July 2004: Lake Coeur d'Alene


the Idaho Panhandle

By 1878 enough miners and homesteaders had filtered into the Coeur d'Alene Mountains that the United States government constructed Fort Sherman at the mouth of the Spokane River on Lake Coeur d'Alene. By the time the military outpost shuttered in 1901, tourism was entrenched along the lake. So many vacationers arrived by steamship that Lake Coeur d'Alene was America's busiest inland port west of the Mississippi River. Several times the lake, whose literal translation from French is the meaningless "heart of the awl," has placed highly on lists of the world's most beautiful lakes.

The best place to enjoy the shoreline of Lake Coeur d'Alene are the downtown parks. Manicured City Park features paved trails, including the 24-mile North Idaho Centennial Trail. The eastern terminus of this multi-use trail is on the north shore of the lake and traces the Spokane River heading west into Washington. At the south end of 3rd Street Tubbs Hill Park offers several miles of canine hiking in 120 acres. A 2.2-mile interpretive trail follows the perimeter of Tubbs Hill. No vehicles are allowed on these trails.
On the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene are several trails overlooking Beauty Bay. The easiest is Beauty Bay USFS trail #257 at a picnic area off Highway 97. The half-mile loop trail climbs gently through the trees to the most photographed spot on the lake. Hearty canine hikers can access a 15-mile Forest Service Trail here as well, with a 3-mile day hike option.
From the campground at Beauty Bay Creek (dog-friendly!), Caribou Ridge Trail #79 grinds up four switchbacks to the top of Mount Coeur d'Alene. There is an elevation gain of more than 2,300 feet on this 4.6-mile-climb through the timber with glimpses of the lake along the way before reaching extensive views of Beauty Bay from the lookout at the 4,439-foot summit.
The must-do hike for dog owners on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene is the Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail. Prospecting began on this slope in the 1890s with lead-zinc being the big draw. Construction on the 3.3-mile interpretive trail began in 1963 and two decades later it was designated a National Recreation Trail. The dirt trail switches up 660 feet to the 2,800-foot summit through lush stands of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir and past old mining pit exca-vations. Views can be had of Wolf Lodge Bay and Beauty Bay and spur trails can add a few miles to your exploration of Mineral Ridge.

Along Caribou Ridge is a good place to hunt for huckleberries, the state fruit of Idaho. Huckleberries are wild blueberries common in coniferous forests, solitary plump, dark fruit dangling from bushes that can grow head-high. Idaho's bluish fruit is the black huckleberry that is most productive at elevations between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. Sweet and ripe in early summer, huckleberries are a favorite of bears. 

The town of Coeur D'Alene is located directly on I-90. Beauty Bay trails can be reached by taking Exit 22 off I-90 to Highway 97 South seven miles east of town. The trailheads are all within five miles of the Interstate on Highway 97.