Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
I braked hard at the sight of a 9 foot tall grasshopper standing on the side of the trail between me and Chatcolet Lake. Close behind me, Tom stopped too, and then another family in our group. We all stared in awe and then laughed in appreciation. Constructed of assorted spare parts, repurposed household items, and other various bits and pieces, the grasshopper was amazing. Equally so was the similarly built three foot bee atop an eight foot pole, complete with a foot-long stinger. More members of our group stopped as we all posed for photos with these creations before continuing on our leisurely way.

We were all part of an Adventure Cycling Association family fun tour in northern Idaho. Our journey would take us along one of the most spectacular and popular trails in the western United States, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Seventy three miles of cycling heaven, the Trail winds its way along Chatcolet Lake, Lake Coeur d’Alene, and the Coeur d’Alene River from Plummer to Mullan, Idaho.

The Trail is perfect for children and touring neophytes. Our group of 19 kids and 17 adults started in Plummer and immediately enjoyed an eight mile long downhill. The next 36 miles were almost completely flat. Once I found a comfortable gear, I rarely shifted. The only times we had to look for cars were at well-marked trailheads and occasional driveway crossings.

As the trail wound along the waterways (and over Chatcolet Lake on a trail-dedicated bridge) we were on a constant lookout for wildlife. Osprey and herons were abundant, and some in our group were lucky enough to see black bears and moose. About nine miles into our ride, a local pedestrian pointed out a bald eagle’s nest, and nesting platforms for osprey were frequent sights. A novelty for us Alaskans, we had to ride around several garter snakes sunning themselves on the fresh black asphalt. A brief stop at any of the waterways allowed glimpses of jumping trout.

There are many more “cultural” highlights along the Trail. One favorite for our group was a stop at the Snakepit by the Enaville trailhead. This bar and grill served the best huckleberry ice cream we’d ever encountered.

For those desiring a more traditional cultural stop, a must-see is the Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park, home of the oldest standing building in Idaho: the Cataldo Mission or Mission of the Sacred Heart. Built by Jesuit missionaries at the invitation of the local Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe, it was completed in 1853. More recent restoration has brought back much of its former beauty, but my favorite parts were the small rooms behind the altar. In these spaces Plexiglas coverings protected sections that show the original construction methods used to build the nail-free, foot thick walls. On-site displays and a visitor’s center share a great deal of information about the mission, the local people and the surrounding area.

The children in our group were especially enamored of the Silver Rapids indoor water park. This fun facility is part of a private resort in Kellogg and is situated right next to the Trail. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public. To play in the water park you either have to be staying in the resort or have a group of 15 or more. Our tour leaders had prearranged an afternoon visit, so the kids got to enjoy water slides, a standing wave pool, a lazy river and much more. We adults were glad to enjoy a grown-up beverage upstairs once we were thoroughly water logged.

Near the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in the Wallace area is the Route of the Hiawatha. The subject of another article, this gravel rail-trail is well worth a day’s visit. Highlights include 10 unlighted tunnels (one of which is 1.7 miles long) and seven high trestles. Ample signage educates riders on the silver mining history of the Silver Valley.

Our group turned around in Kellogg and rode back to Plummer. The return trip was just as wonderful, and we enjoyed camping at Chatcolet Campground in Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest. Our only night without showers and after 46 miles of riding, we all happily jumped into the lake, clothes and all. We awoke the next morning to thundershowers and an eight mile uphill ride back into Plummer. The rides into Plummer and Mullan at either end of the Trail offer the only real uphill stretches on the Trail. At a three percent grade, they’re not steep, but they do offer a bit of a challenge after so many flat miles.

Others in our group had previously ridden the entire Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. They reported that Wallace is a charming town to visit. Driving by it on our way to the Route of the Hiawatha, I could see a variety of old west style buildings with classic false fronts. The mayor of Wallace apparently declared a few years back that Wallace is the center of the universe. You can take your picture amidst signs pointing to the exact spot if you care to show that you, too, are the center.

No matter your skill levels, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes has something to offer all riders. After completing her first tour on this trip, my nine-year-old daughter declared that I wasn’t allowed to go on any more tours without her. Just the attitude Adventure Cycling Association, and I, was hoping to cultivate.

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