Bounded between mountains in the Idaho panhandle lies the Silver Valley, a treasure trove of alpine recreation and history.Also known as the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, the valley is a string of small towns nestled between Idaho’s Fourth of July Pass and Montana’s Lookout Pass. They’re connected by a proud mining heritage and rugged terrain that’s become a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
Here’s a quick guide to the valley from west to east. If you decide to plan a visit check before you go for seasonal openings as some attractions are only accessible during the summer.
The Cataldo Mission is Idaho’s oldest standing building. Built in 1853 by Jesuit missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Greek revival structure was erected with wooden pegs, mud and straw instead of nails. It’s now part of Old Mission State Park with a visitor’s
center and trails just off Interstate 90. You can learn more about old-time skills and crafts at the Historic Skills Fair held the second weekend in July each year here.
Kellogg, the largest town in the Silver Valley, is home to Silver Mountain Resort where you’ll find snow sports in the winter, a bike park and disc golf in summer, and the Silver Rapids Indoor Waterpark year-round. The resort also has the world’s longest single-stage passenger gondola. It’s a scenic 3.1 miles to the top of the mountain.
Kellogg is the founding site of Bunker Hill Mine that once fueled the area’s growth. Learn more about mining history at the Shoshone County Mining and Smelting Museum at the Staff House, built in 1906 as the home for the mine manager.
A few miles outside Kellogg, people can tour one of the area’s first hard rock mines. The Crystal Gold Mine was worked during the 1880s but then closed and hidden until being rediscovered in 1991. Now a tourist attraction, a guided underground tour explains how mining was done by hand and candlelight.
Off I-90 headed toward Wallace, a 13-foot-tall hard rock miner shines his lamp toward the site of one of America’s worst mining disaster. On May 2, 1972, 91 miners suffocated in an underground fire at the Sunshine Mine. The Sunshine Miners Memorial statue stands behind 91 miniature tombstones. An annual May 2 ceremony commemorates the event.
Eating out: The Bean is a popular coffee shop with breakfast items. Moose Creek Grill offers fine dining in a historic Victorian home on a seasonal basis.
Wallace is the second largest town in the Silver Valley and one of the few U.S. cities to be included on the National Historic Register of Places. Architecture is well-preserved, along with colorful local history, which can be explored in places like the Oasis Bordello Museum, a former brothel. Its interior was left intact after a 1988 raid that ended a century of service. At the Wallace District Mining Museum and Visitor Center one can learn about the town’s deep mining ties. The Northern Pacific Railroad Museum, a 1901 château-style depot, features exhibits on northern Idaho’s railroads. A retired miner guides people through a narrated trolley tour of Wallace and then into a real silver mine on the Sierra Silver Mine Tour.
Eating Out: The Wallace Inn, the town’s largest hotel, is home to the Trailside Cafe, which offers hearty American meals. The City Limits Brew Pub is for beer fans, while the Fainting Goat Wine Bar and Eatery offers locally sourced food and fine wine. The Red Light Garage is a quirky cafe with a spaceship in the parking lot perfect for an Instagram shot.
Twenty miles north of Wallace is the historic settlement of Murray, home to the Idaho legend Maggie Hall, also known as Molly Burdan or Molly B’Damn. The Irish immigrant was a gold rush-era prostitute known for her philanthropic deeds, such as caring for the sick during a smallpox epidemic. The Sprag Pole Inn and Museum features her bedroom in an exhibit and she’s celebrated the second week of August each year at Molly B’Damn Days. She died in her 30s of tuberculosis and is buried in the local cemetery where you’ll also find the grave of Captain Toncray, said to be the inspiration for Mark Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn.
The northern Idaho panhandle is a bicyclist’s paradise. Here are two of the main attractions.
Route of the Hiawatha
This railroad track turned bike trail is a 15-mile trip downhill through 10 train tunnels and more than seven towering trestles. It’s family friendly and open to all ages. The trail is open May 27 through Sept. 24 and begins at the Lookout Pass Ski Area on the Idaho-Montana state line 12 miles east of Wallace. Bikes and other equipment is available to rent. A shuttle bus at the end transports riders and bikes back to the starting point (www.ridethehiawatha.com).
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
Named one of the top 25 trails in the nation in 2012 by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, this rail trail follows the former Union Pacific Railroad right of way from Mullan to Plummer, Idaho. The paved path covers more than 72 miles, from the Silver Valley to Lake Coeur d’Alene, to Heyburn State Park and on to the Palouse. People also walk, inline skate and snowshoe on the trail (https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov).