FAMILY FUN IN IDAHO
A chill settles over my body as the dark tunnel swallows me and my bike. I pedal hard, pushing for the light at the end of the 1.66-mile dungeon and keeping a sharp lookout for deer, moose and elk. The animals are elusive on the day I'm burrowing into the innards of Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains, but the tunnel's moisture leaves me a triumphant stripe of mud down my back.
The Taft Tunnel at the start of the Route of the Hiawatha is the longest of the tunnels, with 1.66 miles of cool, moist darkness. Riders emerge into the sunlight after barrelling through this tunnel with stripes of mud along their backs.
The rugged Bitterroots stretch between Idaho and Montana, and the best way to traverse them is by bike. The 15-mile trail known as the Route of the Hiawatha was part of the Milwaukee Railroad, which was built in 1909 to transport cedar logs, and later moved freight and passengers until its bankruptcy in 1977. Twenty-one years later the railroad was lifted and the gravel trail, complete with seven massive trestles and 10 tunnels, became a mountain biker's paradise.
There are plenty of picturesque resting places along the way, many of them featuring informative panels that give riders insight into the historical significance of the trail
One of the reasons is its gentle downhill grade that demands little if any physical exertion. The slope perfectly accommodates kids as young as five and seniors in their 80s and 90s. Over the course of 90 minutes riders drop 1,000 feet in altitude and find themselves surrounding by magnificent forests of fir, birch, pine and cedar, with spectacular views from trestles suspended 230 feet above the lush valley floor. Along the way you pass the grave of a railroad worker who jumped off a moving train to avoid a fire in the 1910 and was buried alongside it. Informative signs describe the riotous gambling, drinking, fighting and dancing that took place at the construction camps erected over the three years it took to build the railroad.
The trail is punctuated by 10 tunnels and seven trestles, offering spectacular vistas of the lush forests on the valley floor.
History hangs heavy over North Idaho's Silver Valley, seeping out and informing everything you do. After our ride my family and I stop in Wallace, a small city that grew exponentially when deposits of silver, lead and zinc ores were discovered in the 1800s and the first mining claims were made. Some miners made a fortune from those claims but others were not as lucky. We venture into one of the latter, the Sierra Silver Mine, where our mine tour is led by Lenny Hoiland, a 30-year mining veteran. Walking us into the dark bowels of the mine, he describes the daily challenges and dangers of hard rock mining. By the end of the tour we wonder out loud why would choose such dangerous work. Hoiland's eyes go misty. "I loved it," he reflects. "There was camaraderie, a sense of accomplishment and good money working in the mines. If I could, I'd go back in a heartbeat!"
Idaho's summertime temperatures climb quickly into the high 30s, and with our kids clamoring for a swim we head to Coeur d'Alene, a city located steps from the lake that bears its name. Joining the locals we plunge into its deliciously cool water while around us parasailers soar into the sky and pleasure boats zip through the still water. We dry off on board a cruise of Lake Coeur d'Alene, as the captain delivers a narrative on some of the exquisite waterfront homes we pass, many of them accessible only by boat. Among those homes are fortunes made and lost, dreams fulfilled and some abandoned. On one island the water laps against the foundations of a home that represented one man's dream. "Only after he built the foundations did he learn the land wasn't actually his," the captain says. [Image 7] At Lake Coeur d'Alene swimmers jump from the rocks and frolic in the cool, clear water. While we're impressed with the lake and Coeur d'Alene's funky downtown, filled with gift shops and galleries, our kids are after a different area attraction: Silverwood Theme Park. The largest theme park in the Pacific Northwest, its 413 acres in nearby Acton are divided into Boulder Beach Water Park, with lazy rivers, waterslides and pools, and Silverwood's land-based entertainment, which features four roller coasters and some 70 different rides and attractions.
Moose statues like this one adorn Coeur d'Alene's downtown
The beauty of having the two parks side by side is that one entrance fee pays for access to both. We spent a fun day moving between the two and experiencing the rides geared at thrill-seekers and those better suited to soft adventurers and the tot crowd. When the heat became unbearable we'd simply cool off with a long drift in the water park's lazy river.
Idaho is known as 'potato country' but those words don't come close to describing its majestic mountain ranges, exquisite lakes and plethora of outdoor activities. This hidden gem of the Pacific Northwest is full of surprises that keep the whole family engaged, exhilarated and entertained.
IF YOU GO:
" The Route of the Hiawatha is open June through September from 8:30-5pm. Trail fees cost $10 for adults, $6 for kids over 5 and free for kids under five years. Bikes, trailers, tagalongs, helmets, bike racks and flashlights are available for rent at Lookout Pass Ski Area. For information call (208) 744-1301 or visit ridethehiawatha.com
" Silverwood and Boulder Beach are open May through September, with tickets ranging from $22.99 for kids age 2-7 to $45.99 for adults. There are discounts for seniors and two-day passes. Pre-purchase tickets online at silverwoodthemepark.com to save a few dollars extra. Info: (208) 683-3400
" Wallace's Sierra Silver Mine Tours are 75 minutes long and depart every 30 minutes during office hours May through September. Info: silverminetour.org or call (208) 752-5151
" Accommodation at the Holiday Inn in Hayden, Idaho, minutes from Coeur d'Alene, includes access to the Raptor Reef Indoor Water Park, located on the property. The site is also home to Triple Play Family Fun Park, which offers ten-pin bowling, laser tag, bumper boats, go-karts, indoor and outdoor mini golf and a climbing wall. Info: 3play.com or call (208) 762-7529
PHOTOS by Lauren Kramer
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