Coeur D'Alene, a Paradise in the Panhandle

Coeur D'Alene, a Paradise in the Panhandle

Vacation News » North America Vacation News | By Steve Winston | October 19, 2012 9:30 AM ET

Coeur D'Alene is special. And you can see it the moment you turn off Highway 90 from Spokane.

To your left lies a little town with cobbled sidewalks and gas-lit streetlamps and green awnings and red-brick storefronts, behind which lie attractive little shops, eateries, and galleries. In front of you, shooting up into a clear azure sky, lies Coeur D'Alene Resort, one of the Northwest's premier resorts. And to your right lies an ice-blue alpine lake, from which rise 7,000 foot- mountains covered in deep-green forest.

Tucked up in the Idaho Panhandle, about 90 miles south of Canada, Coeur D'Alene is one of the prettiest towns in the Northwest. And the lake upon which it sits - Lake Coeur D'Alene - has 125 miles of shoreline.

Coeur D'Alene means "Heart of the Awl," a reference by early French traders to the earrings worn by the native Salishan people. And the Heart of the Awl is situated amidst a setting that no doubt took these French traders' breath away.

On a sunset cruise with Lake Coeur D'Alene Cruises, you'll explore quiet bays and lagoons, some with magnificent, Western mansions several stories high. And you'll see the sun go down - not until after ten in summer - behind mountain ridges that it sprinkles with reds and purples and oranges and pinks.

At the foot of downtown is Tubbs Hill, a mini-mountain jutting out into the lake, which seems to offer stunning views around every turn. People come here to hike, rock-climb, picnic on one of the ledges overlooking the lake, row, sail, canoe, or kayak. And speaking of kayaking, if you take one out, you'll see bald eagles and ospreys flying overhead. And you'll explore isolated little coves where the only sound is that of your oars.

There are some cool surprises in this small town. . For example, Northern Idaho is not a place you'd associate with great olive oil - which makes a visit to Coeur D'Alene Olive Oil Company all the more interesting. And Coeur D'Alene Cellars produces distinctive syrahs, cabernet sauvignons, and chardonnays, all of which you can sample at their Barrel Room #6, an atmospheric wine bar that also serves local micro-brews.

About a half-hour outside of town is one of the most unusual mountain-biking experiences in the world. Situated in the Bitterroot Mountains at the Idaho-Montana border, at the Lookout Pass Ski Area, "The Route of the Hiawatha" is a long-abandoned railroad track (named after the "Hiawatha," which ran from the Northwest to Milwaukee) through a series of tunnels and 1,000-foot high wooden trestles. The longest of the ten tunnels is almost two miles long...and you can't see more than a foot or two in front of you! (In fact, you have to be looking very carefully even to see the Idaho/Montana marker on the border.) When you're out of the tunnels, and riding on the old wooden trestles, you'll see spectacular views deep into Montana.

After your adventure, you can relax back in your room at the Coeur D'Alene Resort...which probably has a breathtaking view of the lake. Newly-renovated, the resort has luxurious guestrooms, three good restaurants and an elegant bar, and, believe it or not, a float-plane service operating from its dock (as well as the aforementioned Lake Coeur D'Alene Cruises). The Coeur D'Alene Resort also boasts a golf course (accessible by mahogany boat) with the only movable floating green in the world.

When you look out your window at the resort, you'll know why the owners of those Western mansions built homes here.

It's paradise in the Idaho Panhandle.


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