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!
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.
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.
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.
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