It’s that time of year to start thinking about road trips and family travels for the coming spring and summer. There are few better places to find fun with your kids than North Idaho.
The northern panhandle of Idaho is my family’s stomping ground. Over the years, we’ve discovered a great number of cool and exciting places to take the kids. So, when people ask what there is to do around here, I always have a ready list of sights and activities that will make any family vacation a memorable one.
Ten Cool Things For Kids In North Idaho
1. World’s Longest Gondola Ride
In the town of Kellogg, you can board the longest gondola in the world for a 20 minute ride to the Mountain Haus terminal at the top of Silver Mountain, a climb of 3400 vertical feet. In the winter, you’ll find some of the best ski runs around, but in the summer you can hike the nature trails, go mountain biking, or ride the chair lifts for more scenic beauty even higher up the mountain.
2. Hiawatha Bike Trail
I’ve covered this amazing trail already, but it bears repeating: This is an incredibly easy ride for kids of all ages. 17 miles of gradual downhill biking through stunning wilderness, with a shuttle bus waiting for you at the end to take you back to your car. The 1.6-mile Taft Tunnel alone will keep your children talking about this adventure for a long time.
3. Digging For Garnets
There are only two places in the world to find star garnet gem stones… India and Idaho. Near the tiny town of Clarkia, Idaho, is the forested Emerald Creek Garnet Area, run by the US Forest Service, where you can dig into a massive pile of mud and gravel, then use sluice boxes to search for star garnets. What kid doesn’t like playing in the mud?
4. Coeur d’Alene City Park and Independence Point
Just west of downtown Coeur d’Alene, the 16-acre City Park and Independence Point sits on the northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Here you’ll find a wide range of free activities, from playing on a huge wooden castle in the park to splashing on the smooth sands of City Beach. For something more adventurous, you can rent paddle boats, kayaks, and jet skis, or, view the lake from above via parasail or float plane.
5. Tubbs Hill Beaches
If you’re in Coeur d’Alene and you want to get away from the crowds at City Beach, I suggest taking a hike on Tubbs Hill, a 135-acred forested peninsula with a 2-mile loop trail that will take you to one of dozens of secluded beaches. Oh, there will still be people out there during the summer, just not as many. All along the trail, older kids will find rope swings and high rocks so they can fling themselves into the water below. Our favorite Tubbs Hill beach is at the tip of the peninsula, where there are smaller rocks for the kids to play on. Just a warning, though… Bring swim shoes. These beaches are mostly rocky, and not easy on bare feet.
6. Sierra Silver Mine Tour
We’ve been on this tour so many times, I should get frequent miner miles. The tour starts in downtown Wallace, a town that is so historic they put the whole place on the National Registry of Historic Places. A trolley takes you up to the mine itself, where you don hardhats and then descend into a cool dark tunnel that winds into the mountain for over 1,000 feet. During the 90-minute tour, you’ll learn a lot about hard rock mining and the history of the Silver Valley. It’s completely safe, although a little bit noisy when they demonstrate the hydraulic equipment.
7. David Thompson Game Preserve
Located along the northern shore of Lake Pend O’Reille, this game preserve is cool with my kids for one reason. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of whitetail deer there, grazing contentedly along the paths and roads, and in amongst the Beyond Hope RV Park. Several years ago, the owners prohibited feeding the very tame deer, but it’s still fun to walk among them.
8. Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
I don’t propose you make your kids pedal the entire 73-mile paved Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. That’s a long way. But you can certainly ride portions of the trail, which spans almost the entire panhandle and runs along rivers and lakes, over trestles and bridges, and through several historic small towns. There are 20 trailheads with parking and restrooms, so you can begin your ride anywhere. One of our favorite short rides starts in Heyburn State Park and crosses the 3100-foot Chatcolet Bridge, which spans the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Another beautiful spot to start a ride is near the Old Mission at Cataldo, where you can ride east along the north fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.
9. University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Amid the rolling hills of Moscow, in the middle of the campus of the University of Idaho, sits 63 acres of walking trails, ponds, creeks, and, of course, lush vegetation divided into geographical regions. Don’t tell your kids that it’s educational, just let them roam the grounds and discover things for themselves. There are rare flowers and trees, and plenty of granite benches to sit or climb on. My kids had the most fun exploring the creek and ponds, where a student researcher patiently showed them tadpoles and frogs. The arboretum is open year-round, and it’s free.
10. Silverwood Theme Park
This goes without saying. Silverwood, the northwest’s largest theme park, is the #1 destination of families heading to North Idaho. Between the rides and the adjoining water park, all of which falls under just one admission price, your kids will be in paradise. Rollercoasters in the morning, water slides in the afternoon!