The Silver Valley, northern Idaho - Grampies' Grand Adventure Summer 2015 - CycleBlaze

June 4, 2015

The Silver Valley, northern Idaho

Long distance cycle tourists who set out across the "Northern Tier", from Anacortes, Washington to Bar Harbor, Maine will probably pass through Idaho in the north, along Highway 2. But a little south of that runs I-90, the prime northern car route across the country. Not long after I-90 leaves Spokane Washington, heading East, it enters Idaho. Just into Idaho, the road passes north of Lake Coeur d'Alene. The lake is named after the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe, and has town of the same name on its northern shore. The lake is long and skinny in a north/south orientation, and has the town of Plummer down near its southern end, about 50 km away.

No sooner has I-90 passed Coeur d'Alene but it jumps over a mountain pass - the Fourth of July Pass, and enters the valley of the south fork of the Coeur d'Alene river. The valley continues for 60 km until it ends at Lookout Pass, which forms the border with Montana. The valley is commonly known as the Silver Valley, because it featured many mines, not only for silver, but also gold, zinc and lead. There is at least one active silver mine in operation today, at Mullan, on the eastern end, but most mining activity stopped in the valley in the 1980's.

For the 100 years of heavy mining, rail lines were critical for bringing ore to processing. And that's where we come in. When the rail lines were decommissioned, it was found that the track beds had been made with mine tailings and were leaching arsenic. They had to be sealed with asphalt, and this created an ideal smooth bike trail.

The Silver Valley has turned to tourism to stay afloat, and the bike trail, the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene is a key piece of that puzzle. The main trail (looking back from the Lookout Pass in the east) parallels I-90 for about half its length, and then dives south (avoiding Fourth of July Pass) and curls around the bottom of the Lake, ending at Plummer.

But that's not all! (as they say in TV ads), at the top of Lookout Pass another rail trail heads south into Idaho. The one is called the Trail of the Hiawatha, named after the train that used to run on the line. The Hiawatha runs steeply downhill (for a rail trail!) and passes through many tunnels, carved through the mountains to keep the line as level as possible for the train. In a brilliant feat of tourism development, as shuttle service has been established to bring bike riders back up from the bottom of the run (though cycling up would be fairly easy). This has been a huge hit, and we certainly are among its big fans.

This locally produced guide book is a great trail companion.
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Our plan is to camp at Wallace and take the van to the Hiawatha trail head up in the pass. We will run down the trail, a one day excursion, and catch the shuttle back up. Back at Wallace, I will drive myself in the van down to Plummer and stash it. A local bike shop has put me in touch with a local resident who is willing to shuttle me back to Wallace. From there, the kids and us will start the six day trek. As the map shows, at first we parallel I-90, passing through former mining towns, some with evocative names, like Smelterville. Near the old mission at Cataldo we and the trail dive south, heading for the bottom of the Lake. It's a lovely region of forest and small lakes. Finally we will arrive at Plummer, the administrative center of the Coueur d'Alene band. Assuming our van is still there, we will then declare victory!

You are also never too young to ride the Hiawatha!
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Scott AndersonA great sentiment!
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6 years ago
The map shows Lake Coeur d'Alene on the left and I-90 in black running through the Silver Valley. The cycle trail is in red. At the extreme right is the north/south Trail of the Hiawatha.You will have to look at the larger version of the photo to see many details. Click on the image to get the bigger version.
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The Coeur d'Alene tribal council. The band maintains the western end of the trail and fought for its creation.
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