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Pilot's paradisePilot’s paradise

Sandpoint, IdahoSandpoint, Idaho

Pilots in North Idaho really have it good. Beautiful mountains and lakes beckon backcountry and seaplane aviators toward endless outdoor adventure. Sandpoint Airport is the hub of it all—and just minutes from the skiing, boating, fishing, shopping, and restaurants of Sandpoint, which USA Today named one of the best five small towns in the United States. Don’t yet have a bush plane or floatplane? You can fly one here!

  • At the easternmost point of Lake Pend Orielle, CFI Lisa Martin heads south over the Clark Fork Delta in her PA18-150 Super Cub. Photo by Amber Phillips.
  • Sandpoint, Idaho, lies along the northwest shore of Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake at 65 miles long and 1,150 feet deep. The airport sits just north of town, 43 nautical miles south of the Canadian border. Seaplanes may dock at The Lodge at Sandpoint, which sits just to the left of the Highway 95 bridge, lower left in this photo. Photo courtesy Granite Aviation.
  • At Sandpoint Airport, don’t be surprised if the line person filling your tanks is a woman. Granite Aviation manager Danielle Morales can handle the job as well as any guy, in any weather. Photo courtesy Granite Aviation.
  • There may be a shortage of female pilots nationally, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Sandpoint. Granite Aviation’s Kinzie Plocher has even logged time in a Grumman Albatross, a T-2 Buckeye, and a T-28 Trojan, among others. Photo courtesy Granite Aviation.
  • Windsock is Granite Aviation’s Customer Service Representative. A rescue cat, she loves visits from her fans, especially the UPS driver, since that means she gets a box to play in. Windsock loves airplanes and helicopters, so if you leave your doors open, do a Windsock check before departure to make sure you don’t take off with an extra passenger. Photo courtesy Granite Aviation.
  • Quest Aircraft Company, LLC is the manufacturer of the Kodiak, a 10-place single engine turboprop utility airplane, designed for STOL use and float capability. Headquartered in Sandpoint, Idaho, the company was established in 2001 and began deliveries of the Kodiak in December 2007. Designed to bring people and supplies to the most remote locations on the planet, the 10-place Kodiak does just that, taking off in under 1,000 feet, flying 1,100 miles with one pilot, and landing safely on short, steep, rough strips—whether to fulfill a humanitarian mission or take some friends camping. Photo courtesy Quest Aircraft Company.
  • This is bar-hopping the way North Idaho pilots do it, on the Clark Fork River. Train in either of these aircraft with Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes. Photo by Bill Padilla, courtesy Lisa Martin.
  • Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes is based at Scenic Bay, near Bayview and the southern end of Lake Pend Orielle. Learn to fly floats in this beautiful 1946 PA12-S Piper Super Cruiser. Photo by Amber Phillips.
  • CFI Glenn Smith and Amber Phillips in the Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes Super Cruiser. The airplane has one seat up front, two seats in back, and amazing visibility on all sides. Photo courtesy Amber Phillips.
  • Take the Highway 95 bridge south across the lake to The Lodge at Sandpoint. Better yet, if you have a floatplane, you can just park at the dock. Photo courtesy The Lodge at Sandpoint.
  • A beautiful spring evening. A Lake amphibian waits at The Lodge at Sandpoint’s dock while its owners dine at Forty-One South. Photo by Stuart Fenwick.
  • Granite Aviation has courtesy bikes for pilots who fly in. The bike path goes right from the airport into town. Photo courtesy Granite Aviation.
  • I think we rode this Silverwood roller coaster at least 10 times in a row; it was so much fun and there were no lines! Photo by Fred Worthy.
  • The largest resort in Idaho and Washington with 2,900 acres of terrain and renowned tree skiing, Schweitzer Mountain Resort turns into a summertime fun zone for mountain bikers. Photo courtesy Best Western Edgewater.
  • You’ll have great views of the lake on Schweitzer Mountain Resort’s zip line. Ride alone or together: dual lines allow two people to go down side-by-side, so you can share the experience from top to bottom. Photo courtesy Best Western Edgewater.

Sandpoint’s fixed-base operation, Granite Aviation, provides Hertz car rentals, a courtesy car, and courtesy bikes for pilots. Their beautiful new building reflects the fact that Sandpoint is becoming a global force in aviation. Tamarack Aerospace Group fits its revolutionary Atlas active winglets onto bizjets to radically increase performance and fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. Also on the field is Quest Aircraft Co., which manufactures the Kodiak utility turboprop. These successful businesses are driving the Sandpoint economy ahead with good jobs. To help supply the companies with highly skilled workers, North Idaho College (in Coeur d’Alene) now has a complete Aerospace Center, offering Advanced Manufacturing and Aviation Maintenance Training.

