About the Area

Mountain lake
One of many small lakes in the mountains of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests

Tour the natural beauty of your National Forests in Northern Idaho. Grand mountain tops, clear lakes and rivers, waterfalls, ancient cedar groves and wildlife await you.

Quaint villages snuggle up against soaring peaks, hug the shores of deep blue lakes. Evergreen forests carpet mountains that have been a major world supplier of silver. It's beautiful country! Quiet country lanes lead to abandoned mining towns and trace military wagon roads from the Civil War era. Backcountry trails lead to alpine lakes and spectacular views. The sweet scent of wild huckleberry fills the summer air. Country inns and plush resorts, along with modern and rustic camping grounds, welcome travelers to Idaho's premier north country.

Miles of rivers and vast lakes are world-class sport fisheries. More than half of all the surface waters in Idaho are here, in the north country. Foam-flecked rapids challenge the whitewater rafter. Glassy-quiet runs host canoes where steamboats once paddled to remote mining and lumbering camps.

Sport fishery records are born in local lakes. A 37-pound Kamloops trout has been taken from Lake Pend Oreille, and prize-winning dolly varden are not uncommon. Chinook salmon up to 42 pounds are hooked in Lake Coeur d'Alene. Priest Lake has the world's record for Mackinaw, and Coeur d'Alene and Hayden Lakes hold the tasty kokanee (land-locked salmon), along with rainbow, cutthroat, brook and German brown trout, large-mouth bass, and perch.

Where there is fishing, there is boating and sailing. At Priest Lake, the Forest Service and the State of Idaho have developed shoreline and island campgrounds. Public and private boat ramps are also available at Lake Pend Oreille and Lake Coeur d'Alene marinas and campgrounds.

In winter, the snowy wilds and hundreds of miles of groomed trails beckon cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. Regional ski resorts invite the downhill skier with runs for beginners to experts. There are also plenty of winter fishing opportunities at area lakes.


Vista from CDA Mountain
Looking out onto the distant Coeur d'Alene Lake, from the southern side of Coeur d'Alene Mountain.

The Idaho Panhandle is rich in wildlife. Species include elk, whitetail deer, black bear, and the woodland caribou, an endangered species living in northernmost Idaho, its last remaining home in the lower 48 states.

The grizzly bear, another endangered species, lives in small numbers in remote regions of the forest. Abundant surface water attracts a wide variety of waterfowl, eagles, and osprey.

A hundred years ago, silver, lead, and gold mining brought wealth-seekers from around the world. Today, the hot prospects have all but vanished. A few large mines remain in the Silver Valley east of Coeur d'Alene, at the mining towns of Wallace, Silverton, Kellogg, and Mullan along Interstate 90.

Folks with a yen to dig can still glean prizes from the earth at Emerald Creek near Clarkia. Here the Forest Service operates the world's only star garnet (the state gem) grounds outside India. Nearby is the St. Joe River, a special place. Its lower reaches at an altitude of 2,128 feet make it the highest navigable river in the world.

On this working river, tug boats pull rafts or "brailes" of logs to lumber mills in St. Maries and Coeur d'Alene. The tugs are living history, operating where paddle-wheelers once did. Part of the St. Joe River, which rises in the vast Bitterroot Range, is a Wild and Scenic River. Accessible by road and trail, the river attracts whitewater runners and fishermen. Campgrounds are nearby.

While few prospectors ever found the lead or silver of their dreams, some harvested the "green gold" of white pine, western red cedar, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. The timber shored up mine tunnels and finished lumber provided commercial and residential buildings, including mansions for the timber and mining barons of Wallace, Coeur d'Alene, and Spokane.

In some places, the logger's ax remained sheathed. Near Priest Lake, the Hanna Flats Botanical Area and Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedar Area recall a time long before Europeans arrived in North America. Hobo Cedar Grove Botanical Area near Clarkia is an outstanding example of the giant trees that once filled the wet valley bottoms of the region.

Much of the timber was transported from the forest by railroad between 1900 and 1940. Today the abandoned train routes are used by logging trucks, automobiles, hikers, cyclists, snowmobiles, cross-country skiers and other recreationists.

Remnants of the railroading era are still here including tunnels, soaring trestles and all types of old logging equipment and structures. But many are disappearing into the new forests growing up around them.

In some places, nature needs a helping hand. The Coeur d'Alene Tree Nursery produces nearly 20 million tree seedlings a year. The public is welcome to tour the facility throughout the year, but "lift and pack" season in early spring is the busiest time.

The Selkirk, Cabinet, Coeur d'Alene and Bitterroot mountain ranges feature glacial cirques and gem-like lakes high above timberline and craggy ridgetops. The country, remote and rough to travel, is a special place for those seeking solitude.

There are many special places in northern Idaho, from popular lakeside campgrounds to high wilderness. Come find your special spot and enjoy the year-round excitement and beauty of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and Idaho's north country.