Pilot Getaways: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

The heart of the Northwest

August 13, 2014

Editor's Note: To give you some ideas for airports to visit when you attend the AOPA Fly-In at Spokane on Aug. 16, we asked the GA travel experts at Pilot Getaways to share some of their favorite nearby fly-out destinations. This article originally appeared in the Pilot Getaways magazine. Want more? We've secured exclusive AOPA member-only discount pricing for a subscription.

Subscribe to Pilot Getaways at a special AOPA members-only rate.Simply put, Coeur d’Alene is a premier resort destination of the inland Northwest. Surrounded by pine-carpeted mountains, Coeur d’Alene Lake has been called one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world by National Geographic. Nestled in the Idaho panhandle between Washington and Montana, this romantic destination is surrounded by natural beauty and brims with activities for couples and families alike.

Here, old-world bed and breakfasts hearken to a more poetic era, and restaurants offer romantic tables for two with panoramic vistas. Dinner cruises explore intimate coves along 135 miles of coastline, while sunset strolls come by the dozens along the lakeshore. It’s the kind of place where couples unconsciously hold hands, and lovers walk a bit slower.

On the other hand, the area teems with great activities. Whether waterskiing, fishing, or just plain cruising, the water offers an endless array of outdoor fun. The top-notch resort golf course has the first floating green in the world, and Coeur d’Alene has topped many lists of America’s best places to live.

Flying There

Coeur d’Alene is 90 miles south of the Canadian border in the Idaho panhandle that stretches between Washington and Montana. The airport, Coeur d’Alene Airport–Pappy Boyington Field (COE), is just northwest of the city in a wide valley between peaks that rise to around 6,500 feet MSL. The city itself borders the northern shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake. Arrivals from the east can overfly the Missoula VOR (MSO 112.8 MHz) and follow the highway northwest to Mullan Pass VOR (MLP 117.8 MHz), and then continue direct to Coeur d’Alene. Listen for current conditions on Mullan Pass ASOS, 135.475 MHz. A lower but slightly longer route from Missoula starts by following US 93 north about 30 nm, then picks up the Clark Fork River and follows it past Plains (S34) and Thompson Falls (THM) to Lake Pend Oreille, and turns southwest toward Coeur d’Alene.

From the west, you’ll overfly Spokane, 35 nm to the west-southwest; contact Spokane Approach on 123.75 or 133.35 MHz for transitions through the Class C airspace. Arrivals from the south to southwest will be crossing mountainous terrain until reaching Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport (LWS), 84 nm south of Coeur d’Alene, so travel early when the air tends to be cool and calm.

Aerial view of COE, facing north. Photo courtesy Coeur d’Alene Air Terminal.

The Coeur d’Alene airport has two runways: Runway 6/24 is 7,400 x 100 feet, and Runway 2/20 is 5,400 x 75 feet, at an elevation of 2,320 feet. Southfield Fuel is between the runways, and has maintenance, supplies, car rentals, self-serve fuel 24 hours, and full-serve fuel Mon–Fri 8 a.m.–5 p.m. (weekends and occasional longer hours during summer or by request), 208-772-6404. Resort Aviation Jet Center, east of Runway 2/20, offers car rental as well, but has higher fuel prices; the first night is waived with fuel purchase, Mon–Fri 7 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat–Sun 8 a.m.–4 p.m., 208-772-3731, . For more information on the airport, contact airport operations, 208-446-1860.

If you’re lucky enough to fly a floatplane, you can land at Brooks Seaplane Base (S76), at the north end of Coeur d’Alene Lake, and taxi right up in front of the resort. There are designated runways on the water: Runways 11/29 and 15/33 are both 15,000 x 2,000 feet. Fly patterns over the lake, rather than over the city; CTAF is 122.9 MHz. Watch for heavy boat traffic, parasailers, helicopters, ultralights, and other seaplanes.

History

The most accessible of the inland Northwest’s 55 glacial lakes, Coeur d’Alene Lake has long been a regional hub. It entered modern history as a fur center. The name Coeur d’Alene was given to the local Schee-Schu-Umsh (The Ones that Were Found Here) Indians by French fur traders, impressed by the tribe’s sharp trading practices. They were said to have hearts (Coeur) like an awl (d’Alene), a sharp tool used to pierce and sew leather. The tribe took on the new name and is known by it today.

