With tree-covered mountains soaring high above either side of the road, and the highway unfolding like an asphalt ribbon, stopping is not usually part of the plan for those traveling the 73-mile stretch of Interstate 90 across Idaho’s panhandle. Twenty-five years ago, though, it was a different story.
Until September 1991, anyone traveling through Idaho on the Interstate, had to stop, as they came upon the last traffic stoplight on I-90, located in the downtown of historic Wallace, Idaho, through which the Interstate ran. RVs full of vacationing families, semi-trucks hauling goods across the country, law enforcement officers patrolling the area, and streams of motorcycles hitting the open roads all made their way through Wallace, and all stopped. Some stopped only for the light; others stopped for a visit.
Because every building in downtown Wallace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, construction crews were prohibited from tearing down any structures while completing the expansion and construction of I-90. So instead of going through the town, they rerouted I-90 and built the Wallace bypass on elevated pillars, high above the edge of the town, which is where traffic speeds by today, most not giving Wallace a glance.
Once the bypass was completed, the traffic stoplight was removed and was given a funeral in September 1991 in true, quirky Wallace character, with bagpipes and a horse-drawn hearse.
Though no stoplight demands travelers stop, the historic town of Wallace is still worth visiting. Tucked in the heart of the Silver Valley, and located between two of North Idaho’s beloved ski resorts, Wallace is a great anchor destination from which to launch winter adventures.
Twelve miles to the east of Wallace, on the Idaho and Montana border, is Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, which offers pristine powder and beautiful scenery, as well as incredible skiing. With 540 acres and 34 runs, Lookout Pass offers enough adventure to fill an entire day. If you want to impress your friends by telling them that you skied in two states in one day, Lookout Pass provides that opportunity, as it straddles the state line, offering runs on both the Idaho and the Montana sides of the mountain.
Heading west from Wallace, it’s a quick 11-mile drive to Silver Mountain Resort, which prides itself on being one of the most easily accessible ski resorts. Located only one-quarter of a mile off I-90, it takes the stress out of winter driving and claims there are “no curvy, white-knuckle roads to deal with.”
A ski resort has been continuously located there since 1968, when the Jackass Ski Bowl first opened. Forty-eight years, and a few name changes later, Silver Mountain Resort has become a favorite of locals and return visitors. In 2008, the resort sweetened the deal by opening Silver Rapids, Idaho’s largest indoor waterpark. Silver Mountain Ski Resort is a great place to bed down, whether you plan to hit the slopes or not.
With the cold winds whipping and your face windburned from the snow that’s been driving hard against it all day as you zip down the slopes, the idea of splashing in the waters of a warm pool or hot tub is enticing. Offering 11 different water attractions, including hot tubs, waterslides, activity pools, a continuous wave area and warm springs (think hot tubs, only cooler), Silver Rapids is a unique post-ski, family-friendly option.
When it’s time to eat, head to downtown Wallace. For breakfast, it’s the eclectic 1313 Club (608 Bank St.), a Wallace fixture that’s seen its share of local history. For a few brews, check out Wallace Brewing Company, whose beers are named after some of Wallace’s ladies of the evening from days past. For dinner, don’t miss The Fainting Goat Wine Bar (516 Bank St.), which offers seasonal fare worthy of a big city bistro.
We live our lives at a drive-fast, make-good-time, get-there-now pace. Sometimes, though, stopping is just what we need to do—and there’s no better place to do it than Wallace. After all, a monument installed in the pavement at the intersection of Bank and Sixth Streets proclaims that it is “The Center of the Universe.”
Visit http://www.wallaceidahochamber.com/ for more information.