A 72-mile bike trail crosses the Panhandle to Coeur d'Alene Lake

Julie Fanselow

Travel planner and map

At twilight on the new Trail ofthe Coeur d'Alenes in the Idaho Panhandle, I ride my bicycleeast, away from Coeur d'Alene Lake. Soon I'm edging the Coeurd'Alene River as it threads through a glittering chain of lakes; Ibreeze by the benches at Anderson Lake wayside, where ducks dabbleon either side of me and ospreys perch atop their bulwark nests.With the wind at my back, I feel like I could ride forever on thesmooth, flat route. But at 6 miles, when I stop to watch a rainbowover Gray's Meadow, the fading light tells me it's time to turnaround.

Stretching most of the way across the Idaho Panhandle, the new72-mile trail is a huge boost to North Idaho's growing reputationas one of the West's best cycling destinations. "It's the longestcontinuous paved trail in the United States, maybe the world," saysLeo Hennessy, nonmotorized trails coordinator for the IdahoDepartment of Parks and Recreation. Actually, it's tied for thatdistinction with a trail in Minnesota.

Longest or not, Idaho's trail ― built on an abandonedUnion Pacific Railroad right-of-way ― was a creative solutionto the dilemma of dealing with mine-waste contamination. In a dealinvolving the railroad, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and state andfederal governments, the asphalt trail literally paves over theproblem, although users are advised to picnic only at designatedwaysides and carry drinking water.

Stretching from Plummer, near the Washington border, east toMullan, near the Montana border, the trail opens up many new bikingopportunities. One of the most spectacular segments ― and aprime weekend destination ― is the 42-mile section betweenCataldo, where the trail leaves Interstate 90, and Plummer. Yourbase is the village of Harrison on the quiet southern reach ofCoeur d'Alene Lake.

Harrison Bounces Back

A century ago, Harrison was a busy lumber-mill town andsteamboat landing. Now the hamlet of fewer than 300 residents iswitnessing another boom, this time in tourism. Several newbusinesses catering to cyclists have opened, some since my visit ayear ago; others plan to open this summer.

At the Osprey Inn,a 1915 lumberjack boardinghouse that's now a B&B, hosts ArleenWoodside and Jim Bersuch say bookings have doubled since the trailreached Harrison in 2003. Often, guests sitting down to breakfasthave already been out for a ride. Business has grown for PedalPushers, a bike rental and repair shop tucked in the Little TreeGeneral Store. And by midafternoon, the Creamery, on Harrison'smain street, is packed with cyclists ordering waffle cones toppedwith scoops of huckleberry or licorice ice cream.

The next day, I cycle south along the shore of Coeur d'AleneLake, one of Idaho's largest. About 7 miles from Harrison, thetrail crosses a 1/2-mile-long former railroad bridge beforeentering Heyburn StatePark, the oldest state park in the Northwest. Heyburn'sChatcolet Campground overlooks the trail; other attractions includebird-watching at Plummer Creek Marsh and interpretive cruises onthe Idaho, the park's 87-passenger boat.

The 7-mile stretch from the bridge to Plummer is gently uphill.In Plummer I'm greeted by Dean Chapman, trail manager for the Coeurd'Alene Tribe, whose reservation anchors the route's west end. Likemany others in North Idaho, he believes the trail is a boon forresidents and visitors alike.

"This trail opens up corridors between communities," Chapmansays. "People from one end of the Panhandle to the other aremeeting each other for the first time."

Shoreline Biking

Visit the Trail ofthe Coeur d'Alenes site for a bike-trail map. Fortravel-planning help, contact www.visitnorthidaho.comor 888/333-3737.

Pedal Pushers. Shuttle service. 8-6 daily May-Sep; checkfall hours. 101 N. Coeur d'Alene Ave., Harrison; www.bikenorthidaho.com or208/689-3436.

Lodging /Camping

HeyburnState Park. Call for cruise offerings (from $6). CampingApr-Oct; tents $12, RV hookups from $16. 1291 Chatcolet Rd.,Plummer; 208/686-1308.

The Osprey Inn Bed & Breakfast. Five rooms from $70. 134Frederick Ave., Harrison; www.ospreyinn.com or208/689-9502.

Harrison Dining

The Creamery. 11-6 Fri-Mon and Wed. 105 S. Coeur d'AleneAve.; 208/689-9241.

The Landing. Newly opened, with sandwiches at lunch andsteak and salmon for dinner. $$; 11-8 Wed-Sun. 204 S. Coeur d'AleneAve.; 208/689-3895.

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