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

Travel planner and map

At twilight on the new Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in the Idaho Panhandle, I ride my bicycle east, away from Coeur d’Alene Lake. Soon I’m edging the Coeur d’Alene River as it threads through a glittering chain of lakes; I breeze by the benches at Anderson Lake wayside, where ducks dabble on 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 the smooth, flat route. But at 6 miles, when I stop to watch a rainbow over Gray’s Meadow, the fading light tells me it’s time to turn around.

Stretching most of the way across the Idaho Panhandle, the new 72-mile trail is a huge boost to North Idaho’s growing reputation as one of the West’s best cycling destinations. “It’s the longest continuous paved trail in the United States, maybe the world,” says Leo Hennessy, nonmotorized trails coordinator for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Actually, it’s tied for that distinction with a trail in Minnesota.

Longest or not, Idaho’s trail―built on an abandoned Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way―was a creative solution to the dilemma of dealing with mine-waste contamination. In a deal involving the railroad, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and state and federal governments, the asphalt trail literally paves over the problem, although users are advised to picnic only at designated waysides and carry drinking water.

Stretching from Plummer, near the Washington border, east to Mullan, near the Montana border, the trail opens up many new biking opportunities. One of the most spectacular segments―and a prime weekend destination―is the 42-mile section between Cataldo, where the trail leaves Interstate 90, and Plummer. Your base is the village of Harrison on the quiet southern reach of Coeur d’Alene Lake.

Harrison Bounces Back

A century ago, Harrison was a busy lumber-mill town and steamboat landing. Now the hamlet of fewer than 300 residents is witnessing another boom, this time in tourism. Several new businesses catering to cyclists have opened, some since my visit a year ago; others plan to open this summer.

At the Osprey Inn, a 1915 lumberjack boardinghouse that’s now a B&B, hosts Arleen Woodside and Jim Bersuch say bookings have doubled since the trail reached Harrison in 2003. Often, guests sitting down to breakfast have already been out for a ride. Business has grown for Pedal Pushers, a bike rental and repair shop tucked in the Little Tree General Store. And by midafternoon, the Creamery, on Harrison’s main street, is packed with cyclists ordering waffle cones topped with scoops of huckleberry or licorice ice cream.

The next day, I cycle south along the shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake, one of Idaho’s largest. About 7 miles from Harrison, the trail crosses a 1/2-mile-long former railroad bridge before entering Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Northwest. Heyburn’s Chatcolet Campground overlooks the trail; other attractions include bird-watching at Plummer Creek Marsh and interpretive cruises on the 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 Coeur d’Alene Tribe, whose reservation anchors the route’s west end. Like many others in North Idaho, he believes the trail is a boon for residents and visitors alike.

“This trail opens up corridors between communities,” Chapman says. “People from one end of the Panhandle to the other are meeting each other for the first time.”

Shoreline Biking

Visit the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes site for a bike-trail map. For travel-planning help, contact www.visitnorthidaho.com or 888/333-3737.

Pedal Pushers. Shuttle service. 8–6 daily May–Sep; check fall hours. 101 N. Coeur d’Alene Ave., Harrison; www.bikenorthidaho.com or 208/689-3436.

Lodging /Camping

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

The Osprey Inn Bed & Breakfast. Five rooms from $70. 134 Frederick Ave., Harrison; www.ospreyinn.com or 208/689-9502.

Harrison Dining

The Creamery. 11–6 Fri–Mon and Wed. 105 S. Coeur d’Alene Ave.; 208/689-9241.

The Landing. Newly opened, with sandwiches at lunch and steak and salmon for dinner. $$; 11–8 Wed–Sun. 204 S. Coeur d’Alene Ave.; 208/689-3895.

Keep Reading: