Adventurous in Idaho, A Week on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes

October 5, 2017 - Matt Armstrong kindly submitted this family adventure to Adventure Cycling's guest blog.

Cruising to a couch

“Adventurous”

1 Disposed to seek adventure or to cope with the new and unknown

2 Riding bicycles self-supported from one end of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and back, covering over 150 miles in seven days

Our Family Adventure in Idaho

Our tour started at the beginning of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Plummer, Idaho with donuts and getting everything loaded onto the bikes. This is always a bit overwhelming, but we got things packed quickly, and we were off. 

The first six miles are downhill through a cool pine forest eventually reaching Heyburn State Park at the south end of Chatcolet Lake for a break. Then, it was a quick ride over the Chatcolet Bridge and along Lake Coeur d’Alene to our first stop in Harrison, Idaho. The Harrison City RV Park proved one of the nicer camping spots along the way with our tent pitched just steps from the lake in a grassy area. 

The first order of business involved eating lunch since our bellies were grumbling after the substandard donut breakfast in Plummer. Just uphill from the campground, we stopped at One Shot Charlie’s for fresh salads and tasty burgers. Our afternoon was filled with swimming at the sandy beach and jumping off the floating dock. Stand-up paddle board rentals from the marina entertained us until dinner. 

Not everyone rose with the sun

For the most part, we started each day early so we could swim and enjoy the quaint towns along the trail post ride. Rising early with the sun, we set off for day two knowing that we had a lot of ground to cover. The kids’ spirits were high, knocking out the miles as we talked and spotted numerous osprey, herons, and ducks along the trail. 

The trail from Harrison to Kingston is quiet and enjoyable, paralleling the Coeur d’Alene River with a repeating scenery of water bodies filled with lily pads. Isabel kept asking if we were going in circles as it seemed we went from one similar body of water to another. 

Our energy was depleted after 30-ish miles, and replenished by a break for lunch in Enaville, Idaho. The Snake Pit, located right next to the trail in Enaville, is a must-stop establishment that’s been around since 1880. Burgers, beer, and milkshakes cheered the crew up for the remaining four miles that day. 

The jaunt from lunch to our campsite provided more nature; mama moose and her two babies were munching on plants just off the trail. By The Way Campground was our stop for the night.  With a few hours to kill before dinner, we had fun playing in the cold water of the nearby South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River before dinner. We later dubbed the campground “By the Highway” after a night listening to loud trucks accelerate as they entered Interstate 90, less than 100 yards from out tent. Fortunately, the friendly camp managers and their clean facilities, for “doin’ your thing,” made up for the noise. 

Our plan for Day 3 was to ride half the mileage of the day prior and spend two nights in Wallace, ID. Our ride included a stop to play on the old school playground equipment at the Kellogg City Park and a refuel consisting of coffee and huckleberry ice cream. The town of Wallace was a real gem, providing plenty to see and do during our stay. We toured a silver mine, saw a melodrama in the local theatre and perused the shops in downtown. Our rest day allowed for a trip to the town of Mullan, the easternmost trailhead on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. With minimal gear on our bikes, we covered seven miles in no time. Our reward was huge hamburgers at the Outlaw Bar and Grill. Thankfully, nobody began smoking in the place until after we had finished our meal. 

Armstrong’s ready for the mine tour

I initially called the Wallace RV Park to book a campsite for two nights when I planned our trip. Upon hearing that a small cabin was $40/night as opposed to a $20/night campsite, it was a no brainer. Perhaps the best $40 I spent on the trip, the cabin was tight, but plenty sufficient after sleeping on the ground outside. Food and drink at the City Limits Brewpub, a mere 100 yards from our cabin, was top notch. The RV Park itself is literally right in the city, approximately a quarter mile from quaint downtown Wallace, and complete with a grocery store and laundromat.

The following day involved riding a bit over 10 miles to the Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho, which has a large indoor water park. Definitely our fastest average speed of the week, this short ride was capped with the great news that our condo was ready — surprising given that it was only 11:00 AM in the morning. All five of us had a blast on the water slides, floating the lazy river, riding the flow rider wave machine, and we thoroughly enjoyed sleeping on a pillow for the night. We took full advantage of having a kitchen and cooking a scrumptious breakfast and dinner during our stay.

Departing luxury

One night at a high-end resort spoils you quickly. Our campsite at the Rose Lake Resort the following night consisted of a porta-potty, electrical outlet, water, and picnic table. For only $10 per night, it’s really all one needs, but damn was it nice to stay in a condo at 30 times the cost.