In 1878, on General William Tecumseh Sherman’s recommendation, a military post known as Camp Coeur d’Alene was established to protect the U.S. from a British invasion via Canada and maintain peace between the growing white population and the Indians. A year later, the name was changed to Fort Coeur; in 1887, Fort Coeur d’Alene was renamed Fort Sherman in his honor, while the town kept its original name. Under the protection of the fort, silver mines opened in the region. By the 1880s, Coeur d’Alene was outfitting the largest silver mining region in the U.S. Steamboats puffed up and down the lake and adjoining rivers, supplying the bourgeoning communities. Then in 1893 a crash in silver price and miner strikes brought the Idaho silver boom to an end. Most of the mines closed down, and Coeur d’Alene slipped quietly into obscurity.

In 1986, developer Duane Hagadone revived the community by opening the Coeur d’Alene Resort, transforming sleepy Coeur d’Alene into a modern luxury resort destination.

What to Do

The Idaho panhandle is a great destination in any season. However, fall is a great time to visit. By mid-to-late September, crowds have tapered off, the leaves are incredible, and the weather remains warm enough to enjoy the outdoors. Downtown and the Coeur d’Alene Resort are on the northern tip of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Most activities start right at the lakefront on the southern tip of downtown.

Lake and dinner cruises are great ways to enjoy the water. Photo by Joel Riner/Quicksilver Studios.

Whenever it’s warm enough, life here focuses around the lake. Most water activities embark at the marina in front of the resort. On Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises’ 90-minute tour of the lake, you’ll see wildlife, secluded homes, and remote coves. During the summer and fall, osprey, also known as fishhawks, and bald eagles nest here. You might even spot a bear or a moose strolling along the shore. Tours depart from Independence Point next to the clock tower in City Park. There are up to three tours per day depending on the season, 12:30 p.m. (Apr 19–Oct 26), 2:30 p.m. (May 3–Sep 14), & 4:30 p.m. (May 10–Sep 7). Reservations are not required, and boarding is on a first-come, first-served basis, $14.75–$22.75. For something more romantic, embark on a sunset dinner cruise. The resort’s talented chefs prepare a gourmet buffet with such entrées as Steamship Round of Beef and Baked King Salmon. The 2014 sunset cruise season also features selections from neighboring wineries and breweries, including Arbor Crest Winery of Spokane, Wash., and Selkirk Abbey of Post Falls, Idaho. The leisurely two-hour cruise even has light dinner music to accompany the serene surroundings, reservations recommended, adults $51.75, seniors 55+ $47.75, children 6–12 $27.75, Sun–Thu 7:30–9:30 p.m. (May 2–Aug 31), 6:30–8:30 p.m. (Sep 1–14), 208-765-4000.

Brooks Seaplane Service started flying passengers over the lake in 1946; today, Grant Brooks continues the family tradition by flying seaplane tours from Independence Point in a Cessna 206 and a Beaver. He knows the most scenic routes and little-known sights. The 20-minute, 40-mile tour around Lake Coeur d’Alene costs $60 per adult, $30 per child under 12. The longer 40-minute, 80-mile visit to Lake Hayden and Lake Pend Oreille costs $100 per person. You can also charter longer flights, 208-664-2842.

For a more exhilarating experience, head out on a personal watercraft for a peek into all the coves or dash across the lake towing a skier. Either way, you can end the day dining at one of the restaurants or bars with boat tie-ups along the shore. KJ Watersports provides two-, four-, six- and full-day rentals. Ski boats cost $235–$525, pontoon boats $225–$535, and Yamaha WaveRunners $150–$285. The company will deliver and launch your rentals for you, 1621 Northwest Blvd., 208-818-9040.

If a paddle suits you better than a motor, Kayak Coeur d’Alene offers half- and full-day kayak and paddleboard rentals, $40–$65 per day single, $55–$85 tandem. Inexperienced paddlers can sign up for multi-hour lessons, $50, 307 Locust Ave., 208-676-1533. ROW Adventures has been outfitting white water rafting and fishing trips since 1979. You can stare down the frothy melee on one-day white water rafting trips from May to September. If you are lucky, a moose, bear, or Harlequin duck may make a cameo appearance in the virgin woodlands. Half-day float and kayak tours start at $65 per person. Dedicated paddlers can enjoy multi-day trips, hitting some of the best white water in North America, 413 Sherman Ave., 208-765-0841 or 800-451-6034.

