A Family Ride on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes
Over the past several years our family has become a biking family. This started with my wife, Martha, and me mountain and road biking in our younger years. Then I started bike commuting, which somehow lead to cyclo-cross racing. My daughter Hayden, now 13, then joined me in that, which led to her joining a junior cycling team. All along my son Connor, 11, has liked mountain biking and occasionally does some races. This biking culture of ours continued to build momentum to the point where I thought everyone was ready for a self-supported tour.
The kids are still young enough that riding on roads with varying shoulder widths would be too stressful for us; and, since we only have one bike that has eyelets for racks, camping was out and a hotel was in. That narrowed things down to a rail-trail of some sort. There are plenty of those of varying lengths around western Washington, but we wanted somewhat predictable weather as I wasn’t interested in carrying full rain gear. We came up with the perfect tour for us on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in north Idaho. It is 72 miles of paved rail-trail, nearly 90 percent of it dead flat. Beautiful scenery and some great destinations along the way add to the incentives.
A five-hour car ride and we were sitting at our campsite at Heyburn State Park, six miles from the trail’s western terminus in Plummer, Idaho. This provided us a place to car camp the first night, and serve as our staging area for the ride. It also gave us a place to leave the car during the two nights we would be on the trail.
The next morning we started off bright and early. The kids quickly picked up speed as we headed for the first major site along the way, the Chatcolet Bridge over Lake Coeur D’Alene. The stepped inclines/declines made for a fun ride down, and the top speed contest started: 22 mph was the fastest clocked.
Our first stop of the day was in Harrison, where we planned to have breakfast. But the choices were few on this early Sunday morning: a restaurant at the marina or a coffee shop up the steep hill on the main street of town. We opted for the coffee shop and had some drinks and great soufflé. Harrison also has a grocery store and a bike shop. The bike shop wasn’t open yet but we stopped by the store to pick up some energy bars. The kids also spotted an ice cream shop, which we said might come into play on the way back.
Fueled up, we continued along the trail, riding past lakes, rivers, ponds, meadows, marshes, and mountains, always on the lookout for moose. Trailheads and picnic tables are located all along the route, as is a generous quantity of bathrooms.
One thing not so widely available is water; there’s at least one stretch of 25 miles where no water is available. Signs warn not to drink the water from any of the lakes or rivers due to contamination from years of mining in the area. Water filters and boiling are not even sufficient to make the water safe. We knew this ahead of time and carried plenty of water bottles, and the kids wore hydration backpacks. With temps in the low 80s, we made good time clipping along at an average of 12 mph.
Wherever the trail crosses a road or bridge, there is a signpost in the middle to stop cars from accidently driving on the trail. A squiggly line is painted on the trail to alert riders to these. Apparently this wasn’t enough warning for my son, however; he almost rode straight into the first one we came to. After this, we started a game of yelling “POST!” each time we came to one. This continued for all three days of the ride and I’m happy to say no one was impaled or broke a knee cap on one of the signposts.
Lunch was our next major stop, though we took several short stops to take pictures, look at fish in the river, hydrate, and read the information signs along the way. Our planned lunch stop, The Snake Pit in Enaville (est. 1889), wasn’t serving food, but at least the bar was open and serving milk shakes. Not the worst lunch ever, according to our kids.
Leaving the milk shake stop, we were 44 miles into our ride of 50 mile. This section of the trail was my favorite, as it meandered through a canyon with sheer walls on our left and the crystal clear (yet highly contaminated) river on our right. Too soon the trail led under I-90 and into the Silver Valley through the towns of Smelterville and Kellogg.
Getting an 11- and 13-year-old to ride 50 miles three days in a row isn’t as hard as one might imagine.
We planned the ride so that at the end of the first day we would stay at Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, which has an indoor water park associated with the hotel. We arrived at around 1 p.m. and went straight to the water park. I must say it wasn’t a terrible way to end the ride. After three hours we headed up to our room for a short rest, then off to dinner.
The hotel, okay it’s a resort, has a secure bike-storage area with cameras and key-card access so we felt safe in leaving our bikes. There are also two restaurants, a bar, a sporting goods shop, and gondola rides up the ski hill for mountain biking.
The plan for day two was to complete the rest of the trail with an out-and-back ride from Kellogg to Mullan -- 38 miles round-trip, with about a thousand feet of elevation gain on the way out.
After grabbing an excellent breakfast at Sam’s Café, we made our way toward Mullan. The trail goes through more towns in this section, including Wallace. With its historic downtown holding shops and cafes, it’s well worth a stop. The trail also follows I-90 rather closely in spots, but this went mostly unnoticed by us as we rode through forests, over bridges, and along creeks. Our visit to Mullan was quick, with a stop at the local café for some cold drinks.
Now heading back west and downhill, the maximum speed record contest kicked in again, with a new high of 26.2 mph. Back in Kellogg by 1 p.m., we made a stop at the tourist information center just off the trail, where the kids checked out some old mining cars. Then past the local bike shop and back to the hotel for another session at the waterpark before relaxing on the patio to enjoy some cider and the sunset.
The return ride to Heyburn started out with breakfast at Sam’s again, then a wrong turn down a dead-end street. We could see the trail fifty yards awa,y so we walked our bikes through a field, across a small creek, and back onto the trail. Hayden handled this in cyclo-cross style by shouldering her bike down the bank and up the other side. Connor chose to push his bike through the creek as boys will do. The next ten miles flew by, as we cruised again along my favorite section of the trail. One highlight for my son was when his trip odometer hit 100 miles. We even had to stop and take a picture of it.
The wind slowly picked up until we faced a very strong headwind in places. At around mile 25, Connor hit a bit of wall. He wasn’t all that hungry during breakfast, so he hadn’t eaten much; now, with the increasing headwind, it grew harder and harder for him to keep pedaling. But we pushed on, slowly passing mile marker after mile marker. Ten miles from our planned lunch stop in Harrison we took a good long break. An orange, a granola bar, and some time throwing rocks into a lake saved the day, and with spirits back up, he quickly took off ahead of us. As a bonus, we came across a moose feeding in a trailside pond. Back in Harrison, we stopped at One Shot Charlie’s for some burgers. After that it was around the corner to The Creamery for some ridiculously huge ice cream cones.
Now heading almost due south along the lake, a quartering tailwind helped things go quickly for the 10 miles back to Heyburn State Park. On the final downhill to the campsite, Connor set the max speed record for the trip: 28.6 mph. Back at our campsite everyone showered -- except the boy, who mired in his own dirt and glory. Relaxing around the campfire that night we talked about the trip and then got a good night’s sleep. The next morning we rolled up our tent and supplies and headed for home.
Tip for this adventure: Starting at the west end of the trail as we did works best, I think. You can park overnight at the trailhead in the state park for $5/night. Parking overnight at the Plummer trailhead, or any of the others, is also an option. I personally wouldn’t want leave a car full of gear at many of them, though, because they are somewhat remote. The hotel option worked great because it meant we didn’t have to take much along with us. I rode the only bike with panniers, which contained for each of us flip-flops, one shirt, and one pair of shorts, socks, and underwear. Our room at the resort had a washer and dryer, so we could wash our biking clothes each day. I also carried some bike tools and miscellaneous personal supplies for everyone. Each bike had a small under-saddle bag for a spare tube and a phone. My son and I rode cross bikes, while my wife and daughter were on road bikes. Really, any kind of bike would work. We saw a few families with tag-along bikes, as well. I made sure the kids’ bikes had working bike computers. This allowed them to track their own mileage and answer their own questions like, “How much farther?”
Favorite local bike shop: Recycled Cycles in Seattle is a great shop.