Coeur d’Alene: A Secret OasisBy Elizabeth Griffith
This Pacific Northwest staple is a destination waiting to be explored
Perched on the outskirts of Idaho’s vast national forest lands, Coeur d’Alene and the lake it’s named for make up one of the most perfect getaway destinations a traveler could wish for.
Don’t get us wrong: Coeur d’Alene—or CDA as the locals call it—is renowned in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to a 25-mile long lake that glitters on sunny days and rests on moody gray ones. Featuring pristine beaches and evergreen forests, miles of biking paths and hiking trails, a burgeoning food and established beer and wine scenes, summer water sports, winter snow sports, and activities for the seasonal in-between, Northwesterners have flocked to this inland oasis and its resorts for decades. It’s a place to get away and actually leave your day-to-day life behind.
The town is great for families, young and old, for solo travelers, and for groups of friends. Its natural topography, while storied among sports elitists, is accessible, and the locals whose businesses have long depended on hospitality and tourism are ready to welcome visitors with open arms come fall, winter, spring, and summer.
As summer wanes, the main tourist season winds down. But hospitality-focused locals still have plenty to do in the fall, and they create what’s arguably the best season for a Coeur d’Alene visit.
Oktoberfest kicks off fall celebrations with a weekend of bike racing, live music, food, and, of course, local harvest brews. With dozens of beers and ciders to sample, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find something you like.
For aerial lovers, Coeur d’Alene’s zipline experiences are a must, especially as the lake’s shores and mountainsides burst into color. Timberline Adventures offers breathtaking views of the lake, mountains, and valleys along seven zips and two sky bridges.
Fall marks the perfect time to take a hike through the national forests surrounding Coeur d’Alene or to simply wander the downtown district, shopping in local boutiques and experiencing local art and music at galleries and theaters. Some opt to take it all in at once during a Friday Arts & Music Walk, when parking is free and businesses extend their hours an additional two hours. If your stay misses one of these local favorites, you’re still sure to find arts and culture events to fill your time.
The Coeur d’Alene calendar is almost always packed full.
Winter brings an air of festivities to the resort town.
The Coeur d’Alene Resort transforms from a summertime mecca into a winter wonderland. The resort’s light show dazzles with more than 1.5 million bulbs strewn across the grounds. USA Today readers dubbed it one of the top holiday light displays in the country. Nearby, the annual Sandpoint Winter Carnival offers a week of parties, music, sports, parades, and night-glow winter sports at Schweitzer.
North Idaho boasts premier slopes for skiing and snowboarding, making Coeur d’Alene a central home base for cold-weather sports. Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain are particular favorites, offering rentals, lessons, miles of groomed and powder trails, terrain parks, and more. Those looking for less adrenaline-heavy winter fun can also enjoy ice skating, sledding, and snowshoeing around Coeur d’Alene.
After a morning of cold weather activities, retreat to the warmth of the local shops and restaurants of Sherman Avenue, a picturesque downtown shopping district. If you plan your visit right, you’ll be in town for The Chocolate Affair, a Coeur d’Alene-wide chocolate extravaganza during which businesses throughout the downtown offer samples of chocolate and chocolate-based treats. We always head straight for the hot chocolate.
When the snow begins to melt, Coeur d’Alene is ready for a fresh start and eager for summer to return. Take advantage of early bird specials at the local resorts and businesses, enjoy the final days of winter activities, and get your Coeur d’Alene fix before the summer crowds arrive.
The city takes advantage of spring’s lull to host a multitude of local events with wine and music festivals, races, and farmers markets. The town is as busy as ever, but nature-lovers will particularly enjoy the trekking through the quiet of nearby national forests and nature preserves to witness wildlife waking up from winter hibernation.
Spring is ideal for a visit to Cougar Bay Preserve, an 88-acre wildlife preserve that is annually home to migrating and local waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds, plus moose, beaver, otter, and deer. Through May and early June, depending on snow melts, wildflowers like bluebonnet, Indian paintbrush, and Arrowleaf Balsamroot blanket North Idaho’s hiking trails with vibrant blues, purples, whites, yellows, and oranges.
The peaceful lull of nature and hum of activity in town offers space to reset from the hectic chores of the day-to-day and time to enjoy life with friends and loved ones.
The obvious time to visit Coeur d’Alene is during the peak of summer. In July and August the lake can reach temperatures in the mid- to high-70s. Locals and visitors alike take the opportunity to swim, kayak, paddleboard, jet ski, water ski, or simply cruise the waters from the deck of a boat. Those enjoying more terrestrial activities, such as hiking or biking through the surrounding evergreen forests, enjoy cool breezes and sweeping alpine views.
Coeur d’Alene’s plethora of outdoor activities and somewhat remote location in Idaho’s northern panhandle offer a nostalgic experience akin to the Catskills of New York. Stay at The Coeur d’Alene Resort to see what we mean. The renowned lakeside destination, recently renovated, features luxury accommodations, an award-winning spa, five-star dining, and what may be the world’s only floating golf course.
The resort sits at the center of the town, creating an obvious home base to explore the rest of the area.
Coeur d’Alene has it all, but it’s somehow still a Northwest secret.