I’m enjoying my month in the Silver Valley of the Idaho Panhandle, nestled in the northwest Rockies between the Montana border and Lookout Pass on the east, and the Coeur d’Alene River and Fourth of July Pass on the west. The mountains in this valley are densely covered with many types of evergreens, and it’s truly breathtaking.
The Silver Valley is known for its mining heritage, which dates back to the 1880s. Since then, over a billion ounces of silver have been mined in this area. While many of the mines are now closed, there are still a few active mining operations in the area which were fun to drive by.
Recreational tourism has replaced mining as the major industry in the Silver Valley. Besides skiing, mountain biking is a huge source of tourism. Almost every other vehicle in this area has at least one or two bikes attached to the back and I can tell people travel from far and wide to bike this area.
North America’s longest gondola
Only a few blocks from my condo in Kellogg, the Silver Mountain Resort boasts North America’s longest gondola—3.1 miles to the mountaintop—and I finally got the guts to check it out last Saturday morning. You see, I have a slight fear of heights. Or maybe more accurately, a fear of crashing to the ground. I’m not a skier, so I have very limited experience going up the side of a mountain in a gondola.
I got there right when they start the lift at 9:30, hoping to get it over with so I could enjoy the beautiful views at the mountain top. It was fun to see all the mountain bikers, excited to get to the top and start their adventure. Every other gondola cabin was used to carry bikes up the mountain.
After some deep breathing and giving myself a pep talk, I was put in a gondola all by myself. Here goes nothing! The ride up the mountain took about 20 minutes, and I spent a lot of it staring at the floor or trying to look straight ahead. I ended up taking a cool photo of the floor.
By the time I made it to the top, my legs felt like Jell-O. The mountain views did not disappoint. Wow! I spent about 40 minutes at the top before getting back into a gondola. The ride down was much better, mostly because I could see where I was heading. Going up, the mountain seemed to be endless.
This area of the United States loves huckleberries. I first noticed this last summer when on vacation at Glacier National Park in Montana. The residents of Silver Valley take their huckleberries seriously. There are huckleberry shake billboards everywhere. And I kept seeing signs for the Huckleberry Festival which takes place the 3rd weekend of August in Wallace, about 10 miles from Kellogg.
After the high I was on from surviving the gondola ride, I figured a trip to the Huckleberry Festival was in order.
Wallace is such a cute town. About 20 years ago, the mayor proclaimed it to be the “Center of the Universe” and it was fun to stand in the middle of the street right at the exact marker.
The downtown streets were closed to vehicle traffic and replaced with vendors of all kinds. My favorite stand—and the one with the longest lines—was the distillery giving out free samples of huckleberry vodka. That sent me and pretty much everyone else to the local market to pick up a to-go ½ bottle full of their huckleberry vodka—complete with a handy carabiner for refreshments during a hike apparently. Check it out!
Vendors were all dressed in purple and looked like they were having a blast. It was fun to see the huckleberry jams, bakery items, and taffy—and of course, I had to get huckleberry ice cream in a waffle cone. But oddly enough, I didn’t see anyone selling plain huckleberries!
If you’re driving through this area of Idaho, definitely make a stop in Wallace.
Coeur d’Alene River
On the west side of the Silver Valley, on the way to the town of Coeur d’Alene, is the Coeur d’Alene River. I’ve taken a few scenic drives along the riverbank and it’s so peaceful. I was amazed at how many RV villages were along the river. One was so fancy it even had a general store located in the village.
If you’re into RVing, this is the area for you! People set up their chairs and tent awnings right in the river and hang there for the day—watching the tubers and kayakers float by.
I’ve been to Lake Coeur d’Alene and the amazing town of Coeur d’Alene—known around this area simply as CDA—a couple of times already and hope to get back again before I leave for Oregon next week. I’ll write more about CDA next time!
I’ve created a photo gallery of favorites from my time so far in the Silver Valley. Enjoy!