A five-hour road trip from Seattle in an Inferno Red Crystal Dodge Journey put us in the middle of a playground we had only heard about. From Spokane, Washington, to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, then north to Sandpoint and out to the town of Superior, Montana (40 minutes east of the Idaho border), for six days we immersed ourselves in activities that would easily make a great episode for a travel program like "Globe Trekker."
With our 10-year-old grandson, we did a little cross-generational bonding that included whitewater rafting, rock (wall) climbing, bungee trampolining, horseback/trail riding, and mountain biking and spent a day at one of the best water and theme parks anywhere in the country.
We ended our first day of travel by staying the night at the Davenport Hotel, a historic turn-of-the-century hotel in downtown Spokane that's been converted into a boutique dwelling. It retains the ambiance of the early 1900s, but features the comforts and appointments today's traveler expects. We joined 100-plus folks at the Rockin' B Ranch for a excellent dinner including BBQ ribs, sirloin roast, chicken, baked beans, salad, cornbread, dessert, and a serving of slapstick cowboy comedy. Located at Exit 299 on I-90, the Rockin' B Ranch atmosphere is casual and lots of fun.
The next morning, to fortify ourselves for the day's adventures, we had a Chicago-style breakfast at Frank's Diner. This old railroad observation car converted into a diner served patrons in Seattle for 60 years until it was moved to Spokane.The chefs at Frank's possess two very important skills: They're excellent fast-order cooks, and they can create a huge number of quality breakfasts for the hundreds of hungry customers who arrive each morning. They prepare and serve 15,000 eggs and 2.5 tons of hash browns every month!
At sandpoint, we enjoyed mountain...
At sandpoint, we enjoyed mountain biking, technical wall climbing, and a sunset dinner ferry cruise on Lake Pend Orielle.
Coeur d'Alene is 30 minutes east of Spokane on I-90, and a turn north (Highway 95) followed by a 40-minute drive put us in the middle of the Sandpoint vacation area we'd heard so much about.
In addition to the canopy of crystal-clear air and pastel-blue skies, the powerful attractions that draw vacationers to Sandpoint are its huge body of water, Lake Pend Oreille (French for earring)--the surrounding mountain peaks, lush meadows, and the woods that carpet the landscape.
The lake is the biggest draw, offering many activities, including but not limited to boating and watercraft, fishing, dinner cruises, shore and island hiking, and wildlife watching. One evening, we treated ourselves to a true delight by boarding the Shawnodese (a classic vessel in the grand old style of watercraft). We had a lavishly catered dinner as we cruised the lake.
Almost 4700 feet above sea level and 2500 feet above Lake Pend Oreille is the Schweitzer Mountain Resort. In the winter, this ski resort draws thousands of winter sports enthusiasts from Canada, Spokane, and Boise in the southern end of the state. Schweitzer Mountain has 92 ski runs, nine chair lifts, and terrific accommodations and eateries.
In the summer, there are plenty of activities including mountain biking (they have rentals), bungee trampolines, technical wall climbing, horseback riding, and hikes through Alpine meadows.
We even tried our hand at picking huckleberries, since we were lucky enough to be visiting during the harvest season of this delicious wild berry. We later sampled the huckleberry pie they bake at the lodge restaurant.
The lodge includes a collection of excellent restaurants, bistros, gourmet coffee shops, boutiques, and a spa and fitness center. If you so choose, you will never have to go outside the lodge after a day of outdoor highland adventure.
A 20-minute drive from Sandpoint gets you to a guest ranch that permits children of all ages to do their own thing. Along with our progeny, we took a morning trail ride on horseback out to a vantage point high in the mountain. In the afternoon, we relished a little down time while the youngsters went back out on another trail ride.
At Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, we enjoyed the rustic yet modern accommodations of the state-of-the-art lodge, but we could also have opted to stay in one of the new cabins tucked away in the forest. As remote as it feels though, it takes only five minutes to walk to the lodge for meals.
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch runs a horse camp for kids that offers the stuff of which childhood memories are made. Each child chooses a horse to ride and tend during the next five days. The youngsters learn how to care for and feed their horses along with taking riding lessons. Trail rides are conducted every morning and afternoon. The camp concludes with the kids demonstrating their newly acquired equestrian skills to an audience of appreciative parents.
Water, Water Everywhere
We had to do it--a one-day whitewater rafting trip. It began just across the state line in Montana where we joined the Coeur d'Alene-based Row Adventures. Our put-in point (riverspeak for where we entered the water) was near the town of Superior, Montana (I-90, Exit 41), an hour-plus drive east of Coeur d'Alene. Skilled guides helped us navigate the South Fork River, where the scenery alone was worth the trip.
About noon, we stopped along a sandy bank for a lunch break. Later that afternoon, we drove back to Sandpoint and enjoyed our lodging in a quaint 1930s cottage (Sleep's Cabins) on the south shore of Lake Pend Oreille.
Before heading back to Seattle, we spent a day at Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach Water Park, the best water park we've ever visited. Twenty minutes south of Sandpoint (Highway 95) and about halfway to Coeur d'Alene, Silverwood's water park generates giant waves you'd typically have to go to the ocean to find.
The park has ultra-tall water slides and float trips along beautifully groomed botanical waterways. The park has earned a five-star reputation with its roller-coasters, among the best and wildest in the world. The number-one paid attraction in all of Idaho, Silverwood draws a half-million visitors between April and October (it shuts down for winter). Folks come from all around to spend entire vacations enjoying the thrills and water activities at Silverwood.
Dodge Journey R/T
Youngsters take charge of...
Youngsters take charge of caring for their own chosen horse at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch camp. It's a week of quality time.
Our Dodge Journey R/T was equipped with the optional 235-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic. This crossover was a breeze to drive on freeways, mountain passes, two-lane country roads, and in urban settings, making our odyssey between Seattle and the Idaho panhandle a terrific reminder of the romance of the open road.
Our grandson's ears cupped by a wireless headset and with three channels of children's programs providing him TV satellite-based entertainment via Sirius Backseat, his only utterances had to do with fast-food cravings and pit-stop needs. And even when fully embracing the state-mandated speed limits (as high as 75 mph on some stretches), the fuel economy from Seattle to Sandpoint, Idaho, came in at a respectable 24.8 mpg.