Following Hwy 57 north from Priest River leads you to one of Mother Nature’s best kept secrets, Priest Lake. Lined with sandy beaches, surrounded by national and state forests, watched over by the majestic Selkirk Mountains, lies a 23,000 acre lake (72 miles of shoreline) surrounded by 523,000 acres of forested public lands. To say fish thrive in Priest Lake would be an understatement. Trophy fishing includes Mackinaw trout, Dolly Vardens, Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout. This area provides year-round recreational opportunities including over 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails for winter enjoyment. In the summer, take a swing at Priest Lake Golf Course. A number of lakeside resorts and campgrounds make this an ideal place to relax. For a peek at local life in the early 1900’s, visit Vinter Nelson Cabin, an original homestead & museum on Eightmile Island (via boat only).
Upper Priest Lake, designated as a Scenic Area in 1986, is managed as a roadless area and offers a unique opportunity for a serene wilderness boating and boat camping experience. The entire shoreline is owned by either the State of Idaho or the US Forest Service. Hiking enthusiasts will surely want to explore Tillicum Creek Path. North of the lake, (13 miles north of Nordman on Forest Road 302) at Roosevelt Grove don’t miss the grandeur of ancient cedar trees (ranging from 800 to 2,000 years old).
One cedar tree even had an eclectic collection of shoes. Tourists and locals since the 1940s had dressed the tree with hundreds of pairs of shoes, nailing sneakers to its trunk and hanging work boots from its branches. Firefighters found the tree engulfed in flames on Thursday, July 15th 2010 and the blaze was difficult to extinguish because the sizable cedar was covered in melted shoe rubber. The Forest Service officials discouraged people from starting a new shoe tree, however they are starting to add to the burned one as shown here. There is also a path leading to Granite Falls, one of Idaho’s most spectacular water falls.
The campground and picnic area located in the lower grove is named STAGGER INN after a fire camp that was used in 1926. At that time the road extended only as far as Nordman. Firefighters, weary from hiking and battling blazes, more or less staggered into the camp. Thus, the name STAGGER INN was adopted.
Take the Reeder Creek Rd turnoff just past the Nordman Store to see the Old Hagar Cabin.
Visible from Priest Lake is Chimney Rock, a mass of granite jutting upwards, carved out by converging glaciers. It requires technical expertise to climb and rappelling knowledge to descend. So unless you are a skilled mountaineer, don’t attempt this climb except with your eyes, seeking out and admiring those who know what they are doing.
Returning south on Highway 57, near Priest River, the Albeni Falls Dam offers guided tours and a visitor center. Traveling west on Hwy 2, visit the twin towns of Oldtown, Idaho, and Newport, Washington. The Washington & Idaho state borders run directly down the middle of Hwy 41, just south of these two communities.
Driving south on Hwy 41 you’ll see Blanchard, home to StoneRidge, a fabulous 650-acre family community, where the lakes blend with the forests. Year-round recreation opportunities include boating, hiking, snowmobiling, horseback riding, and the challenge offered by a 18-hole championship golf course.
Continue South on Hwy 41 to the town of Spirit Lake. The town started as a busy lumber town in the early 1900’s and today is a quiet, friendly town with many of the downtown buildings listed on the Historical Register. Stop off at the White Horse Saloon, the oldest continuously operating saloon in Idaho. One of only two lakes in the world with a sealed bottom, Spirit Lake attracts boaters and fishing enthusiasts in the summer and ice fishing in the winter. Continue on Hwy 41 back to I-90 or loop on East 54 to 95 North to Sandpoint.