Valerie and Rich McKay in downtown Wallace, ID

Northern Idaho probably isn’t included on your Tandem Bucket-List, or the top-five places you’d like to ride someday, is it?  Perhaps you should make room for this destination in your future cycling plans.  Arguably, there are several reasons, but I’ll limit it to just two:  The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and The Route of the Hiawatha.  These trails cater to both tandem crowds, the roadies and the mountain bikers.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alene is a 72 mile paved bike trail built on a Union Pacific right-of-way stretching from Plummer, Idaho (the western end of the trail along US-95) to Mullan, Idaho at the trail’s easternmost point (paralleling Interstate 90).    There are no fees charged to use this trail, although you will see donation boxes at some of the trailheads.  The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes drops from the trailhead in Plummer for about 7 miles to the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene and then crosses the Chatcolet Bridge,

Valerie takes a break at the Chatcolet Bridge

heading north toward the town of Harrison and then eastward toward the Silver Valley.  For much of this ride you are paralleling the Coeur d’Alene River, but not any roads.  You will be cycling in the middle of nature, and along the way you might encounter eagles on the wing or moose in the marsh.

Moose cow and calf along the trail

As you get closer to the town of Kellogg, you will start to ride alongside of various roads, including Interstate 90.  After Kellogg, the elevation gain becomes noticeable, but since you’re riding on an old railroad bed the gradient never becomes much over 3%.  Lodging may be found in Kellogg, Wallace or in Coeur d’Alene (if you don’t mind higher fees and a longer drive to a trail head).  We like to break up the trail by parking at different trail heads and then doing out-and-back rides daily.

The Route of the Hiawatha is a 15 mile compacted gravel trail that was once part of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (often called the Milwaukee Road) that ran from Illinois to Washington state.  Headlights are a MUST on this trail as it passes through several tunnels, one of which is 1.7 miles in length.  This is a fee-based trail; check with the website for current fees and schedules.  The Route of the Hiawatha can be accessed from two points.  The easiest to find (and drive to) is the East Portal Trailhead, just off of Interstate 90 on the Montana side of the border.  The trail is all downhill from here, 15 miles and 1000 feet of elevation loss.  You’ll have to either pedal back up or pay the fee for the shuttle bus, if you’re not into the uphill climb.  We prefer to drive the 20 miles through the woods from Wallace, Idaho to the Pearson Trailhead and ride uphill to the end and then enjoy the downhill as our reward!

A word of warning to anyone riding through the 1.7 mile Taft Tunnel – it’s a little chilly inside there, so packing a light water-proof jacket is advisable.  The water-proof part is because the inside of this tunnel is damp, and the stoker will exit the tunnel wearing a muddy stripe (unless you have fenders).  Be sure to watch for the Idaho/Montana border painted on the side of the tunnel as you cycle through.

The links to the websites below will provide you with a bounty of information about these two trails, plus other rides in the area, lodging information, directions and numerous photographs to whet your bicycling appetite.  Spokane, Washington has an airport (GEG) serviced by several major airlines, and the Centennial Trail stretches from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene for those wishing to pedal even further!

Additional information can be found at the Friends of Coeur d’Alene Trails and South Lake Coeur d’Alene.