From Sandpoint it’s a short hop to backcountry airstrips like Cavanaugh Bay, Priest Lake, and Magee. Get info about these and many other Idaho airstrips inside the indispensable two-volume book, Fly Idaho! Third Edition. The Idaho Aeronautical Chart, commissioned by the Idaho Aviation Association, shows many strips not visible on FAA charts. Yes, even a big twin can land at Cavanaugh Bay, but for some folks there’s nothing quite like a tailwheel in the backcountry. CFI Lisa Martin provides tailwheel endorsements and backcountry and mountain flying instruction in her Super Cub, based at Hackney Airpark, near the south end of Lake Pend Oreille.

Aviation’s not just for guys! Since 2008, Amber Phillips has helped build these big Kodiaks at Quest Aircraft Company. In her spare time, she reps Abingdon Co. watches, designed for women pilots. She and her friends grab every chance they can to fly over one of the most beautiful areas in America. Photo courtesy Amber Phillips.

North Idaho is the land of deep blue glacial lakes and wide winding rivers. Glenn Smith of Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes provides instruction in his beautifully restored 1946 PA–12S Piper Super Cruiser, which seats three, based at Scenic Bay, at the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille near the town of Bayview. Additionally, Smith and Martin provide scenic rides (and possibly instruction) in Cessna 206 and de Havilland Beaver seaplanes out of Brooks Seaplane Base at the north end of Coeur d’Alene Lake. If you already have a seaplane, you can fly to Tanglefoot Seaplane Base on Priest Lake (call first so they can show you around). Or, fly to The Lodge at Sandpoint (a perfect place to stay), on the south bank of the Pend Orielle River, just west of the Highway 95 bridge. Dock out front and walk right up to the lodge or Forty-One South restaurant. The owners of Tanglefoot Seaplane Base love the crisp wedge salad and savory crab bisque—a $12 dinner with million-dollar lake views. North Idaho truly is a pilot’s paradise.

Sandpoint is a great base from which to venture into Idaho’s backcountry. These books provide 946 pages of detailed information and photos about 83 of Idaho’s famed backcountry airstrips. Photo courtesy Galen Hanselman.

Other than use it as an unbeatable base from which to fly, what else can you do in Sandpoint? Borrow a bike from Granite Aviation: A lovely paved bike trail leaves the airport and follows Sand Creek down the peninsula, across a short bridge, and into downtown. Or, rent a road or mountain bike at Outdoor Experience and they’ll recommend routes. You’re not just going to let that beautiful blue lake sit there, so rent a kayak, paddleboard, jet ski, power boat, or pontoon boat for some fun on the water. Kokanee fishing is great in the lake, or, try fly fishing the Clark Fork River. Visit the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center, which displays the aircraft collection of the late Dr. Forrest Bird, a pilot and inventor whose respirators saved the lives of millions of babies. We, and our kids, absolutely loved Silverwood Theme Park, the Northwest’s largest, with over 70 rides and attractions at a fraction of the price of the SoCal theme parks we grew up with, and no lines the day we visited. They also have a water park, shows, and dining. Named the “best-kept secret” by Ski Magazine, Schweitzer Mountain Resort offers uncrowded views of Canada’s Selkirks, Montana’s Cabinet and Bitterroot mountains, and Lake Pend Oreille. In summer, you can hike, mountain bike, pick huckleberries, ride a horse or zip line, and more.

For swimming and water sports near the center of town, plus the popular Trinity at City Beach restaurant, choose the Best Western Edgewater, right on the lake at City Beach and close to the nine-hole Elks Golf Course. More good eats near the lake can be found at Loaf and Ladle. Craving steak? Choose The Hydra, the go-to for steaks and seafood since 1975. Pizza hounds are right at home at The Hound on City Beach. For Mexican, locals recommend Joel’s for breakfast or lunch, and Jalapeño’s for dinner. Eichardt’s Pub and Grill is where locals hang out for microbrews, casual eats, and music.

Idaho really is a pilot’s paradise, and the state proudly supports general aviation. Each “Fly Idaho” license plate raises $12 for the Idaho Aviation Foundation, as well as $13 for the state, every year it’s in circulation. Photo by Crista Worthy.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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