Getting Our Fill In Idaho
We made it! Well, almost. We are just days away from busting back into Durango, Colorado with sandal tans on our feet, smiles as wide as a crocodile, dirt under our fingernails, and countless stories and sights in the memory bank. Don’t get me wrong, while there were plenty of moments that tested our patience along the way, I think our family would agree that our ten weeks together and on the road was a huge success, especially since we all came back intact and in one piece (except for Chip's toe). With that, I've decided to mix it up on the blog and work my way counter clockwise. Our final region on our loop around the US and Canada happened to be one we had never been to but were thrilled to explore. Idaho!
Our Cup Runneth Over
After having been and knowing how close it actually is to Durango, I wondered how in the world had we not made it to Idaho yet. But I will admit, we had mixed feelings driving over the border and into Idaho. Coming off the highs of Jasper, Icefields, and Banff or just Canada in general (or maybe our whole dang trip for that matter), Idaho had a lot to live up to. At this point, we really felt like we had witnessed things we never had before, camped our hearts out, and seen enough pretty sights. In other words, our cup was overflowing with gratitude (plus all those other things) and we weren’t sure we necessarily needed to go on. But with three full weeks left, we knew what we had to do. Just keep exploring. I know, first world problems. But we are so grateful we had the opportunity to finally wander around the never ending beauty that is Idaho.
Dear Sandpoint, Idaho: I love you
From Yahk, Canada we breezed through customs in under five minutes. The vehicles slowly advancing into Canada were a different story with the line being a quarter of a mile long so we were relieved by our speedy entry into the US. After spending 26 days in Canada, a country that continues to lure us back time and time again, it was a little difficult to say goodbye. But I assured Chip that a little gem of a town awaited us (and that Tim Horton’s will still be there when we return). Enter Sandpoint, Idaho. Population 8,390. A place I am almost positive I could call home one day (even if just for a summer). It is located on the northern part of the Idaho panhandle and only 2 1/2 hours from the Canadian border. Sandpoint is nestled between three mountains ranges, has a top-rated ski resort in the winter, tons of outdoor recreation in the summer, and Lake Pend Oreille (Idaho's largest and the 5th deepest in the US) at the heart and soul of the community. The marriage between the lake and mountains is what truly makes this place remarkably attractive. Not to mention a very quaint and easy to navigate town. We parked Loaf in the historic downtown and hopped on our bikes to begin exploring.
We made our way to City Beach Park. Upon entering, a manicured beach stretched out before our eyes. We followed the winding path which skirted the lake and took us past a park (that we had to try out, obviously), a marina, and a miniature statue of liberty. We ended up playing at the beach for a few hours, working up enough appetite to devour fish tacos and burritos at Joel's Mexican food. Holy yum! Other highlights include meandering along the downtown streets, eating ice cream from Panhandle Cone & Coffee, sleeping one of the nights in the Walmart parking lot (sometimes you can’t be bothered to search out a campground), and driving through the cute neighborhoods. We found ourselves ultra-relaxed in Sandpoint and I most definitely could see us family vacationing here one day! Who wants to meet up?!
I want to Ride My Bicycle - Route of the Hiawatha
A big family bucket list item I had on our agenda for this trip was to bike the 15 mile "Route of the Hiawatha," a rail turned trail bike path. This wasn’t just any trail though as we soon would ride through ten train tunnels, over seven sky-high trestles, and fifteen (well, actually seventeen) miles of biking alongside beautiful scenery between the borders of Montana and Idaho. But before we suited up and took off on our bikes, we just had to check out the historic town of Wallace, Idaho, known as the “silver capital of the world” and for the fact that every downtown building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a charming place and definitely worth a stop if you’re near!