Our arrival to the campsite was via a small two-lane highway with a skinny shoulder, further souring our attitudes. After getting camp set up, I attempted quieting Sean’s rear brake that had been squeaking during the day’s ride. Shortly thereafter, we headed downhill to Rose Lake for a swim. Upon starting downhill, we heard Sean screaming and panicking as he headed off the road and into some trees. As I already know, my mechanic skills aren’t stellar and I almost injured my son this time. I loosed his brake pads to eliminate the squeak but didn’t think to see how much stopping power was left. Sean found out quickly that there was none, narrowly escaping injury by jumping off his bike with cat-like reflexes.

After getting Sean calmed down and feeling quite bad myself, we recovered with the kids chasing each other with lily pads while swimming in Rose Lake. Luckily, we had eaten a late lunch, at the Snake Pit once again, because the “resort” didn’t have an open restaurant or store. The kids were plenty happy with a dinner that consisted of cooked rice pilaf and snacks from our snack bag. We enjoyed some time throwing the Frisbee and watching the nearby osprey before calling it a night. The commotion experienced that final morning, had me reconsidering my love of birds. Perhaps next trip I will remember to pack ear plugs.

Wrapping Up Our Journey

Day seven on the trail began early, thanks to the 5:22 am wakeup call provided by a mix of obnoxious osprey and squirrel sounds. The weather thus far had been extremely pleasant — cool mornings and warm afternoons. Today would be different though as dark clouds approached as we packed our gear into panniers and onto bikes for the last time. What started as a manageable light sprinkle of rain continued to get heavier until we donned rain jackets. Though not their usual sweet selves riding in wet and cold weather, my family proved they aren’t sugar cubes and don’t melt in the rain.

I couldn’t have ordered weather better than experienced along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes during our weeklong bike tour. The final day’s weather was a nice reminder of just how lucky we were to have six days with no rain. Riding in poor conditions allowed me the opportunity to remind my kids that being adventurous isn’t always comfortable and it’s sometimes downright miserable. I was happy to have this conversation while drying gear and warming ourselves at a restaurant overlooking beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. The rain subsided as we inhaled our breakfasts, thankful for warm food and a roof over our head. The boost to our spirits and dry weather allowed us to finish our trip on a high note.

Taking calculated risks through adventurous endeavors thickens the skin, instilling the need to persevere when things get a bit tough. Don’t think this family bike trip was a death march. Besides biking each day, our non-stop fun included an indoor water park, silver mine tour, taking in a melodrama, and numerous swimming spots. Free entertainment was provided by the endless wildlife sightings while riding the trail.

Planning

I’m not a real “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of guy, especially with three young kids along. I’m a planner, so I struggle to balance adventure and safety when going on such a trip. A big part of the trip is the unknown, but at minimum having a plan for lodging is a must for me. 

Luckily, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes route passes through multiple small towns, allowing many options for lodging that I was able to arrange in the spring.

It also allows minimal planning for meals. We started with food for two dinners, plenty of trail snacks, and too much oatmeal. Each town allowed either eating out or buying food immediately before cooking since we had no refrigeration.

There are options to reduce anxiety in the unknown and lessen time spent planning. Several tour companies provide five-day supported tours along the trail, arranging for bicycles, lodging, and meals. I found prices for a supported tour are about five times the cost of a self-planned, self-supported tour. We considered this trip a bargain, and in terms of the memories and experiences shared with my family, the experience was priceless.

Photos courtesy of Matt Armstrong

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Comments

Matthew3060

I love this post! We've gone on a family tour the last three summers (me and my wife and our two boys), and you're right: planning is everything. The more you plan, the easier the trip goes. And that's the amazing thing---after our second tour, we've got our routine down. It's still adventurous, but we're a lot more "organized" now.

And this---"One night at a high-end resort spoils you quickly"---made me laugh out loud! It's the truth. The kids seemed to complain more when we break up a tour with resort stops, so now we bike and camp and that's it, and everyone's happier.

Great post!

October 9, 2017, 3:17 PM
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Rob Lohr

Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience. We travel to North Idaho several times a year to see family. Will definitely be planning a bikepack on this trail next summer. Where did you find the Northern Pacific bike jersey? Would love to find one for my son to ride in.

October 21, 2017, 9:34 PM
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Sarah Armstrong

It was purchased at a shop in Wallace. Enjoy!

October 27, 2017, 10:18 AM
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Pete Richards

Thank you for sharing Matt - what an awesome trip! So cool that you are sharing your love of cycling with your entire family!

November 8, 2017, 2:14 PM
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