Wildlife with fins and gills are not in short supply; whether you come back with a big fish story is up to you. ROW Adventures has guided wading and floating fly-fishing trips for west-slope cutthroat trout on the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene Rivers. Half-day trips cost $330 per angler and full day trips start at $385. Fins & Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service is a great source for supplies, information, and guides. Professional angler Jeff Smith, with 30 years of local experience, guides fishermen seeking salmon, pike, or bass, $375–$475 per half-day. For more solitude, avid anglers can also take excursions up to Lake Pend Oreille or Priest Lake. Fins & Feathers is open Mon–Sat 7 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun 7 a.m.–3 p.m., 1816 Sherman Ave., 208-667-9304.

Take a break from the water and chase a small ball instead. A classic wood speed boat picks up guests at their scheduled tee time from the marina and takes them around Tubbs Hill to Coeur d’Alene Resort’s award-winning, manicured 6,803-yard, par-71 golf course. Players get the royal treatment with a caddie, picnic lunches ordered on the green, and a complimentary sports massage to loosen up, along with full access to the driving range and club storage. In addition to the five-star pampering, this course boasts something truly unique: The green of the 14th hole is its own water hazard. The course has the first mobile floating green in the world. The five-million-pound, 15,000-square-foot island is anchored by cables that can tow the island from 75 to 175 yards out. A small boat, Putter, ferries golfers out to sink their shots. The resort offers several attractive golf packages, $279–$898. Otherwise, greens fees for guests are $110–$195, non-guests $150–$225, tee times 7 a.m.–3 p.m., 900 Floating Green Dr., 208-667-4653 or 800-935-6283.

An after-dinner stroll is a great way to soak up the romantic atmosphere, colorful leaves, and fresh air. Begin your walk at the resort boardwalk. The 3/4-mile floating boardwalk extends into the lake, encircling the marina. Next, wander through Tubbs Hill, a 122-acre nature preserve that has a trailhead within sight of the marina, and overlooks downtown and the lake. Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, evergreen shrubs, and flowers line unpaved hiking trails. Very little grass or shrubs find purchase in the thin soil on the hill, so you catch glimpses of the lake through the trees. While you could spend a day hiking, it is the place to capture a romantic sunset over the resort.

One block north of the resort is Coeur d’Alene’s shopping core, tree-lined Sherman Avenue, where you’ll find most of the best restaurants, bars, and antique shops. Check out the “heart like an awl” gold jewelry by Cheryl Burchell at La Muse Gallery, Mon–Fri 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sat 11 a.m.–3 p.m., 1524 Northwest Blvd., 208-676-1645.

Idaho’s oldest building, the Cataldo Mission, is 20 miles east of Coeur d’Alene. The native tribe and Jesuit missionaries built the mission, also known as the Mission of the Sacred Heart, between 1850 and 1853 entirely without nails. The Indians were so poor that Father Antonio Ravalli, a true Renaissance man, designed this masterpiece with only the humblest materials. Straw, mud, and unbounded creativity are behind the eye-catching baroque façade. Inside, the “wrought iron” chandelier is made of tin, and the marble altar of creatively painted wood. Father Ravalli himself hand-carved the statues of Mary and John the Baptist on either side of the altar. Old Mission State Park now surrounds the sanctuary, $5 per vehicle, daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.(summer), exit 39 off I-90, 208-682-3814.

Biking on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a converted railway line. Photo courtesy Idaho Dept. of Parks & Recreation.

A partnership between the native populations, Union Pacific Railroad, state of Idaho, and U.S. government created the 73-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes through Old Mission State Park from old logging roads and disused railways. This paved hike-and-bike trail is a great way to see the southeast side of the lake. Short out-and-back day trips can start on any part of the trail. Hearty cyclists can attempt the crossing from the Old Mission Park to Harrison (see Transportation for bicycle rental information). A huge ice cream cone from the Creamery in Harrison is a great reward after this 27-mile one-way ride, 208-682-3814.