Okay, back to the Hiawatha Trail - This would be the boys longest ride by far at roughly 17 miles and we were pretty pumped for them. The ride commences with a trip through the 1.66 mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel which burrows under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line of Montana and Idaho. The tunnel was muddy, dark, cold, and exhilarating! There are no lights at all so within a few seconds of entering, we couldn’t even see our own front tire. That is until we flicked on our headlamps. After emerging back into daylight (ten minutes later), the trail meandered along the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains that was once called one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. Almost immediately the boys wanted lunch (typical, right?) so we pulled over at a viewpoint to fill their bellies and end their incessant chit chat about food. And by chit chat I mean whining. It seemed to work because we traveled through all the tunnels and over all the trestles in good spirits. At the very end of the trail we opted to use the shuttle (versus riding 15 miles back) where we bumped up a gravel road leading us right back to the 1.66 mile long tunnel. The boys were reluctant to go through it again (because of how chilly it was) but the second go round actually ended up being the most entertaining part of the ride. Mud was flinging on our bikes and clothes, and we were all having such a great time finishing out the ride in the pitch dark again. When we appeared on the other side of the St Paul Pass Tunnel there were folks who had also completed it who were cheering for us. The boys were delighted and beaming ear to ear thanks to them and we happily practiced popping wheelies the rest of the way to the car. Chip and I were extra proud of their little accomplishment this day and also thankful for this new season of biking with the boys.
After a celebratory bag of potato chips and a giant Sprite in honor of completing the Hiawatha trail we continued east. Because the end of the day was near, we didn’t go far before we saw a casino called 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar & Casino along the side of the highway with free camping to lay our heads for the night. Sounds like an odd place but it was actually a great spot to call home for the night. The next morning it was on to Missoula for park playing and lunch at Little Caesars (you'll hear more about that dirty secret in other posts), then straight south on one of the most memorable and scenic drives of the trip. Highway 93 from Missoula to Salmon, Idaho is one we won’t forget! Along the route, we stumbled upon the most welcoming (and grassy) campgrounds (Wagonhammer Campground) right along the Salmon river. Here we found time to do some of our very favorite things...Chip went for a mountain bike ride, I went running, Bennett built a fire, I cooked a pot of veggie chili for dinner, Reid fished on the Salmon river with dad, we happy hour'd in the grass, and the free (hot!) showers topped off the whole stay. We love Loaf showers but nothing quite compares to a regular bathroom and shower with endless hot water and extra space.
Have you Heard of Stanley, Idaho?
If not, you should! We heard of Stanley, Idaho maybe ten years ago from Kate and Matt, Chip's siblings, and since then it would come up in conversation every few years from friends or family that had visited. It stuck out in our brain as a place we someday wanted to check out. Stanley is home to (a lot!) of natural hot springs, the beautiful Redfish Lake, a myriad of outdoor activities, a small and quaint town (population is apparently 68!), and access to the Sawtooth Mountain wilderness. In our time there we had the opportunity to experience it all (minus an epic backpacking trip into the mountains because, well, kids...). We even stumbled upon a good old fashioned street dance one evening on Stanley’s gravel main street.
We had a warm welcome into Stanley (or I should say a hot welcome actually) when we stopped at what would soon be one of our favorite free hot springs of all time. Sunbeam Hot Springs was just north of Stanley and if it weren’t for the small turnout along the highway we would have never known a hot springs existed in the Salmon River below. There are several along this stretch of river but this one suited our every need (plus not to mention we really could have used a bath right about then). Soaking alongside a beautiful river and meeting the people who come and go from the springs made for the perfect hot springs outing. In addition it was just steps from where we parked Loaf.
Our first stop in town is always a playground. It helps us get our bearings straight, talk (or in the boys case, play) with the locals, and take in the surroundings slowly. Stanley only had one playground so no need to read google reviews, we headed straight for it and spent a couple hours eating lunch, playing on the playground, flying Chip’s kite (which launched me in the air!), and quietly savoring the surrounding views.
