by Nicholas O’Connell
Take a walk. That’s the best way to explore Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The appealing city of 55,000 rings the northern shore of 26-mile-long Coeur d’Alene Lake, a magnificent waterway of inlets, coves and sandy beaches surrounded by the endless mountains of Northern Idaho.
Coeur d’Alene is the second largest lake in the Idaho Panhandle (next to Pend Oreille), located in a stunning natural bowl created when the continental ice cap receded during the last Ice Age. The lake includes some 135 miles of shoreline dotted with parks, campgrounds, beaches, hiking and biking trails and recreational facilities. Fed by two rivers, the Coeur d’Alene River and St. Joe River, the lake drains into the Spokane River, the lake level controlled by the Post Falls Dam.
Famous for outdoor attractions like boating, sailing, fishing, hiking, waterskiing and wake boarding, the area recently has added upscale urban amenities such as boutique coffee shops, excellent restaurants, extensive shopping, beautiful parks, theaters and art galleries.
Begin your introduction by walking Tubbs Hill, a 2.2-mile trail around a 165-acre natural area with ever-changing views of the lake and surrounding city. The trail starts in the southwestern corner of McEuen Park near the boat launch at the iconic Coeur d’Alene Resort. It passes a metal moose sculpture and enters a forest of ponderosa pine and ocean spray on the west side of the hill with native ground cover like kinnikinnick, which local tribes and settlers used for smoking.
The trail passes outcrops of metamorphic schist and gneiss glittering with mica, and trunks of fallen dead trees or snags. The snags provide shelter for bats and burrowing insects, which serve as food for woodpeckers and other species. Ospreys, bald eagles and kingfishers perch on the snags, scanning the clear, deep water for trout, kokanee salmon and smallmouth bass which lurk near the shoreline.
Watch your step as you maneuver around the rocks and boulders along the trail. You’re walking on ancient soil, much of it composed of volcanic ash from the eruption Mt. Mazama (6,500 years ago) which also formed Crater Lake in Oregon, more than 400 miles away as the crow flies.
The path continues to the south end of the hill where you can scramble down to a sandy beach beloved by kayakers. Take in the view down lake, with bays and coves continuing into the distance. Coeur d’Alene is a kind of inland sea, a mecca for boaters, sailors, fisherman and vacationers from all over the Inland Northwest and beyond.
Across the lake, check out Coeur D’Alene Golf Resort’s famous 14th Hole, The Floating Green, recognized around the globe as a formidable test for players of all skill levels. You might see a golf ball washed ashore after some unlucky golfer missed the target.
The tree canopy changes to Douglas firs as you continue counterclockwise, crossing a suspension bridge that will make you feel like Indiana Jones. Pass a marina with boats bobbing in the waves before entering a neighborhood of craftsman houses. Watch out for deer and wild turkeys. They roam freely through the neighborhoods.
The trail reenters the southern end of McEuen Park, passing the modern library and town hall. Continue along the asphalt bike trail toward the town and check out the bronze sculptures of pioneers, loggers, miners and others who founded the region.
Head toward Sherman Avenue (downtown’s main drag) and stop in at Vault for a latte and a blueberry scone or a burrito. Named after the Exchange National Bank built in 1904, the building has also served as an ice cream parlor, a pharmacy and even the town’s library in the early 1900s. Today, it’s the unofficial gathering space for locals and visitors looking for coffee, tea and conversation. If the weather’s nice, take your coffee outside to watch the world go by. If it’s inclement, stay inside and enjoy the high ceilings and artistic décor.
When you’re ready for lunch or dinner, head to nearby Crafted, a short walk away. The gastropub features 62 rotating taps with everything from local to foreign beers. Order the imaginative One Way from Harbour Grace mixed green salad or if you’re hungry opt for the Rockafella Ya’ll, a savory Belgian waffle with the kitchen sink on top.
There are many options for dinner, including the legendary Wolf Lodge Restaurant (east of Coeur D’Alene off I-90), requiring a car, but worth the effort. The restaurant is a classic destination steakhouse with rich, flavorful meat and fixings, including baked potato, buckaroo beans, and tasty green salads. The menu is classic and the quality is high, drawing customers from across the region. The colorful décor (how many varieties of barbed wire can you name?), with waiters and waitresses dressed in jeans, yoked shirts and cowboy hats makes you think you’re on the set of Bonanza. Choose the filet mignon for flavor and melt in your mouth tenderness, but if you’re truly ravenous, order the Rancher, a 16-ounce ribeye and 16-ounce sirloin.
The Coeur D’Alene Resort Hotel makes an excellent, centrally located home base for the trip, allowing you to plan further itineraries, including a visit to Schweitzer Mountain Resort, biking along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, and boating, swimming or fishing in Coeur D’Alene Lake.
At the end of the day, take a stroll through City Park toward Independence Point where you can get a perspective on the city. Tucked in a bowl created by one of the world’s great floods, ringing the shore of an immense mountain lake, it’s no wonder people can’t help returning.
Plan a weekend getaway in Coeur d’Alene at coeurdalene.org.