Good, old-fashioned farm fun is 41 miles west of Coeur d’Alene in Green Bluff, just across the Washington border. Decades ago, local farmers found themselves struggling to compete with larger farms, so they began letting people pick their own fruit. Today Green Bluff has become a U-pick mecca for the Northwest, with strawberries, cherries, apples, pumpkins, and vegetables. In September, the farms take on a festive atmosphere with corn mazes, castles, fruit trains, and petting zoos. For a more gourmet adventure, the Townshend Cellar produces wines from vineyards all over the Columbia Valley and features a unique Huckleberry port-style wine. Don Townshend started bottling wine as a hobby, and now focuses on quality rather than production. He intentionally keeps his production small, and ages his wines for three years in oak barrels. The tasting room is open Fri–Sun noon–6 p.m. The Green Bluff Growers Association has a website with contact information for each farm.

For more information on activities, lodging, and dining, contact the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, 208-664-3194 or 877-782-9232.

Where to Stay

The Coeur d’Alene Resort stands out dramatically against the skyline overlooking downtown and the lake. Some love it; some hate it. Admittedly, the 18-story resort contrasts sharply with the wild beauty of the lake. However, the Golf Digest five-star resort did introduce the community to the world of luxury tourism. Boasting seven restaurants, a 30,000-square-foot European spa, and a gold-medal golf course, it has consistently been rated one of the top U.S. inland resorts. The entire resort exudes a laid-back, yet upscale, atmosphere. The entrance opens on a spacious foyer connecting the separate wings. Fireplaces surrounded by deep chairs face the open-air offices where guests check-in. Guest rooms in the luxurious Lake Tower feature wall-to-wall picture windows with views of either the lake or downtown and the mountains, custom beds with pillow-top mattresses, oversized baths, and dressing rooms with granite sinks. Rooms have a modern chic décor with pale tans and browns highlighted by blues matching the lake. The Park Tower is a comfortable alternative, with large windows looking out onto the lake, downtown, and the mountains, custom beds; 32-inch flat-screen televisions; and executive work-style desks. Book peak summer, holiday, or weekend stays well in advance. Fall or winter rates are lower, and availability higher, rooms $134–$739, golf packages $279–$898, 115 S. 2nd St., 208-765-4000 or 800-688-5253.

Guests enjoy candlelight dinners in the parlor of the Clark House. Photo courtesy Clark House.

Shrouded in mystery and conflict, the Clark House on Hayden Lake, seven miles north of Coeur d’Alene, is a more private, but equally luxurious, retreat. Built in 1910 by F. Lewis and Winifred Clark, the 1,400-acre estate was the most expensive house in Idaho. It was filled with the finest Oriental and European furnishings and murals, and even had a private zoo. Then in 1914, Lewis mysteriously vanished, and the banks eventually seized the property from a bankrupt Winifred. The mansion decayed until 1989, when Monty Danner and Rod Palmer purchased the remaining twelve-acre estate and 15,000-square-foot mansion, and converted it to a luxury country inn with eight rooms and suites, breakfast included. Accommodations range from the Winifred Suite with French antiques in cream highlighted with red to the uncomplicated simplicity of the Sewing Room upstairs. Guests are invited to a three-course candlelight dinner prepared by the inn’s chef, Kevin Kneisly. Entrée selections include chardonnay-braised sockeye salmon with spinach, artichoke, and four-cheese beurre blanc and Clark House center-cut sirloin steak with burgundy mushroom bordelaise, dinners $37–$43, Thu–Sat, reservations required. The gourmet breakfast, served around 8:30 a.m., includes such delectables as cinnamon pancakes with apple slices and chopped walnuts in maple syrup. The mansion sits on Hayden Lake and offers the same outdoor and lake activities of its large neighbor. This summer marks the fifth season of Clark House’s outdoor Piano Bar. From July through early September, visitors dance under the stars as musician Ron Pass entertains with renditions of classics from Cole Porter to Coldplay; a seasonal cocktail menu and a la carte dining is available $5–$18, Thu–Sun 6–9 p.m., rooms $149–$289, 5250 E. Hayden Lake Rd., 208-772-3470 or 800-765-4593.