I’m On A Boat - Redfish Lake, Idaho
When we rolled in to Redfish Lake, so did the wind. The boys made friends instantly (beach toys for the win!) which kept everyone entertained for a couple hours. Chip and I wandered around in our puffy jackets eating fish ‘n chips, people watching, and trying to stay warm. The Redfish Lake Lodge sat gracefully behind the beach and even with the wind, the setting was easy on the eyes. After about an hour the weather calmed down and the lake smoothed out transforming into the deep blue and turquoise colors we had seen on the ‘net a year prior. It seemed like the opportune time to rent one of their boats, so we did! After a few minutes of leaving the marina we already felt at ease being surrounded by nature and on a body of water. Both boys took the wheel a couple times which I’m sure felt exhilarating for a five year old. When the lake veered, so did we and with that came the most stunning view at the far end of the lake. Spread out before us was a heavenly slice of the Sawtooth Mountains that are only visible by taking a boat (or perhaps a long hike). Most often we are not ones to go on paid excursions or rent things, but every once in a while it just feels right.
We’ve Landed on The Moon - Craters of the Moon National Monument
Our National Parks pass was due to expire in two days which happened to be the perfect time to squeeze in a visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. But miles before we even reached the monument, the landscape transformed before our eyes. We couldn’t quite figure it out until we realized we were driving next to lava beds. An expansive, craggy, desolate volcanic wonderland. If I thought hard about it for a minute, I could almost trick myself into believing we were on the Big Island of Hawaii (or at least what I imagined what that would look like).
We honestly hadn’t done a lot of research on Craters of the Moon but heard it is doable or a worthwhile stop for an afternoon. It definitely was, and stirred up a lot of conversation and questions from the boys which was really fun for Chip and I to (try) to teach them what we knew about volcanos, lava, and the landscape before us. Since we only allowed three hours here we decided to chose a few stops that we knew the boys would enjoy: The Visitor’s Center (to bring Chip and I up to speed on why this place existed), the spatter cones, and the caves (or lava tubes).
The spatter cones (you can see one below that Bennett is walking up) began as vents in the ground, spewing lava into the air. The lava would splat down and land around the vent forming a cone. We also learned that ‘Craters’ was formed by numerous lava flows over time by oozing out of fissures and spewing out of vents, as opposed to an erupting volcano.
The caves, or lava tubes, were by far the most exciting to explore at Craters for us! The two we checked out were incredible - but our favorite being Indian Tunnel. We descended the stairs of this particular cave and were surprised to find out it was an 800 foot long lava tube or tunnel that we got to scramble over rocks to get through. Throughout were holes in the cave ceiling where the lava tube collapsed allowing light to shine in as we made our way. Whether you visit here with kids or not, you must explore Indian Tunnel!
The Grand Finale In Idaho
On our last night in Idaho we weren’t sure where we were going to sleep. We drove, and then drove a little more but nothing jumped out at us. We finally opened up the iOverlander app and saw a random gravel road with free camping listed so with daylight fading we decided to go for it. We pulled in exhausted, got the beds ready for the boys and did our bedtime routine lightning fast. We had no cell reception (seems like we never did on this trip), there were heavy mosquitos on this particular night, and Chip and I each wanted space (to put it nicely). Everyone went to bed without saying much and the next day we woke up feeling similar. But what got us out of our funk, because sometimes we just need a little lift in life, was the most incredible and awe-inspiring view on our drive out on the same gravel road. There were no marked signs, hardly a trail but pure heaven was right before our eyes. The view below is what we saw and it was the one thing I so badly needed to shift my mood. I’ll never forget it. That was our last hour in Idaho.
I’m so grateful Idaho was our final driving stretch of new territory - to be able to explore an area we hadn’t been through yet was refreshing. But we realized that with one week left of our trip, our hearts were calling us on a different path. We found cheap, last-minute tickets from Denver to Ohio so we could visit family. Along the way between Idaho and Denver, we made stops in Jackson, Wyoming/Tetons and Steamboat Springs to see friends. Then parked Loaf safely at an airport hotel. We bid adieu and haven’t looked back this whole week because apparently we needed to be surrounded by family, hot showers, plush beds, endless fridge space, air conditioning, a spacious kitchen, a freezer (for popsicles, duh), and a dishwasher. Oh, and our annual trip to Cedar Point. Sometimes it’s the little things and small changes that can brighten a new week!
Thanks for tagging along, everybody! We’ll be back later with more.
Lots of love,
Chip, Lindsay, Reid, and Bennett