon made Lewiston a greater distance than I wanted to tackle, so I modified my itinerary to make my Idaho stop in Coeur d’Alene instead. Although I had an RV park in Lewiston in my crosshairs, I had not yet made a reservation, so that was not a problem; however, I spent a good part of
Electricity Coming To Northern Idaho Was A WatershedElectricity Coming To Northern Idaho Was A WatershedElectricity Coming To Northern Idaho Was A Watershed

Museum of Northern Idaho - Coeur d’Alene ID
Tuesday researching campground options and trying to find attractions to visit in Coeur d’Alene. I found a campground and made a reservation without a hitch, but developing an attraction list for the Coeur d’Alene area was an exercise in futility.

On Wednesday morning, September 24, 2014, I took MT 200 west to Noxon. In Noxon, I retrieved my phone. I have to say it is reassuring to know that honest people who are not afraid to walk the extra mile for a total stranger still exist. Thanks to them and all the other Good Samaritans of the world. I continued west on MT 200 to Sandpoint ID where I turned south on U.S. 95 to Coeur d’Alene and the Tamarack RV Park. The park is immaculate, the sites are spacious and the staff is friendly. All of those things should happen for the price!

Thursday morning found me headed for the Coeur d’Alene visitor center. I’m not sure why this facility even exists. The gentleman on duty had no suggestions that excited my interests except the Museum of North Idaho which I already had found online (and which got poor reviews with which I now completely disagree). Waterfalls? No. Covered bridges? No. Scenic drives? Yes, there’s a real nice drive along the lakeshore. I opened my atlas and asked if the road going south out of Elk River was a good road. (It is included in the State of Idaho Scenic Drive web site but cautions to check locally for road conditions.) Oh, gosh, that’s a long ways away. Do you want to go that far? Presidential birthplaces? No. Walking opportunities. Oh, yes, there’s a walkway right over there by the lake (pointing out the window) next to that resort hotel. Veterans memorials? No. Festivals this weekend? Yes, see all the tents down by the lake? He didn’t bother to tell me one part of the Coeur d’Alene Oktoberfest was a Saturday bicycle race whose route includes that same scenic drive along the lake.

I actually was quite disappointed when I left to head for the Museum of North Idaho but knew I could spend my extra time catching up on the blog and otherwise entertaining myself. In the 1960s the North Idaho Hoo Hoo Club (it HAS to be owl-related), an organization of loggers, lumbermen and foresters, entertained the idea of establishing a museum of logging
Timber, Sawmills and Lumber I WAS ExpectingTimber, Sawmills and Lumber I WAS ExpectingTimber, Sawmills and Lumber I WAS Expecting

Museum of Northern Idaho - Coeur d’Alene ID
and lumbering. Initially, the museum covered the history of all five North Idaho counties; however, the scope of the museum has now narrowed its focus to the Coeur d’Alene region.

The 2014 feature exhibit is Power to the Farm: Rural Electrification in North Idaho. The display showcases some of the equipment of the day that dramatically changed the lives of local residents. Other displays chronologically represent the growth of the region from its Native American inhabitants to explorers to mining to timber and sawmills to working steamboats to farming. A large board displays a photo and a short synopsis of the history of a dozen or so local communities. Another display reviews a large local wildfire that killed a total of 92 firefighters.

The Great Fire of 1910 was a wildfire that burned about three million acres (approximately the size of Connecticut) in northeast Washington, the panhandle of northern Idaho and western Montana. The firestorm burned over two days (August 20–21, 1910). Most of those killed were firefighters. The entire 28-man "Lost Crew" was overcome by flames and perished on Setzer Creek outside of Avery ID – about 100 miles southeast of Coeur d'Alene. It is the largest
There Are Certain Locations That Are Very ScenicThere Are Certain Locations That Are Very ScenicThere Are Certain Locations That Are Very Scenic

Coeur d’Alene to Elk River to Orofina Loop
forest fire in U.S. history although not the deadliest. It was also the deadliest single event for firefighters in the United States until the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The most famous story of survival coming from the fire was that of Ed Pulaski, a U.S. Forest Service ranger, who led a group of forty or so men to safety in a tunnel outside of Wallace ID (about 50 miles southeast of Coeur d'Alene). Just as they were about to be overtaken by the fire, Pulaski led the men into the tunnel and hung wet blankets at the ends of the tunnel. When the tunnel began to fill with smoke, one man announced that he was getting out of there whereupon Pulaski, knowing they would have no chance of survival if they ran, drew his pistol and threatening to shoot the first person who tried to leave. In the end, even though hypoxia rendered many of the men unconscious, all but five of the men survived.

While in the museum, I happened upon a placard hawking two Living History Walking Tours – one of Old Fort Sherman and the other of Downtown Coeur d'Alene. Both carry a $15
A De Facto Logging Museum In Elk RiverA De Facto Logging Museum In Elk RiverA De Facto Logging Museum In Elk River

Coeur d’Alene to Elk River to Orofina Loop
price tag which is about double what most similar tours charge in a small town. New York City? Perhaps. Chicago? Parhaps. Coeur d’Alene? I don’t think so. Perhaps the cost is why their existence was not divulged at the visitor center. Then again….

Although it is not a Smithsonian, I found the Museum of North Idaho worthwhile and interesting in spite of some negative reviews but cannot give it a “must see” rating. If you are in Coeur d’Alene and have some extra time…. PS Be sure to request a 1-hour free parking voucher from the desk UPON ARRIVAL to display in your vehicle. I didn’t, but the museum curator remedied the problem (in Chicago, they call that fixin’ the ticket).