Where to Eat

Of the Coeur d’Alene Resort’s four on-site restaurants, Beverly’s is a requisite stop for romantic couples or those looking for a real taste of the Northwest. On the seventh floor overlooking Tubbs Hill and the lake, the restaurant boasts a view from almost every table. The menu highlights local ingredients. Chef Tyler Schwenk conjures up a mixture of nouveau dining and good old-fashioned Northwest fare. Try the homemade huckleberry lemonade to accompany your dinner. Then move on to the Oregon Summer Truffle Pasta, a pappardelle pasta with morel mushrooms, summer vegetables, Asiago cream, and truffle oil and peel, $24, or a prime filet mignon from Boise-based Snake River Farms, $55. Open for lunch and dinner, entrées $10–$75, 115 S. 2nd St., 208-765-4000 or 800-688-5253.

At the other end of the scale, Hudson’s Hamburgers is a mainstay for locals. Only a block from the resort, this burger joint has lines out the door most weekends. Don’t expect frills or fancy waiters. Harley Hudson started in a tent in 1907, and his great-grandson, Todd, has kept the modest, down-to-earth atmosphere and simple menu. You can choose from a hamburger, cheeseburger, or doubleburger. That’s it. You won’t find sides or salads, just a burger… but what a burger! Your beef patty is grilled and seasoned right before your eyes; you pick the toppings. Opt for pie too, if you feel adventurous, cash only, $3–$6, 207 E. Sherman Ave., 208-664-5444.

For seafood and an on-the-water experience, The Cedars Floating Restaurant offers fish and a romantic atmosphere on the Spokane River. Southbound on I-95 toward Moscow, turn left onto Marina Drive, and continue to Blackwell Island. The restaurant is past the tip of the island where the Spokane River leaves Lake Coeur d’Alene. Since 1965, this 600,000-pound floating dining experience has welcomed diners by land or water. The round dining room lined with windows provides a 180-degree view of the lake. You might even see a muskrat swim by. The owners promise both the freshest fish and the best quality Midwest beef available. Taste some of the local favorites, Cedar Plank Salmon and Crab, $32, or the Rosemary Rack of Lamb, $45, dinner daily 3–9:30 p.m., 1 Marina Dr., Blackwell Island, 208-664-2922.

Those who savor the fruit of the vine will love The Wine Cellar, with over 200 wines, from French to Australian. The restaurant lives up to its name by recreating the décor of a comfortable wine cellar and offering Mediterranean fare. Come expecting a lively, bustling atmosphere, especially when the musicians are on. The Cellar features live music, usually jazz and blues, most evenings starting at 7 p.m.. Try the Cellar Grill dinner for two, a medley of grilled sausage, chicken, sirloin, and prawns, accompanied by seasonal vegetables, pesto orzo, or polenta, $49. Run your wine selection by the in-house sommelier, entrées $19–$36, dinner Mon–Sat from 4 p.m., 317 Sherman Ave., 208-664-9463.

Transportation

If you plan to stay near the resort and downtown, you can call Coeur d’Alene Cab to arrange a taxi for the 7 1/2-mile trip, $14, 208-667-9000. For the luxury option, Coeur d’Alene Resort offers a limo van service for $50 per round trip, up to six passengers. Contact the resort’s transportation department at least 24 hours prior to arrival, 800-688-5253.

If you want more freedom, contact one of the FBOs to arrange a rental car. Resort Aviation has Hertz on site, 208-772-3731, and Southfield Aviation has Avis, 208-772-6404. Prices typically run $48–$75.

You can rent road or mountain bikes from Vertical Earth in the heart of downtown only a few blocks from the lake, $25–$35 per day, $15–$25 per half day, 2175 N. Main St., 208-667-5503.

With all the boating, golfing, hiking, kayaking, biking, shopping, and dining in Coeur d’Alene, you may run out of time trying to do and see it all. It will come as no surprise that Condé Nast once rated Coeur d’Alene the best inland resort in North America. It is the gateway to some of the most beautiful wilderness in the U.S. and is made richer by the fun, active people you will meet. Whether you are a couple looking to sneak off or a family escaping to the mountains, you can’t go wrong in a place like Coeur d’Alene.

Sunset washes over the 18-story lakeside resort. Photo by Joel Riner/Quicksilver Studios.