The weather forecast and the (hopeful) absence of logging trucks on a weekend day were two factors I considered when I decided to take a scenic drive on Saturday, September 27, 2014. I got an early start because the State of Idaho Scenic Drive web site shows numerous options between Coeur d’Alene and Grangeville ID that could easily amass to a loop of over 400 miles. I headed east on I-90 a few miles before exiting on ID 97 that would take me along Coeur d’Alene Lake.

On the Interstate, there were signs warning drivers of the presence of a bicycle race. As I exited the Interstate, I spotted a couple of cyclists. I realized ID 97 might be their route but thought that, if that were the case, I had an early enough start to have only a handful of cyclists ahead of me. After all, they had to pedal to that point from wherever!

Think again, Uncle Larry! I had at least 200 cyclists ahead of me. The serpentine nature of the roadway was not conducive to passing for the next 45 miles when I reached Saint Maries ID where either I reached the race leaders or the race turned off the route I was taking. Regardless, ID 97 was not relaxing and the little bit I could briefly see is not scenic. Lakeside rooftops contaminate any hopes the route has of being truly scenic.

I continued southbound on ID 3 to Bovill ID where I turned onto ID 8. Elk River is located at the eastern terminus of ID 8. I found a couple of eateries that were doing an apparently
This Feature REALLY Gave Me PauseThis Feature REALLY Gave Me PauseThis Feature REALLY Gave Me Pause

Coeur d’Alene to Elk River to Orofina Loop
vibrant business at midday on Saturday. Inside one, I had a seat at the counter, ordered and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who appeared to be slightly older than me. He was now retired but had worked in the woods his entire life. We had a very interesting conversation about how the industry had changed over time. When queried about the condition of the road south of town, he said it’s a county-maintained road and should be fine. There had been no recent heavy rain and, therefore, should have no washed out sections.

After I finished my lunch, I thanked the gentleman and headed south. The road was great – plenty wide for two logging trucks to pass almost everywhere and, with the exception of a couple of short washboard areas, very well groomed. I cannot say that section of my trip was exceptionally scenic. Most areas either were heavily forested or recently clear cut until I approached Orofino ID and crossed the Dent Bridge over one arm of the Dworshak Reservoir. By the time I reached Orofino, I was half spent and headed home (I saved the second half of half spent for the return trip).
And It Kept On Giving And GivingAnd It Kept On Giving And GivingAnd It Kept On Giving And Giving

Coeur d’Alene to Elk River to Orofina Loop
By the time I reached the campground, headlights were legally required. Overall, the route was not scenic in my opinion and the first leg definitely was not relaxing; however, my curiosity was extinguished.

After my Saturday drive, I still had three full days in Coeur d’Alene but actually had no great ideas for how to occupy the time. My early preliminary itinerary had Coeur d’Alene included, but as the itinerary was tweeked, it fell by the wayside. Coeur d’Alene! For most of my life the name Coeur d’Alene piqued my interest. After the mystifying city had been dropped, I wondered if I had made a mistake. It sounds so intriguing and interesting. Unfortunately, not so much! Fate would have me visit Coeur d’Alene. Now my curiosity has been satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, the people are great, the city is clean and the streets are easy to navigate. Actually, there really is a lot to do in Coeur d’Alene IF you like fishing, art and waterslides. There just ain’t a lot for Larry to do in Coeur d’Alene.


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6th April 2015

Sorry about the terrible advice
I am from the Coeur d'Alene area. I have never been to the visitor's center and have no idea who runs or staffs it but you certainly were given terrible advice. If you ever get back, or if your readers end up 'stuck' in the area, there are many scenic drives and walking/hiking opportunities in the area. For short, nearby walks they should have recommended Tubbs Hill in downtown Coeur d'Alene and Mineral Ridge which is a short drive around the lake from town. Scenic drives are everywhere. From Orofino driving over Lolo Pass into Montana retraces Lewis & Clark's route and is breathtaking. There are short scenic walks along the side of the road that include an old-growth cedar forest. From Montana you can come back to Cd'A over Lookout Pass and drive through the area of the 1910 'Big Burn' forest fire. This drive takes you through the Silver Valley, a historic mining district with several opportunities to tour old mines. Just off I-90 east of Coeur d'Alene is the drive up the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River which is beautiful. There are hiking trails to waterfalls and another old-growth cedar grove on that drive. Longer hikes in the area include Chilco Peak to the north of Coeur d'Alene and the Bernard Peak trail which begins in Farragut State Park. The area is not big on covered bridges and waterfalls but there is plenty to satisfy those who like scenic drives and hikes. I am sorry that you were given such terrible advice.
6th April 2015

Thanks for the advice and your time
Thanks for the great advice. I realize how hard it is to get good volunteer help – been there, done that. Some folks volunteer merely to look at four walls of a different color while others add as much as possible to their country club resume. I’ve been to dozens of visitor centers, and my experience in Coeur d'Alene was not an isolated case. The gentleman was pleasant but probably had no introduction to the task at hand that would place him in a mindset to assimilate the questions of the visitor and then to develop suggestions to offer which would supplement the visitor’s list (i.e., this person like adventure, nature, shopping, history, amusement parks, water sports, etc.) and therefore enhance the visitors experience. Thank you for taking the time to provide that information to me and my readers. I have a good friend that lives in southeastern Idaho and probably will be back in the panhandle again. Larry

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